The Call to Innerspace
28 May 2017, 09:32
© Stacey Steck
Jesus always did have a flair for the dramatic. From dropping the microphone at his first reading of Isaiah in the synagogue to disappearing in a cloud after his forty post-resurrection days on earth, Jesus liked to stir people up. And if that ascension drama weren’t enough, he gives them something startling to think about. At the end here, he doesn’t just say, “Go on and continue what I taught you.” No, much more provocatively, he says, “You will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth.” And the disciples must have just thought that was unimaginable.
Well, Jesus, we did what you said. It took a long time, but our job here is done. We have taken Christ’s message to “the ends of the earth,” and along the way, Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. Yes, the vision Christ gave his disciples has been fulfilled, as they, and we, the church, have reached the vast majority of peoples and places. The Bible has been translated into thousands of the languages of planet Earth, and even into languages of other worlds, including the fictitious Klingon language of Star Trek. According to the United Bible Societies, “there are now over 2,370 languages in which at least one book of the Bible has been published. Although this figure represents less than half of the languages and dialects presently in use in the world, it nonetheless includes the primary vehicles of communication of well over 90% of the world’s population.” Ninety percent is pretty good, and praise God there are faithful people working hard on the other ten percent. Most of us are off the hook, and can now get back to the fishing or carpentry businesses we left behind to follow this Jesus and to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. There is nowhere left to go, except maybe Mars, but since we want to be good stewards of God’s gifts, we may want to wait for evidence of life before we trot off to outer space looking for Klingons to whom we may bring the Gospel, already translated.
Now, you didn’t know that the Star Trek franchise was inspired by the early church, but there you have it. Like Captain Kirk and his fearless crew, the disciples were sent out to boldly go where no one had gone before, to seek out new life and new civilizations in the outer space of their time. Their world as they knew it was small, but it was about to expand beyond their imaginations. For them, Rome might as well have been Mars, and Uganda might as well have been Alpha Centauri, one of the nearest star systems outside our own solar system, but still some 4.37 light years away. But just before Jesus ascends into the clouds, he places before them the vision of an entire world that has experienced the healing presence of Christ, not just their own homeland, but the homelands of enemies and strangers. He places before them once again the ancient vision of all the nations streaming toward Jerusalem that had been the promise of prophecy to their ancestors. It will be they who go on without him, powered by the Holy Spirit, where no one had gone before. After them there will be the Apostle Paul who goes to Asia Minor, Greece, and Rome, Saint Patrick who goes to Ireland, and Saint Thomas who goes to India. After them, there will be the Women’s Missionary Societies of the early twentieth century that hold bake sales to send missionaries to deepest, darkest Africa, and inner Mongolia, and pre-Boxer China. There will be the United Bible Societies, and the Wykliffe Bible Translators who provide the Word in a host of languages. There will be missions to virtually every nation, tribe, or people group that can be identified, in every way of spreading the good news possible. We have taken this charge seriously as Christians and have covered the globe as Jesus commanded us. But what happens when you run out of places where no one has boldly gone before? What happens when you get to the ends of the earth?
To speculate on the conclusion to the missionary journeys is not to suggest that we have actually yet brought the Gospel to every living soul, and so there is still work to be done, going farther and deeper. The world’s missionaries out there are not about to be suddenly unemployed. But it is to say, as the statistics of the United Bible Societies suggest, that at 90 percent Biblical coverage, we are approaching the end of that era. Our outer space is shrinking, at least the earthbound part. And so, what will God have us do next? Pour all of our resources into the space program so we can preach an Interplanetary Gospel? If the vision Christ gave the disciples is fulfilled, what vision comes next? Well, as the title of my sermon suggests, we may take our clue from the scientific world which has come up with a word to describe the counterpart to that aspect of our environment which is above ground, so to speak, which we call outer space. If outer space is everything from the edge of the atmosphere and beyond, inner space is that which is inside, that which is part of our biosphere. Inner space often refers to the oceans, what is under the surface, but the term can even include the workings of the human body. The Academy Award winning movie for Special Effects in 1987 was called Inner Space, about a man who was miniaturized and injected along with his microscopic ship into a human body. In a sense, inner space is that which we need to magnify to see because it is so close to us, while outer space is what we need to magnify because it is so far away.
As I said earlier, for the disciples, anything outside the Roman Empire was their outer space. And they went boldly. They fulfilled Christ’s vision for them. As you know, Thyatira is in the midst of a process to discern God’s vision for our church, and part of that process is understanding what “vision” is, and how it is different than mission, or identity. And in our passage from Acts this morning, we have an opportunity to explore that difference and what it means for Thyatira as a whole, and each of us in our daily journeys. And so let me say briefly that one of the things that characterizes a vision is that it is achievable, or at least believed to be achievable. A vision is not necessarily forever. You can actually get there. You can fulfill a vision, like you can fulfill a dream. And in Christian terms, when you fulfill a vision, you’re not done; you just get another one! The Israelites had a vision of arriving in the Promised Land. And when they did, they received a new vision of making it a beacon to all the nations: “Nations shall come to your light,” proclaims God through the prophet Isaiah, “Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” In God’s good time, visions are fulfilled, and new visions extended. Perhaps we are at such a moment in the history of God’s people, that we are waiting for the new vision for our inner space, now that we have conquered, or nearly conquered, our outer space.
What will be inner space for Christians? Perhaps it will be those places closer to home that we neglected in our journey to outer space, like making our churches fully welcoming to the alien and the stranger in our own communities, as well as those in the lands to which we sent our missionaries. Maybe it will be the land itself we tend to next, as our focus on the “stewardship of the soul” permitted us to neglect the environment we walked across carrying the message. Maybe inner space will be the violence of our own homes, and the abuse and addiction that frequent not only the families of so-called heathens, but those of God-fearing Christians as well. Maybe that inner space will be silence; Mother Teresa said, “We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature -- trees, flowers, grass -- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence... We need silence to be able to touch souls.” Maybe inner space will be the Bible itself, for ourselves, when we really know it as well as we know the backs of our own hands. Maybe inner space will simply be the mundane, when we seek and embrace God’s Spirit and grace not just in adventure, but also in the everyday activities that make up the majority of the time we have been given.
Thyatira’s inner space has, I believe, already been partly defined. We know who we are and whose we are. We know we come from a long tradition of believers who possess love and faith, and practice service and patient endurance. This we have discerned already. It is our task now to recognize where and how, in this community, which includes ourselves, God is calling us to minister. It is not that we will become some kind of self-obsessed, isolationist congregation, that gives no thought to those elsewhere who have not yet heard God’s word of grace and hope, but rather a congregation that recognizes that there is still work to be done in Jerusalem, right where we are, in the inner space of Mill Bridge and our own hearts. In scientific terms, in terms of what is truly accessible to us as human beings, there is more inner space than outer space. Only a few astronauts and wealthy tourists rise above the stratosphere each year, and when they get there, there may be a lot to see, but there is no one to talk to, at least not yet. But within the sound of our voices shouted from our own rooftops are more people than we can imagine who are seeking what we have found. May God bless us with a vision for our inner space, as Christ did the early church for outer space, and the same Holy Spirit to be witnesses there. Amen.