The prophet George Carlin once said, “Have you ever noticed that everyone driving slower than you is an idiot, and everyone driving faster than you is a maniac?” This, I believe is why everyone, to some extant, is a backseat driver.
We’ve all been riding with someone who is either a maniac or an idiot. It can be hard to suppress those feelings when you are quite sure you will either be dreadfully late or die ina fiery wreck.
Have you ever driven with a backseat driver? I’m not naming any names, but I may have experienced it from time to time. It can be infuriating to listen to the unwanted advice. “Are you going to turn?” “You’re in the wrong lane.” I think in our heart of hearts, we’re all backseat drivers. Some of us are just more expressive about it than others. As a driver though, have you ever had enough and just said, “Do you want to drive? Do you want me to pull over so we can switch and you can take over?” Have you ever actually done it?
You know who were the worst set of backseat drivers? The disciples. Over and over the disciples have a different idea than Jesus as to where they should be going. Over and over again they think they’re going to restore the Kingdom of David, or they think they’re going to save their friend, or they think they are going to nice people’s homes with nice food and nice customs. And over and over again Jesus shakes his head, closes his eyes, pinches his upper nose (at least that’s how I picture it), and says, “will you please let me drive?” Until finally he does it. He does what every brow-beaten driver has dreamed of doing. He pulls over, gets out, and says, “Okay, you drive.”
This is the story that is known by many Christians as The Ascension. It is the end of the Easter season, but not yet Pentecost. It is the hinge upon which the writer of Luke and Acts connects those two works. The Gospel of Luke ends with Jesus being taken up to heaven and the disciples worshiping, and then going to Jerusalem. Acts, which is the sequel, picks up with a quick intro, a “Previously on…” and then tells the story of Jesus’ ascension with a little more detail. Jesus, in his last act on the earth, tells the disciples that they will soon be baptized with the Holy Spirit. They ask, “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?” Read: “Are we there yet?” They figure this must be it. They’ve been with this guy for so long, surely this is finally the time. Instead, Jesus tells them, “It isn’t for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority. Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses to Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Then he leaves. This body, which had already defied the laws of physics by appearing in locked rooms and disappearing at dinner tables, is ‘lifted up.’ Jesus is gone.
He actually does it. He gets out of the car and says, “You drive.” So we took over, and just think of all the places we’ve gone.
We’ve taken it through building empires, inquisitions and crusades.
We’ve taken it through the suppression of science, the trial of Galileo.
We’ve taken it to grand cathedrals built on the backs of the poor to prop up the powerful.
We’ve taken it to explain plagues and keep people in the dust and shame in the shadow of an angry god.
We’ve taken it to the subjugation of women and used it to justify untold abuses and violence.
We’ve taken it to manifest destiny, claiming God as the motivation of the genocide of a people.
We’ve taken it to enslave a people based on their race.
We’ve taken it to Holocausts and concentration camps.
We’ve taken it to marginalize the LGBT population.
Jesus left and left us in charge and we used the power to subjugate those who look wrong, act wrong, pray wrong, love wrong, and were born wrong. We keep getting off course. How many times have we lost our way?
The thing is, Jesus gave us directions. He told us the way. The problem is, the directions seemed a little vague. Go to Jerusalem, then Judea, then Samaria, then the ends of the earth. Now, I can’t help but think that Jesus really screwed up with this one. I mean, I’ve threatened to get out before, but I’ve never done it. I’ve never once let my kids actually take the wheel because I know that things wouldn’t go well. And if I did get out of the car and let the kids drive, would anyone blame them for driving off the road and crashing into a tree? No. I would be blamed.
And what kind of directions are those? Is there any wonder we’ve veered off course from time to time? So we stop and lament and cry out to God. We shake our fist at the sky and say, “Why?” and we wonder why we aren’t there yet.
Then the angel of the Lord appears and asks, “Why are you looking at the sky?” The answer is not in looking to the sky. As much as I’d like it to be, the answer is not above in the clouds. The answer is not going to come down. The answer is not in the right orthodoxy or the right prayers or the right creeds. As much as I wish Jesus had stuck around for a little while longer, maybe it is time to stop waiting for Jesus to come, and start acting as if Jesus is already in our midst.
Instead of looking up, waiting for Jesus to give us the simple answer, we need to be reminded of the directions he actually gave us, and start looking out. Jesus gave us the power, and Jesus gave us directions. “Go and testify to me to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the world.” Start in this city, then out into the countryside, then into enemy territory, then to all the world.
Testify to the love of Jesus Christ. Testify to the way that Jesus lived. Testify to the hearts that were changed, the hungry that were fed, the unwelcome that were invited. Testify to the love that was willing to go even to the cross. Testify to the faith that sent two women to look for him at the tomb, and only to be asked, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Testify to the love that conquered the grave. Testify to the love that stands among you, scarred from the nails but still willing to reach out and embrace those who had abandoned and denied him. Testify to the love that knows not manipulation or coercion. Testify to the love that is not of armies and force and restoring kings and sitting upon thrones. Testify to the love that is the Kingdom of God, the love that says that all are welcome, all are free, all are filled, and all are loved.
Go to the ends of the earth to testify to Christ’s love, but start with your own heart. Start in your own cities, in your circles. Testify to Christ’s love to strangers and even enemies. Go to the ends of the earth, and stop looking up. Stop looking for the living among the dead. Instead look out. Look out to your neighbor. Look out to the one who is despised. Look out to the sick and the poor and the hungry. Look out and find Jesus not in the clouds, but among the least of these, his brothers and sisters.
We won’t find the answers as long as we keep looking up. Look out and be inspired by those that are following. Look around you and see the others that have figured out the way, who know the truth that we won’t find Jesus in cemeteries or the sky. We’ll find him on the journey. We’ll find him when we follow his directions.