“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” That’s what the NRSV translation we heard this morning says. I hear it something like “Ok bozos, why are you just standing there gaping blankly at the sky?”

And that’s really a bit unfair of me.
Because the disciples have been through a lot of late.
They came into Jerusalem for the festival like gangbusters. A mounted parade as they entered … Jesus chasing the moneylenders out of the temple – which would be a lot like chasing the merchants out of the Galleria the week before Christmas …
Then Jesus was arrested. They abandoned him in their fright. He was tried, tortured and brutally put to death. They went into hiding …
And then truly bizarre things began to happen. Women claimed the tomb was empty and that he had risen – whatever that might mean. Out of towners claimed that had walked and spoken and eaten with him. And then the apostles had their own encounters with him …
And these encounters became so common over forty days that they began to seem like a new normal. But today Jesus makes some mysterious promise of a coming comforter and a baptism of the Holy Spirit (whatever that might be). And then he disappears in a cloud up into the heavens …
Maybe they can be forgiven for being a little bit shell shocked, gaping blankly towards the skies.

I’m thinking that we might identify a little bit with them.
Not long ago, St. Luke’s had a full time priest.
Fr. Dan came, and loved this community (and the community loved him). And less than a year ago Fr. Dan died, leaving us bereft.
Fr. Kent came to do an interim, and the Vestry developed a new plan to move forward serving our God faithfully in this community of Auburn.
Now I’m here. I’m called a Priest-in-Charge like Fr. Dan was, but the plan is for me to be here until sometime around the end of the year …
That’s a lot of change.
Not to mention that things seem to be changing in the Church at large.
Not to mention that there seems to be a lot of change going on in the world around us …
Perhaps we too might be forgiven for feeling just a little bit shell shocked.

The disciples had a lot of questions for Jesus.
But Jesus told them they didn’t get answers to all their questions. “What you’ll get,” he told them, “is the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world.”
Jesus did not abandon them, and he won’t abandon us either.
Jesus sent them the Holy Spirit as a comforter and guide and source of strength, and he sends that same Spirit to us.
Jesus sent them out into the world around them, in due course, as witnesses in their home town, throughout the country, and even to the ends of the earth. And while we personally may not be called to cover all that ground ourselves, God’s Church, of which we are members, is called to cover it.

Really, I take comfort from the fact that they were able to do this. This broken band of largely uneducated fishermen and sinners, who had just lost the only leader they had ever known, received strength and guidance from God that enabled them to accomplish far more than they could ever have imagined they could do. Western Civilization as we have received it grew out of an Hellenized Christian witness that has impacted all of our lives.
The community Jesus left behind on the Day of Ascension didn’t have many resources at all. It’s possible that it was numerically smaller than our community here at St. Luke’s today. But God was with them. They were faithful as they were able. And it was enough.
A lot of those first witnesses died early for their faith.
But from what I’ve read and heard, it was a truly brutal world they lived in, in which ordinary people had very little control over the circumstances – the often changing circumstances – of their lives. The care that Christians took for each other, and not just for each other, but for members of their communities (and travelers) beyond the faith community, seems to have had a measurably good effect on the lives they lived.
The community continued as, if not a faithful remnant, a small, countercultural sect that had very little say in the course of world events for centuries.
And members of this community continued to experience joy and fulfillment together in their lives in Christ. Amid all the trials and tribulations of the world around them, they lived better lives as they tried to walk in the way – they called it simply The Way – that Jesus had modeled and lived before them.

God is faithful, my brothers and sisters. God loves and cares for us as we are and invites us to be in an ongoing relationship – extending that relationship to those around us. And when we live faithfully, when we honor that extended relationship in our own lives, God is with us and our lives are fuller and more joyful than they would otherwise be.
Jesus is our partner in all that we do in living out our lives.
Jesus is our rock in a sea of change.
And Jesus will accomplish what he wills.

I say this to you in the Name of God: Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer. Amen.