Is Faith Vertical or Horizontal?

The steps at Mazra’ih, by Bassi Baba, via Wiki Commons

I want to start today with a question: When you read (or hear) the Ascension scriptures, what stands out to you as the central point?

It strikes me that most of the reflections I’ve seen, heard or read on the Ascension focus in on the vertical. It’s about Jesus going to Heaven to prepare a place for me, about Jesus’ resurrected body going to Heaven–a message of comfort and hope, guaranteeing me a place there, too. Or it’s about Jesus ascending in glory, as a moment of pure praise. Vertical: me and Jesus, me and God.

But to me, the thing that sticks out in this story is the commission. As we settled in for the readings yesterday, I leaned down to Alex to give him a nutshell version so he could focus his listening. I said, “Jesus is going back to Heaven, so he’s not going to be on the earth anymore in the body–so he sends us out to be his body instead. He’s passing the torch on to us.”

(I probably wasn’t that eloquent. I write better than I speak. But that was the gist of it.)

I worry sometimes that we’ve bought too deeply into the “me and Jesus” comfort model.  It’s not that the personal relationship isn’t important–that relationship is the food and the strength for everything in the Christian life. We can’t do God’s work without it, because it becomes about us instead of God.

But it’s too easy to talk about messages of hope and comfort in terms that don’t challenge. We can’t sit in our comfortable homes and read our devotionals and say we have a relationship with Jesus. The nature of relationship with Jesus is the commission: Go forth. Get off your butt and do something.

Get off your butt and do something is not nearly as warm and fuzzy a message. In fact, it’s kind of threatening. Because you know if you do, you’re going to rattle cages and make people uncomfortable.

But I think Christianity suffers because we focus too much on the personal (i.e. vertical) relationship and forget that such a relationship implies the horizontal–the reaching out. We weren’t commissioned to confine our faith to the safety of our homes. We are supposed to go do something with it.