Are we there yet?
Back in the day when I was a kid, we took long car trips several times a year.
My brother and I sat in the back seat of the car, playing games and amusing ourselves.
Eventually, though, the hours would stretch on, and we would get antsy.
We ran out of games to play, and the car ride seemed endless.
That’s when we would start to ask in a whiny voice…
“Are we there yet?”
That’s the question the disciples ask in our first lesson today from the beginning of the book of Acts. Jesus was with the disciples for three years, teaching them of God’s kingdom of justice, inclusion, and love. Jesus rose from the dead, visited his disciples in his risen body, and promised them a powerful gift— the Holy Spirit.
So when they gather together with Jesus again, the disciples ask,
“Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom?”
The kingdom of God was the destination Jesus was always talking about.
It was natural for the disciples to wonder, “Are we there yet?”
Fundamental to this question is the understanding of just what the Kingdom of God was.
It turns out the disciples needed to grow in their understanding.
When they thought of kingdoms, they still harbored ideas of a nation-state faithful to God.
They remembered the glorious stories of the reign of King David, a 1000 years before.
But for Jesus, the Kingdom of God was not a national entity, but rather a new way of life.
Furthermore, the community that embraced this the Way of Jesus
would cross all ethnic, creedal, and geo-political divides.
Jesus’ disciples would “be [his] witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” In his last in-person lesson with his disciples, Jesus showed them that the Gospel isn’t just for a select few It is meant to expand outward to all in ever widening circles.
But that wasn’t the only adjustment in the disciples’ thinking about the Kingdom.
Jesus wasn’t going to lead this Kingdom work of reconciliation and repentance-- at least not in an outward way.
Instead Jesus was calling his disciples to teach the Kingdom values of mercy, healing, humility, and prayer.
N fact, the text no longer calls ‘disciples’, that is, ‘ones who learn,’
But refers to them as ‘apostles,’ which means ‘the sent-out ones.’
The mission of the Kingdom of God would be accomplished not by supernatural power,
But by ordinary people who were sent out and empowered by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the way of Jesus.
The Ascension of Jesus is often obscured by the great festivals of Easter, Christmas and Pentecost. But it is a hinge event, a portal from one part of the story to the next.
It accomplishes a narrative function: The Gospel of Luke and the Book of The Acts of the Apostles is written by the same author.
This story of the Ascension is retold twice—once at the end of Luke, and again at the beginning of Acts. It links the earthly life, death, and resurrection of Jesus,
with the life of the Holy Spirit in the community of believers.
The story also has a theological function:
The Ascension is the doorway from the incarnation of God in Jesus
To the incarnation of God within each believer through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The Ascension marks that the Time with Jesus in the flesh of one person has passed--
And that the time when God’s Spirit is in everyone has arrived.
It is a portal-- the passing from one epoch into another.
It makes me think of the lesser passing of epochs that the Christian church has seen over 2000 years. Church historians often talk about the 500 year cycle in which the dominant form of Church changes Most famous among them is Phyllis Tickle, who likens this process to the “500 Year Rummage Sale.”
Some elements of the dominant form of church remain, others are tossed out.
The last was the Reformation—out went clericalism, worship and scripture in Latin, a theology of works without grace. However, the form of the liturgy, the sacraments, and the scriptures were retained and reformed.
These same historians have been suggesting that we are in another change of epoch,
Changing from one dominant form of church to another.
If we are in a Portal to the Next Church, what is that Church?
We are not really sure, since history has shown change takes over a century or more to work itself out. But these times in pandemic seem to be accelerating some changes that were already in motion.
For example, no one is showing up at church on Sunday morning these days due to stay at home orders. But when you think about it, people have not been ‘showing up’ as regularly for decades. Church studies have shown changes in attendance patterns across generations. People today consider regular attendance once or twice a month,
while a generation ago weekly attendance was the norm.
In addition, we live in a 24-7 kind of world, but worship was only offered at 8:30 and 11 on sundays. Some churches put resources into an online presence that could be accessed at any time, from any location.
Now we are all doing that.
Popular culture has embraced spirituality in everyday life through the mindfulness movement, meditation, yoga Now we are all exploring more fully the individual spiritual practices that can be lived out daily from home.
And yes, some churches were financially on the edge, and this time of extended worship from home will hasten the re-organization of some churches and close some church buildings permanently.
It seems to me rather than seeing these as a death knell for the Church of Christ
That we can look at it as part of God’s activity in the world—and in that way, a portal to what’s next.
Considering what God might be up to in these times leads to some rather fundamental questions:
Why does gathering in person matter?
What is the Body of Christ?
What are our buildings for?
Who is included?
What is the economic model, and is that faithful to the Gospel?
It seems to me that these questions are good for us.
After all, at the Ascension, the portal from knowing Jesus as a man
to knowing Jesus as the Holy Spirit with all people, questions drive the story.
Not only the question of the disciples, “Is now the time?” but also that of the angels, who ask:
“Why do you look up into heaven?”
It seems an echo from the angels’ question at the tomb, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”
It is as if the temptation is to look backwards
To look to the old ways instead of the new thing that God is doing in their midst.
Is now the time when you will restore the Kingdom? The disciples asked.
Are we there yet?
The answer was clearly, no.
“It is not for you to know the time,” Jesus says.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses.”
But what to do in the meantime?
Acts says the apostles returned to Jerusalem.
That was the place where Jesus was killed, so for me that is more than a geographic marker-
It is also a marker of trust in God.
They chose to act out of faith instead of fear.
They returned to Jerusalem and they focused on essentials—gathering together and prayer.
Then they engaged in an act of hope, told just after our lesson for today: they chose Judas’ replacement.
It was an act of hope to replace the one who had betrayed Jesus—betrayed them all, really.
To move beyond anger to look toward a new beginning.
And not just to look toward it, but to start organizing for it.
In all, their gathering, their prayer, their organizing, were all part of a waiting period.
There were 10 days between Jesus’ ascension and the day of Pentecost,
when the promise of Jesus and the angels would become real
and the gift of the Holy Spirit would come to all believers.
And so you could say that what the apostles practiced in this interim period
The period between the already and not yet
The time standing in the Portal to the Next
Was the discipline of Patience. Waiting on the Lord. Listening.
I think that’s what we are called to do in this time together, in between the church building we left in March
And the church without walls that we have now.
Some would have us immediately throw open the doors of the church.
There is much to discuss in order to safely accomplish this goal, and I want to assure you
that our leadership takes both the mission of the church and safety of all God’s people seriously
But I want to set this matter into a much broader context.
Because when we open the doors to our church, it won’t be the same as it was before.
I believe we are dealing with something much bigger than even a world Pandemic.
I believe we are in the Portal to the Next Thing God is doing among us and in our world.
I want us to get it right.
I want to be like the apostles in this text.
I want to be attentive to whatever signs God may show us.
I want to be looking not toward the past, but toward the future in trust and hope.
I want to be part of God’s inclusive love, which stops not at borders or differences among people
But embraces more and more people in ever widening circles of God’s love.
I want you to come with me, to be the community of love and care that you have always been
And to embrace this new time and period we are in.
I am convinced
That God will show us The Way of Jesus in this time, just as he showed his first apostles.
Not all at once, but step by step.
I am convinced that God will continue empower us and equip with the Holy Spirit.
We do not need to be afraid.
We do need to pray, to look, and to listen together.
God will supply us with the creativity, the passion, and the will to do whatever we are called to do
As the Church of Christ is reborn among us, again and again.