Psalm 68:3, 5-6a: But let the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; let them also be merry and joyful. Parent of orphans, defender of the widowed, God is in God’s holy habitation! God gives the solitary a home and brings forth prisoners into freedom…
I had hamsters as a little girl; two: Peanut Butter and Jelly. Having hamsters as a kid taught me two very valuable lessons. The first was practical: hamsters and cats don’t mix; no matter how high up you store that hamster habitat, the cat—like a stealthy ninja thief—will break into it. The second was existential: humans and hamsters hold the tendency of running and running in circles in common. To be honest, as tragic as the first lesson was to learn as a young girl, the second lesson was even more tragic. While it’s not great to come home from school to catpocalypse having descended upon our humble home, it’s worse to find out for yourself you can be moving and moving and not going anywhere.
Sometimes we spend a lot of energy running in place, going back (again) to the same thing—behavior, thought, framework, tendency—to find help and yet those things leave us wanting again and again. We can feel a lack and purchase something only to be left (again) with feeling the lack. We can return to old habits to find that the same consequences still manifest. We can keep thinking we can beat the system by playing the system, only to find out that once again the system is way better at this game than we are. If you’ve ever thought, uttered, mumbled the words, “This is just how the world is…”, listen closely for the squeak, squeak, squeak of that hamster wheel. All in all, the comfort of our hamster wheel and the feeling of moving perpetuate the false notion that we are getting somewhere. We are running and running and all we are doing is standing still.
So, what if we stopped running? Maybe we need someone to throw a stick in the gear to force us out of our little round, squeaky comfort zones. But it’s always good to remember that we aren’t—in fact—hamsters; we can get off our wheels. We can leave our tube-errific habitats and fight back catpocalypse with our own armadoggon, walking as liberated beings with in the world bringing life and love to other captives so stuck in place.
“…but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses: in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and until the end of the earth.” And after saying these things while they were watching [Jesus] was lifted up and a cloud received him from their eyes. And as they were gazing into the heaven while he was going, behold! two men stood by them in bright robes, and they said, “Men of Galilee, why have you stood looking into the heaven?…”Acts 1:8-11a (Translation Mine)
Luke tells us that those who were gathered around Jesus came and asked him if he was going to restore the kingdom to Israel. Jesus, according to Luke, uses this question to navigate towards a discussion of something else than kingdom restoration: the reign of God extending beyond humanmade boundaries defining this or that kingdom; this is the advent of the new order, not a return to the old one. The disciples are still stuck in thinking in terms of people groups and kingdoms; but God, in Christ, is thinking about the cosmos, the people of God, the entire world. In fact, this is the point of the book of Acts. We think it’s about the disciples and what they did, but it’s more of a testament to the power and action of the divine Spirit and what the Spirit will do by moving the disciples to spread the message of Christ—the message of divine love, life, and liberation—to the ends of the earth.
God isn’t interested in Israel standing still because God doesn’t stand still. See, as a people who partake in the divine image, as God self-discloses so too do believers participate in that self-disclosure. God moves and is on the move: creation speaks to this, the history of Israel speaks to this, the incarnation speaks to this, the resurrection speaks to this, the ascension will speak to this, and so to the coming fulfillment of the promised descent of the Holy Spirit. So, as God moves so, too, do those who have new life in God by faith. While humans like to think God stands still causing us to have to go “back” to find God, the reality is something else: God is always a couple steps ahead of us, and in being ahead of us is able to be with us guiding us toward something new of God. Thus, believers do not stand still, rather they are to be witnesses, moving, proclaiming witnesses of God’s power over death.
This is the point of Jesus’s promise that the Holy (Divine) Spirit will descend and come upon the disciples; herein the likeness to God takes on more distinctive features. Like Jesus’s life was a message of divine love, life, and liberation to people held captive and pressed and pushed to the margins, so, too, will the disciples become these very story books or divine love letters to more and more people. They—by their bodies in word and deed—will announce not the establishment of human empires but the divine revolution of God’s love in the world seeking and searching for the beloved. Here the ends of the earth are brought together at one point: as the disciples move by the power of the divine spirit, God’s love eclipses the notion of the villainy of otherness and the tyranny of us v. them. For where there is life-giving and love-sharing there is liberation from the captivity of death and hate (here, otherness is refused and the battle between us and them rent asunder). This isn’t about going out and making converts to a singular way of thinking—believer or die! Rather, it’s about spreading divine gifts of love, life, and liberation to all people, incorporating all people into the family of God’s life and love.
Then we get to my favorite moment in this story. As Jesus ascends—not to abandon the disciples but to be with them in a more personal and intimate way—two men appear dressed in bright-like-light clothing. These two men find the disciples staring up into the sky, still, stuck, and motionless. Then they ask the most perfect question, My Dudes, why in the world are you just standing there staring up into the sky? Granted, and to be fair, the disciples have a lot going on at that moment, but the point is made: it’s time to move, move forward. It isn’t about looking up or looking back, but looking ahead; it’s about interrupting what’s grown old even if comfortable and embarking on something new. As Willie James Jennings says,
“We must never discount the next step that must be taken at the sight of Jesus’ leaving. Such a step is understandably a labored step, unsure and unclear. Nevertheless it must be taken because faith always leans forward to Jerusalem, toward the place where God waits to meet us. We are always drawn on by God to our future.”
“People of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into the heaven?” Or, People of God, why do you keep running on that hamster wheel? Our life of faith is dynamic and active. It’s not about sitting and reverencing and standing far off. It’s about standing up, and acting, and coming up close and personal—to God and to others. Our life of faith is not about just accepting things as they are, shrugging, and just rolling over; it’s about saying something new, doing something different, taking a risk, and living liberated and responsible in the world to the benefit of God’s beloved who is your neighbor.
Jesus’s ascent into heaven does not limit the spreading of the proclamation of God’s love for the entire cosmos, but, in fact, ensures that it can (and will) spread. As Christ was and is embodied, Christ can only do so much with a body—as we know. But with the promised divine Spirit that will come to the disciples to anchor and yoke them to God, this message of Christ—the incarnated proclamation of God’s love for all people—can now very much and very literally travel to the furthest reaches of the earth. It is a message that is now unrestricted by culture and context, unbound by dogma and doctrine, and unleashed from time and tense.
As the beloved of God you, by faith, are liberated by love and given new life. This is part of our Easter story. But it doesn’t end with Easter; it doesn’t end with Ascension…it is just beginning. So, again, let me ask, People of God, why do you stand looking up into the heaven? As those who have been encountered by God in the event of faith in the proclamation of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit: Go. Go forth into the world carrying and sharing the grace and mercy of God by the power of the Holy Spirit, bringing God’s love to all…
 Willie James Jennings Acts Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible Eds Amy Plantinga Pauw and William C. Placher. Louisville, KY: WJK, 2017. 16. “He will seal this new order, this revolution over death and the power of violence through the Holy Spirit. The Sprit is the promise of the Father to the Son and those joined to him. Indeed Acts narrates the journey of the Spirit even more deeply into the way of Jesus and the journey of Jesus more deeply into the way of the Spirit. The Spirit, companion with Jesus and his disciples, will soon spread the body of Jesus over space and time opening his life as a new home for the faith of Israel.”
 Jennings, Acts, 16. “Geography matters. Place matters to God. From a specific place the disciples will move forward into the world. To go from place to place is to go from people to people and to go from an old identity to a new one. Jesus prepares them for the journey of their lives by holding them in a place where the Spirit will be given to them in that place, and from that place they will be changed.”
 Jennings, Acts, 19. “Jesus ascends not only to establish presence through absence, but he also draws his body into the real journeys of his disciples into the world. He goes to heaven for us, ahead of us. He goes with and ahead of his disciples into the real places of this world. He is Lord of time (past, present, and future) yet walking in our time, and he is Lord of space (here and there) yet taking our spaces and places with utmost seriousness.”
 Jennings, Acts, 18. “They will be an irrefutable presence. They will also be witnesses of divine presence. They will give room to the witness, making their lives a stage on which the resurrected Jesus will appear and claim each creature as his own, as a site of love and desire.”
 Jennings, Acts, 18. “The disciples will be formed by the Spirit as witnesses. They will be turned out to the world not as representatives of empires but those who will announce a revolution, the revolution of the intimate, God calling to the world. They will enter new places to become new people by joining themselves to those in Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. As Jesus announces this divine desire, he ascends.”
 Jennings, Acts, 19. “Jesus’ ascension is in fact God claiming our space as the sites for visitation, announcing God’s desire to come to us. Gods desire will be seen in the pouring out of the Spirit in a specific place in order to enter specific places and specific lives. He ascends for our sake, not to turn away from us but to more intensely focus in on us.”
 Jennings, Acts, 19-20.