Jesus says these words in the week before his arrest “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now …. I almost can feel the anxiety of Jesus: he has so much still to say, and so little time to say it
Remember the world Jesus came to:
the faith of the people had become a matter of rules and obedience. Obey the rules – define the rules – clarify the rules – until there were codes explaining them and teachers of the law who had the professional task of teaching the rules. And the gatekeepers who would decide who was in and who was out – who could be allowed into the temple, and who had to be kept out.
And a whole class of people who were excluded: the am-haarez… poor people
And the faith of the children of Israel was governed by keeping the rules: Some have said that the people had to remember 613 rules.
And Jesus was aware of this. And there came a moment when he was asked: of all the commandments – what are the most important:
So here is his answer –“Love God and Love your neighbour”
Jesus said there is only one thing – love!
The disciples warmed to his message
The crowds flocked to hear him – because it was a refreshing message of hope. Here is someone who had Good News… the ability to be loved by God – despite the rules.
But the difficult realization that Jesus was not going to be around forever:
How would people remain hopeful – and not lapse back into the legal swamp that had persuaded people that God hated them.
And Jesus says – you will not be left alone: you will have my
13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, . 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
Do not worry – because you will keep hearing my message of God’s love: the Spirit of God will love you from the inside out.
Sadly – human nature being what it is: the followers of Jesus were tempted to fall back into the way of rules: 300 years after Jesus a Council of Nicaea was convened by the Emperor Constantine – gathered all the church leaders – guess what he wanted them to do? draw up rules to decide who is in and who is out – and he sent his soldiers to kill those who did not agree with his council’s rules….
And many Christian leaders fled into the deserts of North Africa and Syria. The Holy Spirit reminded these Desert Fathers and Mothers that they needed to rediscover the two basic commandments – Love God and Love One Another.
Again in the 1500’s the church of Jesus found itself debating who was saved – and the Pope ruled that those who paid money to the church could be saved.
Again the Holy Spirit raised up a courageous priest called Martin Luther who said: the only thing required was faith in the love of God.
And in the 1800’s, when the church in England was drowning in rules, the Holy Spirit warmed the heart of a courageous Priest called John Wesley:
and he began a revival movement which became known as “The Methodists”. Central to their teachings was this one idea: all people could know the love of God: whether you knew the church rules or not – your heart could be warmed by the Holy Spirit, reminding you that you are a beloved chid of God.
This Methodist movement has avoided writing its own Creed – or emphasising its own set of rules: Instead we have Three Simple Rules:
Being a Methodist means:
Do No Harm
Stay in Love with God
Have just come back from our Dakotas Annual Conference:
I am grateful for the way the Holy Spirit raised up leaders in our conference who continue to remind us that the best rules are the rules of love.
I point to Pastor Howard Grinager – who models love to everyone
I think of Pastor Clay Lundberg – who was given an award by the youth leaders in the Conference for the love and support he shows to young people
I am grateful for the Bishops: Bishop Ough and Bishop Deb – who could have enforced rules – but chose instead to lead the Conference with love and compassionate
And so today I remind us that the Holy Spirit keeps reminding us that we only need two rules – love God and Love our neighbour. And it is my hope that this church would continue this tradition: that we become known as a place of welcome and acceptance.
Let me pull this together: I want to offer Good News, a Challenge, and a Promise
Good News: everyone is welcome to worship in our family. You do not need to achieve a level of holiness before you enter the doors:
Open hearts, Open Minds Open doors.
Challenge: The same welcome you receive is extended to anyone else who walks through the door – and sometimes this is difficult – because people might walk through the door we do not like / or agree with.
The Promise: that the Spirit of God is with us - He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
We receive the love of God – but God’s Spirit does not leave it there – we are changed
Our hearts are softened
We learn compassion and kindness – and this overflows into the way we treat other people.
The promise is that the Love of God holds us all:
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Intro: Today’s reading from the Bible tells the story of a bunch of losers hiding in a room: these were the disciples who had run away and left Jesus alone to face torture and death. These were Jesus best friends – and they had failed him… They knew what was right – but failed to do it.
Now here is the amazing thing: Despite their failure: Jesus comes to find them. And he tells them that God still has faith in them, and that they can continue to be his disciples: 21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
They were not disciples because they had managed to earn a special place – clearly they had failed – they were disciples because Jesus loved them.
Here is the Good News for today: Just like those disciples - We are not left alone. Today’s Bible reading reminds us that God understands our failures and that even when we fail, God does not give up on us….
Brennan Manning is a Christian author who has thought deeply about the unconditional love of God: he writes that our Christian Faith “is not derived from the power of positive thinking, mind games, or pop psychology. It is an act of faith in the grace of God.”
Instead of condemning his disciples, Jesus said to them – I will give you strength to get back on your feet. Jesus looks at his broken, failed disciples and these are the words he says to them:
.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
Following Jesus offers us a different way of understanding our lives. We do not earn God’s love by trying to become better people / or gritting our teeth and attempting to improve ourselves We are not blessed by God only when we never make mistakes. Success as a Christian is not a case of faking it until we make it. Our Scripture passage speaks of a God who does not give up on us - even when we fail.
=== (move to the stool)
For me this is such a relief. I speak out of my own personal experience – I know the kind of person that I should be. I would like to be someone who is kind and loving and brave – and just when I think that I have it all together - I fail to be that person:
• I make mistakes
• I say words that I instantly wish that I could take back
• I get irritated and impatient
I think of a moment when I said something that hurt a friend of mine – and I realized that I had just damaged the friendship – and failed to be the person that I want to be. I also know that I am not alone in this:
St Paul complained about this: Romans 7: 19…. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.
I recently saw a quote on a coffee mug: “Be the person your dog thinks you are”…and sometimes it is only our dog who could love us…
And I am going to assume that you know what it is to fail – and to be disappointed in yourself.
Allow me to repeat the Good News for today: God does not give up on us: Like with those disciples in the upper room: he comes to us and breathes on us and blesses us with strength to get up and live another day.
Here is the invitation: to wake up each morning – say these words: “O God: today is your day – use me”.
At this moment - No matter how imperfect you might feel - it is no longer about you: it is about surrendering your day to God….and being curious about what God will do with it. Ours is a faith that speaks of surrender: we surrender our struggling spirits to God – and allow the Spirit of God to use us…. Allow the Spirit of God to guide our living and speaking. Be open to surrendering our frail, broken spirits to the Spirit of God – and letting God live through us.
Today is Pentecost Sunday We are reminded that God’s Holy Spirit can touch our lives:
Every time we share in the Sacrament of Holy Communion – the Spirit of God is particularly available – come today as an act of faith – ask God to touch you.
Like all of us I’m sure, I have spent much of the past few days in stunned anguish; rocked to the core by the events playing out in Uvalde, Texas. A senseless nightmare unfolding again among us, for the twenty-seventh time in this country since the beginning of this year. Like all of us I am horrified, grief-stricken and in despair at the sensel1596essness of this taking of life; the magnitude of it, and I mourn the generational impact of lives now and in the future cut off--what they could have done, who they could have been. All gone. And like many of us I have found myself crying out with those who have gone before the ancient lament; “How long, O Lord?” How long?
It is a prayer as old as the church certainly; as old as our ancient scriptures, both those written by our New Testament forbears and by those to whom we owe our faith heritage, the Jewish writers of the Old Testament. It is a cry uttered in our Psalms. And in our text today, a version of it appears in verse 6; “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Is now the time, finally, that you will make things right?
Before we read our main text today, let me introduce the passage. The book of Acts is volume II of a gospel story that begins in Luke. And it opens in verses 1-5 of chapter 1 with an explanation; the author tells Theophilus, the recipient of this letter, that the story is shifting from the life of Jesus, described in Luke, to now the events surrounding the birth of a movement: the church. Our passage for this morning is part of a larger section that ends at 2:47, which describes the hand-off, so to speak, from Jesus to the church in the continuing mission of the Kingdom of God. (Keener) Jesus, having endured his passion and risen from the tomb, has appeared to the disciples and has just promised them that very soon the Holy Spirit will come upon them. It is here, beginning in verse 6, that we pick up the story:
Are we there yet?
Let me take you back to a day just about forty-seven or so days before this conversation between Jesus and his disciples takes place. We remember it on Palm Sunday. It’s the day when Jesus made his entrance into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, over cloaks his followers had laid on the ground as they waved palm branches to welcome him. This spontaneous, public display of devotion didn’t come out of thin air. It was intentional; it was subversive, and it was revolutionary.
The symbolism and fervor demonstrated a hope that Jesus’ followers had carried with them throughout his earthly ministry--that Jesus would finally be the one to restore Israel to her glory among the nations. Some thought he might restore it as a military, kingly figure; others as a priest; still others a prophet. But one way or another, many including his closest friends believed that Jesus would restore the glory of Israel as it had once been; all the suffering, mistreatment, and violence that they had endured under their many oppressors would finally come to an end when Jesus made things right.
And when Jesus died, that hope was crushed. As he hung dying a criminal’s death, all their hopes that that kingdom was coming died with him. So imagine their heads spinning when they saw him alive again. Imagine the hope welling up again within them, stronger even than before, that finally, things would be made right. All that hope against hope is what lies behind this question in verse 6; “Is this the time?” Is now the time when all will be made right? Is now the time our suffering will end? Is now the time the bloodshed and violence will finally be stopped? “Is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”
Like an road-weary child on a long trip, the disciples desperately ask Jesus, “Are we there yet?”
Times and seasons
And in a response only slightly less frustrating than a parent’s; “We’ll get there when we get there,” Jesus responds; “It is not for you to know the times or periods the Father has set by his own authority.” (v. 7)
We have looked together at some important ancient understandings around time. Do you remember? We have talked about chronos time and about kairos time, and how they are different. We’ve learned together that chronos time has more to do with linear thinking; about consecutive events in a timeline--what comes before and what comes after. And we’ve also learned about kairos time; that understanding of appropriate seasons, of weighty moments in time that somehow stop the clock and cause us to reflect on the bigger picture of God’s way and our place in the human family as it grows and changes over time. With that in mind, I want to show you the Greek text of this verse. This is what it looks like with some of the Greek added in:
How disappointing! Imagine being the disciples at that moment. This is a loud, resounding, “NOT NOW” to their weighty question--a question filled to bursting with a longing that stretches back a thousand years. How long? When will it end? Are we there yet? Jesus says, not yet. BUT; that is not the end of the story.
God is God, we are not. God sets the times and seasons. As the great wisdom teacher says in Proverbs, we may make our plans but God directs our steps. We are not in charge. BUT, neither are we powerless.
You will receive power
The author of this second volume of the gospel history shares again Jesus’s promise to the disciples, first told in Luke 24:47-51; the Holy Spirit is about to show up. And when the Spirit comes, so also comes power--dunamis in the Greek. The same word that shows up in our English language in words like dynamism; dynamic; dynamite. Not brute strength, but creative energy; the kind of generative power that brings stars into being. But this is not an unfocused energy; this is power with purpose. Jesus continues in verse 8:
“And You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
This is the hinge point; when all of Jesus’ ministry and mission turn on a dime. What Jesus had begun in his earthly ministry, Jesus now entrusts to this group of people; people who so often get it wrong. People who are sinful, fragile and limited. People who mess up all the time. And people who have loved him all through his life, death and resurrection. As he has done with Peter, Jesus gives them a new beginning; a new chance to find their purpose in him. Wholeheartedly, even recklessly some might suggest, Jesus hands over all of his work to them, with the promise that the very power that made the stars will move into, among and through them, when the Holy Spirit comes upon them. And so there is hope:--hope for them, and hope for us. Not in our own power, which is so finite and limited, but in the power of the Holy Spirit, which has been the mark of Jesus’ disciples from the very beginning, passed down through the generations as God continues to make all things new among us.
Jesus taken away (cf. Luke 24:47-51)
And just as he utters these words, the text tells us, Jesus is taken away from them, hidden in a cloud. The baton has been passed. It’s up to them now, as it is up to us, to bear witness.
“Why do you stand there?” A Call to Action
Notice what happens next in the story. The disciples are standing there staring up at an empty sky; perhaps too enthralled by what happened to even notice that two men in white robes have appeared out of nowhere. Perhaps there are the same two men who appeared to the women at the empty tomb in Luke chapter 24. They ask a very similar question; “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way you saw him go into heaven.” And in much the same way as their words motivated the women to action at the tomb, so also are these disciples snapped out of their stupor. They set about the mission right away, gathering at the Mount of Olives with others of Jesus’ followers, praying, telling the story, bearing witness. And so begins the story of the church.
It would be a number of days before the fullness of Jesus’ promise would be realized, as the Holy Spirit would descend on them all at Pentecost. But the foundation was laid. The disciples were ready and waiting. And soon the miracle would come. In his commentary on the book of Acts, New Testament scholar Craig Keener says that “the empowerment of the Spirit is foundational for the rest of the church’s mission.”
“The empowerment of the Spirit is foundational for the rest of the church’s mission” (Keener); as Jesus was empowered with the Holy Spirit in Luke 3:22-23, so the disciples also will be empowered by the Spirit before their mission begins.
But what I want to focus on today is not the arrival of the Spirit (that will come at Pentecost), but the hope of the Spirit. Because it is hope that lives in the in-between.
Often when we pastors speak of the kingdom of God, we speak of it as an “already and not yet” reality; that is, when Jesus came to us here on earth, he embodied the kingdom of God and ushered it in. So in some ways it is already here; and yet. And yet we still find ourselves beset by sorrow; violence still plagues the human family; there is still war and hunger and all of the intractable problems we continue to face. And so it has not fully come. That’s the “not yet” part. I submit to you this morning that what gets us through the “not yet” is hope. And what plugs us into the “already” is the Holy Spirit. We are not in charge, but we are not powerless. Because the already of the kingdom of God has come. It has come in Jesus. And Jesus has passed it on to us through the Holy Spirit. And as Jesus told the disciples in verse 8, the Holy Spirit empowers us to bear witness. Let us not be silent in the not yet. Let us bear witness to the hope we have in Jesus as we become messengers of the good news; angels of hope to a hope in desperate need of it. In Jesus’ name, let us bear witness to the Kingdom of God in Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit as we fulfill Christ’s command to love God and our neighbor as God has first loved us. Let us pray…
Lord, we gather in your name today after the tragic events in Uvalde, TX; and for all those who have been victimized by gun violence. Our hearts go out to the victims and all those who have experienced loss. We pray for all those who lost their lives during this tragedy. May all find peace in your heavenly kingdom. We pray for their families who are suffering pain from the loss of a child or a loved one. May they find comfort and courage to face this pain in your loving presence. We pray for the first responders and those who helped during and immediately after the tragedy. May their work be an inspiration for us all to act like the Good Samaritan in service to others. We pray also for those responsible tragedies like this. May the Lord's justice and mercy lead them to repentance.
Heavenly Father, as our nation pauses today to remember those in the military who have given their lives for freedoms we enjoy, we pray You would have us all look to You for strength, comfort and guidance. Be with all who serve in our Armed Forces. Bless them and their families. Grant Your loving protection. Let peace prevail among all the nations, O God. Especially let Your mercy rest upon our land, even as we acknowledge with thanksgiving Your past goodness on this country. If it is Your will, preserve the lives of the men and women in uniform as they defend our citizenry. Most of all, we pray that You would turn the hearts of all – military and civilian – to Your holy Word where we find the true peace for our sinful souls that surpasses all understanding. Keep us repentant of sin. Move us to know, take hold and treasure your saving grace. In the name of Jesus, our Savior and Your beloved Son, who alone gives this peace and hope for eternity, we pray. Amen.
And as we remember them, let us pray together the prayer our Savior taught us:
Our Father, which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name;
Thy kingdom come;
Thy will be done
in earth, as it is in heaven:
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive them that trespass against us;
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil;
For thine is the kingdom,
the power, and the glory,
For ever and ever.
We have already come across this chapter in this series; just a few weeks ago, we looked at Jesus’ re-commissioning of Peter, which happens after today’s passage in verses 15-19 of John chapter 21. Remember that Jesus’ words to Peter are forward-looking; Jesus gives Peter the three chances to once again profess his love for Jesus and he commissions him with the command; “feed my sheep.” So there is something happening in this Johannine epilogue that shifts the focus from what Jesus has done, to what the disciples are now going to do. And what I would like to suggest is that, as is always the case with Jesus, the process is as important as the teaching. We know this to be true; the words of Jesus cannot be separated from the way of Jesus. Put another way, how Jesus teaches is as important as what Jesus teaches. So I’d like us to look together at the how of this miraculous encounter. What happens when Jesus shows up, and what can we learn from the how of Jesus’ interaction with his followers. And I have a request for you today; as we dive into the story, don’t just dissect it with your intellect it--feel it in your heart. Imagine in your mind’s eye the scene as it unfolds before us. Smell the salt air and the scent of fresh-caught fish. So what do we notice when Jesus shows up in this story? I think the first thing we notice is what happens before Jesus gets there. It’s an early morning at the edge of the Sea of Tiberias. Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James and John the sons of Zebedee and two other disciples were together. And notice what it says in verse 3: Peter declares to the group; “I am going fishing.” Not; “Let’s go fishing” or “Do you guys want to fish with me?” No; “I am going fishing.” And then notice what his companions say right back to him; “We will go with you.”