A Reading from Acts, the First Chapter
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he 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.”
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.
One of the things I did as a kid that would make my dad a little crazy was not use the right tool for the job. It’s not that we didn’t have the right tool, but that the right tool was WAY OVER THERE in the garage and I was WAY OVER HERE in the driveway trying to fix my bike. My dad knew what I apparently had to learn the hard way, that if I would have just taken the time and made the effort to go find the right tool, the project I was doing would be done much more quickly and much more efficiently and I would have already been off riding my bike. Instead, because I wasn’t willing to go WAY OVER THERE to the garage and get the right tool, I continued to sit in the driveway with a broken bike!
The story today from the book of Acts about the Ascension is one of the times when we hear pretty clearly the mission that Jesus calls us do in the world. Jesus told the disciples to start telling people about him and start changing the world the way he had when he was walking around Galilee. He told them they should start in Jerusalem. In other words, he told them to start right where they were. Then, Jesus said, go out into Judea. Go to the folks who were a lot like them, but not right next door. Then, they were to go to Samaria. Those people were pretty different but not totally foreign. Then they were to go to the ends of the earth and who knows what those people would be like!
It turns out that is the way God always does it. God never gives us a mission or a calling without the tools needed to do the job. Take Joshua for example. When it was time for Joshua to take over from Moses and lead the people into the Promised Land, Moses and God called Joshua to do the job, Moses and God gave him a nail. BUT, God also gave Joshua the equivalent of the right hammer to drive THAT nail; Moses transferred to Joshua the Spirit of wisdom so he had the mission AND the right tools for the job.
The prophet Elijah is another great example. Elijah also made sure that his successor, Elisha had both the mission AND the tools to get the job done. So, when Elijah was taken up in the chariot of fire, Elisha got exactly what he needed to do the job; a double share of Elijah’s spirit and with the right tools he picked up Elijah’s mantle (which was basically the prophet’s uniform) and got on with business. He had both the nail AND the hammer.
At his Ascension, Jesus gave the disciples their nail. For the disciples (which include you and me) the mission, our nail, is to live as Jesus lived and work like he did to transform the world. That’s the “nail” Jesus gave to the disciples and that is the “nail” you and I have been given as well. Our “nail” is to change the world! Which, frankly, sounds really overwhelming, BUT hold on, it’s not as overwhelming as it might sound.
The first thing to keep in mind is that you are not the only ones to whom Jesus gave a nail! Every Christian throughout the world has been given this same mission... we’ve all been asked to drive a nail! The other thing to keep in mind as we panic about having to change the whole world is that we’re not supposed to start with the whole world first! Jesus didn’t say go to the whole world and then narrow it down to Samaria and then to Judea and then to Jerusalem! He said start where you are, in your own neighborhood and go out from there.
So you and me and Christians all over the world have the same mission, we’ve been called to change the world... to make the world work with love, compassion and generosity, caring for the least, last and lost in the world. We’ve all been called to pound a nail. But, before you start whacking away, take a minute and look at the specific nail YOU have been given. Is it a common wire nail, a smooth box nail, a cut nail, casing, concrete, slating or roofing nail... is it a blued lathe, plaster board or shingle nail or is it a brad? Even though we all have been given the same mission... to make the world work in the Jesus way... even though we’ve all been asked to drive a nail... the nails each of us and each of our congregations have been given are different and each of us has been called to change the world in a slightly different way. AND, just as each different type of nail has a hammer that is best to drive that particular nail, each Christian and each Christian community has been given particular resources to take on a particular piece of the mission of changing the world.
I’ll give you an example of what I’m trying to say. Let’s say there was a congregation that realized that there were people in their neighborhood who were hungry. Let’s say hypothetically, food had been disappearing from the church refrigerator and while it was annoying, they found it was more annoying that it was clear that their neighbors were hungry. Then that same church learned that well over half the kids in their community relied on free and reduced lunches at school and that when school got out for the summer, they would likely be hungry. The part of Jesus’s mission of changing the world this congregation had been handed was feeding hungry neighbors. That was the “nail” that they had been given.
Now it turns out that this particular congregation was gifted with a wonderful kitchen, a bright fellowship hall and some amazingly wonderful cooks and they even had experience with a free lunch program they ran in the winter months. That was their very specialized hammer, custom forged especially for them by the fire of the Holy Spirit. It was made to pound THAT particular nail that they had been given... the nail that was hungry neighbors and kids.
You see, where the needs of a particular corner of the world intersect with the gifts of a particular faith community THERE you have a people called by God. THERE, hammer meets nail. THERE the world is changed! THERE you are. Thanks be to God. Amen.