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Looking up at the sky

By Charles Qualls

In 2002, I took a group to work with Romany people in a small village in Hungary. We flew on Air France to get there. On the way back, we were to change planes again at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. As I booked the trip, I had asked the travel agent how long a layover we could get in Paris without changing the price of the ticket? I wanted to see Paris. I wanted to at least see the famous Eiffel Tower. Others in the group wanted to as well.

Turns out, we had 23 hours to tour all we could and also get a night’s rest. Off we went, walking from our hotel to the tower. As we got close, it came into view. We stopped and gawked. Then, we walked almost up to the base of it. We stopped to look again. For a few minutes, we simply stared up. I suppose our marveling was as much that we were finally there as it was at the sheer height of the structure. Finally I came to my wits and said to the group, “Well, we can stand here and stare at it or we could go up on it and see what the view looks like from there.”

I love the question that leads off our Scripture text this week in Acts 1: 6-14. “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” We live in the COVID-19 age as I write this. I noted that our congregation has missed the last eight weeks of worship face-to-face. Which is one week less of missed services than many who stopped gathering a week earlier than we did. That’s a long time to be without a gathering of the spiritual body. I miss them terribly.

The hard news is that when we resume gathering, nothing will be quite like it was. Not for a long time still, if ever. We are in the midst of an intentional period of planning for the resumption of the gathered church. All of this is to try to ramp back up toward what we were. Sadly, or perhaps gladly, nothing will reset itself quite back at “normal.” Whatever we were, we are likely to be a little different when the dust finally settles.

Jesus’ followers had walked miles with him. They had listened to his teaching and had worshipped with him. Finally, after he appeared to them in resurrection they would see him ascend to heaven. Still, they wondered if now this might be the time that the Lord restored the kingdom of God to Israel. They were determined to get back what their ancestors had lost long before them.

Yes, Jesus’ own closest followers were gathered as he ascended toward Heaven. No sooner had they seen this happen than two robed strangers among them asked, “Why are you standing there looking up at the sky?” The obvious message is that it was time to get on with life. But their life they got on with was going to be far from what it had been. Now, the Spirit had come to fill the void Jesus had left. But life inhabited and led by the Spirit wasn’t at all what life following Jesus around had been. Now, they were responsible for the ministry at hand.

I have a dear friend who is a magician. In addition to the large props and sets he uses with some of his stage tricks, he also does close-up tricks. He can walk through a room at a convention hall or work a crowd before an event, just doing close-up sleight-of-hand. What he does is baffling, but I do understand the principle. At some point he gets you to look over here, when what you should be following is happening over there. For centuries, rulers and politicians the world over have used wars and other splashy happenings to get an entire nation to look over here because they sometimes don’t want us to look over there.

The movement of God is all around us. The Church has not closed, and therefore cannot re-open. It’s just that we can get caught up in wanting one thing, looking for one certain thing. Staring up in the sky and wishing for what we used to have. We just might miss all of the things God is doing in other ways and in other places, right here among us.

THE REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is pastor of Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 562-5135.