Ascension Sunday

When they had gathered together they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" He answered them, "It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight. While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, "Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven." Acts 1:6-11

I’m a surprisingly indecisive person, the type of person that can stare at the menu for 20 minutes without making a decision. The waiter shows up and I blurt out something and then say, “No wait! The other one…” They scratch my first order out and then start writing again, only to hear, “NO, NO, NO I was right the first time. We’ll stick with the original. Wait. Hang on. Maybe I should go with the third option.” It’s embarrassing. I come by it naturally. My mom is the same way.

But I’ve found that religion has helped (at times) enable my indecisive nature. In major moments of my life, I’ve found myself completely paralyzed, waiting on divine inspiration from God to tell me what his ‘plan’ is for me. I figured I couldn’t move forward because I might make the wrong step and veer from his very narrow path that he had laid out in front of me. But all I received was silence. So I just sat there, unable to move in either direction.

It all came to a head when I was trying to decide whether I should move to the Middle East permanently or get married and stay in Chicago. I agonized over this decision for years, going so far as to pray the Ignatian Exercises in a convent in the Middle East by myself for 3 days. Back in America I sat down with my mentor. I told her my dilemma and she said, “Will God use you in the Middle East?” I murmured, “Well… yes.” “And will God use you if you stayed in Chicago?” “Yeah… I guess he would.” “Okay… so if he’s not making himself clear (when he clearly could), and he will use you in either place, why don’t you do what you want to do, stay close to Him, and let him use you?”

Obviously I married the guy and years later discovered the Middle East had come to San Diego in the form of refugees. I stayed close to God and he used me to build a network of individuals to serve and love them. I laugh now when I think about how much I debated over making that decision, so afraid of making the wrong move, focused on details that didn’t really matter. Absolutely God will use us anywhere we go if we give him our time and our energy. Before I used to see God’s plan as a road in front of me that I needed to stay on. There was a right and wrong move in every minor decision I made. Now I see his plan as a circle… My life decisions can land me anywhere in the circle. The only thing that will take me out of that circle is sin. And thank God he’s given us a path of reconciliation back into the circle.

When I read our Acts passage for this week, I picture the disciples much like myself in my pre-marriage days… completely wrapped up in details that didn’t affect God’s action in their lives. “So is it time? Like, right now? We’re going to establish the kingdom in Israel now, right?” I can almost hear Jesus’ annoyed response, “My gosh, will you never get this? It’s not about earthly power. I will give you HEAVENLY power, the Holy Spirit. Stop worrying about what’s happening on the ground and the timing of every detail. I’m about to use you. Just watch.”

And even then as he disappears from their vision, they stay. Totally paralyzed. Unable to make a move forward because they are so worried they’ll miss something. He literally just told them they were going to receive power to go change the world and they’re stuck staring in the wrong direction. It’s like he needed to peer out from behind the clouds, “uh… You can go now. Like, seriously, go. Do something.”

We all can get a little paralyzed at times. I don’t want to get involved in a new ministry because it might take up too much of my time. I have this great idea, but what if it’s too much work? I’d love to take that trip but maybe it’s not the right time. I know I should call that family member to have reconciliation, but what if they aren’t ready? I feel called to sacrifice financially and give away my (read: God’s) money, but what if I need it later? I know it’s time to call hospice but I just don’t feel ready. You name it. We can get stuck. And I still, at times, question God’s timing on things that I find important. I’m sure the disciples thought restoring the kingdom to Israel was important. I’m sure they expected him to finally lay out the plan. Little did they know that restoring earthly kingdoms was entirely insignificant in comparison to what he was about to do through the Holy Spirit.

So this week I’m going to try to take a lesson from the disciples and stop asking the questions about timing. Instead, I need to remember that he’s given me power through the Holy Spirit to go change the world. So no longer is there a need to be indecisive or paralyzed in fear. Our Gospel reading this Sunday is all we need to hear, “Jesus said to his disciples: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.”

Let’s get moving.

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