“Follow Jesus”--Acts 1:6-14
Rev. Sarah Varnell
Church Street UMC
April 21, 2013
It is confirmation Sunday at Church Street. After several months of concentrated learning and practice of theology, scripture, and the tradition of the church, these young people will come forward to take up the mantel of their faith as both a personal and communal walk. In our United Methodist tradition, we baptize as a sign of what God does in our lives, how God chooses us. Today these confirmands turned toward God and choose to serve God with their lives. One day little Brooks will join his voice with the saints to do the same. This is a sign of great hope for our world.
PRAYER: “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be pleasing in your sight, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.”
When Jesus began his ministry with the disciples, they tagged along for every adventure. In each story they follow Jesus around, peering in for a close up during a healing, and weaving in and out of daydreams on the front row during a time of teaching. They experienced Jesus, God incarnate, firsthand, but like us that struggled to find where all of this teaching met with their every day lives. How does Jesus change things? Regardless of all that they had seen and heard, they really had no idea how to answer that question. They were like a little boy who “helped” his Grandmother in the kitchen, in the middle of every step making messes by playing in the flour or spilling sugar in the floor, participating and experiencing, but completely at a loss for what to do next when left alone without the guidance and example of his Grandmother.
So, after three years of following Jesus around in the kitchen cooking up the beginnings of God's kingdom, the head chef is suddenly and brutally killed on a cross and they are scared out of their minds.
In this moment, they realize God's kingdom is life and death kind of important for the world. They do what any scared person learns to do from the moment we begin walking… they hide.
This reminds me of Martin Luther King Jr when he said, “the ultimate measure of a person is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand at times of challenge and controversy.” What would I give my life to protect? My sweet new baby daughter? Absolutely, in a heartbeat! my loved ones? Yes, most of them. My faith? I would like to think so. It is much easier in seasons of feasting on stories of great faith to feel courageous and cared for by God. In seasons of fallow often all we can experience is the icy clutch of doubt that fear holds our hearts captive. This is reality for us, and it has been reality for God’s disciples for all time.
GREY’S ANATOMY: My first year of seminary, a very popular show about interns in a hospital began. The interns were around the same age as many of us, and we were drawn to the drama in the show. After having my baby 6 weeks ago, we have had many opportunities in the middle of the night to be awake. Babies love 3:00am. After my sweet husband changes her diaper, while I stay up to feed her, in order to keep myself awake... I have been re-watching episodes from this show on Netflix, essentially reliving some of my seminary days. A few nights ago, the episode was about a Native American man receiving a heart transplant. In his culture, there were certain rituals he had to observe to honor the dead before receiving the transplant. One of the doctors on the show was losing patience when she said, “that’s why I trust science,” and he responded: “Science is a form of belief, it is believing what you can see and touch. I believe in more than that.” It struck me that most days it is the “more than that” that sustains us. It is the “more than that” that is a journey, and not a destination.
The disciples learn this the hard way when word gets to them that Jesus appeared to some of the women, risen from the dead! Their emotions spanned from excited that Jesus, their friend and Lord is alive, to guilty that they failed to continue the work of ministry after his death. To validate this claim by the women, Jesus comes to see them and they are transformed from fear to incredible boldness. This is a telling and profound moment, as they transition from being scared and hiding in the upper room to being out in public with no fear, not even of death as they spouted off Jesus’ teachings. Their faith became the most important thing.
In our story today, we come across a brief moment where they are standing still. A small crowd is gathered, heads turned toward the sky watching Jesus rise up through the clouds. What a roller coaster-- emotionally and physically! If I were them I would be working through how and when I could catch a nap (I think about that a lot these days), instead they are interrupted by someone who says, "Why are you looking up at the clouds?" Forget the nap, they hurry back to that same upper room that was once their hiding place to begin scheming, sorting through the old recipes of Jesus’ teachings, the ingredients were healing, hope, love, peace, understanding, and inclusion.
As it is, loving God is a daily choice which breeds a litany of choices...Some days its as easy as breathing and other days it is the hardest choice we can make.
The questions we ask the confirmands at 8:30, the same questions that the Hennesseys answered on behalf of their sweet son who so far only knows the world to be loving (giggles, smiles, loving touches)… are much more than questions. They are choices. They are statements of incredible faith that God gives us the power to do and be in the face of great tragedy in our world.
You're not going to believe what I'm about to say… but sometimes, Pastor Darryll has really wise things to say...after a difficult week, we were invited by WBIR to respond to the faith component in the midst of great tragedy. Pastor Darryll had 70 seconds and he chose very appropriately point out that in our world where tragedies like the Boston Marathon Bombing are becoming usual occurrences, we need more people to claim that they believe God gives them power to resist the evil and injustice in our midst.
We are God's hope for the world. Our faith matters, whether we feel it or we choose it. It is not another club, it is not something we do, it is who we are… who we are becoming. This is why the church is important, there is support, and second chances, and it takes continued practice for all of us.
Let your faith matter, let it make you different, believe that God really gives you the power to resist evil and injustice...
Treat people with kindness...
Help when you can...
Notice who is left out...
Let go of grudges...above all: Follow Jesus.
When asked the question, "why are you looking in the clouds?" the disciples got on the move, back to that upper room that once paralyzed them with fear to begin to scheme. May we join them today and claim the power God gives us to tell the world a different story. For God's sake, let's follow Jesus today and always. Amen.