What Comes Next
Reading today’s sermon title, you might have wondered what it was about. Maybe you thought, like Prince sang in the 1980s, that it was about the afterlife. But, I am here to tell you that it is about something else. Today’s sermon is more like the U2 song from the mid 2000’s that said, that you got your self stuck in a moment and can’t get out of it. It is about moments both big and small that makes us pause. It is about those moments that make one stop and think, now what? Those moments in which time seems to freeze and don’t want to or can’t imagine what comes after. This sermon is also about the after, the when time seems to unfreeze and life keeps moving. Times when we ask ourselves, who am I going to be after this moment? What comes next?
It doesn’t take a huge stretch of imagination to think that even Biblical characters experienced this frozen/unfrozen moments. I want us to explore together a few of these stories, both Old and New Testament Although I know that she didn’t know the theme of my sermon when she and Tom chose the music for today, the song that Kathy sang at the beginning of service, Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho, I imagine is one of those moments. Joshua 6 tells the story that Kathy just sang. “ When Joshua had spoke to the people, the seven priests carrying the seven trumpets… went forward, blowing their trumpets and the Lord’s Covenant followed them…” ( Joshua 6:8-9) They did this for six days and on the seventh, on their seventh time around the trumpets blew and the walls collapsed. I can just imagine that even though it was priests that had been doing this circling that some jaws probably dropped in awe. God really did do what God said and now they are standing there with the rubble around them. Time probably felt frozen at that moment, maybe even stuck for an instant. I imagine that they were thinking, well…hmm… what now. That really worked, as God said that it would. What comes next? Although the words may not have been there, their next both immediate and long term spoke to how these priests and Joshua lived into their faith, a faith in a God of doing and leading.
The disciples were no strangers to this sort of moment either. Today’s New Testament reading is one moment in which the disciples lived into the frozen time and the question of what now? Today’s New Testament Lesson is Acts 1:6-14, a story know as the Ascension, which is memorialized in the Apostles Creed when it says, “He (Jesus) ascended into Heaven.” Maybe you are like me and this isn’t a story that you particularly connect with. Like we did with the Joshua story, I want us to take just imagine what it must have been like for the disciples and hose who loved Jesus. They had just seen him betrayed and brutally murdered. Yet, somehow he was present with them again, although in he was in some ways different. I’m guessing that the disciples were probably already a little shell shocked about the crucifixion and resurrection, even after they had been given all sorts of warnings and signs. And even after all they had already seen and been part of, there was still more to their story. Let’s imagine for a moment the scene. The disciples gathered together and were talking to Jesus, like they had many times before and all of the sudden, “ as they were watching, Jesus was lifted up and a cloud took him out of sigh.” (Acts 1:9)I imagine that there were some dropped jaws and probably even some words were said that can’t be repeated in church, although that part isn’t in the text. They stood there and stared. And who wouldn’t? Seeing someone lifted up to heaven on a cloud is certainly not something that we see everyday. While they were looking up and being astonished, two men in white robes asked them. “Men of Galilee, why do you looking up towards heaven…” (Acts 1:11) I interpret the question as saying; time isn’t going to stand still in this moment of shock and awe. Time and life goes on. You are the disciples and it is your time to go out and live into what comes next. Live into those things that just told you both the good and the bad. You are not “stuck in a moment that you can’t get out of.”
So, what does this have to do with those of us in the here and now? There are moments in all of our lives where we might feel time freeze and unfreeze and wonder what comes next. Like the stories today, sometimes these moments are huge. For new parents, this might be the moment when they bring their newborn child home. Maybe time froze the first time you saw the child live and in person. But, time kept moving and eventually all of the hubbub of the birth and time in the hospital is over. Now is the time when they choose what type of parents they will be and the nitty gritty decisions of whose duty it is to respond to the cries in the middle of the night. For parents whose children are going off to college, it is that moment when full to the brim car drives away. It might be the first time in years that the house is quiet and the refrigerator isn’t constantly being opening. For older people these moments may come when they move into an assisted living facility. Life changes drastically from when they were living in their own home. Now what? Who are we in the moment and who will we be?
For me, one of these moments came on graduation day when I earned my Master’s of Divinity. Long nights translating Hebrew, trying to understand theology, and asking the big questions came down to that one moment. On a rainy day in May of 2011, I robed and put on that funny little hat, bobby pinning it so that it stayed on exactly right. After sitting in the pew and whispering back and forth to my seminary classmates as the commencement sermon was preached, it was finally time. I walked across the front of the church, my master’s hood was very carefully placed over my head by one of my favorite professors and I shook hands with the president of the seminary. In that moment, I had done it. I had MASTERED DIVINITY. And it felt awesome like for that moment in time everything was in place exactly how it should be. But, that wasn’t the end. Like moved on. After the graduation cards were opened, robes were turned in and diploma framed, I was left with the question. What comes next? Who was I, Emma Mackey Horn M. Div.? Did having this degree intrinsically change who I was? Was it a defining characteristic? How was I going to move forward, who was I to be? What came next for me?
Sometimes though, these now what moments aren’t huge as earning a seminary degree or going thru a major life change. All of us have probably had at least a small one of these moments. Maybe it is that terrifying moment when you walk into first day in a new school. Time might feel frozen for a moment as you look around trying to find friends or someone who seems friendly. You might be asking yourself in that moment; Now what? How do I make friends, what do I wear, who am I this year? Maybe it is that moment where you find out that you did or didn’t get the part on the play, the team, and the squad. Time might feel frozen as you scan the posted list or emailed names hoping that yours will be on there. What happens when life goes on after that one moment? How do you deal with it if you don’t make the team, squad or get the part? What happens if you do? Does that one thing define you, how does it matter to who you are and how you live your life after this point.
I am afraid that I can’t give you any answers today. Each of us, like today’s Biblical texts, will probably have those moments where time freezes. But then, life moves on and you choose how to live into the newness. You are writing your own choose your own adventure. Maybe sometimes you get to a part of the story that isn’t exactly where you thought you would be. Or maybe you are at a place that just exactly what you wanted. Either way, God is there. God was there with the Joshua and the priests at Jericho and God was there with the disciples during and after the Ascension. God is there when you are “stuck in a moment and can’t get out of it” and God is there when you live into and lean into what comes next. And that is good news.