All By Ourselves…Together

Heritage Presbyterian Church

May 24, 2020
7th Sunday of Easter
Scripture readings – 1st Peter 5: 6-11 and Acts 1: 6-14

At some point in all our lives, we left home.  Think about that statement for a minute.  Even back in ancient times, most people left the homes of their parents, even if they didn’t move that far away.  But we are a wandering people – and have been for thousands of years.

Think about the first time you left home for more than a short while or trip.  Maybe it was when you left for college.  Maybe it was when you joined the military.  Or maybe it was just summer camp.  Summer camps can be good for kids – and good for parents too.  The first time you drop a kid off at that faraway camp or put them on that big bus, questions arise:

“Will it be safe?”

“What if my child gets sick?”

“What if something happens?”

Usually, as you drive away or as you watch the bus pull away, with that big lump in your parental throat, those questions leap into your mind, don’t they?  You can’t help it!  You love that child!

Instead, the questions we should be asking are:

“Have I done all I can to prepare my child to be without me?”

If you have done your job, your child will be fine.  Yes, he or she may struggle, and yes, he or she may need your advice.  But that’s what email and phones are for.  After a point, you don’t usually have to stand next to your child in order for your child to survive.  

Could this type of experience help us in any way to understand how the Apostles felt when the Lord ascended into Heaven – and they were on their own?!?

If parents have done their job properly, then kid wonderful is ready for summer camp…or the military…or college…or whatever.

Is anyone going to ask if Jesus did his job properly in preparing those Apostles for the work ahead?  I think not!

Let’s look at the Scriptures again for today.  First of all, in the reading from Acts, Jesus assembled the Apostles on the top of a mountain near Jerusalem.  He had spent three years living and teaching them, he had risen from the dead on Easter morning, he had reappeared to them multiple times, the Bible tells us that he had “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,” but now it was time for him to leave and return to his Father in Heaven.  He accomplished all that he needed to do on earth.  He even promised to send an “Advocate” which we know as the Holy Spirit.  Jesus had done his job and had done it perfectly.

But look more closely at the reading and notice what it doesn’t say.  As you do, picture that poor child who is leaving for camp and perhaps is not quite ready to go; or picture those parents who are not quite ready to let that child go – even though they made all the arrangements!  Tears are shed!  Perhaps hard crying occurs long after the parents and the child have separated.  Did you hear anything like that in the reading from Acts?  In fact, if you look at all the Ascension accounts in the Gospels, you won’t find the Apostles clinging to Jesus, begging him to stay with them, weeping uncontrollably as he pulls away.  You won’t find the Apostles sitting around after Jesus is gone and mourning for him – like they did after his crucifixion.  You won’t find Jesus returning and peeking through the window to see how they are doing.  You won’t find any of that.

Instead, you will find obedient Apostles returning to where the ministry of Jesus Christ began – namely, the Temple in Jerusalem.  It was near that spot that the Day of Pentecost occurred when Jesus gave each of them the final piece of the puzzle – the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Suddenly, not only were those Apostles well prepared and well taught, they were fired up and raring to go!

Yes, they were technically alone without the physical presence of Jesus, but we also know that they were not really alone!  Jesus was always with them – just as he is always with us. I imagine those Apostles wanted him to be as vivid as possible for as long as possible.  We want to imagine that last, lingering look.  Instead, Jesus seemed to return quickly to the Father, and two angels immediately appeared to the Apostles.  They asked the perfect question for that perfect moment:

“Men or Galilee…what are you looking at?  He is in Heaven, and he will return someday in the same manner…in the clouds.”

Isn’t that sort of like it always is with Jesus?  We know he is with us.  We know that through the Scriptures and through his followers, all of us have been trained.  We know that someday he will return in the clouds just as he left on that amazing day.  But we want to keep seeing him now.  We want a vivid view!

Because in our heart of hearts, we don’t want to do it without him.  

And that is our biggest misunderstanding!  We are not all by ourselves.  We always have each other, and we always have Jesus – even and especially during those times when we can’t feel his presence in our lives, at our darkest moments, at our lowest points.  

We even had the same advocate that he gave his Apostles – the Holy Spirit.  

In other words, we have all we need.  We have all we need

Perhaps we don’t usually believe that because…we didn’t live with him for three years and see all that the Apostles saw.  We didn’t get that personal training, those amazing experiences, the teaching, and our minds didn’t exactly get opened by Jesus of Nazareth to the Scriptures.  All we can do it read them and hope some of it sinks in. 

But we have 2000 years worth of study, writings, discussions, church history, teachers, saints, and our own personal experiences, our own personal witnesses to the work of Jesus Christ in our own lives; we have all that and more to continue his work and his church here on earth.

We have a community of faith with people in it that love us and that we love in return.  

We even have the opportunities to join with others and to teach them and learn from them in ways that help the greater church grow and prosper in brand new ways.

It can all be as new to us as that first summer camp trip was… as that first time away from home was… as that first time on our own was.

Except we are NOT on our own.  We may be lonely…but we’re never alone.

Let me close with one final reminder:

Think about all those parables and lessons that Jesus taught.  Most of them are so clear and so simple that even the lowliest of us can understand them.

But consider how many of them discuss the servants working or being prepared while the master is gone.

Remember the parable of the ten bridesmaids?  They weren’t ready when the groom finally appeared and so they missed the big event.

Remember the parable of the three servants and the talents each of them was given?  One invested his talents and had a much bigger amount for the master; one invested his talents and had a big amount for the master; and one buried his in the ground for fear of losing it.  Two got it right…one did just the bare minimum, and somebody got in trouble.

Remember the roles that the master and the servant played?  Well, Jesus played both those roles!  He was the master, the rabbi for his Apostles.  Yet, he demonstrated how to be the servant of all.  

But in all that he taught, he always included the message to be ready because we don’t know the day or the hour when he will reappear in the clouds.  Whether he said it in a parable or outright, his words should serve as one more reminder to get it right while he is gone.

After all…we are fully trained.

After all…we are not alone.

After all…we still have Jesus.

And that’s a pretty good thing to remember.