"There's Always Something to Do"

Sermon for Ascension Sunday
May 12, 2024

Here’s a story I know you’ve heard a million times already, but bear with me. Once upon a time, there was a man named Bob, and major flooding was predicted for the town where Bob lived. It was so bad, that there was an evacuation order. But Bob wasn’t concerned, because he knew God would deliver him.

As the rains started to pour down and the waters started to rise, Bob heard a knock at his door. It was one of his neighbors on her way out of town. Worried that Bob didn’t appear to be evacuating, she offered him a ride in her car. But he said, “No, the Lord will deliver me.” She practically begged him to leave with her, but he was confident that he didn’t need to worry, and he said No. So she finally drove away in the rain.

Well, the water continued to rise. Bob’s basement filled with water, and the carpet on the main floor was starting to get wet. There was several feet of water in his yard by now, when he heard a bullhorn outside. He opened a window and saw the Coast Guard in a boat. They were looking for people who hadn’t evacuated so they could save them. But Bob yelled out the window that he didn’t need them; God would deliver him.

Finally the water filled his house and Bob had nowhere inside to escape to, and so he climbed up on the roof. As the water continued to rise and he had to confine himself to a small space at the very top, he heard a loud noise overhead. It was a helicopter. The National Guard was making one last sweep to save anybody still trapped in the town. They dropped a ladder down for him to climb to safety, but he waved the helicopter away. “God will deliver me,” he said. And so the soldiers had no choice but to move on and try to save someone else.

Finally, Bob found himself at the Pearly Gates. And when he met Saint Peter, he complained. “I had perfect faith,” he said. “I believed God would save me from the flood! Why didn’t God deliver me?”

“What do you mean why didn’t God deliver you?” asked Peter. “God tried three times to deliver you! He sent you a car, a boat, and a helicopter, and you refused his help!”

The moral of this story is pretty obvious: Some people fail to understand the nature of faith; God has more ways to act in our lives than direct intervention. Which reminds me of this morning’s scripture reading. It’s the story of the fortieth day of Jesus’ risen life. He had gathered his disciples together. He told them what they needed to know and what they didn’t need to know. What they didn’t need to know was God’s timeline—that was to remain a mystery. But what they did need to know was something very important: that God was going to pour out the Holy Spirit on them. They’d have all the resources they needed to live as citizens of God’s kingdom.

And then they watched as he disappeared behind the clouds. Their reaction was probably the same as ours would’ve been. They stood open-mouthed, gazing up to heaven, wondering what to do next. Then, Luke tells us, two white-robed figures appeared, asking them why they were just standing around; you saw him leave and you’ll see his return. You have work to do in the meantime.

The disciples were in danger of going the way of Bob, expecting direct intervention from God, absolving them of all responsibility. Jesus had taught them a lot, but it seemed that they were prepared not to act on any of it.

Bob would’ve done well to read this story as the rains started to fall and the waters started to rise. And so would we. Jesus spent his entire ministry telling us how to make God’s kingdom a reality in our lives and in the life of the world. It’s a kingdom where people think of others, where peacemakers are honored, where we consider the lilies and the sparrows, where justice is more important than prophets, where we forgive one another without expecting anything in return, where we reward generosity and not selfishness, where we’re willing to go outside the lines to welcome and to love.

In short: God’s kingdom—the Kingdom of Heaven—will never be a reality if we stand around looking toward heaven waiting for the kingdom to be done to us. Jesus left the kingdom in our hands; we’re the ones who are supposed to do it.

Now, we have some proverbs that we use a lot, proverbs such as Put it in God’s hands, and Let go and let God. I suppose you could think about those as just another way to stand around staring up into heaven, doing nothing and taking no responsibility. But I’ve never thought about these sayings like that. Being an active citizen of God’s kingdom doesn’t mean you don’t pray, that you don’t trust God to still be present in the world. Remember: the promise of Ascension was the power of God’s Spirit. When we pray, we’re not just asking God to do something. We’re also asking God to give us strength and courage. We asking for understanding. And we’re asking God to be with us, to walk beside us, and to support us.

And there are seasons in all of our lives when it really is okay to look up to heaven—or even down at the ground. Nobody can be out there making peace and working for justice all the time. But the clear Ascension message to the disciples back then and to the church today is that Christ has put it in our hands. His words and actions are now ours to speak and to do.

There’s a particular social media account that I’m very fond of. The name of it is Leroy & Leroy, a father and son team. Leroy is Canadian, and in all of his posts he goes to some obscure attraction (sometimes he’s just at the side of a desolate highway pointing out a dumb road sign), And at the end, he always says, “I’m Leroy and that’s Leroy behind the camera, and there’s always something to do.”

I love that. I kinda think those last five words are what the Spirit has been saying to the church for nigh on two thousand years now. “There’s always something to do.” It’s a message for the universal church, because I think if we took it seriously, the world would be a different place. If everybody who claims to be a Christian actually practiced Christ’s teachings, the hungry would be fed and the homeless would be housed. A lot more of the sick would be healed, and we’d be a lot closer to peace prevailing on earth. So there’s that.

But it’s not just a message for the universal church. That’s almost too much for our minds to grasp anyway—it’s hard to think globally. So let’s remember that it’s a message for each one of us as individuals in our little local congregations: “There’s always something to do.” When our time of looking up to heaven or looking down to the ground is over, when God has strengthened us and given us courage, and we’re ready once again to look around us, the kingdom awaits, and there’s always something to do.
—©2024 Sam Greening.