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May 21, 2023

Seventh Sunday of Easter

Acts 1:6-14

Psalm 68:1-10,32-35

1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11

John 17:1-11

Alleluia Christ is Risen

Christ is Risen Indeed Alleluia!

Yes, it’s still Easter,

though it is the last Sunday in Easter,

next Sunday is Pentecost.

Growing up in Oregon,

my parents would take my brother and I

on family hikes.

Sometimes we would go to the Columbia River Gorge,

other times we would go to the coast,

or to Mt. Hood.

Often these were hikes to waterfalls

and involved lots of switchbacks.

Switchbacks for those of you who don’t know,

are a way of constructing hiking trails

in places where it is too steep

to take a direct path to the top of the mountain or foothill.

The trail will slope gradually up to a point and then

will double back on itself with a steep turn

leading further up the mountain in the opposite direction,

sometimes you can see the trail you just traveled below

as you continue hiking until it’s time to make another turn

and switch back the other way to climb higher.

And while this makes it possible for hikers to gain elevation

without needing to become mountain climbers

it does make for a lot of turns

and it makes it a little bit more difficult

to tell exactly how far you’ve come, at least with forward progress.

One such hike goes down in family legend.

I think we were actually on the way back from another hike

but we passed the trailhead for a hike to a waterfall

that my dad wanted to see,

so he stopped the car and urged us on to this trail

insisting that it wasn’t very far to this waterfall,

well that trail seemed to go on and on and on,

and each time we asked him how much longer

he’d say “it’s just around the next corner”

and invariably it would not be just around the next corner.

Many next corners later we did get to the waterfall,

Which was nice enough

But we would never again trust Dad

when he said something was ‘just around the next corner.’

Now if we’d been hiking just to hike

with the benefit of a waterfall at the top

it wouldn’t have been so bad,

I’m sure it was a lovely trail,

but since our focus was just on getting to the waterfall

all the next corners

simply served to frustrate us even more.

Where our focus was placed

affected our experience of the journey.

The disciples are having a similar experience today

when we join them in Acts.

We’ve gone all the way back to the beginning of the book,

Jesus has been resurrected from the dead

appeared to the disciples

and they have reached a point

where they believe that it really is Jesus, alive and with them.

So they’re wondering,

what’s next?

but in a very specific way,

they ask Jesus: “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”

and it seem like after all their time spent with Jesus,

they still don’t get it

they’ve seen him heal,

heard him teach,

especially the lessons about how the kingdom of God

is like a small mustard seed that grows into a bush,

or a little yeast that leavens a whole batch of dough.

They have even seen him arrested an crucified by the very

Enemy that they are suggesting he now over throw.

None of Jesus’ actions have indicated

that he is about to lead the military action

and political maneuvering

that the disciples are thinking about

when they ask about restoring the kingdom to Israel.

But for generations, that’s been the focus,

the end goal, the reason for the messiah

and there have been a lot of switchbacks on their journey to this point,

and if Jesus is the messiah then isn’t that what he’s supposed to do?

And Jesus tells them,

it’s not about what I’m going to do next,

it’s what you’re going to do next,

you will receive the power of the Holy Spirit

and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem,

in all Judea and Samaria,

and to the ends of the earth,

oh and don’t worry about God’s timing,

you don’t get to know that,

just focus on being my witnesses

and God will take care of everything

And having said all this Jesus ascends into heaven.

And the disciples are standing there mouths agape

when two men in white, two angels,

come up to them and say “why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

In essence the angels are telling the disciples

to return their focus to earth,

this parallels the angels in the tomb

asking the women “why do you look for the living among the dead?”

It seems like the disciples and us humans along with them

are always focusing on the wrong thing

and it is the job of the angels to point them in the right direction,

to life here and now

because life here and now has always been Jesus’ focus.

We heard Jesus in our gospel for today,

it’s the wrap up of his farewell to his disciples

and Jesus ends with praying for his disciples and us,

and what does he pray?

“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

What is eternal life according to Jesus?

That people know God,

right now,

not later,

not after death,

here and now.

Jesus’ mission statement in John is in chapter 10:10

when he says “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

eternal life in Jesus’ understanding

starts here and now

and is experienced in relationships,

relationship with God,

and one another,

it’s why Jesus’ new commandment to the disciples,

his new law,

is to love one another,

and it’s by love that people will know his followers,

for Jesus the important time is right now,

it’s right now we should be concerned with,

God will take care of God’s own projects on God’s time.

“Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?”

the messengers ask the disciples and us,

Somewhat ironically

Jesus’ ascension to heaven today

brings us back to earth.

Reminding us that

Life isn’t about some end goal,

whether it’s heaven or a waterfall,

it’s about the path along the way and the people along the way

and sure that path will probably include some switchbacks,

some times where it feels like we just came this way

where it doesn’t feel like we’re moving forward even if we are moving up

and God will be with us protecting and keeping us

coaxing us around the next corner,

pointing out the beautiful things along the way

the eternal abundant life

given to us by God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit the advocate. Amen

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