Up, Up, and Away
"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer."
"Up, Up, and Away"
Do you have one of those "Special Places" in your life? It might be a restaurant where you and your spouse go that has become special because of some memory. It might be a lake house or a cabin in the mountains. It could be a spot by a stock tank. It might be sitting out on the patio early in the morning. It could be any number of places. It might even be the memory of a place. But "Special Places" are those places where you can go to clear your head, sort things out, rest a little and focus on the really important stuff once again.
Most of us are like the guy who said, "Every time I get it all together, I forget where I put it." Special Places help you get it all back together.
Bethany was that kind of place for Jesus. The village of Bethany is just on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Like Arlington and Pantego, you can't really tell where one begins and the other ends. Bethany was a very significant place to Jesus. It was the home of his friend Lazarus.
I'm sure you remember the story of Lazarus. Lazarus died. His sisters sent for Jesus who showed up too late. Lazarus had been dead and buried for four days. However, that didn't stop his friend Jesus. Jesus gave a shout loud enough to wake the dead and Lazarus, wrapped in burial clothes, stumbled forth from the grave, alive again, still stinking of death. It scared many and angered others.
It was in Bethany where Jesus began his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey colt. Coming down the hill the people began waving palm branches and shouting "Hosanna, hosanna in the highest!" It was the ride of a lifetime; a trip that lead from triumph to the tragedy of the cross and then back to the triumph over the grave on Easter morning.
It was to Bethany where Jesus went after chasing the Money Changers and greed mongers out of the Temple and shouting, "My house shall be called a house of prayer; but you are making it a den of robbers."
Bethany was a special place to Jesus. And it was in Bethany where Jesus made that giant leap to heaven known as the Ascension. And according to this passage, Bethany could be called the launch pad of the Church.
Bethany is about two miles East of Jerusalem, and on the Mount of Olives. It's at a high spot overlooking the Garden of Gethsemane, the Palm Sunday Road, the city of Jerusalem, the Golden Gate and the Temple on one side; and the Judean wilderness and the Dead Sea on the other. In Bethany there is an unremarkable little courtyard; the only admission is a little gratuity to the blind beggar who sits at the gate. As coins hit his begging bowl, he smiles and gestures toward a small Arab Mosque. Inside is a chapel of sorts where about 8 to 10 people can crowd in to see the spot where Jesus launched himself to heaven. It's as if this spot were the Holy Cape Canaveral.
Many people claim that this leap of Jesus to heaven was such an extraordinary leap that it left his foot print forever impressed in the rock. I looked and I really couldn't see it, though others say they did. The image I saw looked more like the imprint of a cowboy boot than anything else. Now I know we've got Nazareth and Palestine and even a Bethany, Texas, but I don't think Jesus wore cowboy boots.
All of this is just to point out that Bethany was a very Special Place for Jesus. And a special place for the Church, too. You see, the Ascension was needed for a couple of reasons. First, so that the disciples could see, once again, that Jesus was physically alive again. He wasn't just some spook, some spirit who could fade in and out of existence at will. When Jesus ascended into heaven, it was in his physical, flesh and blood form. That was important as proof of the physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
Secondly, Jesus promised us another companion, a counselor, the Holy Spirit, who would dwell with us always. But first, Jesus had to leave physically. For the Holy Spirit is the spiritual presence of Christ with us. And that couldn't happen if the physical Jesus were still here. So Jesus ascended bodily into heaven.
But before leaving, Jesus commissioned the disciples as both servants of God and as his friends, for the work of the Church. In both Matthew and Acts, Jesus commissioned the disciples with much the same words. He said, "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth."
Jesus Commissioned us as disciples, to carry the Good News to all the world. And I think that Commission can be summed up in seven words. Those seven words are:
LOVE GOD, LOVE PEOPLE, AND REACH OUT.
I. LOVE GOD:
A. The very first thing we're called to do is to love God. When Jesus was questioned about the greatest commandment, he said, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength."
A man came out of Church one Sunday all charged up from the sermon. He pumped the preacher's hand like trying to prime an old deep well hand pump. With a smile that stretched from ear to ear he loudly proclaimed, "I love God so much,
I'm ready to choke anybody who dares to speak against him."
I really don't think that's what Jesus had in mind. We're called to love God but we never really find out how to love God until we find out how much God loves us. And God loves us so much that God sent that love gift wrapped in human flesh. God sent His own Son to live with us and die for us, so that we might know God's love. We learn to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength by experiencing God's great love for us. A love so deep that we are no longer called servants; now we are called forgiven; now we are called disciples; now we are called friends. And a friend is someone who knows you as you are, understands where you've been, accepts who you've become and out of their love for you still gently invites you to grow.
That kind of love made a difference in my life. It changed me and the way I think about things and do things. That love filled all the holes in my life, the holes in my heart and soul and even a few in my head. I don't always do it right, but now I can love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength because God showed me how. Through God's love for me as expressed in the forgiveness offered through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I can love God. We all can.
B. And we're called to live that love every day. One member of a church was speaking with the Pastor. That member was speaking rather disparagingly of a certain person who had recently joined their Church. They said the newcomer was just an "every day sort of Christian." The shrewd old minister caught up on the word "everyday" with real enthusiasm and he said: "An every day sort of Christian, is he? I wish I had known that before I accepted him into the Church and gave him the right hand of fellowship. I would have given him both hands."
You see, the trouble is that there aren't enough EVERY DAY sort of Christians. There are too many every-other-day Christians. Or every-Sunday sort of Christians who haven't really fallen in love with God or Christ or their fellow Christians. We're called to fall in love with God and to make that the all encompassing motive behind all that we do.
II. LOVE PEOPLE:
A. We're called to Love God, then we're called to LOVE PEOPLE. Love is the very essence of our faith. In John 15:17 Jesus says: "These things I command you, that you love one another." Later, the Apostle Paul wrote: "Though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing." That pretty well sums it up. If we can't love others, then our faith is a sham.
Love is the very essence of Christian faith. If we're not able to love other people, then there is something very superficial about our faith. Love and happiness are inseparable. In order to be happy we have to love. A recent study shows that people who live alone and have few or no close friends have an early mortality rate comparable to smokers. People without loving support in times of illness take longer to recover. During serious illness, those without the caring support of family and friends die sooner than patients who know their lives have value to others. In other words, love is a life giving force.
In an old Dennis the Menace cartoon, Mrs. Wilson is handing Dennis a plate of cookies and a glass of milk while Good Old Mr. Wilson, none to pleased, looks on with a frown. Dennis looks at Mrs. Wilson and says, "Mr. Wilson looks like he could use a good tickling."
Sometimes we need people like Dennis to see that we need a good tickle or at least some encouragement. As Christians, we are supposed to be bearers of Good News. We're called to live the love of Christ and love people. We each need to find someone to tickle with the Good News of God's love in Jesus Christ. (1)
B. Beetle Bailey's buddy, Killer, bends down to pet Sarge's dog, Otto. Otto growls at him. Next you see him in the General Halftrack's office and he tries to touch Miss Buxley. Miss Buxley growls at him, too. Finally you see Killer walking in the compound with a hangdog expression on his face and he says, "The world is so full of rejection." (2)
Unfortunately that's true; but not everywhere. Not in the Church. At least it's not supposed to be in the Church. The Church is about acceptance and love. It is the place you run to when everyone else has rejected you and you stand alone. The
Church is a place of acceptance and love, for everyone. Love does not come easy in this imperfect world. But love is the central commandment that Christ gives to those who would be his disciples. Giving real love and friendship to others is imitating the love which Christ modeled for us. We are called to LOVE GOD and to LOVE PEOPLE.
III. AND REACH OUT:
A. We're called to LOVE GOD, LOVE PEOPLE AND REACH OUT. We're called to invite folks into this loving relationship with God. Inviting people into this relationship with God is a little like inviting people to a party. All you really have to do is make the invitation. All you really have to do is reach out. And that can be done in all kinds of ways.
I've got a friend by the name of Jan White, not our Jan White but another Jan White who is a United Methodist minister and serves in Corsicana. She told me about a ten-year-old girl she met at camp one year. The girl had never met a woman preacher before and wasn't real sure that women could be preachers. They sat together at dinner one night and Jan asked where she was from. The girl said she was from the Masonic Home in Ft. Worth. And then with sort of a sneer she said, but they made her go home to her Mom and Dad during the summer. Jan said she acted like she didn't hear that in hopes of maybe drawing the girl out and said, "I'll bet you look forward to that?"
The girl immediately replied, "Nu, uh! All they do is get drunk and beat up on each other. Then when one of them passes out they start beating up on me and my brother." She then preceded to tell Jan how much she enjoyed camp.
The next day, this same girl came up to Jan at supper and said, "When I get back home, I'm going to run away and come live with you and let you adopt me cause you care about me."
Jan didn't know what to do or what to say but she spent the next couple days and nights praying for this little girl.
At the end of the week, during a time of sharing, this little girl came over to Jan and said, "I'm not going to run away. I found out that God loves me no matter where I'm at. And I also found out that women preachers are just as good as men and sometimes better."
That all transpired because Jan took the time to reach out.
B. A lot of people don't know that they can be connected to something bigger than themselves, bigger than their problems, bigger than life.
Erma Bombeck tells of a little boy named Donald who talks about education and fear, he said, "My name is Donald, and I don't know anything. I have new underwear, a loose tooth, and didn't sleep last night because I'm worried. What if a bell rings and a man yells, "Where do you belong?" and I don't know? What if the trays in the cafeteria are too tall for me to reach? What if my loose tooth comes out when we have our heads down and are supposed to be quiet? Am I supposed to bleed quietly? What if I splash water on my name tag and my name disappears and no one knows who I am?" (3)
A lot of people are like Donald, lonely or alone and frightened and don't know where to turn for comfort, help and courage. But when we LOVE GOD and LOVE PEOPLE, we naturally REACH OUT with the Good News and help them plug in to the power of love and the power of faith. Jesus told the disciples, Love one another, as I have loved you." Jesus loved the disciples by inviting them to be a part of this thing called love and this journey of faith. Jesus loved us enough to invite us on the same journey. And as his disciples, as his friends, we're called to LOVE GOD, LOVE PEOPLE AND REACH OUT.
I don't remember where I was going, but I was driving through the small town of Mart, Texas, I saw a sight that at first made me laughed but the more I thought about, the more it became a parable of modern society. At one house, it was obvious that the folks had just moved in. There were empty moving boxes piled at the curb for the trash collectors to pick up. There was a young boy having a ball playing with all of those boxes. He had worked his way right smack dab into the middle of them. He was surrounded on three sides by boxes. All you could see of him was from the waist up. He was just standing there grinning. But for an instant, he looked like he'd been thrown out with the garbage. And that got me to thinking: We live in a throw away society. Just up the road there is every kind of fast food you can think of and if it's not here, just go a couple more blocks and you'll find it there. When we're finished eating at one of these places we'll throw everything away.
It's sad but it appears that we don't make things of quality anymore. If a small appliance breaks down, it's generally cheaper to buy a new one than to have the old one repaired. We live in a throw away society where people spend thousands of dollars on weddings but you can get a quickie divorce for $60. We live in a throw away society that puts its elderly in nursing homes so that we don't have to watch them get old and remind ourselves that we're going to get old one day.
We live in a throw away society where parents bring children into the world and then don't pay any attention to them or abuse and neglect them and let them fend for themselves without guidance or nurturing.
All the old Disney fairy tales are true. We are all like Snow White and Cinderella. We are all unloved and uncared for step children. We are all living the fairy tales and hoping for the happy ending.
This isn't what God had planned for creation. These aren't the kinds of relationships God wants for us. God put us in charge of creation to care for it and each other. Somehow we keep forgetting that. But that's why Jesus came. To show us that we AREN'T unwanted step children. We are God's children, created in God's image. Jesus came to show us just how much God loves us. That's the Good News. And all we have to do is accept God's love and forgiveness and join in the celebration. Then, out of response for the love and forgiveness which we have received, we're called to LOVE GOD, LOVE PEOPLE AND REACH OUT.
Jesus said, "You are witnesses." We have seen and experienced God's great love. So who better to invite others to share that love.
LOVE GOD, LOVE PEOPLE AND REACH OUT.
Invite people to this special place.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. "Dennis The Menace, by Kethchum 5-7-91"
2. "Beetle Bailey, by Mort Walker 4-30-91
3. Homiletics, January - March 1993, p. 33