Looking Outward, Not Upward

Sunday, May 12, 2024
Pastor Jason Bryan-Wegner

Acts 1:1-11 

In Minnesota we’re used to fleeting seasons. Spring does not come with the guarantee of gradually warming temps and gentle, life-giving rains. Rather, we often experience spring as a confused season of rollercoaster temps soaring into the 80s followed by the plunge of winter and late season snowstorms. I’m hoping by now we’re beyond that, but one never knows!

For some, this time of year marks another fleeting season. Graduations are just around the corner. Some of the children in our lives, who it seems were just bounding into Kindergarten with their backpacks bigger than them not so long ago are not bounding out the door into young adulthood with hopes and dreams of their own.

In just a few short weeks or months, young people will move into a new season of increased independence, decision making, and exploration. Parents will move into a new season too. You’ve had these seasons of childhood and adolescence with them to lay the foundation, to help them set their course, to show them what is valuable and most important. It’s all part of the cycle of life.

Like everything we have, the children we raise are a gift from God. And the good news is they always belong to God, we always belong to God, no matter how old we get. That’s the promise given in our baptisms, and the one we claim at our confirmation. That no matter where you go in life or what path you are on, the Spirit is always with us calling us into abundant life. A wise, more seasoned parent than I, once reminded me that our kids are on loan to us. As parents, our job is steward the gift that is entrusted to us. I would extend this stewarding roll to the whole congregation because I see it all the time. The ways you care for our young people and remind them of the presence and strength of God in their lives makes an incredible difference, dear church.

Now, it’s time for them (for you – point at grads) to take what’s been given to you and by God’s grace and guidance, tend to the abundant life you’ve been given.

For those of you in this situation, both grads and parents, perhaps you’re feeling both the joy of freedom that is coming and some fear of what lies ahead? New seasons in life, whether is it setting out on our own for the first time, adjusting to life after the loss of a spouse, or anything in between tend to come with all kinds of emotions. Letting go of what was, and stepping into what lies ahead always comes with risk. But it’s something we never do alone.

The book of Acts is a new season, a turning point in the work of God in the world. Jesus’ ascension to heaven fulfills all that has been written of him. Jesus ascends to sit at the right hand of God. But that hand does not rest. Christ really doesn’t go away. God’s right hand is the hand that is always with God’s people. Psalm 18 says, “Your right hand, O God, sustains me.” Psalm 60 tells us the right hand of God reaches out to lift the lowly, guide the lost, forgive the sinner, and saves, helps, and delivers those whom God loves from danger. Christ’s ascension makes Christ’s presence real through the Spirit in our time and space, whatever season we find ourselves in.

And the Spirit doesn’t work alone. The disciples – the students of Jesus, are done with classroom work. It’s time for them to move out and do what Jesus taught them. Now they are apostles – empowered by the Spirit to do the life-giving ministry of Jesus wherever they go.

This is our story, too. It’s our work, too. Jesus’ ascension marks a new season of faith. It is not God’s intention for us to be casual observers of the holy work of God. It is God’s intention for us to be an active part of it. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit shows up, and you will be my witnesses wherever you go”, Jesus tells us. To be God’s witnesses involves paying attention, trusting that God’s activity is not locked in the past, but that by the Spirit’s power, God is continuing to lead us into a holy and hope-filled future. This future is not just for the youthful optimism of our graduates, the Spirit unleashes this power on the whole church.

As people of faith, we’ve often been encouraged to look up, to expect that God’s purpose will come somehow from heaven. That we have to know some great and hidden mystery in order to be truly spiritual. Jesus’ teachings point us to a kingdom of heaven that is coming near. We are instructed to pray “your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” The goodness, mercy, and grace of God is promised for this world, AND the world to come. Both the witness of Jesus and the work of the Spirit point us outward, not upward. The Spirit guides us to a way of life that embodies love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. All of these things reflect who God is, and the intention God has for our lives. Looking outward helps us see God’s intention because the Spirit meets us in relationship.

Whatever else we aspire to do in life, keep looking outward. Keep looking for Jesus. Keep attending to the Spirit. Because the Spirit is attending to you. The Spirit comes with power not to pull us out of this world, but to be an essential part of the reshaping of the world in the abundant and life-giving way of Jesus in and through us. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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