In Awe

We find ourselves in the Book of Acts, the first eleven verses. The first three verses summarize everything that happened in the Gospel of Luke. (Remember, Luke and Acts are sequels.)  Verse four is the beginning of something new. According to the text, Jesus had gathered the disciples around him. He tells them about the coming of the Holy Spirit. Soon, the divine helper will touch each one of them and enable them to be his witnesses throughout the world. The only thing they had to do to was wait in Jerusalem. This is the truth. The disciples do not have a clue. They expose their ignorance when they asked Jesus about the completion of the Kingdom of God. Jesus redirects the discussion back to the Holy Spirit. Then something happens that no one expected. Verse nine says, he was taken up. He was levitated and raised so high that he was covered by a cloud. Not believing their own eyes, they were in awe. With their eyes squinting and their necks bent, they strain to get their last view of Jesus. It must have been one of those moments in life that they never forgot. Hoping for one more view of Jesus, two men dress in white had to nudge them back to reality. Saying good-bye is never an easy thing.

Have you ever had to say goodbye to a close friend or a loved one? I don’t mean the casual goodbyes we say at the end of a lunch or an accidental meeting. We can fill the days with words normally. I am talking about the last words that will be spoken ending a relationship. Those words are difficult. We choose our words more selectively. Everyone knows it, but no one says it.  There will be no more reunions in this world. The next reunion will be in heaven. Those goodbyes are not easy. How do you compress all those experiences down to a few words? How do you compress your emotions down to a few words? Have you ever had to say goodbye to a close friend or a loved one?

When I was young, we took a family vacation to the state of Maine. I remember it as a wonderful trip. The five of us climbed into the family car and saw the sites. We went to Maine for one reason. It was the home state of my father’s stepmother, my Grandma Helen. She was the only grandmother I knew on the Adams side. My biological grandmother died seven years before I was born. One day we connected with my grandparents in a place near Boothbay Harbor. She had cousins who lived there, Mary and Marge. They hosted everyone for lunch. I don’t remember what we ate but I do remember the scenery. That rocky coastline was impressive. I hope to travel to Maine in my retirement. It must have been late in the afternoon when we started saying goodbye. I remember standing near my mother and sisters. Grandma Helen was saying goodbye to Mary and Marge. Without warning, they began to hug and cry. One of my sisters asked, “Why are they were crying?” My mother answered, “When you are their age, you don’t know if you are going to see each other again. This may be their final goodbye.” Goodbyes aren’t easy.

It was not easy for the disciples. They had only been with Jesus for three years, but their lives had completely changed over that time. They had seen so much. They had experienced so much. It was almost cruel to expect the disciples to accept so much in such a short amount of time. In short, they were in awe. They were in awe for three reasons.

First, they were in awe from what they were experiencing. Like young people who return from church camp or adults who return from a mission trip, words cannot capture everything that happened.Our words have limitations.The words in the scripture lesson for today are just shadows of what really happened. How do you describe a miracle? How do you describe an ascension? When was the last time your words couldn’t capture an experience? They were in awe of what they were experiencing.  

Second, they were in awe of what they had experienced. They had traveled with Jesus for three years. That is not a long time. How many relationships do you have that are older than three years? However, just think about everything they had experienced during those three years! There is more to a relationship then time. There is significance. They had seen Jesus heal the sick and the afflicted. They had heard his teaching and felt his presence. They had proudly marched into Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday and scattered like sheep in the days to follow. They had cried at his death and felt the numbness of his absence. They rejoiced at his resurrection. It all happened in such a short period of time. There was no time to process the events. They were in awe of what they were experiencing.  

Third, they were in awe of what they would experience. They were pre-Pentecost disciples. They have just been told they are to go into the world and witness for about Jesus. I can’t think of one group less qualified for this task. They knew very little. They understood very little. They were unprepared and unequipped. You would be hard pressed to find a group that was more impotent. They were well acquainted with their own deficiencies. They were in awe of the challenge that was facing them. That is one of the reasons we are so fascinated with the disciples. We are so much like them. Like them, we are in awe of the great challenge facing us.

The Great Commission says we are to go out and make disciples in the world. We are to baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19) Does anyone here feel qualified for that task? Is it possible we have no energy left to make disciples because we spend our energy maintaining the institutional church? Or maybe our problem is deeper? Maybe we are like those pre-Pentecost disciples. We have heard about the Holy Spirit, but we have never experienced the Holy Spirit. Never forget, Jesus expects us to make as many disciples as possible. How many disciples do you think this church has made? We have no hope without the Holy Spirit.

The date was June 13, 1948. The place was Yankee Stadium. The occasion was Babe Ruth Day. They came to remember, and there was so much to remember. In 1927, Babe Ruth became the first player to hit sixty home runs in a single season. He hit 714 home runs in his career and had a career batting average of .342. In 1923, he hit .393. He was one of the first five to be voted into baseball’s Hall of Fame. He not only changed baseball; He saved baseball. There was so much to remember. Time can be a cruel thing.

By June 1948 the great Bambino was only a shell of his younger self. He would not see Labor Day. Cancer would take his life. He was 53 years old. Babe Ruth Day would give the fans one more opportunity to express their appreciation. Babe Ruth Day gave the fans the opportunity to say good-bye to the Sultan of Swat, the great Bambino. Goodbyes aren’t easy. That is especially true if you are never going to see the person again. It is easier to say good-bye to someone you are going to see again. It isn’t just true of professional athletes. It is true of everyone.

Bill Johnson is one of my best friends. You know Bill. He worked here with me for five years, before he kicked us to the curb for the bright lights of Salineville. He is now in Sugarcreek. Recently, his mother celebrated her ninetieth birthday. The family had a party to celebrate the occasion. From what I understand everyone enjoyed themselves. At ninety years old you have lost many in your life. Bill asked his mother, “Mom, when you get to heaven who do you want to see?” He thought the answer would be his father who has been gone for years. He thought it might be her old boyfriend Rawley. They would go fishing and drink Rolling Rock beer. Mrs. Johnson surprised Bill with her answer. Who do you want to see when you get to heaven? Jesus! I can wait a little longer to see everyone else. Let me ask you the question.

Who is the first person you want to see when you get to heaven? It maybe that child in your life that left far too soon. It maybe that spouse that worried and prayed for you. It maybe your parents who taught you how to live. It maybe that close friend who made you feel better on the hardest day. Who is the first person you want to see when you get to heaven? There is no wrong answer. There is only your answer. Who is the first person you want to see when you get to heaven? This is my answer. It is the same answer ninety-year-young Mrs. Johnson gave her loving son. I want to see Jesus. I can wait a little bit longer to see everyone else. The great evangelist Billy Graham (1918-2018) said it best. “My home is in heaven. I’m just traveling through this world.”

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