“Men of Galilee…why do you stand here staring into the sky?”

– Sermon preached in the evening on Sunday 1st June 2014 at St Andrew’s Methodist Church, Cardiff –

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord Our Strength and Our Redeemer. Amen.

“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

I feel really sorry for the disciples this evening…

They’ve been through a hell of a lot this past few weeks.

A whole range of emotions to have to deal with. A great deal of personal and spiritual journeying to do – they’ve had to grow up pretty quickly!

First of all the horror of Good Friday, with the anguish they felt for Jesus, the fear for themselves, the guilt over what they had or hadn’t done. The Confusion about their future now that Jesus’ ministry had apparently failed.

Then the beginnings of the rumours that their Jesus was alive, with all the hope, terror and sheer perplexity of all of that.

And then, at last, normality again, though a much more wonderful normality than before, with Jesus back among them, talking, teaching, walking with them – making them feel at the centre of God’s world, as he always did.

But now, they suddenly find that he is not going to stay, and that he expects them to carry on without him. They didn’t have the privilege like us, of knowing that without the Ascension, Pentecost could not take place. Or that without the cross there could be no empty tomb – Christ mission, in becoming God incarnate only makes sense when he is taken up (physically into heaven from where he came!) And so they wait…waiting for whatever it was that Jesus said he would send to help them, though they are not even sure that they will know it when it arrives.

So, one minute they are the inner circle, waiting to hear about the pans for the kingdom of Israel and their central part to it all…and the next minute they are a leaderless, purposeless group of people.

And with this enormous task they have been left to do, not just an enormous task but a baffling and daunting one too – this Holy Spirit, whatever it is, had better be good, if it is going to get this physically and emotionally drained bunch of waifs and strays going again!

“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

I was asleep one evening in my bedroom in Cambridge and I was awoken by loud shouts of protest, my room was in view of the University Union Society…I could hear some chanting and couldn’t quite make out what it was, so as you do – I got up got dressed and ran round to see what was going on.

The Union Society invites people to come and have a debate, to present an argument you know, “this house believes….x, y , z” and speakers will present on both sides and one person will win.

They had invited Marine Le Pen this time, who before that day didn’t mean much at all to me – once the rest of the University had caught wind that this had happened the students and staff came out in their hundreds to ensure that she wasn’t given a warm welcome to the city. People were furious that this was allowed to occur…

I was shocked that a politician with such extreme views should be allowed to come and feel at home in a place like that.

But she came, the Union Society allowed her to give her contribution and that was that.

I left thinking, okay, I’m glad people were protesting, it’s a shame she was invited – but knowing France in the way that I do, there’s surely no way she could get a decent following.

Now, if any of you have been watching and listening to the news lately about the European Parliament Elections you will know that the Front National – Marine Le Pens party basically triumphed in France.

And even more frightening, I hope, is the reality that UKIP did far better than many people thought they would in the UK…

While we were busy, doing whatever it was we were doing – those ideologies that seek to destroy human community and human equality have awoken and gained power.

Now, of course UKIP and the Front National do not share all the same things in common, but neither of them are working towards, if we are honest, a better and healthier society in which the Gospel principles can flourish.

And while we were busy assuming that we could trust the trend of recent times – political dragons raised their heads.

It was complacency about this kind of mentality that allowed the horrors of the past to occur. We look back and say “how could they let it happen…” we don’t want another generation looking at us and asking the same question!

“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

One of my friends posted something on the internet the other day, about the UKIP votes and he said, the Church must make sure that this doesn’t grow out of control – that we must use all our votes to change the way things are…

I commented and said, what makes you think that many of the people voting for UKIP are not people who consider themselves to be God-fearing Christians.

That is a reality that we have to accept, and in many places and in many ways, the Church may well be adding to the problem. We saw on the Big Questions about two weeks ago, a question about whether the Church of England is institutionally racist….and the failure of any decent response or argument that that was not the case.

Hard realities. Hard facts. Hard truths to hear.

And that is the problem, we hear these things and they disturb us, we know about the different political or religious extremist groups that are growing in the UK and we somehow hope it will just go away.

That it will sort itself out. That it will resolve itself. That people will see the light!

“Men of Galilee, Christian Men and Woman of Cardiff, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

We cannot simply stare into the sky looking for God to do something. Because what we need to realize is the same thing the two men dressed in white are trying to get the disciples to realize….the solution has occurred. God in Christ is the something that you have been waiting for.

Christ is the solution.

You are the solution, and Christ has given you the authority to do something in his name.

To speak out against injustice, to protest, to use your vote for the bringing about of God’s kingdom.

Methodism has always spoken out against injustice, always stood with the poor, always challenged the society within which it was placed, and more often than not put its money where its mouth is – to never forget the weakest, poorest, most deprived person in society.

When we hear the prayer of Jesus for the disciples “that they may be one as we are one” we need to hear that as a prayer for all of humanity.

This is the prayer of the Jesus who would have nothing to do with politics that restricted people’s movement, nothing to do with politics that said certain problems are due to a certain group within society – we are all responsible for the state of our world.

Jesus Christ, himself the child of immigrants, would be the first to say, hold on – wait a minute, think about this. The earth isn’t yours to divide, it’s God’s world – and we are, each of us, regardless of where we may live or may wish to live, all of us are God’s children.

And Christ asks for protection from God the father for the disciples and all who he is leaving behind – not a prayer of protection from fear, or persecution, or any of the things we might feel we want to be protected from. He asks for protection for his followers ‘so that they may be one, and in their unity, demonstrate the wonderful, loving, beautiful unity of God. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In community, in fellowship, in relationship with each other.

A model of what life should be like for us here on earth. Not an option, not something that we need to defend, not something that one group of people can destroy – but something that people from other places can be brought into as brothers and sisters in God.

“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

The whole reason why creating the kind of community Christ’s prays for is, for that purpose – because the Jesus who was taking up into heaven, will come back in the same way we have seen him go into heaven.

And when he comes, he will want to know that His Church, the Body of Christ on earth has been doing all that it can, to demonstrate the loving unity of God.

A unity that unfortunately many politicians do not seek to strive for.
A unity that many kingdoms no longer want to work to create.
A unity that says in the other I see myself, and in the other I see the image and likeness of God.

‘Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands,
yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes,
you are his body.’ – St Teresa of Avila

And we have been given, as we will hear next Sunday – the gift and grace of the Holy Spirit. To be that body. To be that people. To be that unity.

“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

Thanks be to God for this truth.
Amen

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