Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Geezers and Gazers?

I have a pair of red (and I mean red-red) polartec pants that I wear regularly around my house. They're old, worn and super comfy. Every time I put them on my children mount a protest. They have forbidden me to go out in public in my red pants. They swear and promise they are going to hijack the pants and donate them to Goodwill. They would be ideal at a Badger game! Therefore I keep them hidden in secret places! Now every time I wear them my children just call me "geezer!" Life is not fair. I know I am not a geezer.

I'm not a geezer, but sometimes I'm a gazer. What's a gazer? Have you ever wondered what it might have been like for the apostles the day Jesus ascended into heaven? And what about those two men (angels) who showed up that day in mysterious dress? What was that all about? Read all about it in Acts 1:9-11.

Jesus is not heading out somewhere far beyond the moon, beyond Mars or wherever; Jesus was going into God’s space, God’s dimension. The two men dressed in white appear to tell his disciples, that Jesus has gone into this dimension of reality. One day he will come back and when he comes, he will finalize and complete his human rescue project by bringing together that dimension (heaven) and our present dimension (earth) as the new heaven and earth (cf. Rev. 21:1ff).

As Jesus is ascending into heaven the disciples were left “looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them” (vs. 10). Later the two angels indicate the way in which Jesus’ ascended is intended to “mirror” or share associations with the way in which he will come again. After all the two men say to the disciples, “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”(vs. 11) How does Luke want us to understand the similarities and differences between Jesus going and his coming?

· In the same way Jesus left with a glorified human nature and body, so too, Jesus will come in a glorified human nature and body. In other words, his coming will be personal.

· In the same way that Jesus was seen as he was leaving, so too, he will be seen when he comes again. His coming will be visible.

· His going was glorious; his coming will also be glorious.

But does Jesus’ ascension also inform our understanding of the church and her mission? Curiously in Acts 1:10-11 Luke mentions the word “heaven” or “sky” four times. Apparently the disciples were quite taken by this event enough to keep gazing up into the heavens. But we should not take the angel’s words to the disciples as a mere question. It is more reproof and rebuke. It might better be translated, “Hey fellas, what in the world are you doing gazing up into the stars? Jesus has given you a job to do—now get on with it!”

The angel’s question functions as reproof to Jesus’ disciples; the same question functions as warning to the modern-day church in several ways. First, it’s all too common in today’s church to become preoccupied with the issues of heaven; with times and seasons and prophecies and their fulfillment. It’s ironic that the disciples were “gazing into heaven” immediately on the heels of Jesus instructing them about their mandate concerning earth. Implied is a warning to the church. If we are not careful these issues can distract us and keep us from our mission on planet earth—to be Christ’s witnesses. Secondly, the angel’s question should safeguard the church from what author Nancy Pearcey calls, “the dualisms and dichotomies”[1] that have plagued Christianity. Even early on in the history of Christian thought, leading theologians dressed up Biblical doctrines in Greek concepts. In an attempt to be conversant with the educated elite these thinkers meant well, but they picked up classical Greek ideas along the way. Years ago noted theologian and author Francis Schaeffer called these philosophies a “two-story” view of reality.[2] Greek philosophy presumes there is a stark difference between the material world and the spiritual world. The material world (earth) is dark, sinister, devalued and evil. The spirit world (heaven) is a higher world, a more noble and virtuous world and therefore the world we should aspire to. No wonder the disciples were sky gazing. Even they were influenced by the dominant worldview of their day. In their minds it was more preferable to be occupied with heaven than to be concerned with earth.

So what does God do? He sends two heavenly messengers to reprove them and redirect their orientation. The two angels remind the ‘gazing’ disciples to cease their gazing, and by implication, to get on with their work on God’s good earth. In so doing, God affirms the goodness of the earth and the created order. Since He created the earth, the earth reflects God’s good character and it is this place called earth that constitutes the place of my mission, your mission and the church’s mission.

What is that mission? More about that next time!

S t r e t c h e d

[1] Pearcey, Nancy, Total Truth

[2] Schaeffer, Francis. Escape From Reason