That Should Work Luke 24:44-53 5.13.2018
Let’s pretend that you are working in the city so, imagine the typical scene:
You’re late for work or an appointment on the 5th floor of that generic building and you enter into an open elevator, only to find that the doors aren’t closing fast enough for you so that you can get on with your life. So, you jab at the “close door” button four or five times and, after a slight delay, the doors ease closed, leaving you satisfied that you have exerted masterful control over the disobedient, but now submissive machine.
You get to the appointment, and you realize that someone has forgotten that the month of May can still be chilly in these parts and has left the air conditioning on. You get up from your seat and adjust the thermostat, believing that you have saved everyone involved from pneumonia and possibly death.
At lunchtime, you decide to take a walk around the park across the street so you put on your special rocker-ized shoes that are supposed to tone your calves and quads and glutes while you walk. You think of it as double-dipping in the fitness department.
On your way back, however, you get stuck at a crosswalk where the light is against you. Now this tends to happen to us no matter what we are doing. Right? No problem, you think to yourself. There’s a button there on a post that you can push in order to make the light change and allow you to cross. You jab at it a few times, just to be sure that it registered, and even though it takes a minute or so, the “Walk” sign changes and you go merrily on your way, once again believing that you have mastered the traffic pattern of the city with the push of a button.
When the day ends, you get back in the elevator, close the doors again with your magic finger, go to the parking garage, and get in your car and head home, where you can’t wait to watch television on your high-definition (HD) TV. You settle into your favorite chair, flip on the remote control and marvel at just how crystal clear the shows look on the screen.
Later, you go to bed secure in the knowledge that you have successfully negotiated another day because all the things that should have worked for you actually did . . . . . . . . .
Or at least you think they did. See, all those things you thought you were doing, causing, controlling; you really weren’t.
You’ve heard of the “placebo effect” in medicine, where doctors in a study give a control group of patients useless sugar pills but tell them they are painkillers, and the patients’ brains convince them that they’re the real deal and they begin to feel better.
Well, the truth is that the placebo effect isn’t just for medicine anymore. Indeed, every day we’re encountering things that convince our brains that they should work, but actually don’t.
That “close door” button in the elevator, for example, isn’t actually there for you to push. It only works when a key is inserted in the elevator panel by either a firefighter or maintenance worker. Push it all you want, but the door will close when it’s programmed to do so every time.
Ever since the Americans with Disabilities Act from 1990, the doors wait a little longer to close no matter what. It is against the law to have the doors do otherwise. Manufacturers could put a sign on the button saying something to that effect, but that’s a hassle and probably wouldn’t do any good anyway. It’s easier to let the public believe they are the masters of elevator control.
That thermostat on the office wall is very likely a dummy that actually controls nothing. Think about it: What would the cost of heating and cooling be if every individual in the building had access to the real thermostat! That dummy thermostat is there to give workers the illusion of control; the thinking being that if you believe you’ve set the thermostat higher, you’ll actually feel warmer even though the real temperature remains the same.
Your tushy-toning shoes? Several years ago USA Today article quoted the American Medical Association calling the shoe manufacturers’ claims “utter nonsense,” and the Federal Trade Commission ordered shoe manufacturer Reebok to pay out $25 million in refunds to consumers for false advertising. Even so, there are still plenty of people who claim that the shoes worked, or at least they think they do. The shoes are now called the “Gravity Defyer” & have no “toning” quality.
The “walk” button on the street corner might actually work, but not in all cities, not at all corners, and not all the time. In New York City, for example, all the buttons have been deactivated because they’ve been replaced by automatic timers. And besides, can you just imagine the traffic flow in Manhattan being controlled by just one finger? That doesn’t stop people from continuing to jab the walk buttons nonstop in hopes of beating the traffic.
And the technology that makes your TV HD may be real, but people who buy an HDTV and don’t realize you need special hookups for it, don’t seem to know the difference. Just telling people they have HD is enough for them to believe the picture is sharper.
The bottom line in all of this is that there are a lot of things that look like they should work, but really don’t. Their purpose is to get us believing that we’re in control while, actually, something or someone else is — someone who has a bigger picture in mind than our own personal need to get something done.
While it’s sometimes done under dubious circumstances, often we need to be managed this way for our own ultimate good and the good of others.
At the end of Luke’s gospel we have the story of the Ascension. If you think about it, the Ascension scene on that mountain that day must have been a stunning & powerful spectacle to see.
But more amazing than the departure of Jesus was the unlikely lot of people with whom Jesus left to carry on his mission – namely, the disciples.
The disciples had grown up cleaning fish and collecting taxes – not as religious leaders. They had lived with Jesus for three years, saw the miracles, & heard the teachings. They had misunderstood the parables; fought over who was the greatest; fell asleep in the garden; denied Jesus in his last days; and when things got real dangerous, they ran away & hid.
Humanly speaking, perhaps the disciples weren’t the best choice to advance the good news.
And yet, in being around Jesus for three years they had been to the ultimate school of discipleship and now had their practical undergraduate degrees in mission. The mission of Jesus was now his disciple’s mission. They’re ready to launch.
And yet, Jesus knows they just aren’t quite ready yet.
In today’s reading Jesus reviews with them how his death and resurrection is the climax of the whole biblical story (Luke 24:44) and opens their minds to understand the Scriptures (v. 45). Jesus tells them that, yes, they will be heading out on a mission to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to “all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (v. 46).
They now know how it all works, and yet there’s still one thing missing. Jesus says, “You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Jesus is saying that heading straight to the mission field should work, but it won’t — not unless you wait for “power from on high” (vv. 48-49).
Interestingly, many of the dummy devices out there in the world are designed to satisfy our sense of always needing to be in a hurry by giving us the illusion of control.
Jesus, on the other hand, tells his disciples right up-front that being in a hurry will get them nowhere & that you aren’t really in control. The only power you have, the only control you will ever exert, comes from the Holy Spirit. That’s the only way the mission of the church is going to work – one needs to slow down & realize who is really in control. A lot of Christians move through life believing that there are shortcuts to faith and success in mission. Churches are always trying to push the right buttons by pounding away repeatedly at things like marketing campaigns and strategies; or learning to deal with “the four principles for this” or “the five steps to that.”
But everything we try will be unmotivated and useless unless it’s invested with the power of the Holy Spirit. Mission isn’t about being in a hurry or about being efficient and in control;
- it’s about waiting in prayer;
- it’s about waiting in silence & listening for that still small voice of God;
- it’s about worship;
- and the reading & studying of Scriptures.
That’s the only way discipleship works. It’s all about God’s plan, God’s timing, God’s method and God’s mission. Everything else is a programmatic placebo.
Today is Ascension Sunday; a time to reflect on how we partner with Jesus in life and faith, both individually and corporately.
And in reflecting I want to leave you with three important questions for faith & life. Three questions which I believe are part of our faith journey, as well as a reflection on how we partner with Jesus.
First question to ask yourself:
- “What is God up to?” What is God up to in your life; in this congregation? Ask, “What is God up to in my life?” I think the disciples were asking this or a similar questions while on the mountain top that day.
Second question to ask yourself:
- “What is God asking of me?” or “What does Jesus want me to do?” with my life; with & for this congregation? Look what Jesus was asking of the disciples: go to lands unknown; through perils unknown; away from family, friends, & their work.
And finally ask yourself:
- “What am I afraid of?” “What is holding me back from moving on?” The unknown can be very scary, daunting & frightening. Were the disciples afraid? Their history would say yes. I’m sure they were still trying to figure out, trying to connect the dots of what had happened leading up to the crucifixion, the resurrection and now the day/weeks since.
Remember, even in times of the unknown, the periods in life that cause us to be afraid – remember, God walks with all of us. God never forsakes us, nor abandon us. That is the “Resurrection Promise.”
And as you reflect on these three questions during the week and weeks ahead I want to leave you with one of my favorite quotations from one of my favorite theologians & writers, Henri Nouwin, a Catholic theologian & down-to-earth writer.
“God calls us to levels of discomfort in our lives, and promises us the gift of adventure.”
I invite you to live the adventure.
@Rev. Tim Wolbrecht, May, 2018
Here’s the audio recording of the sermon. TO LISTEN, you can CLICK (or double-Click) the red button below with the white arrow pointing to the right. If that does not work, then click on the “Sermon 5-13-18” name of the sermon.