Have you ever spent so much time focused on getting to the goal that once you achieved it, you had no idea what came next? The new career mother, who has looked forward to the birth of their first child, now returns home with baby in tow, has all the friends and relatives there for a little celebration of those first wonderful days. The first Monday morning rolls. The hubby heads off to work, the door closes, and suddenly it hits her: “I’m not going back to work, not for a long time.” Then, that most human question hits her dead in the face: “NOW WHAT?”
The graduating senior walks across the stage, picks up their diploma, smiles this huge smile of relief, pauses at the end for the picture next to the U.S. flag, walks back to their chair in the auditorium, and sits down. Once they take a breath or two, the dawning realization hits them like a sledgehammer: “Now what?” I don’t have to wake up tomorrow early for classes. I don’t have to get my books for the next cycle of classes, etc. Now what?
And in our stories from the Acts of the Apostles and Matthew’s gospel we see the disciples facing the exact same: “Now what?” question. Jesus had been raised from the dead. And he hung out with them for a period of time. And they were becoming kind of used to his risen presence, when suddenly, it seems, he is taken from their midst. You get the sense in the Acts of the Apostles that they didn’t quite see that one coming. They were still asking questions about when Jesus would restore the political kingdom. Instead, Jesus speaks to them about being clothed with power from on high, and the promised gift of the Spirit. And then he was gone. He was gone. They stand there with mouths open, gaping at the heavens. Now what?
So God, with his usual patience, sends two heavenly visitors. “Men of Jerusalem, why are you standing around looking up to the heavens?” Don’t you understand, it’s “Now what” time. It’s time to begin the NEXT stage of discipleship. Empowered by the spirit, YOU are to be the witnesses, you are to be the ones to continue the building of the kingdom. Clothed with power from on high, the mission is yours now to accept and undertake. You’ve got the only tool you’ll ever need – the gift of the Spirit. “Now what?” Now it is time to get busy living and loving for the kingdom.
Now what? I think we all know both sides of that experience in various ways and different times – the “deep gulp” side of that moment as well as the ‘being sent to the next stage of the mission’. So here is the truth about the Feast of the Ascension this year at St. Ann parish. It is “Now what time” in a very real way for you and me.
For me, the “Now What?” means that the long expected call came from the Archbishop’s office a few weeks ago. On my ordination day, I placed my hands and life into the hands of my Archbishop and promised to serve the church wherever and however the church needed me to serve it. That promise has not changed over the years. So, beginning July 1st, I will become the pastor of St. Justin the Martyr parish in Sunset Hills. And a young priest named Nick Winker, class of 2010, and current associate pastor at St. Joseph’s in Imperial will become the pastor here at St. Ann.
And like the disciples’ reaction to the ascension of Jesus, that news can leave us a little dumbstruck, or empty, or shocked or sad, or a combination of all of those emotions. And that is okay. But what I know in faith is this: the apostles would never have grown into the full measure of their mission and maturity if Jesus had stayed with them. They would never have learned to trust the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit if they could just ask Jesus directly. So, too, it is good for this parish that a new pastor comes – one who can take you places where I could not. And who can foster and encourage and strengthen you to be ‘clothed with power from on high” with skills that I don’t have. That doesn’t negate what we have done together, and how God has been working in and among us all. Nor does it say that God is suddenly going to leave this parish that he has shepherded these past 160 years. But it does say that a new chapter will open in the great history of this great parish.
Now what? I have no idea what is in store for me or for you. I could tell you that St. Justin’s is about twice the size of St. Ann. They have a school of about 250 students. That it is about 8 minutes from where mom lives. I could tell you that your new pastor is one of 5 kids, he grew up in St. Jude parish, went to Holy Trinity Grade school, has a degree in engineering from Rolla and is, in his own words ‘ecumenical’ because he went to SLUH & his brother went to CBC. But none of that really answers the question. Thank goodness! How exciting for us all! How exciting it is to see what God will unfold and explode into his church, here at St. Ann and at St. Justin.
Now what? Now…..what!