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Why Are You Standing and Staring?
May 30, 1976

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

ACTS 1:1-11

Some days, you just can't seem to do anything right. Have you ever had any days like that? Raise your hand if you've ever had a day where you just can't seem to do anything right. Well, I’m glad to see I'm not alone! Everything just seems to come out wrong, and you keep saying things that are wrong. And finally, you just want to crawl over into the corner. Then someone comes along and tells you to move because you're standing in the wrong place! The disciples had such an experience on the day that Christ ascended. We’re looking at the Ascension window this morning. After one of the resurrection appearances of the risen Christ to his disciples, he was lifted into the air and disappeared into the clouds. The disciples had a day where they kept asking the wrong questions. Jesus kept trying to correct them. And then finally, even as he ascended into the clouds, two angels came and told them they were standing in the wrong place! “Why are you standing and staring into the sky?” An angel asked. The disciples couldn't seem to get things together that day. They asked the wrong question. And when you ask the wrong questions, you don't get the right answers. 

They asked Jesus, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” It was a speculation about the future. It was a request for a timetable of the future. It was an inquiry about the last days. And Jesus told them they were asking the wrong question. He said, “It is not for you to know the times and the seasons.” He then went on to say, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes.” Jesus shifted the emphasis from speculation, from waiting, from a longing and a dreaming for tomorrow to the transformation of the present, to the demonstration of power right here in the present, right here where we live now, through the Holy Spirit. 

There are a lot of people speculating about tomorrow. We read in the newspapers, we turn on the radio, we turn on the television, we have all these experts telling us what's going to happen—all the terrible things that will happen to our country, and all the things are going to happen at the last day. When I was in high school, I got all involved in that speculation. I tried to go through the Bible to find a blueprint for the last days. A lot of people are making money on books these days. They are coming up with creative, clever titles like whatever happened to The Late Great Planet Earth. They are misinterpreting, they are not true to the spirit of the Bible for Jesus said, “It's not for you to know.” 

The power of the Holy Spirit is right here and now. That's what's important. Don't waste time asking the wrong questions about tomorrow. A lot of people live in tomorrow. Oh, when Jesus comes or when I get rich, then I'll be happy. Or when I finish my psychoanalysis, when I get my counseling done, then I'll be happy or when I get the kids to school, or when I get the kids out of school. Hunger, crime, violence, all the crises of our day, well, when Jesus comes. Don’t dream, anticipate and long for something you don't have. When you've got so much right now, why dream and long for what you don't have? Rejoice in what you have. Rejoice in what God has given you right now. Rejoice that the Holy Spirit can give you power. The angel told the disciples that day, “Why are you staring into the sky? He will come again as he left today.” And a few days later he came. He came to them on the day of Pentecost in the power of the Holy Spirit and the power of the Holy Spirit transformed their lives right then and there. The great good news of the gospel is that there is power available right now for you to live a successful, creative, beautiful, happy life—right here and now. Jesus shifted the emphasis from living in tomorrow to experiencing the power of God right now. 

But they asked a wrong question, “Lord, will you restore the kingdom to Israel?” They were past oriented. They were speculating about the future in terms of an orientation to the past. Lord, will you make Israel a nation like it used to be when David was our king? What a glorious nation we had, Lord, will you make us like that again? That was a wrong question. Jesus shifted the emphasis from orientation to the past to the transformation of the present. Do not evaluate the present by past standards. Do not speculate, dream and anticipate a future that is built on past achievements. You see what they were doing. They wanted a future to come that was just like the past used to be, and that's impossible. That's to miss the whole point of the power of God in the present. 

As we celebrate our Bicentennial in this nation this year, we must not make the error of trying to evaluate the present United States and set directions for our future based on what we used to be. Rather, we need to remember the ideals that our founding fathers had. We need to remember the ideals by which our founding fathers formulated this nation, those ideals which have not yet been fully realized. Let those ideals which are now in our future, those ideals which we remember out of our past and which are still not yet attained, provide the direction for our present and by which our present is evaluated. Do you see the difference? We must not fall into the hole of trying to make our nation into what it used to be in some bygone day. The past cannot be repeated. We do not want to restore what we had. We want to move forward. 

And in your own individual lives, don't evaluate your present situation, don't set directions for your future based on what you used to be, or based on what you used to have. That's the wrong question. The error in these questions is that you are denying the present. To be looking to the past for standards, to be speculating about a tomorrow based on those standards, is to deny the present, to deny what God has given you now. To deny the present leads to an inaccurate, an inadequate stance towards life as expressed in the question—Why are you standing and staring at the sky? What a beautiful question. Why are you standing and staring at the sky?

When are the best days of your life? What is the best time of your life? If you're thinking of something in the past, beware lest you are denying the present. To me, the Gospel says the best days of your life are either right now, or they are yet to come. Do you believe that the best time of your life is yet to come? Take a person whose best days of his life are in the past. Take a hypothetical man who was a great athlete in high school. He loved to play football and baseball. After graduation, he played on the the town recreation teams for a while. He was really caught up in athletics, but now he's getting a little old. His muscles are stiffer, tighter; he can't run as fast as he used to; his timing is off. And he longs for those good old days when he was such a good athlete. Now he spends his days staring at the television set watching the football games and the baseball games, drinking beer so he's getting fat and sloppy evaluating his present and looking to the future in terms of what he used to be. And he has a little bit of self-pity so he gets a little cranky, crotchety and grumpy if anybody interferes with his television. He is denying the power of the Holy Spirit right now to make his life meaningful. 

Or take a woman whose best days are in the past. This woman probably fills her life with trivia, fills her life with all kinds of pettiness—it’s just so important that the flowers get arranged just so, the dishes are just so, the house is cleaned just right. She's very careful watching and staring at other people to glimpse the chance that someone may snub her. She has to be very careful. Gossip is very important to such a woman because she just loves to find something on someone else so she can cut them down. A person who does not feel good about herself cannot stand to see anybody else having fun, or see anyone else enjoying life, or being successful and creative. So she has to cut them down. Tear down, destroy, deny the present possibility of what Christ can do. 

The good news is, the present can be transformed according to the directions of the future. The kingdom of God sets our standards, the kingdom of God that is yet to come. In this experience on Ascension Day, Jesus disappeared behind a cloud and they couldn't see him anymore. Sometimes Christ does disappear. Sometimes it's hard to see him. Sometimes we don't feel him anymore. Sometimes we doubt. We wonder what we've done wrong. We wonder what's happened to our faith and to our religion. Sometimes Christ disappears behind the cloud so that God can leave us on our own for a while and we have to struggle, live our lives, make the best of what we have to develop a little self reliance, a little responsibility. Sometimes God leaves us alone. 

But in this story, in this experience, he came back. In a few days, he came back in a different way, but he came resplendent in power in the Holy Spirit. He came, and you and I can rest assured that in those days when we doubt and worry, we can rest assured that we are loved, that he loves us. The good news of this passage is that he not only came, but he will come. And he comes in unexpected ways. He comes in surprising ways. Theodore Ferris has written, “In some unexpected and undreamed of way, Christ comes back. People we love come back to us, but seldom do they come in exactly the same way that they left us. In the glance of a young daughter’s eye, a wife lost early may come back to her husband. Across the page of poetry years after, a friend comes back to his comrade. Those who have watched the sky for Jesus have been disappointed, but he will come in the need of this dreadful hour. He will stand crucified above the debris of our wrecked cathedrals pointing to our shame and promising his help. He will come in the closed rooms of our secret lives to quiet our hurried breathing and steady our rapid pulse. And with him will come all good and true things.” 

Rest assured in the promise that he will come. Rest assured in the fact that he did come. Rest assured that there's power to make the present the best time of your life.

© 1976 Douglas I. Norris