promise and mission

A sermon preached by Pastor Ken Carrothers on May 24, 2020

•Acts 1:1-14•

For the last five weeks we have been hearing stories of the resurrected Jesus showing up all over the place — in a room, on the road, in the mountains, on the shore — Jesus just keeps showing up. But as with all good things there is a time when it comes to an end and we have come to the place where Jesus will return to the fuller presence of God. But before he is lifted up, we are privy to one one last conversation Jesus has with his followers.

“So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’” In other words, Lord, is now when we get what we want? Lord, is this when God sets things right? Lord, is this when we are freed from the oppression of the Romans? Is this when the suffering and the troubles of the world conclude? Is this when will hunger be abolished? Is this when war will cease? When suffering passes away? When justice will be realized? Is this the time Lord?

And Jesus answers, “That’s not your business to know the time.” Just this once it would have been nice for Jesus to simply answer the question. But instead what the disciples learn is God’s kingdom, God’s reign, God’s rule — how God will get that done — is not their concern. God’s will, will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. But the how and the when is not for the disciples to know.

And I suppose we could leave it there and just move on, but as I was reading this passage through this time it seemed to me that underneath the disciples’ question is an interesting assumption — an assumption that Jesus is going to do all the work. “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” In this light, Jesus’ response is not just “that’s not your business to know” Jesus response is actually saying much more. I suspect it was something akin to: “Woah! Hold on my brothers and sisters! We have walked together for three years. This is a partnership. God has God’s job to do, I have my work to do, and you have yours. We’re in this together.”

Which is why I think after the reproach Jesus offers promise and mission. The Spirit that anointed Jesus will anoint them. The Spirit that sent Jesus will send them. ”But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses.”

Jesus has his job and Jesus disciples have theirs. And their job is to witness — to witness and point to God’s kingdom of love, justice and compassion. Witness to God’s work, work to share God’s love, pray that all might experience God’s grace. Work and pray. Work and pray to end poverty. to end hunger, to end preventable diseases. Work and pray for a clean creation, for gender equality, for universal education for all God’s children. Work and pray to bring about unity in a divided world. Work and pray. It is the work of witnessing.

Witnessing the love of God that is known in Jesus. Witnessing God’s rule and reign despite evidence to the contrary. God has God’s job to do, and Jesus’ disciples have theirs. But the disciples will not be left alone to do this work. And we, Jesus’ disciples in the here and now, are not be left alone either. The Holy Spirit shows up in our lives as well.

Today we begin the movement from Eastertide to Pentecost as we are reminded of our own identity as God’s own people — as Christ’s body on earth. This first story in Acts tells us that we are Jesus’ witnesses in the world. We, who have seen the risen Lord — we, who have experienced the risen Lord — we, who work and pray to share that experience with others.

This week I had a conversation with a woman who talked about the challenges of life. The woman was in a tough spot. She had been hospitalized, lost her car, lost her job, was struggling to make ends meet She said, “it is like I have lost my identity. I don’t have a job, a car, and I am struggling. I mean our identity is found in what we do, don’t you think pastor.”

I said, “no. I don’t think so.” And by the power of the Spirit, I was given a message for that moment. It is a message that Jesus shared with his disciples. A message Jesus shared with the crowds. A message Jesus shared to the ends of the world.

Our brokenness, the challenges of life, our missing the mark — that which we do — none of this defines us. Rather our identity is found in a God who loves us. A God who claims us. A God who restores us. This is the message of the risen Jesus.  Forgiveness, restoration, and redemption are not only possible, but promised for each and everyone of us.

And we are to be witnesses of this message. A message that came as promise long ago — the promise of a God who creates — a Son who saves — a Spirit who sustains. This God has come to us in Jesus and in Jesus, God has come for all. This is the promise trusted to us, God’s own people, so that all creation can experience the wholeness of God.

Now if that sounds like a big job — that’s because it is. I’m actually more and more convinced that God normally calls us to tasks that are too hard for us to do, if not actually impossible. In fact, if the thing we feel called too is not too hard, you have to wonder if it is of God, or an inner voice just setting us to be successful. Pastor Alan Storey says, “if you can solve a problem in a year, you are probably working on too small a problem.” Because God’s purposes are big and God gives us God-sized tasks.

And if you think that sounds daunting, here is the really scary news — God doesn’t ultimately choose people because of their abilities. If you feel completely inadequate to accomplish the task you feel God is calling you too, it seems as though God says so much the better.

It reminds me of an exchange in the Lord of the Rings between the hobbit, Frodo and the wizard, Gandalf. Frodo asks Gandalf, “Why was I chosen?” Gandalf replies, “Such questions cannot be answered. You may be sure that it was not for any merit that others do not possess. But you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.” I don’t wish to disagree with a wizard, but in light of our reading I would suggest Gandalf might have said: Fear not. The God who chose you, through the Holy Spirit will give you the strength, heart and wits to do the thing God chose you to do.

For in the end we can only accomplish our work by depending upon God. God has chosen to partner with us as God’s co-workers in bringing God’s kingdom to reality. It is not for us to know why. What we do know is that God wants to work with us. There is a saying attributed to Desmond Tutu, that seems to capture this best: “By himself, God won’t. By ourselves, we can’t. But together with God, we can.”

The truth is I can’t think of anything more hopeful than this sentiment — in this time. A time ripe with challenges. A time when churches are struggling to know how to proceed. Jesus tells us, it is not for us to worry about what is ahead. We have a mission and that mission is preceded by a promise. God is with us. By the power of the Holy Spirit let us witness to the power of Jesus’ resurrection — the power of God’s activity in the world.

Let us witness to the medical professionals offering time and effort to care for the sick. The families offering patience and love to one another as we continue to hold physical distance from others. The neighbors offering care and concern in whatever way they can. God is active in the world through each and everyone of these acts and so many more. Let our work be in sharing of God’s continued activity through God’s children.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.

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