"Someday Never Comes"
Rev. Ryan Slifka
In our scripture passage for this morning, Jesus has just been raised from the dead. And in the forty days following Jesus decides to spend some quality time with his followers. He spends the time teaching them and instructing them. And he also spends much of this time teaching and speaking about the Kingdom of God—what the earth looks like when God is finally in charge of it.
And after this forty day workshop on the Jesus Way (better trademark that one), Jesus tells them he’s leaving. They ask him if the kingdom of God is coming soon. But Jesus tells them that it’s not them to know when the kingdom will be complete. But before he goes, he tells them to wait in the city of Jerusalem, and he promises him that the Holy Spirit will fall upon them. And in his physical absence it will empower them to be his witnesses to the end of the earth. Even though they can’t see Jesus, people will look at them and see Jesus in their words and in their lives.
And after making this promise, the text says Jesus is “lifted up,” and a cloud takes him out of their sight. In the scriptures clouds usually signify the presence of God’s power. Jesus ascends, and is fully in the presence of God. He’ll be present to them by the power of the Spirit. But he’ll no longer be visible to them on earth.
And I love this final scene. It’s got a bit of a Vaudeville quality to it. While Jesus ascends and is taken up in to heaven, his followers continue to stare in to the sky. And while they’re standing there, looking off in to the cloudy blue, these two men in white robes cozy up beside them. This is like that. “Hey guys,” says one of the angels, “why do you keep looking up there? Jesus,” says the other, “who has been taken up to heaven, will be back the way he came.”
Jesus has been gone for a handful of seconds, and already, his disciples are fixated on the future. When he’s coming back. When the world will finally be set right. Don’t get me wrong—this is a promise that Jesus makes. But remember how he promised them that they would receive his Holy Spirit soon? Five seconds in and they’re already in danger of missing the life that is right in from of them, and the life he’s invited them to. Because their heads are caught up in the clouds.
So often in our technological modern culture we’re warned about the danger of living in the past, holding on to things so tightly that we can’t move forward. But there’s another way of living in the world that can be equally as dangerous: it’s living perpetually in the future.
We all spend so much of our time preparing for the future. As children, we dream about what we’re going to be when we grow up. Maybe we end up in college and look forward to the bright future that awaits. Or maybe it’s the time we spend building our futures with our spouses, trying to have the right house, the right car, trying to lay the foundation for a future for our kids. Or maybe it’s all the time we spend socking away money for our retirement. In one way or another, we always seem to be striving for, building, preparing for something else.
We’re all doing something like this one way or another. But the problem is that we can be so fixated on the future that we can actually miss out on life in the present. I remember when I was growing up I didn’t really have much money, so I never gave much money away to charities or anyone in need. Then I was a university student. Still didn’t have enough to give, I thought. And I remember always thinking that when I finally have enough money, I’ll start giving some away. But then, funny enough, Cheyenne and I were dual income and no kids and lo and behold… can’t give anything away. Gotta save. When I’ve got enough, then I’ll start giving money away. Always in the future. It was always some day.
We’ve probably all heard that saying that says that no one ever asked for “I wish I worked more” written on their tombstone. But so often we trade the relationships we have with our children, our friends and our spouses in the present. And it’s usually for the sake of the future we imagine when all the hard work is over. But then we may find it’s never really over. Our children are grown up. There’s a looming divorce. Somebody close dies, or we get sick. And somehow things never really pan out the way they’re supposed to. Then we look around and life has passed us by. And all the while we tell ourselves: I’ll spend time with my kids some day. I’ll have the close, loving relationship with this person I’ve committed my life to some day. I’ll be a kinder person someday. I’ll live and serve like Jesus served some day, when everything else is out of the way. We can spend our whole lives working for some day. But then, as that great American poet John Fogerty says, someday never comes.
Living in the future can be just as risky as living in the past. This doesn’t mean that planning for the future is a bad idea. And it’s not that the future’s not important. In the Christian tradition, we put a lot of stock in the future. But it does mean that like Jesus’ followers, our eyes can remain so fixed on the future we envision, we can be so caught up on the end game, that we can miss our calling, what the Spirit is calling us to do and be. Day-by-day. We trade today for some day.
But it’s all about the present life here on earth. Remember how Jesus promised that when he was gone the Spirit would come upon his followers, soon, and that they would be his witnesses to the ends of the earth, soon. The angels, these heavenly messengers, when they redirect the disciples’ eyes from the clouds back to the earth, they are actually redirecting the focus of the disciples from the future to the present. Christ will return in the same way he left, they say. The future is beyond your control, they say, that part is in God’s hands. But God’s Spirit is present to you, Christ is present to you, right now, even though you can’t see him and you can’t touch him. The angels are a reminder of that promise.
This is the key promise for the disciples. And it’s key for us, too. The presence of God’s Spirit that empowers us to be witnesses. But what does that mean? Where the disciples were inclined to look for Jesus off in some far off future, our own vision is re directed to look for Christ, and hear the calling of the Spirit, which is everywhere. It means that abundant, full life is offered to us anytime, anywhere. It’s not something we’re just constantly working towards or an end goal to be achieved. I used the example earlier of my own plan to be generous “some day.” But instead I’ve discovered that God’s Spirit is challenging me to put my resources to use so my life can be a witness to Christ now. Similarly, with my relationship with my family. I am constantly tempted to sacrifice them now, whether it’s for money or for the sake of my career, thinking I’ll get around to them some day. But God’s Spirit is already challenging my priorities, asking how I can treat my family so I can be a better witness to Christ to them and an example to others today. Where I’m constantly kidding myself that some day I’ll have the energy to be truly kind to others, some day I’ll start making a difference to those who Jesus calls the least of these. Some day I’ll have the time and the heart to give a damn about injustice and ecological destruction. Some day. And when I am tempted with “some day,” God’s Spirit fills me up and reminds to me that there’s no time like the present. There’s no time like now to start looking to see where the presence of Christ is leading us, and how to witness to him now. Because this is the true purpose of every part of my life... and yours. That people may look at me, and you… and see Jesus. It’s the life that we have been created for by God, and have been claimed by Christ to lead. Not some day, but here and now. Today.
Friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, this is the meaning of the Ascension. When we are tempted to focus our lives on the future, to keep our eyes fixed on the clouds, Christ and his heavenly messengers always drag our eyes back down to earth. To focus our eyes to the world in front of us, so we can watch and for God’s Spirit through all the earth. That same Spirit that empowers us to be witnesses, so people can begin to see that Christ is not somewhere off in the clouds, but he is alive in us. And when are finally awaked to this promise, we’ll be witnesses. Everyone around will look at us... and see Jesus. So there’s no need to keep our eyes fixed on the future. Because the abundant life you’ve always wanted is here. Right in front of your nose.
And for this, thanks be to God. Amen.