Over the past couple of months I have been reading the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. I may be a late-comer to the books, but I have been no less caught up in the storyline. And as I am nearing the end of the final book, I am finding myself recalling a time when a massive backlash was waged against the Harry Potter phenomena. Evangelical Christians were afraid that a generation of youth were being led astray by a story rife with Satanic themes. And now that I’ve read the stories, I can honestly say I don’t think anyone making those claims haveactually read the books.
I do not know much about J.K. Rowling. I do not know if she considers herself a Christian or not. I DO know that she hails from England and lives in Scotland and that both nations claim Christianity as their national religion. And in reading the books, I can see how the teachings and stories of Christianity have, in one way or another, affected her.
As a preacher I have found parallel after parallel between Harry Potter and the Gospel story (maybe that will be a future blog posting). However, a very vocal group of Christians railed against the stories to the point that many people worried they would be branded “anti-Christian” if they were caught reading the books. Harry Potter novels became a source of rebellion for people who wanted to thumb their nose at an organized religion which seemed out of touch with the world around it. And sadly, the church missed a profound opportunity to reach an entire generation. Rather than using the common Harry Potter story as a talking point, it was dismissed and branded heretical.
Today is Ascension Day, and if we go back and read Acts 1:1-11, we see that the disciples were in danger of making the same type of mistake. Jesus had just been in their midst, giving them final instructions and some final words of wisdom, and then he was lifted away. Jesus was returning to his place in heaven, and the disciples just stood there, staring at the cloud in which Jesus had just disappeared, jaws hanging agape, and generally looking a little foolish. Maybe they thought they would watch until Jesus came again. Maybe they were hoping to catch a little glimpse of heaven (as though sharing breathing space with the Risen Savior wasn’t enough). Maybe they thought that the world would steal away the glory of that moment, so they just wanted to stay glued to the spot and not let it slip away. But then a couple of angels showed up and snapped them back to reality: “What are you doing just standing here staring at the clouds? Get up and get to work! There’s a mission to be completed!”
You are probably wondering how the reaction of a segment of Evangelical Christians to Harry Potter books is anything like the day of Jesus’ Ascension. It’s simple: It all comes down to the age-old battle of secular verses sacred. As believers we are so awed by God (as we should be), that we think God can only exist in the places we deem most holy. So, like David who wanted to build a temple that God didn’t need, we want to compartmentalize our lives. We deem some compartments as worthy of God, and some as not so worthy. The problem is, as we desire to spend more and more time with God, we start to assume that God canonlyexist in those special sacred compartments.
But didn’t Jesus walk the streets? Didn’t Jesus sit at tables with tax collectors and criminals? Didn’t Jesus hang on a cross, an implement of capital punishment reserved for the very worst criminal? Jesus was with lepers and adulterers. Jesus hung out at wedding parties. And Jesus visited the temple and taught in synagogues. Jesus, the very incarnation of God, moved freely and easily between the places we deem sacred and the places we deem secular. To Jesus, there was no difference. All this world was the creation of God, and to the one who had been there in the beginning, there was no compartmentalizing it.
In his travels, Paul found himself among the Gentiles of Athens. He didn’t reject everything in that “pagan” world as antithetical to Christ. Instead, he walked around the city and took in all the sites. And after he had done this, he went to the place where the smarty-pants of that society hung out and talked philosophy all day (Acts 17:22-31). He used an example from their culture, something they would understand well, to break the ice and to start teaching about Jesus. He didn’t call them evil. He didn’t act as though he was too good to walk into a place he didn’t consider sacred. Instead, he chose to see where he could find evidence of Christ even in a place that had never known him.
Paul did not fear the world… and I imagine that is because he knew Jesus didn’t fear the world. Jesus came and lived amongst us and made even our most mundane events, like washing our feet, a holy encounter. So when Jesus passed the torch of his ministry on to his disciples (which includes us), he wasn’t asking them to fear the world and hide from it, but to continue to interact with it as he had done, to continue to offer a message of salvation for the world and not to hide from it.
Sometimes we find ourselves staring at the heavens… so we need days like this to bring us back to the moment. We have a purpose–here and now. God is just as alive and active in the coffee shop as he is in the sanctuary. And it’s up to us to find those moments of revelation and shine a light on them for others.
Happy Ascension Day to you all!