Gazing into Heaven
Rev. Kurt Lantz Ascension of Our Lord C Acts 1:1-11
May 26, 2022 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON
Dear people gazing up into heaven,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
It feels to me that I have moved from a time of burying my head in the sand to a time of gazing up into heaven. According to our Reading from the Book of Acts for this Ascension Day, the latter may not be any better than the former.
Over the last few years, since I have marked a half century of life in this flesh, many things have become more apparent to me than I had before noticed. With my head in the sand I did not fully see the frailty of our physical bodies, the instability of our natural world, the fragility of world peace, the shaky political ground upon which our dominion rests.
I could attribute it to the maturation of my body and brain, or to the massive input of commentary on world events in social media, or to personal experiences that have just happened to occur at this time of life. That doesn’t really matter. I just feel that I have been more attuned to the fragility, instability, and transitory nature of life in this world and in this flesh. It feels like I’ve taken my head out of the sand and begun to notice what is going on around me, the realities that I preferred to ignore in younger days.
Do you feel it, too? Perhaps it is not fully geared to any particular time of life. Perhaps there is also some interplay with the age of the world itself. There is likely a much more complicated inter-working of things than any of us could explain or understand. Nevertheless, it feels like my head has come out of the sand; and an awareness has washed over me; and not being comfortable with what I see has caused me to lift my eyes to heaven, in search of the Lord Jesus who promised that He is coming.
One of my fellow pastors who has shared some similar life experiences, now looks me in the eye and says to me “He is coming.” He also sees things differently now than he has before. I reply that the signs are all around us. These are not signs that we draw up ourselves whenever we see something that we wish would change or stop. Rather, these are the very real signs that Jesus Himself gave when He spoke about the time of His coming: false christs, and wars, and persecution, and the love of many growing cold (Matthew 24:3-12). These are all very distressing things happening around us and in our lives. They are so distressing to us that we look up into the sky to see how close Jesus is.
It sounds like a good thing to do. I used to think that the angels’ comment to the disciples after Jesus ascended into heaven was a little humourous. “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?” (Acts 1:11). Now I find it more of a biting rebuke, because I have made that adjustment from burying my head in the sand to looking up to heaven. Instead of maintaining a blissful ignorance of the sorry state of things in the world and in my life, I have acknowledged it and raised my eyes to heaven waiting for the Lord to come and fix everything.
What could be wrong with that? I don’t rightly know, but there is something wrong with it or the angels would not have questioned such a response from the disciples who did the same thing. While gazing into heaven does express our faith in Jesus’ promise that He will come again, perhaps it also expresses some doubt or unbelief about other things that Jesus had promised. While He told the disciples to wait for the promise of the Father, He also told them that once they had received it they were to get going. They received the promise when the Holy Spirit came upon them on the Day of Pentecost. We received that promise when the Holy Spirit came upon us at our Baptism.
There is no reason to wait anymore. It is time to get going, not to bury our heads in the sand or to stand paralyzed, looking into heaven, as if nothing will happen until Jesus returns in the same way they saw Him go. We have received the promise of the Holy Spirit with the promise that He will bring us power. It was so evident in the sound of a mighty rushing wind and the appearance of fire and the speaking in foreign languages and healings and exorcisms and visions.
We have the evidence of the water when it was poured, of witnesses who serve as godparents, of a candle and a certificate and a church register. It seems like they pale in comparison, but they are founded on the same promise of the Father given through Jesus, that the Holy Spirit is present with us in power for these very times.
When Jesus ascended the disciples wanted to know: “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Isn’t that what we want to know as we gaze into heaven? Lord, are You going to fix it now? Are You on Your way to set right everything that disturbs us? He gave them one of those biting rebukes: “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority” (Acts 1:7). Ouch. I’ve been stung.
Again, He restated the promise as He does for us today. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8). You will receive power when the Spirit works through the promises of Jesus, through the promises of Him who now sits at the right hand of the Father, through the promises of Him who has been given all authority in heaven and on earth, through the promises of Him whose every enemy is being placed under His feet.
As we bear witness to the promises of the risen and ascended Jesus, power is received by the Holy Spirit. When your godparents stood bearing witness and testifying at the font, you received power from the Holy Spirit. As the words of Jesus are testified from the lectern, you receive power from the Holy Spirit. As we hear the words of Jesus spoken over bread and wine, you receive power from the Holy Spirit. “Why do you stand looking into heaven?” You have the power of the Holy Spirit sent by the resurrected Lord Jesus from the right hand of the Father.
It is good that we pull our head out of the sand to see the true state of things in this wicked world and in our sinful flesh, but it is quite foolish to stand paralyzed gazing into heaven awaiting the Lord Jesus to come and set things right. He is doing that right now. That is what His ascension is all about. He is setting things right in His authority that the Father has given to Him. He is seeing to it that sins are forgiven, that the weak are made strong, that the desperate and despondent are given hope, that the dying have eternal life.
When Jesus told His disciples the signs of the end of the age and of His coming, He threw in hopeful statements for them, like “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13); and “when you see all these things, you know that He is near, at the very gates” (v. 33); and “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away” (v. 35).
Everyone is to be on watch, not burying their heads in the sand. They are to look for His coming, but not stand gazing paralyzed. Rather, He says, “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes” (Matthew 24:45-46).
Not with head buried in the sand, not with neck craned toward heaven, but doing what the master has given to do: giving food to the household at the proper time, testifying to the promises of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit as we witness baptisms, as we hear and share the words of Jesus, as we eat and drink the body and blood of our risen and ascended Saviour. He continues to give us our food at the proper time. He continues to send us the power of the Holy Spirit as the times call for it.
While we have had our heads buried in the sand, He has ascended to the right hand of the Father so that He can give and bestow what we need when we need it. While we stand looking up to heaven wondering if He is going to come and set it all straight now, He has been looking down on us with mercy and compassion and doing that very thing, forgiving our sins, strengthening us with His promises for this day, and bringing eternal life with Him as He comes quickly.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.