What is on your mind?
That is one of those questions we seem to ask a lot. I know it is one that I ask Abbi, in some form, several times a day. It is a question of curiosity about someone else. With this question, we are asking someone what they are thinking about in that moment.
You may not think about this immediately, but I think there may also be a theological aspect to this question. I think it gets to a deeper meaning that brings to mind what is driving our interests. Sometimes, I think this question can be asked in such a way that it allows us to talk about what we are focused on. By this, we are asking someone about what captivates, motivates, or has their attention.
It is important that we pay attention to what our focus is. I say that because often our focus, or what holds our attention, is what we share with others. Think about this in the simplest of terms: if we are having a bad day, try as hard as we might, we might not give our best to someone else. That is because the fact we are having a bad day, or whatever else might be grabbing our attention, is often what affects our relationships with others.
In reality, what grabs our focus or attention is what centers us and gives some definition or understanding about our lives. The focus of our lives is what influences how we interact with others. Our focus often plays a role in how we interpret certain events and situations. What we are focused on is sometimes the thing we most often share with others, whether we are aware of this or not.
Jesus recognizes this and it is one of the underlining themes we see in our passage from Acts 1:1-11. He is with the 11 remaining disciples, whom Luke now refers to as apostles, on a hillside in Bethany. It has been 40 days since his resurrection. Since then, Jesus has had additional times of teaching with the disciples about the kingdom of God and the work they are to do. Jesus, while gathered with his disciples on this hillside before he ascends into heaven to take his place with the Father, takes a moment to give one last word of instruction to the disciples – an instruction that Jesus hopes will be their focus throughout all time. He calls them and us to be about the work of sharing Jesus with the entire world. The church, which is the ongoing mission of Jesus Christ in a dark and hurting world, is to be about the work of sharing Jesus with all people.
That is the message Jesus gives to his followers at his ascension. Thursday was the actual Day of the Ascension, which celebrates Jesus’ entry into heavenly glory. It marks the end of his earthly ministry and the beginning of the work he is doing in heaven today at the Father’s right hand. The beauty and wonder about this day tempts us to focus on what took place as Jesus rose from the earth into the clouds. While there is an important work there, I think what gets lost in the imagery of the day are the words Jesus says to his initial followers and this reminder not to lose our focus. Those words must be on our mind as we examine what Jesus desires our focus to be.
These are important words Jesus gives to his disciples, because as we read the passages initial words, we see that they’ve already lost their focus. They have been with the resurrected Jesus for 40 days and have realized that he is the long-awaited Messiah and Savior of all. However, they have started to lose their focus on this truth and have started to turn their minds again to the political questions that were often on their hearts. The remaining 11 are wondering if now is the time Israel’s kingdom will be restored.
Jesus responds by reminding them, as he has in the past, that the timing of this is not for them to know. It will happen soon, but today is not that time. Then, Jesus immediately turns away from what their focus has been and towards what he hopes their focus will be. He says that in the meantime, as they await the kingdom to come, they are to be about an important work. They are to share Jesus with others. As we live in the reality of the hope of the resurrection and await the final victory of Christ’s return, Jesus calls his followers to be about the work of sharing the story of Jesus’ love with others. Those who follow Jesus are to be his witnesses to the entire world.
It is an important work Jesus calls the initial followers of Jesus and those who come after them to take on. Luke, who writes Acts as a continuation to his Gospel, makes a note of this by referring to them as “apostles.” To be an apostle means to be a witness of Jesus. Doing this means sharing the interactions we have with Jesus with others in ways so that they may accept the gift of faith. This apostolic work is what Jesus calls his followers to have as their focus. Those who stand on the shoulders of the apostles who have gone before are called to have sharing Jesus with others and the entire world as our focus.
That is our work. To be honest, it is a work we can lose sight of. Often, we can get distracted from this important work of sharing Jesus with others. This happens when we lose sight of Jesus as our First Love and allow our love of the things of the world and ourselves to be what we focus our attention upon.
When I think about this I cannot help but think of the church in America today. As I think about the church and how we are living out our mission today I cannot help but think we’ve lost our focus. Even though we have the best of intentions, often what we share with others, sadly, is a focus that is more on the concerns of self and political or cultural influence than it is on sharing Christ with a lost and hurting world.
We see this, I think, in two ways. Recently, for one, a group of 80 pastors in our denomination spoke out and claimed that the best way forward to deal with many of our systematic problems is for a schism or split to take place. That the only way to move forward is to break-up the church. At the same time, we have those in the church who claim that they only way for the church to move forward is to completely redefine who we are in order to make the message more appealing to others. To lessen what Jesus says and desires in order to make it more approachable for those who have no faith in Christ.
Both are representative of a distracted church that has lost its primary focus, which should be on the life of Christ working in and through us and sharing that life with others. I do not believe we need to focus on schisms or church splits. I do not believe our focus need to be on redefining the message we share with others. I think we have to get back to being about the “main thing,” and that is our love of Jesus and sharing our love of Christ with others. That is the work we must be about. Truly, we need to give the world Jesus.
It is annual conference season across our connection and the joy of social media is being able to “look in” on the sermons and teaching times in other conferences. During a teaching time, this week, at the Indiana Annual Conference, Missouri Annual Conference Director of the Center for Congregational Care and Life Bob Farr said, and I am paraphrasing, that in the past we have done a good job of sharing the church with our kids, but we didn’t give them Jesus. What we need to do is give people Jesus. I think Farr is right. In the past, we’ve done a good job giving our communities large buildings and programs, but we’ve not always shared the great joy of being in a relationship with the Lord. That must not be our way forward. We need to give the world Jesus.
We need to give people the Jesus who loves all. We need to give the people of our communities the Jesus who breaks into our lives and gives us hope. We need to give people the Jesus who teaches truth and grace. We need to give people the Jesus of salvation and second chances. We need to give people the Jesus of the cross and the empty tomb. We need to give people the Jesus of life, joy, and peace.
That must be our focus and a focus that must be at the center of our churches and ministries until the day Christ returns. The angels tell the worshiping disciples that Jesus would return. Until that day comes, however, there is work that we must be about. That the is work Jesus calls u to.
Our work is not finished. There is still work for the church to do in sharing Jesus with the world. We’re not done yet. Until the last elements of injustice are eliminated from this world, then we must continue to give Jesus to the world. Until poverty is eradicated, then we must continue to give Jesus to the world. Until there are no more hurts, brokenness, or evil, then we must continue to give Jesus to the world. Until every person has an opportunity to hear about the love of Christ, then we must continue to give Jesus to the world.
The work of giving the world Jesus continues. We must be unashamed in being about this work in our communities and across the world. The work is too important to leave undone. The work is too important to lose sight of. We must be about the mission and share Christ with all people.
That is my hope for you here at Trinity. There is work for you to do in the communities of Latonia, across Covington, throughout Northern Kentucky, and all across the world. There are people all around us who need to hear about Jesus. Never lose focus of that. Never lose focus on Jesus and our hope in the Lord. Never lose focus on sharing Jesus with every person you meet.