Preacher: The Revd Rob Ryan, Cathedral Curate (2010-2012)
21 May 2009, 20:00 (Ascension Day)
Acts 1: 1 – 11
The scene is common to many of us. A group of people sit and wait in a plush office in the city of London. A bunch of people who are desperate to win. The atmosphere is tense. People playing out in their mind what might happen, mentally rehearsing what they will say if a b or c occurs. Making plans for possible scenarios which may erupt in the room they will soon be called into. They look uncomfortable as they wait. Pause is not something that exists in their vocabulary or in their lifestyle. They would even go so far as viewing such a waste of time as being a sign of weakness. Weakness is not what these people are about. These people are strong, they are doers, and they are keen to show how well they can do. In fact, they are desperate to show how much better they are than anyone else in that room and will go to seemingly un-endless lengths in their attempts to do so.
The telephone rings, bodies stiffen, beads of sweat appear on foreheads, smiles that look more like grimaces appear on previously solid stone like faces; stress rates go through the roof as they hear the words they have been waiting for with a mixed sense of dread and anticipation .... ‘Sir Alan will see you now.’
The scene I outline, is of course from the current running of ‘The Apprentice’ on BBC1. ‘Sir Alan is on the hunt for a new apprentice’ the commentator tells us. ‘You are fighting for the job from hell - working for me’ barks Sir Alan, before he assassinates characters and ridicules their efforts as he sees fit. And last nights closing words of the latest episode: ‘1 job, now just 6 applicants remain. Sir Alan’s search for his apprentice continues.’
The scene outlined above describes the only time for these budding apprentices when things really are outside of their control. They can do nothing other than wait for Sir Alan to make his decision. For that climax of the program when he points a finger accompanied with the words ‘.... you’re fired!’
Today's scripture reading from the Book of Acts tells us how the disciples, the apprentices of Jesus, found themselves in a similar kind of situation - how they found themselves having to face a period of time in which they would simply have to wait. After an exciting 3 years with Jesus, things now needed to slow to a halt. They needed to pause.
In the 11 verses read from Acts, the ascension is dealt with minimally, taking up a mere 13 words, or one and half verses. Luke, the writer of the gospel and of Acts, seems to be far more interested in what is said here rather than what actually happens. It is easy to get embroiled in all the ‘did he really ascend or is this symbolism’ stuff. We can stand and gaze at the clouds or we can look at Jesus’ parting words.
That scene is not so distant as we may think from the BBC’s Apprentice. The apprentices of Jesus ask ‘is this the time when you are going to restore the kingdom?’ This is no innocent question, but rather a carry over from Luke 24 when the Jesus apprentices are jostling for position, asking which one of them would be the greatest. Who would be Jesus’ right hand man ..... who was going to be ‘the apprentice’ above all the other apprentices!?
Jesus makes it clear this is not the question to be asking. Jesus’ last words and instructions are twofold - you are to get on with the job of being my witnesses; but first you are to wait until you receive power from the Holy Spirit to be able to do this.’ Alan Sugar’s apprentices think they can do it on their own, the apprentices of Jesus are constantly aware that they need the continual help of the Holy Spirit.
The ascension marks the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth, and the start of the ministry of the church. They are not one and the same, and there is a pause between the two which results in the Jesus apprentices being told to wait in Jerusalem.
We have the benefit of knowing what happens next. It is outlined for us in the next chapter of acts. ‘..divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them and a tongue rested on each of them (Acts 2:3). Each and every one of them is fired. Not by Sugar for ‘failing’, but fired by God to carry out the task he calls us all to do.
The Ascension marks a new way of working. It reminds us that we need to wait for God’s Holy Spirit in these pause times. It reminds us not to dwell on the future but to live in the present. Our task, in these times, whether it is a time between what is obviously one work of God and another, a time between jobs, a time between relationships or simply a time between one event in our daily lives and another is to make ourselves ready to be used by the Spirit.
In short, are we ready?
When God points the finger and says ‘you’re fired!’ will we get up and get on with the job, or stand still and gaze into the clouds?
God is on the hunt for new apprentices - many jobs, but not enough applicants - God’s search for his apprentices continues!