Anne Currie
28th May 2017
Are We Nearly There Yet?

When my In Laws were alive they lived in a small Ayrshire town and we’d pop up there 3 or 4 times a year to visit. It took about 8 hours to do the trip door to door. Not a problem for two adults maybe, but when the children came along as you can imagine, it was a bit of a military operation just to make sure we’d remembered everything we’d need for staying up there, and then we’d need amusement for the journey.

When they were very little it wasn’t so hard… they’d sleep most of the way… but once they were 3 and 4 years old… we’d leave armed with story cassettes and any number of games to play in the car.

A family favourite was I-Spy… but there had to be rules… you could not choose something that couldn’t be seen all the time. T for Tractor that had been spotted in a field 20 miles back wasn’t allowed.

This particular game could be the source of much amusement too… my daughter was ok on her initial letters for things, but my son, 18 months younger, sometimes missed the mark. “I spy with my little eye something beginning with S”, stated young Iain very confidently.

And we’d all start guessing. S for shoe, sock, sky??? After about 5 minutes we’d all give up and concede the point to Iain… but what was it he’d been thinking of? Window! He would proudly declare. Cue Great scorn from his big sister Amanda… “Iain… that doesn’t begin with S”… and inter-sibling war would break out on the back seat for a while. But however many games and stories we took along with us, those dreaded words would often come much too soon. I’m sure we’ve all heard them or indeed uttered them ourselves when small. Are we nearly there yet?

Jesus, is having a bit of a similar problem with the disciples… They ask ‘Lord is this the time when you will restore the Kingdom to Israel…?” It’s the New Testament version of ‘Are we nearly there yet?’.

This is what they’ve been waiting for, hoping for, during the three years they’ve been wandering around with Jesus that Israel would be restored to the people through a Messiah. Their hopes had been smashed cruelly when Jesus was killed… but, here he was again… surely if he was back with them, that must be a sign from God that Israel was blessed and would be raised up above all other nations very soon. Then other nations would be judged for their waywardness, but that’s not to say that God’s blessing couldn’t also come upon them and then the whole of creation would be part of God’s Kingdom.

Jesus however, refuses to give a timetable… and You might rightly think that by his answer ‘It is not for you to know the times that the father has set by his own authority’ he meant that now was definitely not the time.

And in a way that’s right… but the real answer is a bit of a paradox… it’s now and not yet!

The ‘now’ as in the fact that Jesus died, was buried… but then came the resurrection, the Ascension is pending and Jesus is exalted and glorified as Israel’s representative.

But not yet… because we are still awaiting a time when the whole world is visibly and undeniably living under God’s just and healing rule. We’re not there yet… we are somewhere between the two points.

It’s a kind of elastic time frame… like when you answer the children’s question of are we nearly there yet… we say not long now… but actually we know there’s a bit to go yet.

And with a few enigmatic words, Jesus disappears in front of their eyes, taken up and away in a cloud.

Once again they have lost their leader and friend. What to do now? It seems like they are back to square one… back in the days after the crucifixion.

Only this time there is a difference. This time they don’t scatter to the winds. They stick together and return… all of them to Jerusalem.

I helped a year five class to prepare a collective worship on this very passage last week. One of their ideas to illustrate Jesus message was this… think of a set of traffic lights. Red is for stop – stop in Jerusalem don’t go rushing off. Amber for wait… wait for the Holy Spirit to come to you. Green for go… then go and be witnesses in Jerusalem, the whole of Judea and to the ends of the earth. Something to remind us of what Ascension-tide is all about.

And when they do return to Jerusalem, it is all of them, Luke gives us their names… we find disciples and family all living together as one community and all praying together. Which is exactly where they need to be, for in a few days time they will face the awesomeness of the Holy Spirit filling and inspiring them to indeed go out to Jerusalem, Judea and the end of the earth.

Here in this passage we have the very foundations of Church as we know it, solidly built on prayer and community together. Worshipping and praying together and then taking out the message of the Gospel into our daily lives.

The subject of prayer leads us neatly into our Gospel reading. Where we find Jesus praying for his disciples.

We know that Jesus often prayed because all the Gospels mention it.. but we don’t know much about how he prayed… was he on his knees, standing up, sitting down… or what he prayed. There are only a few examples of the words Jesus uses in prayer in the Gospels.. for example, at the tomb of Lazarus, and a prayer of thanksgiving in Matthew.

But here the whole of Chapter 17 in John’s gospel is given over to the Prayer of Jesus for his disciples.

This lovely prayer commends the disciples and all Christians who follow thereafter into God’s care. Jesus prays for God’s protection for them and us…’I am no longer in the world’ he says…’but they are, and they need your protection’. Protection so that we may continue to work to bring us ever nearer, inch by inch towards that final goal. That we may be as one as Jesus and the Father are one. Together in prayer and community bringing in the kingdom.

Are we nearly there yet? No we are not… not while there is hatred and fighting in the world. Not while there are attacks on innocent people such as the Manchester bombing and all the other places in the world where suicide bombers have killed those around in the last few weeks. And be very sure… these acts are not caused by God, God doesn’t allow them to happen. Humans beings have made choices about ending other people’s lives… they could have chosen otherwise.

There may not be much parity between life in the Middle East and life in the west, but in shared grief and horror we can show our solidarity in prayer.

This week has been designated by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby for a global wave of prayer. Churches throughout the world are joining together as one praying community.. to pray for peace and justice and for anything really that affects their community.

It goes under the umbrella title of ‘thy kingdom come’… a line from the Lord’s prayer, but also the essence of the job that Jesus left us with. To bring in that kingdom by going out into the world, supported by the love of our Christian community and their prayers.

A number of churches are opening their doors this week for prayer and St. Matthew’s is no exception.

The Church will be open from 11am to 5pm on Wednesday for anyone to come in and pray…. to sit quietly in church or maybe light a candle or to engage with one of the prayer stations that are planned.

An opportunity to intercede with God on behalf of ourselves and others as Jesus did for us.

So do try to come along if you can.

Are we nearly there yet? Well yes, we are nearly there in terms of waiting for the end of this sermon!

But in terms of God’s kingdom… well we’ve a fair bit to go…and the journey may seem like a very long one but one day that kingdom will come, fully and finally and we will have arrived.

Acts. 1.6-14
John 17.1-11