Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Command to Sacrifice Isaac

Genesis 22: 1-14, page 17
After these things God tested Abraham. God said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”
God said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.”
So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him.
On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you,”
Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”
Abraham said, “God will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”
So the two of them walked on together.
When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son.
But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said “Abraham, Abraham!”
And he said, “Here I am.”
The Lord said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”
And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”
This week anyone who watches the news has witnessed the Casey Anthony trial has wondered: how it could happen, if she did it? Could it even be possible? Interesting that this passage should come up in the lectionary, and all the more troubling that while we don’t know Anthony’s motivation, nor do we know if she is guilty of the crime she’s accused of, we not only know that Abraham bound his son and raised the knife, we know Abraham’s motivation – God was testing him.
It’s no consolation that the ram was provided in the end. The ram doesn’t clear things up as though they never happened, doesn’t keep us from wondering how God could put someone in such a position – how God, our God, could even fathom such an idea much less say the words, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.”
For three days they walked together – who can even imagine the thoughts, the dread, that went through Abraham’s mind, each step brining him closer to the place he never wanted to reach?
When the two began the last leg of the journey together Isaac must have noticed that something was wrong, his father brooding and weighed down by something, but thinks that the problem is that they have forgotten the most important part of the sacrifice, “Father!” he says to Abraham, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”
Abraham said, “God will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”
In the mind of Abraham, God had already provided the lamb to him and his wife who had long passed the age of childbearing. His wife Sarah named him Isaac, which means laughter, and said, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who heard will laugh with me. Who would ever have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”
Laughter must have seemed so far away when Abraham looked up and saw the place, dismissed the servants, and loaded down his son with the wood that was to be used to burn his body, a sacrifice to the Lord.
God will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.
That’s exactly what he believed and the only way I can understand it, the only way I can come to terms with such belief, is in imagining Abraham’s only alternative. Abraham’s choice is between faith, faith in the God who has provided, and doubt. More than any other that I can think of, this scripture lesson puts us squarely in the contest between faith and doubt, and for me and most of you I assume, doubt on the surface appears to be the more attractive option.
I know what I would say to myself if I heard the voice of God telling me to do such a thing. I would explain it away, chalk it up to indigestion, and doubt what I had heard.
But not Abraham.
I have already lived my life doubting, born into a culture of doubt where doubt, questioning, and caution are fundamental tenants of belief.
In pursuit of the best possible option high school seniors make innumerable college visits, college students labor over declaring a major, college graduates date and date and date in an attempt to find the best companion available, and society would never call us to do anything different – that would be like accepting the first bid from a plumber without getting any other estimates. It is wise to use apprehension, it is wise to be cautious, it is wise to question.
But Abraham goes against all of this.
For apprehension is a value when walking across shaky bridges, caution is admirable when it comes to two teenagers sitting in the backseat of a car, asking questions is exactly what we should all do when handed a bid for a new transmission. But all three are hindrances to faith because faith is the only place where we must be free from the hindrance of our own reason to submit to divine authority.
How horrible that sounds, considering Abraham and Isaac, and how difficult that sounds while each and every day we teach our children to question authority, trust their instincts, and doubt intentions in the hope of keeping them safe from those who would take advantage of their trust.
But at some point all caution must give way to action – and it is faith and not doubt that makes such a transformation possible.
Without faith, Abraham never would have left the country of his ancestors, never would have taken the first step towards that great nation he would become.
Without faith, Abraham would never have known Isaac at all, never would have believed that God would grant him a son in his old age.
Without faith, Abraham would have been nothing.
So while it was with faith that Abraham walked up that mountain to sacrifice his own son we must wonder how we will get anywhere without it.
We question the news, and so the authority that CBS or NBC once had is long gone. But has the advent of FOX news stopped our questioning or made the truth any easier to identify?
We question the Church, knowing that clergy are not all who they saw they are, that church-goers are not as humble as self-righteous most often, and Scripture not infallible but disputed. And is all this questioning leading us where we want to go, furthering our mission and ministry, granting us peace or hope?
We question God as well, wondering if God’s authority is deserved, doubting that God has anything to do with us, not sure there is really anything out there guiding the course of human history, watching over us, ensuring that our tomorrow is better than our today.
The issue is not, “are our questions, our doubts, our caution” founded, but if they never stop will we have anything worth holding onto?
One who looks for something wrong, a justification to doubt authority is not nearly as impressive to me today as one who believes in something. So how could we not want to believe too – to believe something rather than be all covered up in the fear of being wrong. To have faith that inspires action rather than doubt that only inspires more doubt. To put all our trust in God, not because it always makes sense, but because there is nothing else worth doing.
Yes, Abraham is troublesome, yes it is disturbing, but what about this man who believes in something. Isn’t there a part of that that you want?
To believe rather than doubt, to believe and act - breaking free from ambivalence. To believe in something and hold onto it so tightly that life seems impossible without it.
Do not doubt, but believe, for life without convictions, without faith, is hardly worth living.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Now What?

Matthew 28: 16-20, page 34
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Our scripture lesson, in verse 17, tells us that “when they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” The gospel of John tells us the same thing but uses Thomas to do it. We know that some doubted because the disciple Thomas is brave enough to say it out loud. But Matthew skips that story and just tells us that some doubted, as though knowing what they’re thinking were so simple a thing.
In reality, this is a challenging thing, to know what someone is thinking, to know that the disciples doubted even though they were right there looking at their risen Lord face to face. To even guess at someone’s thoughts you have to know where to look, and still sometimes you’re wrong. I stand up here and try to read your faces to gage whether or not what I’m saying makes any sense, but in reality, how can I be so bold to assume it’s what I’m saying that inspires that thoughtful look on your face? Knowing someone’s thoughts is easier said than done, because a lot of the time people aren’t comfortable speaking their mind.
They are, however, in one section of our paper. Sam Kennedy, newspaper man and long-time church member, told me one time that he tells all local politicians that the most important part of the Daily Herald for them is Sound Off – where readers call in to give anonymous comments on anything they want. It’s a rare gift to a politician, to peer into the minds of his or her constituents. I imagine, though, that it’s hard for them to believe that it’s what goes on there, not what goes on in Washington that matters most.
It can be easier to believe that what matters – what’s important – is what comes down from on high. The information that you have to be someone special to hear, the knowledge that you need a graduate degree to understand.
We live in a culture obsessed with climbing the ladder. Not only do we want to know what’s happening on the upper echelons of society, we want to get up there ourselves, and even we religious people are tempted to use big words to express ourselves even if we don’t fully understand what they mean.
Which leads me to the matter at hand. Today is Trinity Sunday, and if ever there were a day celebrating something you need a graduate degree to understand, this is it.
The leaders in the Restoration Movement that swept the country and resulted in the Church of Christ believed that most problems in the Church stemmed from such highbrow theology, and in an effort to bring religion back down to the level of the people, called Christians back to scripture and claimed that if all Christians would just read their Bible they would come to the same basic conclusions and there would be no need for fancy theological doctrine that only the professors in their ivy league towers could understand.
But what do you do, then, with the Trinity?
You can’t expect anyone to just read the Bible and come up with it. Certainly Church History has not been the story of people reading their Bibles and coming to the same basic conclusion on the matter – the first great division, that between the Western, or Roman Catholic Church based in Rome and the Eastern, or Orthodox Church based in Constantinople, was founded in a debate over Trinitarian Doctrine.
But today, rather than fight about it, convicted on the righteousness of our own assumptions, we are more likely to wonder: why does it matter?
While it may have been fodder for discussion, then debate, and finally division more than 1,000 years ago, today 21st Century Christians may wonder what the big deal was – as though a doctrine of the Trinity were a relic of another age relegated to that shelf that film for cameras, phones with land lines, and print newspapers are on their way to. Last week I read that between the year 2000 and 2010 print newspapers saw a revenue decline of 35.9 percent, and I didn’t need to wonder why as I read this report on
The paper matters here in Columbia however. Tuesday’s paper reported on people who matter to us – no not President Obama, resignations from the House, or any of the Republican Presidential hopefuls. Tuesday’s paper reported on Elijah Hedrick, Tucker Scott, Jillian Baxter, and the other young members of our church who made their school’s honor roles. Might not be news to USA Today or even the Tennessean, but it’s certainly news to us – and here’s the point.
Our world today is not so different than it was when all that fighting over the Trinity was going on. There were still people who seemed to matter and people who didn’t. When it came to power, knowledge, and business it was what happened at the top that mattered most. Our society operates under the same model – ascend into heaven ourselves, build up a Tower of Babel built on celebrity, beauty, and fame – as though worth were distributed through camera flashes.
But once those flashes stop, they leave empty shells where once there were people. So we call out to God. Because where human attempts at climbing the corporate ladder into the highest heaven leave us empty, we are filled by the God who came down to us.
In the Trinity is the truth, that to know God, to be deemed worthy, we need not ascend to the highest heavens – the realm of people who matter. Because God, still being God and not a prophet or a messenger or an angel, was born to a mother just as you were, was raised as a child just as you were, stumbled through adolescence just as you will, are right now, or already did, and struggled to learn what it means to be a faithful adult just as you have or will. That was God then, learning to walk. That was God, falling, and then calling for his mother. That was God, looking up to his father. That was God, learning what it means to be you by becoming just like you.
In the Trinity we see and know that God is known three ways – known in the way that all great religions know their God, as the heavenly being who created all that we know and gave us the holy breath of life. But also as the Son, the one who took human form and gave his life for us that we might know just how deep God’s love for us is. And we also know God now as the sustaining Spirit who dwells in us all, not just filling us with life, but making our life holy. God with us even to the end of the age.
You can’t expect that the disciples had really thought all that through, however. The debate over what the Trinity means and even the word Trinity itself was not used until long after they had all died. Still Christ sends them out unto the world, to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Some had doubts our lesson reads, but still Christ sent them out.
And maybe you have doubts too – not knowing enough, not understanding enough, not feeling as though you can adequately articulate the meaning of your faith.
Sometimes that’s life. Don Piggens told me the other day about his training in water purification through Living Waters for the World – a ministry of the Presbyterian Church that provides clean drinking water to people in places like Haiti, Ghana, El Salvador, and Guatemala. “How am I going to remember all this stuff?” Don asked his trainer. It’s a good question – a lot can go wrong with those things. There are filters, finding electricity to power them, all kinds of things can go bad – but, “Don’t” the trainer said, “Don’t worry, you’ll figure it out.”
I imagine Don felt like one of those disciples, imagining everything that could go wrong, wanting to stay a little longer before being sent out and actually having to get to the work of ministry, not believing that he would be able to figure it out or that he was ready.
I imagine that those disciples knew they had more to learn and had no idea just how much power was in their own simple story – I was a fisherman, and my sense of worth was tied up in how many fish I brought to shore at the end of the day. I was tired at the end of a long day of casting my nets, and ready to quit when he walked up and challenged me to throw my nets one last time – the nets came in so full they nearly burst. To think that God cares for the hopeless fisherman.
There’s more power in this story than they know, just as there’s more power in your story than you know. You have all come to the water and been claimed by our God, three in one and one in three, baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Every time I say those words my heart fills up with the power in that claim – that you, you are not who you are in the eyes of the world. The Creator of the Heavens and Earth has called you by name, the Son laid down his very life that you might live, and the Spirit is here still, filling your lungs with the breath of life. How could you ever doubt, how could you ever doubt your worth, knowing that God is with you always, even to the end of the age?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

What Does this Mean?

Acts 2: 1-21, page 119
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.
Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs – in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”
All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
It was wonderful being at NaCoMe last Sunday. For those who were not able to be there I’m sorry you missed spending the day at this Presbyterian camp and conference center, a place this church and many in our congregation have long been a part of.
Even the drive out there was nice, and on our way there two church signs caught my attention.
One, not far past the YMCA, was using the heat to scare motorists into conversion: “You think its hot now” the sign read.
It’s an interesting message to send to the world. I probably thought way too much about it, but I saw it on the beginning of my drive and we were in the car for a while so I had some time on my hands and was wondering how welcoming that message sounds to those not on their way to church but their way to the river or the Y, whether or not it inspired them to change their plans of not going to church to attend worship, if anyone read to themselves, “You think it’s hot now” and thought “huh… this church sounds like a nice place to visit.”
More likely it sounds judgmental – you are going to hell but we aren’t. It’s hot where you are but we have air conditioning. More likely this kind of sign didn’t bring anyone into the church’s sanctuary, where I assume there is both relief from the heat and the promise of eternal comfort.
That’s what the church does sometimes. We try to be welcoming, but our attempts at evangelism are so off-putting that most Presbyterians are scared to even say the word. But without new people the church doesn’t grow, so many congregations end up not growing, not welcoming anyone, their backs turned to the outside world in a room that no one new ever ventures into.
That’s not too different a place from where the disciples and the other members of the fledgling church found themselves. “When the day of Pentecost came,” our scripture lesson reads, “they were all together in one place.”
We may assume that they were all together in the same room that Jesus had left them in. They just stayed right in that room, and the gospel stayed right there in that room with them.
It’s not that they really should have been outside. Remembering our 2nd scripture lesson from last Sunday we know that Jesus told them to stay there and so they did.
And when you think about it, staying inside was probably the safest thing. Considering Christ’s crucifixion, they were smart to stay indoors knowing that there were people looking for them. Peter had already been identified as one who was with him, so for preservation if nothing else the Church stayed right there in that room – not growing, not expanding, just trying to survive.
This same sort of thing is mirrored throughout Church history. The Church does certain things when it is focused on survival rather than growth.
The 12th Century was one of the great periods of evangelism with the Church expanding as far East as Japan, and so the Pope and authorities in Rome became concerned with theological integrity. They met for the Fourth Lateran Council and, among other things set in stone, the official Latin Mass and the meaning of the Mass using for the first time the word “transubstantiation” to ensure that all Christians, even those as far away from Rome as India, celebrate the mass the same way and believe the same thing. And so a great period of expansion was reined in by a great meeting for legislation. The focus shifted to maintaining the Church rather than expanding, ensuring the survival of a pure church while putting an end to regional interpretations and dissimilarities.
This year the Presbyterian Church and other mainline denominations have experienced something not so different. Not because of great expansion, but because of changes in society our church has been meeting and voting in the hopes of ensuring theological integrity. The issue of homosexual ordination has dominated our church’s mission and ministry, has been a primary point of disunity and debate, and any news on television or newspaper concerning our denomination has focused solely on this issue, leading many, even many Presbyterians, to believe that too much tolerance may destroy the church as it is and steps must be taken to ensure survival.
We Presbyterians have been voting a lot over this issue, so we can relate when one day, we don’t know how long they had been in that room, but one day Peter says, as it goes in chapter 1, “Why don’t we elect a new disciple to replace Judas?”
And so it is with the church – at certain times we vote, we need to vote. We would never call it a waste of time – after all, it says in Psalms that there should be twelve disciples, so another had to be selected.
In the same way, it seems important to decide what to do with the Book of Order, to set guidelines for who can be ordained and who can’t, to vote on how we should best confess our faith and what standards we should use. We need to spend some of our time in meetings and things, but must be careful should we start to believe that our decisions, our votes, are what determine the Church’s survival.
The vote didn’t actually have anything to do with it, as there they were busy taking care of the day to day proceedings, cleaning up after all that voting, when a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole area where they were sitting. The disciples saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them and all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.
The disciples and the other men and women there then went out from that room declaring the wonders of God to all those visiting Jerusalem – yes – some thought they were just drunk – but those who heard the gospel went back to their homes across the seas changed.
Today we are bold to celebrate that same blowing wind. We are bold to proclaim that the same blowing wind is here - among us – and today we are bold to acknowledge that we Presbyterians, to ourselves and to the outside world - can look a lot like a room full of busy-bodied disciples giving all their attention to voting and less and less attention to the Holy Work God calls them to do.
So we cry out for the holy wind that the Church needs, that rather than taunt non-believers by asking, “You think it’s hot now,” we be shaped more by the other church sign I remember from last Sunday: “Have you hugged anybody lately?”
It’s a little cheesy I know, and I won’t be hugging stranger on the street so I won’t ask you to either, but doesn’t it send a different message?
Today we cry out for the holy wind that the Church needs, that we might show our neighborhood that we are awake to the cruel realities of the world that cannot wait for a committee. That there is passion here for more than voting and lobbying and arguing over who is holy and who is not, who is going to hell and who isn’t; that we might show the world our true purpose – that Christ does not call us to vote on who to love – Christ calls us to love.
The early church kept itself busy with an election there in that room for a while, but the Spirit called them out just as it calls you out.
Like the disciples who moved from their room to preach to the crowd, you have been given the gift of speech – maybe not to prophesy from the rooftops, but certainly to speak to the world outside this room.
Those who stay at home this morning don’t know what they’re missing here, and they never will as long as your mouth is shut, too fearful to issue an invitation. Reclaim your tongue of fire, for you have been given the truth – that in Christ Jesus you have become a new creation – and everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
Thanks be to God.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

He Has Done It

Luke 24: 44-53
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you – that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
You are witnesses to 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.”
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
Sometimes it’s a simple act that starts a world-changing movement: the American Revolution is said to have started with the firing of a single farmer’s rifle. Martin Luther didn’t do too much to start the Protestant Reformation, he just nailed his 95 Thesis on the door of a church, but that one nail split the Church and gave birth to all the denominations that we now know. And you might say Rosa Parks did even less, all she did was sat down, but this spark of defiance ignited the Civil Rights movement.
You would think, then, that if a small thing can start a great movement, a supernatural thing would start an even greater movement. That if a small thing over time can change the world then a miraculous thing would change the world immediately. And if a small act of defiance can inspire millions of others to march, chant, and organize as one, then Christ’s great act of defiance, an act that defied the power of death, would surely inspire disciples to take up their cross and follow him.
Christ ascending into heaven – it’s hard to imagine anything greater, it’s the kind of thing that drives sculptors to art of a monumental nature, composers to write songs for choirs of angels to sing – it’s the kind of thing that inspires weeping, shouting to the mountain tops, telling everyone that he has done it.
Whatever you can imagine doing if you were an eye witness to this event, I’m confident it would have felt more natural than doing what Jesus told the disciples they should do once he ascended into heaven: “I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here.”
He had such a hard time getting them to do what he wanted, getting them to follow his instructions, helping them to see, urging them to have faith – and here, in this moment, they must have actually wanted to do something substantial and Jesus tells them to stay.
This kind of doing nothing makes me nervous. It’s seems unfaithful, it seems un-American, it seems bad for business.
We don’t like to wait, but that’s exactly what I was asked to do when I went to get my hair cut last Wednesday. A chair finally opened up and I stand, getting ready to sit down finally and what does the barber say, “I haven’t had lunch yet, would you mind waiting for me to eat something.”
I’m not sure this hair cut was worth waiting for, certainly not worth waiting as long as I ended up waiting, but the more I think about it the more I realize I don’t want a guy who hasn’t eaten anything working on my hair, especial getting close to my ears with a straight razor.
There are times when taking a moment to get what you need is the best thing you can do for yourself and those around you. Just listening rather than talking should always be the foundation of prayer, and even though it’s uncomfortable, waiting may be what gets us closer to understanding who Christ is and what it is that he has done.
As he walks with the disciples, he is once again surprised that they didn’t understand the significance of his death: “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you” he said, “that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”
But it’s hard to understand if your mind is stifled by fear, all creativity postponed, all thought focused solely on hiding from the Romans and the religious leaders who just crucified your leader and are looking to get rid of you next.
A mentor of mine told me that as Christ calls out from the cross, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” he’s not just crying out in pain – he quotes the psalm that we just read – a psalm that begins with suffering but ends with victory, as a message to his followers. He gives them the first line hoping they’ll remember the rest: yes I suffer now, but this suffering is a part of my great triumph. After all of this, even those yet unborn will say “he has done it.”
They might have understood. They might have understood that his death wasn’t just a death, had they thought about his last words that way. But they didn’t, they couldn’t. Their minds were focused solely on survival and not listening to the voice of God that could have given them comfort in their time of trial.
Maybe you can relate – there are plenty of times when my mind is too distracted by hunger to really listen; more often I’m too distracted by eating to listen to my stomach say it’s full.
Or maybe you’ve been focused so much on what you’re doing on the computer that you couldn’t hear your daughter when she asked you a question; too preoccupied with work to take part in life at home.
Or maybe you’ve been focused so completely on what all is wrong with your life that you can’t see what’s right about it, focused so fully on what you don’t have that you can’t see what you do, your mind so completely centered on what you want to happen that you’re blinded to how badly wrong it all might go if it happened.
Or maybe you know you can’t think straight, but you don’t know what to do about it, and before you act you know you need some time to think.
So Christ doesn’t tell the disciples to go out, he doesn’t tell them to get to work, he ascends into heaven telling them to stay.
Your mind may be clouded with worry and want, your life focused on gaining as much as you can while you can. Time may be in short supply, your attention spread too thin over more than you can possibly focus on. And while you set out each day ready to set the world on fire, I hope you will take this time, this day in the beautiful place, the gift that this day is, I hope you will take this time “to stay,” to think, to see, to hear, and to know that he has done it.