Thy Kingdom Come PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Tuesday, 03 June 2014 14:28

First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls, KS

Thy Kingdom Come: John 17:1-11, Acts 1:6-14

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor

June 1, 2014

 

John 17:1-11 (CEB)

When Jesus finished saying these things, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the time has come.  Glorify your Son, so that the Son can glorify you.  2 You gave him authority over everyone so that he could give eternal life to everyone you gave him.  3 This is eternal life: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent.  4 I have glorified you on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.  5 Now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I shared with you before the world was created.

6 “I have revealed your name to the people you gave me from this world.  They were yours and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.  7 Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you.  8 This is because I gave them the words that you gave me, and they received them. They truly understood that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me.

9 “I’m praying for them. I’m not praying for the world but for those you gave me, because they are yours. 10 Everything that is mine is yours and everything that is yours is mine; I have been glorified in them. 11 I’m no longer in the world, but they are in the world, even as I’m coming to you. Holy Father, watch over them in your name, the name you gave me, that they will be one just as we are one.

Acts 1:6-14  (CEB)

6 As a result, those who had gathered together asked Jesus, “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?”

7 Jesus replied, “It isn’t for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 Rather, 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 end of the earth.”

9 After Jesus said these things, as they were watching, he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going away and as they were staring toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood next to them. 11 They said, “Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you saw him go into heaven.”

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, which is near Jerusalem—a sabbath day’s journey away. 13 When they entered the city, they went to the upstairs room where they were staying. Peter, John, James, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James, Alphaeus’ son; Simon the zealot; and Judas, James’ son— 14 all were united in their devotion to prayer, along with some women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.

 

For forty days since his resurrection, Jesus has been interacting with his followers.  In the bible forty is the symbolic number for transition.  The question then and now is: what will this transition look like?

The apostles wonder if this is the time Jesus will restore the kingdom.1:6  Jesus says that it is not for them to know the right times God has chosen.  Then, Jesus ascends out of their sight into a cloud.  This is the first part of the transition: Jesus will no longer be with them, or with us, in the same way that he had been with those first followers in his incarnation.  Ironically, the answer to the restoration of God’s kingdom is left unanswered!

Let us Pray:   Holy Spirit guide the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts that we might participate in your kingdom coming on earth as in heaven.  Amen

The followers have spent 40 days and nights interacting with a risen Lord who appears and disappears at will.  Their hope and desire is for the "restoration of the Israelite kingdom."  What they mean by that is the removal of Roman domiation, but more than that they mean the return of genuine power for Israel, a day of new Davidic strength.

Of course, the problem for both hopes is the terrible fact that with the death and resurrection of Jesus precisely nothing has changed in that regard.  The Romans are still evident on every street corner of the land, and Israel remains that pathetic far-flung outpost of the Roman Empire and shows few signs of ever becoming anything else.  Their king is another debauched member of the Herodian line of half-breeds, and the governor is a despotic and cruel tool of the overlord Rome.

If we are honest, Jesus' reply to their question does nothing to lift their – or our- spirits: "The times and seasons that the Father has reserved to his own authority are not for you to know. Instead, you will receive a power from the Holy Spirit coming upon you.  And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all of Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth." Acts 1:7-8

The question is: “Is it time for us to get our power back?"  But the answer is: "You can not know such things.  Instead of such idle and foolish speculation, the Holy Spirit will give you real power, not to be great and grand and admired, but to be witnesses everywhere."

It is not the expected answer and the dunderheads watch in silent awe as Jesus is enveloped in a cloud reminiscent of Elijah and then disappears.

I suspect that Luke has in-mind a rather long period of time between verses 9 and 10.  The disciples, slack-jawed yokels that they are, crane their necks more and more, gazing longingly into the skies, and perhaps begin, in the backs of their brains, the calculations that they feel they must make to predict just when Jesus will be coming back, avoiding completely the warning that Jesus himself has just given that there is no way that any human can know such things, since that information is God's alone.

Luke emphasizes this truth when two men appear in white robes –maybe they are angels- and chide the silent lookers with a sharp: "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?"

Why, indeed?  Jesus has just made it crystal clear that the restoration of Israel under the magic power of a returning and furious warrior Jesus is NOT on option.  He will come back, the men say, in the same way that he went; but heaven-gazing with increasingly aching necks is not the work of a true disciple of Jesus, any more than is preparing a landing site for him in Jerusalem or ignoring global warning because Jesus is on his way!

The work of the true disciple is Jesus’ own work: to love enemies, free the prisoner, feed the hungry, clothe the naked and generally be faithful stewards of all our blessings, including the environment.  The work of the true disciple -and coincidentally one of the Great End of the true church- is to make visible the kingdom of God in the midst of the world by proclaiming God's good favor to the ends of the earth.

Once the disciples who witnessed the ascension had lowered their gazes and had straightened their necks (and perhaps a massaged on another’s neck and shoulders), they headed for Jerusalem with the temple to wait for the promised Holy Spirit.  In the waiting, they “constantly devoted themselves to prayer." 1:14

It is no coincidence that the lectionary links this lesson to one from Jesus’ priestly prayer before his death.  We know that prayer was not incidental to Jesus life and ministry, but integral to it, an essential component of being alive.  It is not a holy add-on to what Jesus says and does. It is part of the very breath of his life—a necessity of living.  How else could he and the father remain one?  Relationships are built on communication – on words – on the Word.

That is where the two lesson’s overlap, and the intersection is prayer.  When the disciples go home they devote themselves to prayer, waiting for a response from God.  And, as we shall celebrate next week, the response comes in the form of the power of the Holy Spirit.

Real disciples follow the example of Jesus and make prayer an integral part of their lives and ministry.   In a very really sense the power of the Holy Spirit depends on our prayers.  We do not pray in order to shape or affect the Spirit, but to shape us, to make us ready to receive the gifts of the Spirit.  Prayer enables our eternal life, clearly defined as “to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent.”  Eternal life is to know and be known by the Eternal One.

This is the point of the gospel lesson: Christians are called to live in eternity NOW.  Jesus is not talking about pie in the sky when you die, but heavenly pie now!  The prayer of Jesus in today’s gospel makes clear that our lives here and now are to be shaped and directed by the gift of eternal life.  And that means union with God.

Jesus taught us to pray, “Hallowed be thy name.”  In mystical Aramaic the words imply making a place for God at the center of your very being.  What a wonderful thought; what an wonderful goal!  God in you as you are in God.  Jesus’ prayer for us is for eternal life, for intimacy with the Eternal One.  God’s people are to know God with such closeness that only the word ‘union’ will do.  That’s why we speak of the church as the bride of Christ.  Marriage is the incarnation of that intimate union!

If you pause to think about that, it’s not easy!  Sure, Jesus can pray for union with God the Father; that’s an obvious part of what we understand by the incarnation.  Jesus claims the glory of his union with the Father ‘before the world existed’ as John’s does gospel in the prologue.  “The Word was in the beginning with God and the Word was God.”

Sure we can say that of Jesus, but saying it of ourselves is altogether more troublesome.  We’re only human, and with our human character go all kinds of disqualifications for union with God.  Sin, selfishness, conceit, hatred, laziness - I needn’t go on.  You get the point.  It’s all too plain to see.

And yet, we were created for eternal life!  ‘And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom God has sent.’ John 17.3  This intimacy of knowing is about a quality of living that takes in the whole of a person—body, mind and soul.

Jesus prays that the discipleship we undertake will lead to the same kind of union he himself knows with the Father.  That is a powerful thought.  This kind of union is not something we do by being good or disciplined enough.  It is something God does when we open ourselves to the holy presence.   Years ago I heard a definition of prayer as ‘being willing to be changed.’  In prayer we are being slowly changed into the likeness of Christ – real Christians.

Now, don’t imagine that goal unrealistic or impossible.  Don’t quit now saying, ‘I could never pray so well.’   It’s not magic!

We all can say the Lord’s prayer- even the children.   We use the prayer every Sunday.  Let me suggest that rather than just say it, we begin to really pray it, as a community, as we wait for the Holy Spirit to empower and guide us.

We have already spoken of hallowing, not simply honoring but making room for God at the center of our being.  Imagine God’s love and grace living in you, softening and influencing your heart.

We pray always for God’s Kingdom to come, but inherent in that prayer is that we will participate in, and witness to, that coming.  This sounds obscure but it is simply allowing God’s will to be done on earth – that is in us- as it is in heaven.  I am always tempted to think that prayer is for others.  Things would be better is only they did God’s will.  I need to acknowledge the kingdom coming is enhanced and enabled when I follow God’s will.

When we pray for daily bread we acknowledge our reliance on God for all that is really important, for what we need to get us through this day.  At the same time we are leaving the future to God and not fretting over that which we have no control.  In so doing we set aside our anxiety and greed and trust in the providence of God.

The character and quality of our life, our faith and our church is shaped by our prayer together.  That’s why, this week, as we anticipate and remember the gift of the Holy Spirit, I am encouraging you to prayer more intentionally the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray.  I am asking you to open yourself to eternal life inundating this mortal life and carrying it to unimagined heights.

Like the church after the resurrection we are always in transition or, as our more sedate Book of Order says, ‘reformed always being reformed by the Spirit’.   We face this transition, just as those disciples after the resurrection, by devoting ourselves to prayer and gathering and breaking bread with the Risen One at the table.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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