Looking Up

Click here to play “Right Field” by Peter, Paul and Mary

Ascension – Looking Up

May 28, 2011

Acts 1:1-11

When I was in 4th grade, I joined the Pittsfield community softball league.

I know why I wanted to join  –

It wasn’t for any love for the game,

Or because I loved to hit or catch or run bases  —

It was because of the uniform.

So there I was, every Thursday night that summer of 1975,

in back of North Junior High School,

in right field – deep right field – very deep right field –

the deeper the better – according to my coach!

If you know anything about 4th grade softball –

and even if you don’t –

you probably can figure that not a lot of balls are hit to right field.

So I spent a lot of time that summer looking up…

At the cloud formations passing through;

At the occasional airplane flying by;

At an interesting bug spinning around in the air.

I became go engrossed with what was going on up above me,

that I never paid much attention to what was going on on the ground around me.

Looking up but not looking around.

This is the image I’d like us to consider this evening:

Looking up but not looking around.

Two figures in white robes ask the disciples,

Why are you still standing looking up toward heaven?

Jesus is not there any longer.

And yes, Jesus will come again.

Trust him.  Trust his promise.

But in the meantime,

stop wasting time looking up in the air;

stop looking for signs and symbols of his coming – it is not for you to know!

Stop looking up and instead start looking around.

They continue…

Didn’t you hear him?

He told you that you have a job to do.

And that job doesn’t include standing here looking up into the sky.

You are to go.

Go to Jerusalem  – the place where he was crucified.

Go to Judea – the place where he was born.

Go to Samaria – the place where he was hated.

Go the ends of the earth – the places where he has never been known.

Go and be his witnesses to all these places.

The time for standing still looking up is over.

Now it’s time to look around for a place where you can be a witness.

There’s a powerful African American spiritual “My Soul is a Witness.”[i]

It begins slowly, naming some of the biblical heroes of faith.

Methusaleh who lived for 969 years!  Methusaleh was a witness for my Lord.

Noah who followed God’s command and built the ark.  Noah was a witness for my Lord.

Abraham and Sara who believed in God’s promise and left their home for the promised land not knowing where they were going.  Abraham and Sara were witnesses for my Lord.

And the song goes on.

David, Moses, Miriam, Queen Esther, Daniel, Isaiah, Mary, the mother of Jesus, Martha…

all were witnesses for my Lord.

The song builds to its crescendo and then asks us,

Now who will be a witness for my Lord?”

Now who will be a witness for my Lord?

We live in a time when we desperately need a witness.

And not just any witness.

We have plenty of people who will witness to an angry God –

last week the airwaves were filled with the stories of yet another end of the world prediction.

We have plenty of people who will witness to a hateful God-

the folks of Westboro Baptist church continue their protests at funerals.

We have plenty of people who will witness to a vengeful God –

when tornadoes or earthquakes strike, there is no shortage of people who proclaim it is a punishment from God.

We don’t need any more witnesses like them.

We need a witness like Moses who believed in a God who cares for the oppressed –

who demanded the release of Pharoah’s slaves.

We need a witness like Queen Esther who believed in a God who loves all people –

who was willing to risk her life by calling for a change in the law which was set against the Jews.

We need a witness like the Samaritan woman at the well who believed in a God who can redeem all people no matter what their past has been – and went to tell others about him.

Back to my 4th grade softball experience again…

Now I think I know what you imagine how the story ends….

Because it’s how I often dreamed it would end:

One day I’m minding my own business in right field,

looking up at the clear blue sky;

the bases are loaded, there are two outs, the tying run is at the plate.

Let’s make it even more dramatic…

it’s a full count – 3 balls and 2 strikes.

The pitcher winds up, throws the ball across the plate,

the batter connects with a smack and the ball soars in the air –

farther, farther, farther – it’s heading toward me.

I make a running leap, catch the ball, the game is over, the crowd cheers, and the coach faints in disbelief.

But that’s not how it happened.

No one in that 4th grade league ever hit to right field.

Not once.

Not ever.

I spent countless hours that season looking up – but the ball never came.

If we spend our lives looking up –

looking up for Jesus to come again or

looking up for the next great hero of faith to arrive on the scene.

the time may never come .

We could choose to look up for a hero – someone else who will witness to their faith,

Or we could look around and wonder where God is sending us to witness to our faith.

Now who will be a witness for my Lord?

Who will be a witness in this community to the God who is compassionate?

Who will be a witness in this community to the God who is faithful?

Who will be a witness in this community to the God who cares for the poor?

Who will be a witness in this community to the God who welcomes the prostitute?

Let’s not keep looking up for someone else.

Let’s look around at ourselves.

Amen.

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