Star Wars, I know not all of you have seen Star Wars and many of you probably have no desire to ever see Star Wars, but I have seen Star Wars . . . once or twice in my lifetime. So when I think of final words some scenes come to mind. In the first Star Wars movie (A New Hope) one of the last things Obi Wan Kenobi says to Luke Skywalker is, “Run, Luke, Run.” Later on in the series right before Yoda dies he tells Luke, “pass on what you have learned.” And then in the final scene of the third movie, after Darth Vader has turned from his evil ways and is dying, he uses his final words to say to Luke, “you were right, you were right about me, tell your sister you were right.”
I find it interesting that in this story about the young Luke Skywalker and his experiences in the universe as he strives to become a Jedi is that two of his mentors and his nemesis/Father, when leave Luke they do not give him a treatise on what is means to be a Jedi. They do not instill in him the principles of what is good and what is evil, they do not give him a list of dos or don’ts, nor do they give him guidelines on how to be a good Jedi. Obi Wan simply tells Luke to run, to protect himself to get out of there. Yoda tells him to pass on what he knows, to make disciples, so to speak, so that others may know and others too can become what Luke is still in the process of becoming. And the series ends with Darth Vader telling Luke to go tell his sister the good news that Luke was right, there was the possibility Vader’s redemption. With their final words none of these characters instilled in Luke proper theology of what is good and evil; they gave no commandments, no platitudes. They simply gave instructions to go, to share, to tell.
Now many would say George Lucas, the writer behind the Star Wars series, made many mistakes as he made his movies, but I would argue he is onto something here, when it comes to how his characters use their final words. Although fictitious, Obi Wan Kenobi, Yoda and Darth Vader follow a pattern when it comes to last words, which is the pattern of our Lord as recorded here in Acts. Jesus says some final things to his disciples. He says, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit,” and “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Jesus gives them instructions about what they should do. They are to wait in Jerusalem and then they should go out and be witnesses first in in the city they are in and then to the surrounding areas and eventually as they move out, reach toward the ends of the earth.
Obi- wan told Luke to “Run,” Yoda told him to “pass on what you have learned,” and Darth Vader told him to go “tell” his sister and here Jesus tells his disciples to go and then go some more. Jesus does not give them proper theology, memorable aphorisms, or guidelines for Holy living. He does not give them a business plan; he does not outline a target demographic he gives them simple easy to follow instructions. Go to Jerusalem, receive the Holy Spirit, and then go and be witnesses.
Once Jesus is finished saying this, he rises into the sky and is taken from their sight. It is interesting to see what the disciples do then. They stare into the heavens. Directly after saying these words, Jesus leaves them. He rises into the sky and is hidden from their vision by a cloud. This is similar to what happened during the transfiguration, when Jesus was hidden by a cloud while he is chatting with Moses and Elijah. Last time Jesus did this, cool things happened. Last time this happened, Jesus was temporarily removed from their site, he was not gone forever as he was this time. So there is some reason they might have been waiting there expecting Jesus to re-emerge. Although unlike last Jesus gave them explicit instructions on what to do next. He had told them to go, and instead they were standing there staring into the sky.
When my girls were younger I could give one of them an explicit instruction. “Take this to the kitchen. Put it on the kitchen table and then come back here.” Not even five minutes later I would find her on the front porch playing with her jump rope and the item I handed her is nowhere in sight. “Where is it? “I don’t know.” “What did you do?” “I went into the kitchen and saw my rope and came out here.” “What and where did you put the thing I gave you?” “You gave me something?” “Yes.” And where do you think we finally find it? On the table? NO! In the kitchen? Of course not. Somewhere between the kitchen and the porch? No that would make too much sense. I would find it upstairs on her bed, where she had put it after picking up the rope and going in search of shoes and socks. At least she had shoes and socks on, I guess.
In my imaginings Jesus must have felt very similar to the way I did when these things happened in my household, that day as he looked at his disciples after his ascension. Were they doing what he told them to do? Were they going to Jerusalem? No they were just standing there. Standing there looking at the spot where they had seen him last. Staring at the sky, doing nothing. Not going, not waiting, and not going to Jerusalem. Who knows how long they would have stood there, not doing anything, not doing what they were explicitly told to do, just staring at the place where Jesus had been, waiting for him to come back, expecting him to appear. Standing there, looking for Jesus in a place where he was not to be found.
Thankfully we will not know the full extent of the disciples’ foolishness as stood there looking in to the empty sky for an undetermined amount of time, because their skyward meditation is interrupted by an angel, who took their eyes off the empty heavens and reminded them that they were given instructions. The angel asks them why were they are still standing there staring at the sky. He tells them they needed to get about doing what Jesus had told them to do. Before they go the angel reassures them that although Jesus will return, it is not going to be right now, so stop staring at the sky and move along.
It is easy to laugh at how silly the disciples were, how ridiculous they must have looked staring at a vacant sky. It is easy to roll our eyes at their thoughts that Jesus was going to reappear right there, where they had last seen him. But the fact of the matter is, far too often we are not all that different than the disciples. We too can find ourselves staring at the clouds looking for something that is no longer there, instead of moving forward and acting upon what Jesus is calling us to do now.
Whenever we find ourselves sitting around waiting for something that is gone to come back, whenever we are hoping for something we can no long have, whenever are looking backwards at the way things used to be, wishing for them to return, we are the disciples staring at the sky, staring at the place where Jesus used to be. Too often we spend our time staring at the sky so to speak; looking for Jesus to appear, or waiting for him to reappear in a place he once was. Jesus’ call upon the church, upon the lives Christian is always call to go forward, it always a call to go.
Too often we are figuratively staring at the sky wondering when Jesus is coming back or when we get to join him. We spend our time, and energy focused on self-preservation, and perpetuation. We spend so much of our time and thoughts on whether or not we will continue to be as we have always been; about mere existence, surviving as an entity. We want to get things back to the way they have always been, the way they used to be.
We as believers can find ourselves distracted, distracted by Jesus of all things, distract by looking for Jesus in the places where Jesus no longer is. That is what happened to the disciples here in this passage. They were so distracted, focusing on where they had last seen Jesus; standing there waiting for him to continue to be where he once was, instead of doing what Jesus had instructed them to do. Any time our focus is on anything that is not on the call Jesus has for his Church, for his people, no matter how good, or important it might seem to be, it is an improper focus.
Right now it is easy to get distracted with our desires to return to the familiar things, to get life and the things we do as a Church body back to they was they used to be. But trying to find Jesus in all the familiar places he used to be is turning our focus off of going and making disciples in the places we are right now. Our call is not to our Church buildings, to our sanctuaries to church the “way it has always been.” Our call is to going and to making disciples now, being the Church right now, the way things are now. Our gaze is a forward facing gaze, looking to where Jesus is calling us to be, and not looking backward facing gaze, focusing on where Jesus used to be. Jesus is directing our attention to the places to new places, to new things, not on the old ways and the old things.
The disciples were looking for Jesus to reappear where he used to be focusing on getting Jesus back, so things could go back to the way they were before, traveling around the countryside, listening to Jesus as he taught and watching when he healed them. But after the resurrection, after the ascension, things never went back to the way they were and that was fine. Thing did not need to go back, in fact they could not go back.
Jesus called them forward to something new. Jesus called them to go, to be the Church to make disciples. And it is turning away from the way things had always been and in the going, doing and being who Jesus was calling them to be now, that the Church was born. The church would never have come to be, as long as they stood there waiting for Jesus to return (they would still be there, standing, doing nothing, waiting for things to return to the way they were before).
We will go back to our sanctuaries but we should never be working or striving to get things back to the way they once were. Instead we are to always be focusing on where Jesus is calling us to go now. What new opportunities for discipleship does this “new normal” give us which were never open to us before?
Jesus had called his disciples to go and be witnesses, in Jerusalem, in Judah, in Samaria, to the ends of the earth. They were told to go, be witnesses, make disciples, first in the city where they were, then to places nearby, and then to continue on until they had been everywhere and made disciples throughout the world. Sounds like something we might hear around here every once in a while. Love God, God one another, and love our world, so that we can Christ-like disciples in Cambridge and all the world.
We do this by living the love of God, sharing the love of God and allowing people to experience the love of God in us and through us. Let us all stop looking at the sky, trying to get back to the way things were, wondering when we can go back to our “old lives” putting our focus on returning to our sanctuaries, to our old activities and the way things used to be. Let us stop worrying about that which is not our goal or our focus our calling and move to do and be the disciples who are witnesses beginning in the places where we are now.