So it was in 1989 that the movie Dead Poets Society starring Robin Williams came out. Robin Williams played a school teacher names John Keating at a prestigious boys school set in 1959. He was an English and literature teacher. And as much as he taught the young men about those subjects, he taught them about life. There's a scene in that movie where Robin Williams is talking to them about poetry and he says "We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race and the human race is filled with passion, medicine, law, business, engineering. Those are all noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love: these are what we stay alive for. To quote Whitman
'Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill'd with the foolish...
What good amid these, O me, O life?"
That you are here--that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.'
What will your verse be?"
This scene from the movie was captivating when I watched it. It was so captivating for many that in 2014 Apple computers used this dialogue from the movie with the launch of their new iPads. As they had all the scenes and images coming across the screen you heard Robin Williams voice saying these lines. He quotes Walt Whitman and Whitman in his poem titled "O me! O life!" starts out with somewhat a pessimistic view of what is the meaning and purpose of life. Why are we here? What is all of this about? And he comes to that final answer in the poem. He has it structured where it says question and his reflecting and then he says that you are here, that life exists. The powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.
I tell this story this morning to kind of set the stage for what I see happening in Acts as Jesus is preparing to depart from this world and ascend into Heaven. He's risen from the grave, the tomb is empty, he's appeared to the disciples. We're told that it was over the course of 40 days that Jesus continued to meet with them, appear to them, and show them convincing proofs that he indeed was risen. He continued teaching and instructing them most specifically about the Kingdom of Heaven, or the Kingdom of God. And in this passage we've read this morning there are three instances where this Holy Spirit that we've been talking about, this Holy Spirit that we're looking to this coming Sunday which is Pentecost, when the flood gates of Heaven open and the Holy Spirit's poured out upon all the earth. We continue to find that just because Pentecost hasn't happened and just because the Spirit hasn't been poured out on the entire earth yet that the Spirit is not absent. The Spirit is actually present working alongside of Jesus.
The first reference was that it was through the Holy Spirit that Jesus was giving this instruction. It wasn't that Jesus needed the assistance or the support of the Holy Spirit to say the things that he was saying, rather I see the role of the Spirit that Jesus was instructing through being there to kind of give added meaning, depth, and power to what the disciples were hearing. It was for the disciples benefit that Jesus was instructing through the Spirit because instead of just hearing Jesus whisper it in one voice, that it's like having on a set of stereo headphones. We've got Jesus and the Holy Spirit helping them to take it in and embrace and hear the message of what he is saying to them. He prepares them and says "Look, in a few days that baptism that you witnessed of John's that baptism of water, that other baptism of the Holy Spirit is going to happen to you and that Holy Spirit is going to be present in your lives in a way that you have no imagined now." The disciples once again in an exercise of missing the point say to Jesus, "Lord is this the time when the Lord is going to restore to the kingdom to Israel." And the ever patient Jesus looks at them and maybe even shakes his head and says "It's none of your business, stay in your lane, those are God's things that are so far beyond your ability to comprehend or understand. Let's focus on what I'm talking about here because it is pretty important. When this Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will be my witnesses here in Jerusalem where at, and to Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth."
We've got this ministry and the mission of bearing witness to all that Jesus had said and done that the disciples were called to be a part of starting where they're at and spreading outward to the end of the earth. And then it happens. As if there was anything else that could have blown the disciples' minds at this point. I mean they've seen Jesus executed and placed in a tomb. They've seen the risen Jesus appear to them and spent 40 days with them. Now he ascends into Heaven and the disciples response to all that Jesus had said, all that Jesus had done was this.
They just stared slack-jawed into the heavens. We don't know how long this went on for but enough so that we're told that two men in white stood by them and said "Hey you guys, what are you doing? Why are you standing here looking up toward the Heavens?" Well the disciples probably could have said "Ummm...dumb question, did you just not see what happened with Jesus?"
I imagine it being kind of like when a child loses a helium balloon outdoors, that it drifts upward and upward and further and further away. And you keep watching and watching till it's a pinprick, until it vanishes from sight, but you keep looking anyway. The problem with this response of the disciples is the same problem that we encounter when we're driving on the interstate and there's been a traffic accident. It's backed up for miles: there are times when you're standing still, there are times when you're creeping along slowly. And after an eternity you finally get to that place where you can tell there was an accident because the fire trucks are still there. Maybe there are still a few police officers waving the cars on, in theory things should be cleared. But you're experiencing Gaper's Block.
You know what it is. You've participated in it. You want to see what happened. You want to see how bad was it. Everybody's looking to see so much so that it creates this block and keeps things from moving forward in the pace that they should be. The disciples were at a moment where they had the potential to create a gaper's block in everything that Jesus had been teaching, saying, and doing. They were so busy staring up into the Heavens that these two men in white had to come and nudge them and say "Hey guys, what are you doing? The story's not over. This Jesus who's been taken up from you into Heaven, well he's gonna come again in the same way." And while they don't say the words I think implied in this message is: "Besides you've got a job to do!" Jesus had just gotten done telling them "When the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you'll be filled with power and you'll be my witnesses." While we have other text in the Scriptures that we call a commission, in Matthew The Great Commission. But really in Acts, Jesus is offering a commission as well: "You will receive power and you will be my witnesses when this Holy Spirit comes upon."
Now friends this promise, this commission that comes to us as well. Because just as that Spirit was promised to them, it's promised to us as well. The thing about our Christian faith is that it's not a spectator sport. It's not something in which we're called to come and look and stand and stare and wait and see what else is going to happen. Rather, it's one in which we're called to receive the power of the Spirit, to roll up our sleeves and be the witnesses to the love that Jesus has to serve, to act, to teach, to show, to be God's people in this world. We're not called to stand by idly. We're not called to be the ones who rubberneck and look and see what God has done somewhere else. We're called to be actors and players in this story. Which is why I quoted that passage from that line from Dead Poets Society: "That you are here, that life exists and identity, that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse."
To put this in context of what I think it means to be a Christian, you are here. This life that you have is a gift from God. You exist and your identity is one who has been called, your identity is one who has received that power of God's Holy Spirit and this powerful play of God's working in this world in and through people of faith goes on. And you're invited to contribute a verse to this story, to this mighty work that God is doing. This work of God is one that we didn't see the beginning of and it's one that we most certainly will not see the end of either. And yet, this powerful play is one that we're invited to be a part of, to participate in. The work of God to bring about salvation and healing, and wholeness, to tear down the walls that separate people, to lift up those who are oppressed and downtrodden, to give hope, to encourage, to share life, to offer life, to heal life. We're part of God's work each of isn our own way.
At Pentecost, we witnessed the outpouring and the work of God's Spirit in a mighty way. But more than that, the Spirit works in and through each and every one of you. So as we prepare for Pentecost, as we hear these words, Jesus parting words before ascending into Heaven, we need to believe and know that power of God can and will and does work in and through our lives that we might witness faithfully to his love. We know that the story is not over because just as the disciples were nudged into action by those men dressed in white they said "Why are you watching him go? Don't you know that he'll come again?" And if Jesus is coming again he's not finished. The story goes on. May we contribute our part to this great and wonderful story fo God working in and through this world.
What is one way you can be a witness to God's love this week?