Last week was Ascension-tide, the moment the disciples saw Jesus go up into Heaven. Acts 1:9-10a reads: “After He said this, He was taken up before their eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as He was going.” But they were still waiting for Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit.
Recently, The Miami Times ran an article written by Oliver Thomas that raised a great question: “What’s the future of religion in the U.S.?” Also, the Church of the Ascension in Richmond Heights, celebrating its 46th anniversary, chose as its theme, “Presenting a constant Jesus to an evolving society.” Both themes indicate the changing landscape of today’s churches.
If society is to evolve, we need change and grow but we also need a constant Jesus. Often what blocks growth is fear of change and a fear of ascending to new heights.
Acts 9:9-11 confronts us with two difficult concepts. The first is the Ascension: “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into Heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into Heaven.” The other is the Second Coming of Christ.
The Ascension was necessary because it brought Jesus’ earthly sightings to an end. It also helped us understand the Second Coming.
To speculate when and how this will occur, as some are doing today, is foolish and useless. For Jesus himself said in Mark 13:32, “Not even He knew the day and the hour when the son of Man would return.”
An essential teaching in Christianity is this: “God has a plan for His world.” We as followers of Christ are duty-bound to believe historical events are not haphazard and that history is leading us to something better. Thus, we are obligated to believe there is some great divine event towards which all of creation is moving.
We all get tired of change; even children get weary of it. Isaiah 40:29-30 says, “God gives power to the faint and to him who has no might he increases strength; even youth shall faint and be weary and young men shall fall exhausted.” So, despite our age, exhaustion and weariness, we all must face change.
Our lives are not determined by what happens to us but by how we react to what happens, not by what life brings to us but by the attitude we bring to life.
A positive attitude causes a chain reaction of positive thoughts, positive events and positive outcomes. A positive attitude is a catalytic converter, the spark that creates extraordinary results.
God’s wisdom is amazing, especially when seen in the beauty of nature. Take, for example, the eagle, which has the longest life-span among birds. Eagles can live for 70 years but, to reach that age, the eagle must make a hard decision.
In its 40s, the eagle’s long and flexible claws or talons can no longer grab its prey for food. Its long and sharp beak becomes bent and cannot peck its food. Its wings become heavy due to thick feathers which become stuck to its chest, making flight difficult.
Left with two options, the eagle can perch on some branch and die or it can go through the painful process of change, which lasts 150 days. The change process requires ascending to a mountain top and nesting for five months. There, the eagle knocks its beak against a rock until it falls out.
After that, the eagle waits for a new beak to grow. With it, the eagle plucks its old talons out. When new talons grow, the eagle starts plucking its old feathers out. After five months, the eagle flies away triumphantly to live for another 30 years.
Isaiah 40:31 says, “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint.”
The Second Coming is God’s summons to be ready for the day when Christ will return to get His own. To do this, we need to be open and ready for change. We must look for opportunities to rid ourselves of things causing death: old beaks (beliefs), old talons (habits) and out-dated feathers (traditions). Only when we are freed of such things can we take our flight into God’s presence.
The Rev. Dr. R. Joaquin Willis is pastor of the Church of the Open Door at 6001 NW Eighth Ave., Miami. To contact the church, call 305-759-0373 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.