Sermon from June 1, 2014
Acts 1: 6-14
St. Michael & All Angels, Longview, Texas
& St. Luke’s, Lindale, Texas
I am a big fan of the TV series called Mad Men.
The TV series called Mad Men takes place during the decade of the 1960s.
The storyline of Mad Men chronicles a New York City advertising agency and all of the supporting characters.
Mad Men began a few years ago, with the action of the series beginning in 1960.
The TV series will wrap up next year, with the action ending in the year 1969.
Last Sunday night, the episode of Mad Men captured action from the summer of ‘69, July of 1969 to be exact.
On last Sunday’s episode, the characters were captivated by the moment when astronauts first landed on the surface of the moon.
Mad Men does a wonderful job of tugging at my nostalgia for the old days.
Mad Men is meticulous in its attention to detail, details in portraying the decade of the 1960s with pinpoint accuracy:
Hemlines on women rise up to the level of the mini skirt.
Businessmen wear hats to work with their crisp suits.
Girls wear go-go boots and boys have short buzzed hair; that is, until the hippie look comes on the scene.
The Beatles, rotary telephones and polyester fabrics all make their appearance.
I am a big fan of Mad Men, partly because the nostalgia takes me back, throwing me back to my childhood years in the 1960s.
However, many of the institutions and structures of my past are now gone forever – and they will never be restored.
Last Thursday was a major feast day in the Church.
Last Thursday was the Feast of the Ascension.
I am sure that you all are still recovering from the flood of Ascension greeting cards in your mailbox – and from the frenzy of opening gifts around your Ascension Day tree.
But at any rate, Ascension Day is a major feast day in the Church.
Because 40 days after the resurrection of Jesus, Jesus is ascended up into heaven.
Therefore, 40 days after Easter Day, we celebrate Ascension Day.
And because Ascension Day is always 40 days after Easter, Ascension Day always falls on a Thursday.
And when we celebrate Ascension Day in church, we read the story of the ascension of Jesus in the Book of Acts.
And today, on this Sunday, on this Sunday after Ascension Day, we read from the same story in the Book of Acts.
In this reading from the Book of Acts, before Jesus ascends into heaven, the very last question asked of the risen Jesus by his followers is this:
“Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”
Having been powerfully raised from the dead, Jesus could have easily taken everyone back, back to their comfortable past.
Jesus could have easily made that Ascension Thursday into Throwback Thursday.
Because the followers of the risen Jesus are asking for a throwback to the past.
And so their very last question to the risen Jesus is this:
“Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom of our past?
Lord, is this the time – when you will restore cassette tapes and typewriters and Blockbuster stores?
Lord, is this the time – when you will restore Sunday school classrooms filled to capacity with children, with little boys in bow ties and little girls in patent leather shoes?
Lord, is this the time – when you will restore us to our old jobs as fishermen on the Sea of Galilee?
Lord, is this the time – when you will restore the kingdom of our past?
Yet the risen Jesus completely ignores this request for a Throwback Thursday.
Jesus completely ignores this request for a restoration of the past.
Instead, Jesus responds:
“[Do not focus on the past.
Because] you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you;
And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem…and to the ends of the earth.”
And with those final words, Jesus is ascended.
The resurrected body of Jesus is taken up into a cloud, with instructions given for the future.
The resurrection of Jesus is not a call to throwback nostalgia,
But rather a call to action, action in the future.
In my work as a bishop, I hear story after story about people who are motivated by wistful nostalgia, people who are longing for a Throwback Thursday.
In my work as a bishop, I hear story after story about churches where people want to treat the church as a museum to the past, rather than focus on Christ’s future message of power and witness.
These churches, these museums to the past, cling to Jesus’ robes before he ascends into heaven and plead:
“Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom of the past?”
And with an air of dismissal to that misguided question, Jesus replies:
“In the future, you will receive power, power to proclaim my message to everyone.”
Those churches and people who focus primarily on past glories – are also churches and people who are dying.
Yet churches and people who focus primarily on a message of hope and love into the future – are also churches and people who are thriving and alive in the Spirit!
For Jesus’ final message to us before he ascends has nothing to do with preserving the institution of the Church.
But Jesus’ final message to us before he ascends has everything to do with a future-oriented power, the power to proclaim his message.
And Jesus’ powerful message is that everyone, everyone is loved.
And, my friends, Jesus’ final message before he ascends into heaven does not just pertain to churches.
Jesus’ future-oriented message is for individuals, as well.
The question is: whether we are looking backward – or looking forward.
Do you ask Jesus to restore the kingdom of your past glories?
Do you tug at Jesus’ robe to restore the days when your stomach was flat and your hair was full?
Do you look backward for a Throwback Thursday to the past?
Or are you looking forward, listening to Jesus’ final words of hope as he ascends?
For in the future, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.
And you will proclaim Jesus’ message of love…to the ends of the earth.
Therefore, do not dwell on nostalgic glories from your past that will never be restored.
But break down the walls of human institutions – and receive the power of Jesus to love all people.
Do not be curators of a museum dedicated to the past.
But open the temple of your heart to love and hope for everyone.
You see, Ascension Day is not Throwback Thursday.
The Ascension of Jesus is about looking forward.
Looking forward –
To an ascending future.