Is This The Time: a sermon on a question that is really a prayer

So when [the disciples] had come together, they asked [Jesus], “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, 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 as you saw him go into heaven.”

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

Acts 1:6-14

My sermon from 7th Sunday of Easter (May 28, 2017) on Acts 1:6-14. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.


I always love a bible passage that starts with a very honest question. Today, in our first reading from the book of Acts, the disciples are just outside Jerusalem. For the last forty days, they have been hanging out with the post-resurrection Jesus. Jesus said hello to Peter. He showed up when two of his disciples took a long walk to the village of Emmaus. And Jesus even ate a piece of broiled fish while all his disciples watched to prove that he wasn’t a ghost. For forty days, Jesus taught them and the disciples experienced Jesus after the Cross. Jesus then led his followers to a hill not far from the city of Jerusalem. And it’s there when the disciples ask Jesus their question. “Jesus – is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” “Is this the time when you will kick out the Romans who are occupying your city and oppressing your people? Is this the time when you will establish your kingdom so that your followers can have the peace of mind and the safety they are looking for? After seeing your ministry from Galilee to Jerusalem, after watching you die on the cross, and after seeing you resurrected from the dead – Jesus, is this the time, when you will finally make everything right?”

Now, on one level, we’re supposed to tilt our heads and look a little bit askew at the disciples for asking this question. Because this is the question they’ve been asking since day one. When Jesus first called them as his own, they assumed Jesus would be like every other leader they knew. Jesus, as the Messiah, as the one who would save Israel, would make everything right by putting together some kind of army that would drive the occupying Romans into the sea. The disciples expected Jesus to establish a kingdom like David’s but one that was bigger and better with a special place in it for each of them. The expectations of the disciples never really gelled with what Jesus actually showed them. When they argued over which one would be greatest in the kingdom, Jesus told them to serve one another. When the disciples tried to keep the sick, the poor, and those who were different away from Jesus, Jesus welcomed the unwelcomed to his table. Jesus lived God’s kingdom out loud. And this caused problems. The Romans saw this mixed band of disciples, of men and women, old and young, rich and poor, the socially acceptable and those who should be left on the margins, – the Romans saw the disciples as the beginning of an army designed to rebel with violence. So the Romans killed Jesus, hoping to end his entire movement. And the disciples saw this. They experienced Good Friday. They watched as their teacher was buried in a rocky tomb. But the disciples also witnessed what God did in response. They hung out with Jesus in his full post-resurrection glory. They knew that God had upended our expectations through Jesus’ work on the Cross. And yet…their old question is still their current one: “Jesus, is this the time when will you make everything right?”

I can’t really blame the disciples for not getting it because haven’t we all asked the same question? When we flip on the news, pick up a newspaper, or scroll through a Twitter feed, we can watch in real time as evil makes itself known all over the world. We can be in Manchester as a bomb explodes at an Ariana Grande concert and read eye-witness accounts posted online mere minutes after Coptic Christians on a pilgrimage in Egypt are singled out for their faith and killed. We can see the faces of the two men in Portland who were killed when they stood up to a white supremacist harassing a young woman wearing a hijab and we can be in our homes, sitting on our couches in our pjs, and watch live video as torch bearing mobs gather around the statues of the Confederacy to protect these idols to white supremacy. The early disciples of Jesus knew that evil existed all over their world. But they couldn’t see it unfold in real time like we can. We can witness plenty of events, happening far away from here, where the disciples’ question is our question. And if we turn our eyes inward, taking a look into our cities, homes, families, and lives…the disciples’ question stays as our question too. When unemployment is about to run out, and the 200th resume we sent didn’t even get a response, and we don’t know how the mortgage, the car loan, the grocery bill, or the electricity will be paid…that would be a good time for Jesus to show up, and make everything right. When the experimental drug trial we are on isn’t showing any improvement,…that would be a good time for Jesus to show up and make everything right. And when the scourge of addiction, of greed, of infidelity, and when our own sin has destroyed the relationships that matter to us most…that would be a good time for Jesus to show up and make everything right.

On one hand, we can easily brush aside the disciples’ question as a question from a group of people who just didn’t get it. But we can’t ignore their question because it’s a question that sits on our lips, when our lives and our worlds fall apart. The disciples’ question is more than just a question. It’s a prayer. It’s a prayer asking God to do what God promises. It’s a prayer bold enough to ask God for something specific. It’s a prayer that actually knows God is listening because it asks a question, leaving space for God to answer or not. Which is sort of what Jesus does here. Jesus doesn’t answer the question with a no. Instead, he points the disciples’ back to a promise their question seems to miss. The disciples want a kingdom, a government, and an empire because they think that’s where God’s promises will be fulfilled. But Jesus points them to something more. The source of God’s kingdom is always God. The foundation of what God is doing is rooted always in Jesus. The disciples’ eyes are looking for a kingdom where they can see God at work. But Jesus wants them to know that, because Jesus is with them, God’s kingdom is already unfolding through them, in spite of the troubles, suffering, and sorrow that they cause or that happens to them. The life of faith is less about chasing after Jesus but more about living as if Jesus is actually with you. And since Jesus is with you, the fears and terrors of this world, and the sin that draws us away from each other and away from God, cannot overcome the relationship Jesus has with each of you. Jesus doesn’t promise his disciples an easy life. He doesn’t promise them a life without hardship or pain or sorrow. But What Jesus promises is presence. He promises love. He promises that he will be with them, no matter what. The life of faith isn’t easy. The life of faith sees the evil in this world and in our souls. The life of faith is filled with moments when the prayer “Lord, is it time” will be on our lips. But that prayer will also be on the lips of Jesus because no matter where we are and no matter what we’re going through, right now is always the right time to know that Jesus has us, that Jesus loves us, and that we will,in the end, make it through.