Sunday, 18 November 2018

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Established May 2009, Little Rock, AR

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Get Up! Get On Up!

May 13, 2018

GET UP! GET ON UP!

New Millennium Church, Little Rock, AR

May 13, 2018 (Ascension Sunday Sermon)

 

Acts 1:1-11


1In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over the course of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4While staying* with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This’, he said, ‘is what you have heard from me;5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with* the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’

6 So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ 7He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ 9When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.10While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’

 

Before I begin this sermon I extend greetings on behalf of New Millennium Church and Lakeshore Drive Baptist Church to all the people who are affirmed and celebrated today – Mothers’ Day – because of the great contributions you have made and make for individuals, families, societies, and justice.  None of the great blessings we each enjoy as people would exist were it not for women who intentionally love, sacrifice, plan, advocate, prod, and comfort us.  This is not only true for us as individuals.  It is true for faith communities also.

 

Like so many other congregations, New Millennium Church is blessed by the willing presence and loyal service of women who exercise maternal influence.  I today acknowledge two of those women.

 

Regina Gail Hunt is not a biological parent.  But no person could have been more proud yesterday when the name LaVante Karonne Pettigrew was listed and called among the graduates of the University of Ozarks in Clarksville, Arkansas.  Regina Hunt is LaVante’s maternal aunt.  She has cared for him, advocated for him, cheered him, prayed for him, pushed him, corrected him, and nurtured him in the religion of Jesus.  As we congratulate LaVante on his graduation from college and entry into adult responsibility, we thank God for Regina Hunt.

 

Lucinda “Cindy” Lee Hicks Boyles is biological parent to two adult children who are, without question, understandably thankful for her maternal influence.  Yet, Cindy Boyles is, in many ways, a driving maternal influence in Lakeshore Drive Baptist Church and New Millennium Church.   She prepares and presents music for our congregations.  She pays the bills that keep the utilities going.  She encourages and nurtures.  

 

Although Regina Hunt and Cindy Boyles are not the most senior women of New Millennium Church and Lakeshore Drive Baptist Church, today I declare them – jointly – “Mother of the Year.”  I hope that by doing so none of the other women of our congregations will consider themselves to have been slighted.  Rather, I think all of us agree that Regina and Cindy exemplify the nobility, strength, and grace that we admire in mothers.  Thank you, Regina.  Thank you, Cindy.  And, thank you, New Millennium and Lakeshore, for allowing me to make this collective acknowledgment to these exemplary mothers.

 

I am a fan of soul music and James Brown, and I always get a good feeling when I hear the opening bars of the James Brown song titled “Get Up, Get On Up.”  But this song is not about being a like sex machine – what Brown’s song was about.  Instead, the passage from Acts 1about the ascension of Jesus reminded me of James Brown’s title because of what we read at Acts 1:11, when two men dressed in white said to the sky-gazing first followers of Jesus, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”  

Jesus had told his followers to remain in Jerusalem and had promised they would be empowered to be witnesses about his life, ministry, death, and resurrection “in Jerusalem, Judea and all Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  Yet, the reality of his physical departure caused the first followers to gaze into the sky.  Like infants who await the return of their mother to a room, these first followers of Jesus were gazing upward, but were not going anywhere.

So they needed to be prodded, verbally, away from sky-gazing.  They needed to be reminded of what Jesus instructed.  They needed to be encouraged by the promise of his eventual return.  Borrowing from the title of James Brown’s hit dance tune, they needed to “Get up! Get on up!”

There is room to argue that one of the major causes of injustice in personal and social relationships is “sky-gazing religion.”  For many people, living for God is not about fulfilling the love and justice imperatives that we love God with our whole being and love others as ourselves.  They do not think about working to confront and overcome systems of evil that operate to oppress and injure others.   These people are quick to attend Bible study sessions, prayer retreats, and devote themselves to “quiet time” so they can commune with God.

 Bible studies, prayer retreats, and quiet time sessions have their place.  However, they are not substitutes for doing justice.  Injustice will not be stopped by Bible study attendance.  Oppression of women and girls will not be stopped by prayer retreats.  Mass incarceration will not be ended by everyone having “quiet time” sessions.   This passage reminds us that sky-gazing exercises and activities have their place, but that we should not mistake them for the ministry of love and justice.  

This passage also reminds us that we sometimes need to be prodded into action.  We need to be nudged, pushed, and sometimes shoved out of sky-gazing pietism into actions that result in justice.  Yes, we need to pray and study.  But prayer and study sessions should inspire us to challenge and overcome evil.  We should be growing in courage.  Growing in our knowledge about how evil wounds and how love and justice heals. That growth cannot happen unless and until we are nudged away from sky-gazing and into the action of disciplined obedience to the love and justice imperatives of God that Jesus demonstrated.

So, “get up, get on up” is a good slogan for us to remind one another to “get busy” (borrowing from entertainer Arsenio Hall).  Get busy talking with one another about doing justice because we are witnesses to the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Get busy working together. Get up, get on up, and get busy because God is counting on us.  Get up, get on up, and get busy because the world needs us.  Get up, get on up, and get busy, because Jesus hasn’t left us here to be sky-gazers, but justice lovers and justice doers.

 

Get up.  Get on up!  Get busy.  Amen.

 

©Wendell Griffen, 2018