Sermon: “Re-Membering Jesus” (Acts 1:1-11) [5/29/2022]

It happened again.  Though we’ve sworn a million times that it wouldn’t… It.  Happened.  Again.  What are we doing?  As a human race, where are we going?  Why do we say, “Never again,” but do nothing to make sure these senseless shootings never happen again?  A quote by theologian Miroslav Volf has been making the rounds this week:  “There is something deeply hypocritical about praying for a problem you are unwilling to resolve.”  Yes.  What are we as a country–what are we as a faith community–doing to limit access to guns?

I began pastoring full time June 1, 2001.  Three months later, 9/11 happened.  December 14, 2012, the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting happened in Newtown, Connecticut.  June 17, 2015–Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston.  June 12, 2016–the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.  November 5, 2017–First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.  Two weeks after my last pastorate began, the Parkland school shooting happened.  Since I became your pastor six weeks ago, there have been mass shootings in Buffalo, a California church, and now in Uvalde.  In some ways, it feels like my ministry has been what happens between terrorist events.  Kathryn recently read three years of my blog.  (Y’all should give her combat pay for that. 😉  She observed how often my sermons addressed mass shootings.

And here’s one more to add to the list.    

I’m angry!  Are you?  I’m also flirting with despair.  Are you?  All the statistics show that the one thing that makes a difference in a country’s level of gun violence is access to guns.  And yet, we continue to go in the opposite direction.  

Nine-eleven happened on a Tuesday.  As a brand new pastor trying to figure out what to say the following Sunday, I talked to two more experienced colleagues, neither of whom was serving a church at the time.  Each one gave the same response:  “I’m glad I’m not preaching this week.”  I was on my own.  I don’t remember what I said, but we got through it.

Here’s the thing that’s so hard about dealing with avoidable tragedy as a faith community:  As people of faith, it’s our job to hang onto hope.  That’s what the story of resurrection is all about–holding hope in the face of trauma and systemic evil.  But…it’s just so hard to hold hope when we do nothing about senseless evil.  And yet, that is our only faithful response, even to the most horrific of events:  hope.

But how do we get there?  How do we get to hope after Tuesday’s horrific school shooting in Texas?

Today’s story from Acts takes place on a day giddy with hope.  The resurrected Jesus has been hanging out with his followers for 40 days.  It’s been just like the old days, except way better!  The Jesus they had lost had returned to them.  What joy it had been to be led again by their teacher!  The world must have looked pretty rosy as they climbed the hill outside of Jerusalem.

They gather around Jesus as they had so many times before, ready for his teaching.  Jesus promises his followers the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Then Jesus says, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.  And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  Then–WHOOSH! Jesus flies off into the sky and a cloud takes him out of their sight.  No doubt, jaws were scraping the ground.  “What just happened?  Jesus left again?  Now what are we going to do?  Jesus!  Don’t leave us again!”

Jesus flying up into the ether, yeah.  I guess that’s dramatic…but it isn’t the most important thing that happens in this scene.  The most important part of this story, the thing that makes the birth of the church possible, the thing that keeps hope going, happens next.  Listen.

“While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two people in white robes stood by them and said, ‘Why are you looking towards heaven?”

It’s a good question.  Jesus told them to go back to Jerusalem, but they’re still staring at the sky.  Jesus told them to wait for the gift of the Spirit, but they’re still staring at the sky. Jesus  told them to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth, but they’re still staring at the sky.  “Why are you looking towards heaven?” the be-robed people ask. 

Imagine we’re those disciples.  We followed Jesus and learned from him.  We lived through his violent death, then rejoiced in his resurrection.  What joy it’s been to spend these last 40 days with him.  Then we follow Jesus out to the hill, ready for another teaching.  He says something about the Spirit, whatever that is, then Whoosh!  He flies up into heaven.

So, we’re all staring at the sky with our jaws dropped wondering what in the world has just happened, when into the stunned silence, someone speaks.  What are we going to do?  We’re staring into the ether, flabbergasted, and someone on the ground speaks.  What will we do?  We’re going to lower our heads and look for who’s speaking, right?  We’re going to shift our gaze from the sky to the ground, from heaven to Earth, from what was to what is becoming.

And that is what makes Pentecost and the birth of the church possible–the shifted gaze from the Jesus they knew // to the world he was sending them to love; the shifted focus from the ephemeral things of heaven to the hard realities of life on Earth; the shift from looking only to Jesus to now looking to each other…because in each other is where Jesus lived now, right?  Jesus’ disciples were now Jesus to, for, and with each other.  That was a key source of hope for them. 

A key source of our hope–even in these troubling, traumatic times–a key source of our hope also is each other.  We, too, are Jesus to, for, and with each other…and to others, as well.

What does being Jesus to, for, and with each other mean in the face of another mass shooting?  How do we hold hope with each other now?

First, we must take action.  Hope stays alive only when we work to fulfill it.  If you have ideas for specific actions we might take in response to the epidemic of gun violence in our country, please send them to me or to Kathryn.  I’ll include a list in this week’s Tuesday Museday.  One of the things I’ll be doing is attending a “Call to Conscience” gathering for clergy at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church on Friday.

The other thing we can do, the thing we MUST do, is to continue to nurture and live what is best about humanity.  Please don’t diminish the importance of being kind to others.  Even when we’re mad enough to spit nails, as people of faith–as members of the human race–it’s our job to see others, all others, as human beings, as beloved children of God.  If we lose that, if we lose the ability to see every human being as a beloved child of God, then violence wins.

September 17, 2001, the Monday after preaching my sermon in response to 9/11, I read about what the rabbi of a synagogue in New York did in Shabbat services that weekend.  When I read it, I thought how absolutely fearless he was.  That rabbi sang, “What a Wonderful World.”   

My first thought was, How could he sing “What a Wonderful World” after what had just happened?  My second thought was, How could he not sing it?

How can we not sing it today?   (Sing, “What a Wonderful World.”) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3yCcXgbKrE

About reallifepastor

I'm a pastor who's working out her faith...just like everyone else.
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