May 12, 2002
Seventh Sunday of Easter

LECTIONARY READINGS
from the Revised Common Lectionary

Acts 1:6-14
Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35
1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11
John 17:1-11


"It's Not For You To Know"
Acts 1:6-14

Every parent who has ever taken a long trip by automobile with a child knows the most common words spoken by children during those trips - sometimes within moments of departure.

"Are we __________ ?"  (There yet?)

Of course it is not just children who want to know how long a trip is going to take or what the outcome of a difficult situation will be.

Perhaps you can remember an interview for a job you really wanted and then waited for the outcome.

Or how about that very first home you bought. Can you remember making the application for a mortgage and then there was the wait. Recall when bank loan committees used to schedule review of mortgage applications and let you know in two, three and even four weeks whether you were approved?  If you can, you find it  amazing that a loan officer can often let you know the same day you submit a mortgage application these days. What a wonderful thing the power of technology -- except maybe for the prayer life of people who used to spend two or three weeks waiting for approval!

Then there were times when the waiting was not about something so positive as securing a mortgage. It may have been a medical diagnosis, a time of rebuilding or putting your life together after a family breakup. Whatever the situation might have been, the days were long and the nights were longer and you wondered so many times along the way, "Are we almost there?"

Sometimes a trip just seems terribly long. Whether we are a child waiting for the family car to reach a vacation destination or a lonely patient waiting for good news  about our physical well being.

***

Our scripture reading from the book of Acts has the disciples gathered with Jesus after his resurrection. There had been a forty day period in which the risen Christ had been with them. Now it is time for Jesus to leave them - for good!

Yes they had been told that Jesus would be with them and that the Holy Spirit would be present with them. But from their perspective - he was about to leave them and they would not see him again on this earth.

You can understand can't you?

I've heard sermons that are critical of the disciples at this point. Should not their faith have kept them focused on the mission they were given? Didn't Jesus tell them over and over that he would be crucified, resurrected and that the Holy Spirit would come and lead them?

So why did they have to ask, "Are we almost there?"

Well, not exactly in these exact words. What they said was,  "Lord is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel." 

The issue of, "Are we almost there," in this case is huge!  Israel had been occupied by one nation after another. When the disciples asked Jesus if he was about to resort the kingdom to Israel, they were doing nothing more than expressing the hopes of Jewish people for centuries. There was not a Jewish man, woman or child who did not pray for the coming of Messiah who would bring back the glory days of Israel. When the kingdom comes - Rome will retreat from the Holy Land, the influence of Israel would extend to the proportions it had known under King David, and the kingdom would have come back once again.

What a day that would be!

The disciples' question translates to something every person of faith can understand. "Lord, has the time come when all wrong will be made right and justice will prevail for every single person on earth?"  The vision of what things will be like when the reign of God is restored is expressed in these familiar words in the book of Revelation:

"...the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them;  he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away." [Rev. 21:3-4]

If you and I had been standing there with the disciples, we would have been waiting with baited breath for the answer to their question.

"Lord is this the time when you will restore the kingdom...?"

***

And how does Jesus answer them?

"It's not for you to know..."

Well that's disappointing!

But there is more to Jesus' answer. Listen again carefully:

"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."

Do you see how this shakes out?  There is God's business and the disciples' business. God alone is in charge of the timing and the disciples are in charge of the mission!

Jesus had been absolutely consistent in telling his disciples they would complete the work he had come to do. In the gospel of John, Jesus tells his followers that they will do even "greater works" than he was doing. [John 14:12]

"God will take care of the timing," Jesus said, "You will take care of the mission."

The words were not limited to the small group of disciples who stood with Jesus just East of Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives. They are spoken to every Christian of every age including those of us gathered here today.

God will take care of the timing. We must take care of the mission. We are called as though summoned to court where we are to take the witness stand on behalf of Jesus Christ. "You will be my witnesses in the whole world," he said.

Fortunately for us, we have a kind of plan of preparation for this mission we've been given. The text in Acts lays out this design in a way in terms of three foundation blocks - namely: The Power, The Promise and The Prayer.

The Power

The very first thing that happens to people who come to realize that they are responsible to become representatives of Jesus Christ in this hectic, broken world is to wonder how in the world they will accomplish such a thing!

"I'm not qualified.  I'm not capable. I'm not equipped." I can recall my own mind raising questions and feeling insecure when those first inklings of a call to ministry tugged at my soul. And indeed the call is to all of us. Every Christian is called to be a representative of Christ in their world.

Four words Jesus spoke to the disciples provide the first foundation block of our call to represent Christ. "You will receive power." In other words, we are not left alone to accomplish this work.  The power of God's Spirit is the basis for everything we do for Christ.

The Promise

When Jesus was first taken from them, the disciples did a bit of stargazing. It was all perfectly natural - who would not?

But they could not spend their lives looking to the heavens. They had their work to do and as Jesus had already told them, God would be in charge of the timing of all things.  "This same Jesus will come again," the angels said.

As we spend our lives working to bring the mission and the message of Jesus to our world, we can rest in the fact that God will bring about the kingdom we all long for. The promise of God's kingdom is the confidence for everything we do for Christ.

The Prayer

So how do we access this power God has promised?  The disciples went back to where they had spent so much time with Jesus and did what comes natural to people who want to stay close to God. They,"...were constantly devoting themselves to prayer..."

***

When is the peace and joy of God's kingdom going to come to this mixed up and violent world?  It's not for us to know.

What is for us to know, however, is the foundation for our life of faith until the kingdom comes.  Our family of faith is built on these three foundation blocks. The power of God to accomplish our Christian work, the promise of God that all things will be brought under the reign of Christ and the prayer of the community of Jesus' followers that gives access to the presence and power of God!

 


Connections in the Texts

Dependency upon the power of God is one thread that runs through the Gospel reading,  and the Acts and 1 Peter readings.  In John 17, Jesus asks the Father to "protect" the disciples and then tells the disciples that they will receive power from God  to be his witnesses.  Peter urges the early Christian community to gives their anxieties to God who will "restore, support, strengthen and establish" them.

All of the texts have to do with the vulnerability of Jesus' followers in the world.  Yet, they are given a mission and a message  --   "Go into the world" and "be my witnesses".   But his is all a precarious balance.  They will need God's protection to remain united (John 17:11), the power of the Holy Spirit to carry out their mission and message (Acts 1:8), and when they face the persecution of the world because of their faith -- God's grace will give them strength (1 Peter 5:10).

Thus, we are dependent upon God for our Christian life and witness.  In a time when most Western cultures emphasize independence and self-sufficiency, a "Declaration of Dependence" upon the grace and power of God might be in order.

The Psalm of the day is a joyful affirmation of the distant victory that encourages the people of God in their present mission and message.  Though we are "in the world" --  our hope and help is "out of this world!" (Psalm 68:35)

 

John 17:1-11

* The prayer of John 17, which has been called Jesus' "High Priestly" prayer, points to John's uniqueness.  The synoptic gospels all record Jesus' prayer and struggle in the Garden of Gesthemane but do not record this prayer in the Upper Room.  John, on the other hand  does not record the prayer in Gesthemane.  The Gospel of John is characterized by this theme:   John writes with his eye on heaven while the synoptics write with an eye on the world.  For instance, while Matthew and Luke talk about how Jesus was born "in the world", John focuses on how it was that the Word came to us from "out of this world." This is not a matter of different facts, but of perspective.

* There may be an alternate sermon idea here -- "Out Of This World" -- instead of "In The World."

* There is a significant theme in John with respect to the "Glory" of God.  Run a concordance check on "glory -- glorify -- glorified".  There is considerable tension in the gospel between the "glory" of God and the "darkness" of this world.

* There is a sermon seed in John 17:4.   "I have glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do."  This gives me pause -- "Have I brought glory to God by finishing the work I have been given to do?"  To go a bit further...  "What is the work God has given me to do?"  "How does that fit in with the work I am now doing?"  "Is not the final measure of my life going to be the glory I have brought to God and not the glory I have brought to myself?"

1 Peter 4: 12-14; 5:6-11

* The beginning of this text is wonderful!  "Don't think it's strange that you take some heat because you are a faithful Christian person!"  There are all kinds of examples of people who do the right thing and don't get rewarded at all.  Peter is addressing a much worse situation, of course.  Christians are being hunted down and killed for faithfulness to their "mission and message".  Nevertheless -- it applies.  Don't expect congratulations for following Christ

* Think about this phrase in verse 9, "...your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering."  The world is immensely different for us today.   Most of us are not going through any suffering at all because of our faith.   But some are!  Give some thought to how the scripture from 1 Peter might be more powerful for a small Christian community where persecution of Christians is normative -- than it is for the rest of us.

* I've always loved the sermon idea in 1 Peter 5:8  -- "... Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around looking for someone to devour."  The answer to this horrible situation, of course, is Colossians 3:3 -- "... for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God."  If your life is "hidden" in Christ, the Adversary can not find you!  In other words, as I grow closer to Christ, I become less vulnerable to the machinations of the Evil One.  All of this simply reinforces the idea of dependency upon God.  A Sermon Title:  "The Hiding Place"

Acts 1:6-14

* Verse six is amazing!   How hard is it to truly understand the intent of Jesus?  Clearly, the disciples did not "get it" at this point.  There is enough here to discourage the most optimistic of us.  Jesus has gone through his entire ministry, crucifixion, resurrection and post-resurrection teaching ministry. Now his disciples still want to know if there is going to be a return to the "glory" days of King David!   They still don't get it.  Most of us would give up at this point.  The idea here is that God never gives up on us.  Yet, the question remains -- "Do I understand what it is that Jesus wants of me?"  Thankfully -- Christ is patient while I grow into who he wants me to be!

* There's a sermon in the words, "You will!"  Jesus tells his disciples "You will receive power..."  and "You will be my witnesses..."  As verse six points to our inadequacy, verse eight points to our sufficiency in Christ.  The Spirit "gives power" and "we become".  Combine this with the previous note and you have a sermon title:  "I Did It His Way!"

 


 Worship Helps

A Call To Worship (Based on Psalm 68 )

Leader:   Let us be joyful; let us rejoice in the presence of God;
People:  Let us be filled with joy and sing praises to God!
Leader:   Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth,

People:  Sing praises to the Lord.
Leader:   Awesome is God in the universe,
People:  For God gives power and strength to his people.
All:          Blessed be the Lord our Savior!  Amen!

A Prayer of Confession

Give us courage, Lord, that we might search the deepest and darkest corners of our being for anything that offends your holy name. Give us mercy that we might stand in the brilliance of your light. Give us grace that we might go from this assembly cleansed from our sin and refreshed for your service. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon

Beloved in Christ, hear the words of scripture, "...If we confess our sins {God} is faithful and just to forgive us of our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."  Believe the good news that in Christ we are forgiven.

A Prayer of Thanksgiving

O Lord of life and love and living, may the power of your Holy Spirit fill this
place today. We can do nothing less than rejoice at the wonder of your love
and the miracle of the gift of life.  Mere mortal words could never capture the
gladness that dwells within the hearts of those who have come to sing your
praises on this day.  How it enlivens our spirits to know that you take joy in
the praises of your people.

O God of all who live -- take joy in our worship today!  Amen

A Prayer Of Dedication

As we come before you today, O Lord, our hearts are filled with gratitude
for the bounty of your love toward us.  We can not imagine our lives
without you. Our earnest prayer this day is that these gifts may bring
something of your amazing love and grace to searching hearts.  Amen.