PRAYER:O Jesus, we are mindful that you have called us to be your disciples, bearing witness to God’s love in our lives to a broken world. Strengthen us for the pathway ahead that we may live boldly and joyfully, knowing that you are with us right here and right now.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you O God, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
There’s a line in today’s scripture that – if I’m being honest – I’ve always kind of chuckled at… or maybe rolled my eyes at. The disciples ask Jesus, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” I’ve always read this question as an indication of the disciples’ inability to understand the bigger picture. I’ve always viewed this question as an indication of their ignorance. They ask this question, or one like it many times in the gospels and then here in the beginning of Acts. “Is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” And I just want to shake them and try to make them understand that their thinking is far too narrow! I want to make them understand that Jesus is talking about a spiritual kingdom!
It screams of a political or military victory in which they overthrow the Roman occupiers – presumably with violence. There were several times in the gospels in which some of the disciples asked Jesus similar questions and seemed to be jockeying for which political appointment they were trying to get Jesus to give them when they got themselves into the seat of political power.
And every time I read about the disciples asking questions like this, I can just imagine Jesus shaking his head, perhaps in bemused wonder, asking himself if these people are ever going to understand…
Jesus’ response is patient, and Jesus’ response is so kind… You know I read somewhere that love is patient and kind, so that makes a lot of sense. Jesus says, “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.” Again, I feel like Jesus is telling his disciples in that cryptic way he has that they’re not focusing on the right thing here…
And then Jesus disappears. He ascends away from their sight, and they’re all left standing there looking up at the sky. “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.'”
As I read this now, I wonder if maybe the disciples weren’t so wrong after all. The question that they asked didn’t come out of a vacuum. Jesus’ response doesn’t deny the validity of their question. He simply told them to not worry about the timing… That’s not a denial. The more I think about the fact that the disciples asked the question about whether or not now is the time, the more I realize that they were actually paying closer attention to Jesus than I gave them credit for.
So many times, Jesus proclaimed, “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” Jesus talked about the reign of God breaking into human history. There had been plenty of signs of that breaking in of God’s reign: Throughout the gospels, Jesus is making it clear that the Kingdom of God is at hand. In the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, Luke tells us that Jesus stood up in the synagogue in Nazareth, took the scroll of Isaiah and read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor, he has sent me to preach liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to preach the year of the Lord’s favor.” That’s what the Kingdom of God looks like.
Every week, we say the words, “Thy Kingdom come… on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day, our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” That’s what the Kingdom of God looks like.
Later on in Luke, Jesus preached, “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God; blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied; blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.” That’s what the Kingdom of God looks like.
In the 11th chapter of Luke, Jesus says, “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” God’s kingdom was being established from the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus’ incarnation is the reality of God’s kingdom. God, through Jesus being in solidarity with a broken humanity, offering God’s peace to all is a demonstration of God’s kingdom. So perhaps when Jesus tells his disciples to not worry about the when, what he was really telling them was to look around because the timing has been going on for a while already.
When Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God, he is giving us a vision statement for what the Kingdom of God looks like, of what needs to happen for the Kingdom of God to be at hand.
Jesus ascended up to the heavens, and the disciples stood there, watching him go… When I think of this scene, I find it almost comedic. The disciples just standing there, looking up to the heavens, staring off into space when two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?”
These two men in white robes are a connection to the resurrection. We read in the 24th chapter of Luke, ‘’But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here but has risen.”
The ascension of Jesus and the resurrection of Jesus are two examples of humanity looking for Jesus and being asked, “Why are you looking there?” The women were looking in the tomb and they were asked, “why are you looking in a place of death for the God of life?”
At the ascension, the disciples stood slack-jawed looking up at the sky and were asked, “why are you looking up at the sky? The two angels are directing the disciples back to the present-day reality. Now that the disciples know who Jesus is, now that they know the mission that Jesus has given them – to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, now that they have been told to stop looking up to the sky, this is the time. It’s now that the vision of God’s kingdom is being restored, and it’s now that the disciples are being told to get to work.
The disciples were not given any special or specific skills. They were not given any titles such as bishop or pastor or Spiderman. Like the rest of us, they were only human, limited in abilities, vulnerable to emotions and prejudices. Capable of misunderstanding, and exposed to the whims of both love and hatred. The angels made sure that the disciples feet were firmly planted on the ground and that their faces were turned toward the men and women with whom they shared each breath.
They learned in that moment that the time is now, and that if and when they were to begin the work that Jesus gave them, they would experience both joy and sadness, they would be anointed with oil as easily as they would be crowned with thorns. In other words, nothing has changed, and yet everything has changed because now is the time. God has chosen real humanity, you and me as the vehicle of divine presence, the promise of the kingdom for right now, just as God had chosen Jesus and vindicated him by raising him from the dead.
Now let’s remember that Jesus’ incarnation happened at a time in which humanity faced terrible brokenness, great poverty, and oppression, slavery. He bore witness to God’s love and announced that God’s kingdom is at hand.
And now, two thousand years later, the difficult reality for many of us is that there is still terrible brokenness among humanity, violence is normalized and even celebrated in some parts of our culture, poverty is rampant, and oppression is ever-present, slavery exists in the form of human trafficking and it is much closer to our zip code than many of us would care to know. We can look at all of that and become overwhelmed, maybe even throw our hands up in resignation. Or, we can see the face of God, the life of Jesus in our neighbors, even in those we might consider our enemies, and recognize that the reality of our world offers us a moment of creativity. We are afforded a chance to offer new life and hope to others because the Kingdom of God is here and now, and we are the disciples, we are the witnesses to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection,
If we hear the phrase ‘the Kingdom of God’ and associate that only with some future that happens only after we shed our mortal coil, then we are doing exactly what the disciples did that day… staring up at the sky, looking for Jesus up there when he has been right here among us all along. The Kingdom of God is here and now, and we have the opportunity here and now to listen for the cry of the needy, to listen to their truth, to offer the hand of friendship to the lonely, to accompany those who believe they have nowhere else to turn. That is what the Kingdom of God looks like. That is the kingdom of God and the time is now.
The author of our Acts book study, Matthew Skinner writes, “Jesus informs his followers they will publicly recount to others the things they know to be true. In some (cases), they will do that with words; in others, they will declare the nature of the good news through worship, prayer, care and healing, sharing meals with others, extending friendship and fellowship, expressing compassion, and generously sharing resources.” The good news for us is that Jesus’ disciples – and by extension us, are not expected to possess any secret knowledge or specialized abilities. We bear witness by sharing what we know, by sharing in the brokenness of others and being in solidarity with them, understanding their fears, the needs, their hopes.
Like those disciples, we are called to bear witness and to stand amongst the brokenness of others offering comfort, compassion and hope. That is the kingdom of God, and the time is now.
To God be the glory.