What goes up, must come down. The NASA booster rocket that lifts a satellite into space then returns to earth … the pop fly a baseball player lofts into the sky which lands back in a player’s mitt … the daredevil high diver at a traveling circus who climbs that tall thin ladder only to then jump into an all-too-small pool below … the Dow Jones stock market index, regularly rising and falling … a child’s fever that goes down as quickly as it can go up … a ball with which two people play catch.
Historically, sites like “Know Your Phrase” suggest that the proverb “What goes up must come down” dates as far back as the 1800s and first appeared in print in Theodore Sedgwick’s 1826 book, Hints to My Countrymen. It is said to have originally been a literal reference to the principle of gravity … but over time has been used to remind people that the mighty will fall and the proud will be humbled.
Theologically, Christians would date the phrase much earlier … like around the Acts of the Apostles from which our first lesson is drawn today. If the phrase had not actually been spoken in first century Palestine, then it was there through one crucial biblical teaching:
When Jesus had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
The Christian faith is built around the belief that what goes up (meaning Jesus) must come down at some point in the future, so that he can redeem the world from itself. Christians have pictured this “coming down” in many different ways. From the bizarre imagery of the Book of Revelation, to the images in “the little Apocalypse” in chapter 13 of St. Mark’s Gospel. Some have looked to Jesus own words in Matthew’s Gospel about the separation of the sheep and the goats, or the talk of two women working int he field, “one who is taken and one who is left.” Pick your favorite among the “Jesus is coming” scenarios. In the end, God will take care of it, and we be there is some capacity to witness it. Our prayer is always that we will have a seat on the bus when it leaves the station for heaven.
The real question for us is, “What do we do while we wait?” How do we live as people who believe God has chosen to save them? What do we do to pass the time? You could fill a book with the answers to that question right? God already has, of course … we call it the Bible. In this book, you could look to the greatest teaching sermon ever – The Sermon on the Mount. You could study Jesus emerging church stories – his parables. You could consider his final words as the most important and study the Seven Last Words from the Cross. You could unpack his miracles … ponder his healings … or plod through all of his Father and Spirit talk in the Gospel of John. There are enough details in the Bible to keep you busy for a long, long … well, for eternity.
Or … you could look to a few global statements Jesus has offered us. “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” … “Take up your cross and follow me.” … “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” We have one of those global statements in today’s Gospel Lesson: “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
It is the classic call to unity … as Christians … and as children of God. It is what weare called to do while we wait for Jesus to “come back down.” We try to live in harmony with each other. We just don’t appear to be very good at it, do we? We find six ways from Sunday to divide ourselves from others around us.
So why don’t you help me out a little this morning. Why don’t you name some of the ways we are divided….
Congregational responses: Politics … Social Justice issues … Education … Financial Wealth … Race … Our religious beliefs … Where we live … The Fences we put up. Yes, we are masters of separation and divisiveness in our world. So what do we do?
A couple of weeks ago, I was digging around in some old pictures at home. I was looking for a picture of our son when he was young, so could show it to our grandson. We thought Sam would enjoy seeing how much his Uncle Justin looked like him when he was Sam’s age. And I came across a picture of that looks like this.
The back story is that we used to vacation at Stone Harbor when our kids were young. Usually one day of the week we would go to Cape May and walk the town. And our first year, we were told we had to eat at the Ugly Mug, so we did. Later that day someone approached us and asked if we knew where the Ugly Mug was…. and something like this happened.
This picture is in truth a bit of an urban legend in our household. We have 5 or 6 versions of it at different places at which we have vacationed. The truth is that only two of us pointed … Nancy and I … but we did point in opposite directions. We then staged this picture of the four of us as a reminder of the laughs we had that day.
As I thought about this picture, I realized … that this might just be what God wants us to do. While we wait for Jesus to come “back down to earth” … God wants us to point to places where we see Jesus right here … right now. Now we may not all agree on the places we see Jesus. We may have different ideas about where Jesus is most needed or most active. We may think of Jesus with different theological images. But maybe we can still acknowledge that we are a family, even when we have different ideas about the way we express our faith and follow Jesus.
And maybe we can laugh about those differences and let them bind us together instead of driving us apart. Maybe we can point here … here … here … and here…. while we wait for Jesus to come down from up there to down here.