Today is the festival of the Ascension of Our Lord. This evening at church we're having a pot-luck supper, followed by a worship service of Holy Communion, after which we'll be going down to the park by the lake and flying kites so that we can "gaze up toward heaven" (Acts 1.10).
The Ascension of Our Lord is a fairly new festival for me. The church I grew up in didn't observe this festival. I remember my mother going to worship at one of the other Lutheran churches in the same city that had an Ascension service every year during the day.
When I came here as pastor, nearly 7 years ago, I started having an Ascension Day service on the Thursday evening 40 days after Easter. We didn't get a huge crowd. The choir was there because we'd practice after worship. Then a few years ago we started having a pot-luck before the service which boosted our numbers somewhat.
But I think it's also a difficult festival to understand. We're modern now and we have a hard time believing some story about Jesus being lifted up by a cloud into some heaven "up there." The Hubble telescope was repaired this week by a space shuttle crew. They say now it will work better than when it was brand new. But I don't think it's going to find heaven hidden behind some planet or star, or in some undiscovered galaxy, or through some black hole.
So what do we do with the Ascension of Our Lord? I think what we do with it, is what the two men in white robes suggested. They said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven" (Acts 1.11). They didn't tell the disciples what they should be doing, but I think they told them what they shouldn't be doing.
Don't waste your time staring off into space. Don't waste your time thinking there's something better to be found somewhere out there, up, up and away from here. What Jesus said, just before he ascended, was "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1.8).
There's a saying about being too heavenly minded to be any earthly good. It's one of those sayings that's a little too cute and trite for my liking. But I think there's some truth to it, especially on Ascension Day. Don't stare off into space. Get to work spreading the good news and working to make our world a better place. Get to work making yourself and the world the person and the place God intended.
Maybe we look up and away, somewhere out there, because everything and everyone down here is so messed up. But this is the world we've been given, and we are the people God has tasked with caring for each messed up other and this messed up world. The good news is that we're not really left alone to do it. We have each other, and in our midst is the promised Holy Spirit who enables us to be the witnesses and stewards that Jesus wants us to be.
Happy Ascension Day