Thursday, May 25, 2006

"Oh, and one last thing before I go..." - Lectionary Thoughts for the Ascension

My question of the day is, did Jesus intend to start a church? And were he to tap us on the shoulder today, with a word of advice about how we are doing as the church in the world, what would he say? His “one last thing before I go” in the story of his ascension had nothing to do with institutionalizing his life. He did not say, “Be sure to boil everything I am, everything I taught you, and everything I ever did, down to a few basic facts. And then do everything that you can to get people all over the world to believe these few basic facts.”

No, he just said, “You will be my witnesses.” Well, first of all, and very importantly, he said that we can’t ever really know what God has in mind for the restoration of the world. Then he said that we will be empowered by the Holy Spirit. Then he said, “You will be my witnesses” in your town, in your country, and all over the world. So pretty much the famous last words of Jesus were, You don’t know everything, so just tell people about me, as many people as you can. (That’s my own paraphrase, of course.)

You don’t know everything, so just stick with what you know. That’s pretty good advice, in my book. Funny how that line didn’t make the Nicene Creed. How much different would the church be today if the Council of Nicaea had been able to add one little line before they began their creed: “We don’t know everything for sure, but …”? How much more conversation can you have with another person when you both assume an attitude of humility about the limited nature of your knowledge? And why is it sometimes so hard for us to say "I don't know"?


It reminds me of the Linda Ronstadt song that says, “Don’t know much, but I know I love you. That may be all I need to know.” The song ends with the line, “That may be all there is to know.”

Witnesses are told in court to provide the information they know – testify to what they have seen, heard, touched, tasted, or smelled. Hearsay is not allowed. Speculation is frowned upon. Witnesses are not allowed to supply personal opinion. Just tell what you know. Stick to what you know. That may be a good metaphor for providing testimony about Jesus, too. Don't stray off into your own prejudices, fears, and grudges. Just talk about Jesus.

I am not advocating the suppression of curiosity. By no means! I believe that the hunger for knowledge is a gift of God given to humanity, and good stewardship of that gift means that we ought to embrace it and put it to good use. It's funny how often learning something new illuminates just how much more there is to learn. Ironically, acknowledgement of the limited nature of our knowledge is a part of what compels us to know more and more. But we need to cultivate a healthy understanding that any amount of knowledge we accumulate over our lifetime is a mere flicker when considered alongside the vastness of God. Archimedes' "Eureka!" moment is still just a glimpse through a glass darkly.

Just before he ascended, Jesus said something like, You don’t know everything, so just stick with what you know. And the Holy Spirit will help you figure all the rest out.

I don’t know for sure if certain people are going to burn in hell or float up into heaven when they die, but I do know that God loves them. That may be all I need to know. That may be all there is to know.


5 comments:

David said...

Andy,
Thanks for the synopsis, and a little more on the Ascension. Good reading for the coming Sunday. Helpful and insightful.
Peace,
DC

Kansas Bob said...

Great post Andy. Being a witness is all about loving people.

Loving people is simple yet difficult ... it requires time ... challenges us to move past pain ... it often costs us ... love can require sacrifice ... it often involves transparency and vulnerability ... God's love is truly magnificent.

Larry B said...

Another post that got me thinking again. I must admit I'm a bit confused by this one. You started with the following: "He did not say, “Be sure to boil everything I am, everything I taught you, and everything I ever did, down to a few basic facts. And then do everything that you can to get people all over the world to believe these few basic facts.”"

But then you go on to end the post with essentially that exact sentiment i.e. when you said "I do know that God loves them. That may be all I need to know. That may be all there is to know."

Or am I reading it wrong? The two statements appear to contradict.

I guess I'm not really sure from your post, what knowledge we can count as knowable and what we can't. If I look at the events of Pentecost in Acts 2 that follow the ascension, when the disciples received the Holy Spirit they were prophesying in native tongues of those gathered around them and they used the scriptural prophetic knowledge to make the case for Jesus being their savior. They conclude by telling people to repent of their sins, be baptized and "forsake" a corrupt generation and they too will receive the Holy Spirit. It seems if I'm going to pattern my witness, there is no better example than the early witness of the disciples who had received the Holy Spirit as Jesus had promised to them upon his ascension. I don't see any evidence for a witness based on a single tentative statement of Jesus loves you. The love of Jesus was shown to those gathered through making an intellectual argument that Jesus had fulfilled prophecy. This was then combined with repentance and baptism prior to receipt of the Holy Spirit.

I guess I don't really understand why we should shy away from claiming knowledge when we have been given it through the biblical witness. Perhaps I've misunderstood the content of your post.

Thanks again.

Methodist Bishop said...

I can see why you liked my blog. :-)

You are quite right, of course. Especially about the Nicene Creed!

Andy B. said...

Larry B.,
Actually, I saw that same weakness in my perspective as I was writing this post. I am always in the process of clarifying and learning more. So, the "facts" I am referring to in the first case refer to a systematized theology that boxes God into a bounded realm of ideas. Sometimes this system of ideas seems to take the place of a relationship with Jesus in the church's efforts to evangelize. What I am questioning is the church's tendency to make sure people have all the facts, that is, buy into the system of ideas, rather than enter into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
Thank you for allowing me to clarify, and I hope this helps.