Where Do We Go From Here?

I finished my sermon!!  I couldn’t sleep last night because I was so afraid I was going to oversleep my alarm and be late so I am running a little low on energy right now.  It was such a wonderful day, though.  I love preaching at Pilgrimage; they are so forgiving of and welcoming to me when I preach.  It is so encouraging and comforting.

Anyway, without further adieu …

Acts 5:27-32
When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, ‘We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.’ But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour, so that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.’

***

Where Do We Go From Here?

In June of 2003, I took my first trip to Teupasenti, Honduras to observe a Christian-based education mission that my church in Connecticut supports. While I was there, I saw poverty at its extreme: Large families living in shacks without windows, doors or floors; multiple siblings having to share one single pair of shoes; women walking over 10 miles a day in order to teach six grades all at once in a one-room school house; 600 children waiting patiently for one meal of chicken and rice (the only meal they would receive that day) and a group of hard working people – despite their work ethic and resilience – unable to break the cycle of poverty and self-sustain their village after the devastation of Hurricane Mitch in the late 90s.

As my trip drew to a close, I knew that my life had been changed forever. I was 18 years old and about to leave for college. I felt empowered to help the people of Teupasenti, to work with them and with the organization, Children’s Rescue Mission, to strengthen and grow their community from the inside out. In addition, I wanted to look at my own finances, adjust how I was spending my money and look to see if there was a way I could support them monetarily as well.

I flew from Tegucigalpa – the capital of Honduras – to Miami where I collected my luggage, went through customs and waited for my flight back to New York. I thought about the friends that I had made and the life that I was returning to. I thought about the stories that I wanted to tell and the changes that I wanted to make in my own life. I thought about the fact that you could feed one child one nutritious meal for 50 cents – a mere $180 a year to feed one child every day for an entire year!! I thought to myself, “Where do I go from here?”

I was getting a little thirsty, so I wandered through the terminal until I found a vending machine. Without thinking twice, I paid $2 for a bottle of water.

Two dollars; I spent two dollars on one 16 ounce bottle of water!! The amount of money that I spent on 16 ounces of water could have fed one child for four days in Teupasenti.

It is easy to lose perspective of how you are being called to act when that reality isn’t staring you in the face. It was easy for me to forget about the faces of those I wanted to help when I found myself back in the United States, surrounded by the modern conveniences of the developed world. It was easy to forget that I had asked myself the simple question, “Where do I go from here?”

Do you ever wonder if Jesus’ disciples had to force themselves to ask to the same question after the crucifixion and miraculous resurrection? Jesus ascended into heaven, but here on earth, were people wondering, “Where do we go from here?” Here’s the thing – the political situation in Jerusalem wasn’t exactly springtime and roses in the first century. There was a reason that Jesus was put on the cross, a political one. Yes, in a Christiological sense, Jesus died for the sins of the world, but in a political sense, Jesus was sentenced to death because he broke the law in Jerusalem. Anyone who preached his message would be – in a sense – breaking the laws of Jerusalem as well.

We just heard a reading from the book of Acts. Now, many scholars believe that the book of Acts and the Gospel of Luke were at one point one literary project that was separated when the New Testament was coming together and the Gospel of John was inserted after Luke. This means that the same person wrote both Luke and Acts; Luke was part one and Acts was part two. Think of it this way; the Gospel of Luke chronicles the life, ministry and death of Jesus Christ, the book of Acts is the sequel, it is the first generation of Christians, the 12 Apostles sharing the Gospel. The book of Acts chronicles those people whose leader went directly against the laws of society; they watched their fearless leader hang on a cross, overcome death and then ascend into heaven and – after it was all said and done and they were putting the pieces back together – were asking themselves the question, “Where do we go from here?”

The book of Acts starts off with the ascension of Jesus. The Apostles came together and Jesus told them that they would receive the power of the Holy Spirit and they would be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Jesus called them to be witnesses to the message of the Gospel – even though he was not going to be there to set the example.

And that is what they did. They carried on using the example of Jesus’ life; they healed the sick, they reached out to the poor, they shared their possessions and they called for radical justice. They did the same thing that put Jesus on the cross and they did this without Jesus being physically present to lead them.

I always get chills when I start to think about the earliest followers of Christ. They had nothing to gain by preaching the message of the Gospel. In fact – they had everything to lose. And yet they continued to push the boundaries of the law. The felt in their hearts that what they were preaching was right and they allowed themselves to be filled by the presence of the Holy Spirit and continued to preach the Good News.

And here I am, 2,000 years later – with nothing to lose by preaching the message of the Gospel, by healing the sick, reaching out to the poor, sharing my possessions and calling for radical justice – and yet it is so easy for me to forget all that I saw and all that I felt empowered to do in Honduras. It is so easy for me to forget the fact that one minute I had asked myself the simple question, “Where do I go from here?” – because the next minute I bought an overpriced bottle of water that could have fed a child for nearly an entire school week. I lost sight of the reality I wanted to hold onto because it was not right in front of me.

We come into the story today after the Apostles were called before the Council for breaking the laws of Jerusalem. Luke recorded that the “high priest questioned them, saying, ‘We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.’”

I do not know about the blood, but they were determined to bring Christ’s message of love and justice to the people of Jerusalem. They were determined not to lose perspective of who and what they were being called to be and to do and to the reality that they wanted to hold onto even though Jesus was not there to lead them. They were determined not to forget that they had asked themselves the simple question, “Where do we go from here?” Instead, Peter and the Apostles allowed themselves to be strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit and answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom who had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour, so that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”

And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey God. We – this worshipping community, our greater church community our national church body and the entire Christian Church – are witnesses to these things.

The last four to five months have been a very, very busy time in the life of the Christian church. Starting at the end of November, we hung the greens and settled into Advent, preparing for the birth of the Messiah. We welcomed Jesus into a manger, celebrated in January when the wise men arrived with gifts, saw Jesus as a boy in the temple and were inspired by the miracles he performed. We could barely catch our breaths and all of a sudden we were receiving ashes and entering Lent, reflecting on the journey that Jesus was taking, thinking about the sacrifices that were about to be made and the changes that were about to occur. Am I the only one who thinks it just seems like yesterday that we were putting chrismons on our tree and covering the altar in poinsettias? How has Easter already come and gone?

I think now – the Sunday after Easter – is a great time to pause, to take a deep breath and to ask the question, “Where do we go from here?” Where do we go from here as members of this church, as a congregation in the United Church of Christ and as Christians in a broken world? Where do we go from here? What have we taken from the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ? What have we learned from the ministry lived out by Jesus on earth? What did the 12 Apostles – who risked all that they had to proclaim the Gospel throughout the world – teach us with their tenacity? Who are we being called to be as Christians? What are we being called to do in their world? Christ was crucified and resurrected, but what does that mean for us – today, living within the framework that we are living in? Where do we go from here?

In many ways, we are extremely lucky. The United States isn’t perfect, but we have the individual freedom to practice the religious tradition we feel called to. The United Church of Christ isn’t perfect, but within our denominational system each church has the individual freedom to govern themselves and discern what they believe. Here, in our country and in our church community, we can ask ourselves individually and as a community, “Where do we go from here?” – and no one will answer for us.

The strange thing about the Christian year is that it is very top heavy. We go through Advent-Christmas-Lent-Easter in a short amount of time and now we have this long lull in the seasons where we get to focus not on what is going on in the Christian Church year, but on who we are as Christians.

The Apostles experienced the death and resurrection of Christ and rose to the challenge of living out their call and spreading the Good News.

We have just re-experienced the death and resurrection of Christ, the reason we are who we are as Christian people. Where do we go from here?

Amen.

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