Sunday, June 2, 2019

June 2, 2019
Ascension Sunday
(Acts 1:1-11; Luke 24:46-53)
I will use one of my favorite analogies today. Imagine the typical scene: You're late for work at your office on the 10th floor of that generic building and you jump 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 business. After all, you want to get the day over with. 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 recalcitrant machine.
You get to the meeting, 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 chair and adjust the thermostat, believing that you have saved the poor administrative assistants from chattering teeth.
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. Most people don’t even wear them due to doctors saying they are no good, but you’re not convinced. So, off you go. 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. No problem, you think to yourself. There's a push 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, get in your car and head home, where you can't wait to watch, ironically, The Office on your high-definition TV. You settle into your easy chair, flip on the remote and marvel at just how crystal clear Scranton, Penn., looks 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 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, the doors wait a little longer to close no matter what. Manufacturers could put a sign on the button saying something to that effect, but that's a hassle. It's easier to let the public believe they are the masters of elevator control. Masters of the world rejoice!
That thermostat on your 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? A USA Today article quoted a doctor calling the shoe manufacturers' claims "utter nonsense," and the Federal Trade Commission ordered one shoe manufacturer 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 work, or at least they think they do. Well, they were as exciting to wear as 6” stiletto’s in the mud.
The "walk" button on the street corner might actually work, though doubtful. In New York City, for example, all the buttons have been deactivated because they've been replaced by automatic timers. That doesn't stop people from continuing to jab them incessantly 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 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, the risen Jesus seems to recognize that his disciples might be feeling that they're now ready to start pushing buttons and take over his mission. All through the gospels we see the disciples believing that they have it all figured out, jostling with each other for position, vying for who would be the greatest, and thinking that being associated with Jesus would get them recognized by others. They had lived with Jesus for three years, saw the miracles, heard the teachings, and a few even saw him transfigured before them. They had watched him die on a cross, and yet now there he was standing before them. They'd been to the ultimate school of discipleship and now had their practical undergraduate degrees in mission. They're ready to launch. Everything is lined up for a mission that should work.
And yet, Jesus knows their senses of control, the way they know how to walk, their spiritual thermostats, and their analog worldviews just aren't ready yet. He 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). He 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." They now know how it all works, and yet there's still one thing missing.
"You are witnesses of these things," says Jesus. " And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high." Heading straight to the mission field should work, but it won't -- not unless you wait for "power from on high."
Interestingly, many of the dummy devices out there on the street are designed to satisfy our sense of always being in a hurry by giving us the illusion of control. Jesus, on the other hand, tells his disciples right upfront that being in a hurry will get them nowhere. The only power you have, the only control you will ever exert, comes from being empowered and controlled by the Holy Spirit. That's the only way the mission is going to work. The disciples had the undergrad diploma, but they need the master's degree.
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 mashing away repeatedly at things like marketing campaigns and mission strategies, and four principles for this and five steps to that. But everything we try will be inert and useless unless it's invested with the power of the Spirit. Mission isn't about being in a hurry or about being efficient and in control; it's about waiting in prayer and fasting, solitude and silence, worship and studying the Scriptures.

That's the only way discipleship works. It's about God's plan, God's timing, God's method and God's mission. Everything else is a programmatic placebo.
It's simple. Kids getting married, for example, are well-advised to stop, look and listen. Google "100 questions to ask before getting married" and you'll get tons of suggestions as to things couples should ask themselves before taking this huge, life-changing, paradigmatic relational shift. Why should not the church or Christians be advised to act the same way?
Here is another list that replicates some of the above. It comes to us, via the Intentional Living website:
1. The MISSION question: Does this decision support my life mission?
2. The VISION question: Will this decision move me toward a life goal or toward solving a problem?
3. The INTEGRITY question: Will this decision affect any commitment or vow I have made?
4. God's REVEALED WORD question: Does the Bible speak to this decision or a potential consequence?
5. The COMMON SENSE question: Do the results of this decision make sense?
6. The OTHERS FIRST question: How will others be affected by this decision?
7. The LEGAL question: Is it legal?
8. The COST question: What will this decision cost me?
9. The MOTIVE question: What do I get out of this decision?
10. The TIMING question: Is this the best time to make this decision?
11. The KNOWLEDGE question: Do I have enough information to make this decision?
12.The COMMITMENT question: Do I plan to commit to my decision?
Sometimes, our joy comes not in pushing buttons, moving forward recklessly confident that God will baptize our wonderful plans, but in waiting. Luke goes on to tell us that after Jesus ascended, the disciples "returned to Jerusalem with great joy" -- joy in waiting. They were "continually in the temple blessing God," which isn't a passive kind of waiting, but the active waiting of worship. Luke continues the story in the book of Acts, where we find the disciples still waiting when the Spirit descends and powers them up for the work of mission (Acts 2).
Truth is that we can mash all the buttons we want, but ultimately it's the Spirit who lifts us up, gives the "walk" sign, strengthens our steps, warms us with grace and sharpens our vision.
Let us pray.
We pray for the victims, families and officers in the horrible shooting in Virginia Beach, Virginia. May the deceased victims rest in peace eternal and be comforted by the Holy Spirit and may the families and friends left behind find comfort and be visited by our Lord Christ in this time when sorrow is great. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for an end to bullying in our schools, our workplaces and on our streets. We pray that the Holy Spirit be ever present in our society reminding us that we are all children of the same God and when we offend others, we offend the Christ who died for love of us. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for the grace and wisdom to welcome the Holy Spirit into our owns hearts and lives, so that we too can experience the peace and love of Christ. We pray to the Lord.                      
We pray that the message of Christ be brought to all nations of the world, so that a spirit of truth, goodness and love guide all its peoples to peace, integrity and care of the weak, the sick, the hungry and the homeless. We pray to the Lord.                        
We pray for all those who have committed their lives, both at home and abroad, to communicating the word of God. We pray to the Lord.                        
We pray for responsible use of the internet and social media, so that our digital communications be a tool to spread truth and happiness, love and respect, inclusion and encounter rather than falsehood, exclusion, unhappiness and alienation. We pray to the Lord.                        
For the courage to listen to the needs of the unchurched and for the creativity to imagine new ways to communicate with them. We pray to the Lord.
That as we continue to renovate our church building and grounds, we dedicate these works to the Holy Spirit in the hope that all who come here will find a pleasant atmosphere in which to worship. We pray to the Lord.
For those on our parish prayer list; that they may find healing, hope, grace and long awaited answers to their prayers through Christ’s presence. We pray to the Lord.
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.                        
Holy God, one of Jesus' final earthly acts before he ascended to be with you was to open the minds of his followers so they might understand the Scriptures. He wanted them to know how his life and ministry had fulfilled everything that was written about him. We, too, desire to understand your word to us. We want to know the meaning of your life and death to our daily experiences. We ask for wisdom and understanding as this sacred text is read and proclaimed. Speak to us, we pray, the message of life and hope and faith. Instruct us in the way you would have us go. Lastly, dear and loving God, help us in our ways, that violence and mass shootings will cease. Too many lives, Lord, too many lives are wasted in senseless violence. May those in anger find the help they need, so that bloodshed may end. We ask all these things, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor - St. Francis Chapel UCC
San Diego, CA