The Journey and the Perspective
And when [Jesus] had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.
In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) “For it is written in the Book of Psalms,
“‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’;
“‘Let another take his office.’
So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us – one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. (Acts 1:9-26 ESV)
We have one of those holiday Samiec family stories about 15 years ago where we are together in a big van in Spain, Charlotte and I an assortment of our children and partners and to help me as I was driving on the ‘wrong side’ of the road my eldest, Jonathan, was calling out from the back of the van the sat nav directions as we were going up into a small Spanish village. The roads were getting narrower and narrower and I kept asking ‘Are you sure?’ and just at the point where I couldn’t go forward I heard from the back ‘hey, what does pedestrian mean in a sat nav?’. These days we are more knowledgeable and if you use electronic maps we are used to seeing how long it will take us to drive, to walk, to take the train or the bus for the same journey. The more information you have for the journey – the terrain, the conditions, mode of transport, times – the better will be your journey and the more equipped you will be to react should things not go as planned.
Then once you’ve done the journey you can tell the story in all sorts of ways from a one word summary – like children coming home from school and being asked how their day went and saying ‘ok’ – through to detailed descriptions of each segment of the trip.
A beloved Australian book – an autobiography – and yes, these are spoilers – which told the story of death, abandonment, violence and that’s when he wasn’t even a teenager, then farm work, droving, nearly dying in the Australian outback, later nearly dying in a deep water bore, teaching himself to read and write, becoming a professional boxer – and now he’s only 18 – losing his brothers and himself badly wounded at Gallipoli – afterwards he met his wife while being nursed to health but told he’d only live two or so years more, yet they married and he died at the age of 88. What’s the name of this famous Australian book? A Fortunate Life. (By Albert B Facey) Hardly fortunate we’d think. Well, it depends on your perspective.
I mention both making a journey and the perspective on life because I think they are very good ways to read Luke’s second letter to Theophilus which we don’t call 2nd Luke but Acts of the Apostles written to tell the story of the followers of Jesus and how they responded to Jesus’ ascension. Acts is full of journeys – of going out – into the streets of Jerusalem, then Judea, then Samaria and that’s radical for Jewish people because of the disdain they felt towards them, and then to the end of the earth – and that would mean interacting with Gentiles – an even bigger problem. Luke writes all this to Theophilus to either lead him to Jesus or to confirm his faith in Jesus but the journey and the perspective are united – you only live well, if you live with Jesus. When your journey through life has Jesus with you and when your perspective on reality has Jesus with you – important because after the ascension sightings of Jesus are not happening in any usual, regular, predictable way – then you have what the world promises but doesn’t give – hope, security, meaning, purpose, and above all love.
The Christian Church has now journeyed nearly 2,000 years on from that part of the story Luke spoke about – the waiting between Jesus’ ascension and Pentecost – a Jewish festival largely focusing on the first fruits of the harvest and associated with the giving of the Torah to Moses at Mount Sinai – more on that next week – but the world still offers versions of hope, security, meaning, purpose, and even love (if you comply) and Jesus is still calling people to him and giving the gifts we all need – true hope, proper security, real meaning and purpose, and best of all – love – God’s love.
Peter and the followers of Jesus – did you notice the number? – yes, there are more than just 11 and a later addition of Matthias – there is a group of about 120 – and they are following Jesus which in this case meant waiting until Jesus’ promise about the Holy Spirit to them was fulfilled – and they do two things – they pray together and they get the earthly house in order based on what they understand
from God which meant returning to the number 12 because Jesus had chosen 12 – the official ‘sent’ ones – apostles – messengers – and perhaps to help us understand because all the followers of Jesus, the disciples, can speak about Jesus – we might think of these 12 as more ambassadors who officially represent Jesus to the followers and to the world because they were with him for the three years and heard and saw what Jesus said and did and so they could be the reference points, the truth tellers, the umpires when versions of Jesus needed clarifying or correcting.
The Apostle Paul – a later addition – will describe the Church, the followers of Jesus as God’s workmanship, a new humanity – the old Jew and Gentile distinction no longer applies – no longer strangers or aliens to each other or to God, a household of God – how? Because we are “ … built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:20-22 ESV). Yes, this is harder to see today because of denominationalism but the one holy Christian and apostolic Church is still built on the apostles and prophets – the New Testament and the Old Testament – and the teachings that come from them that keep Jesus and his cross and resurrection and ascension central – and we experience this in our congregational life.
How is your journey and what is your perspective?
You will have answers and emotions bubbling up and they might be different to last week, last year, 10 years ago. But Jesus isn’t different. You might be waiting for something or busy with something and still we gather together to receive from Jesus hope, security, meaning, purpose, and above all love. We receive Jesus and his gifts and help through the means he says he uses – words, water, bread and wine – and together we pray for ourselves and for the world because Jesus is the true ruler of the world and not the politicians and power structures we can see. Yes, I know that to describe Jesus this way makes it seem as if he’s a bad ruler – look at the mess we’re in – but that is because we forget that Jesus hasn’t come to rule but to serve, his way of being Lord is washing feet and he calls his followers to serve and he hears our prayers and answers them in his way so that his will is done which is always for our good and the good of the world.
‘Rubbish! , says the world.
‘No, it isn’t’, we reply, ‘it is all about your perspective’. You see we know how to make the world so much better in terms of health – the pandemic has shown us many things can be done if there is a political and social will and a working together – and it is the same with the environment, poverty, hunger, violence, war, relationship breakdown – and we could make the world so much better but we do not – and we often retreat to the phrase – and yes, there is some truth here – that we are only one person or a small group, what can we do?
However, like those first followers of Jesus, until he guides you how to serve in your home, your street, your neighbourhood, your work, your society – socially, politically, caringly – what we can do is pray and then do what we know God would want us to do in the life we are living right now.
When we are enthused by our discipleship, Jesus gives us hope, security, meaning, purpose, and above all love.
When we are tired and despondent about the Church and the world, Jesus gives us hope, security, meaning, purpose, and above all love.
That’s what meeting together here and online helps us with – a pause on the journey and a reminding of the perspective we take with us out into the world.
Jesus died, was raised, ascended and is with his people. We are waiting for his reappearance rather than his return because he has never left his people – he took you by the hand in your baptism – and he is walking with you now and giving you the perspective you need to live your life with hope, security, meaning, purpose, and above all love.
And so we pray and roll up our sleeves for another week to come.
- Acts 1:9 - 26