Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter

May 21, 2023.  Texts: Acts 1:6-14; 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11; John 17:1-11. 

After the events of Easter the disciples remained in the city of Jerusalem for forty days, as Jesus instructed them to do. The book of Acts tells us that during those precious days after his resurrection Jesus spent a lot of time teaching them about God’s reign. Nearing his departure, Jesus told the disciples that they would be cleansed with the Holy Spirit. This was an exciting and mysterious promise. John the Baptist had predicted this gift would come from the Messiah.

After thirty days the disciples gathered together with Jesus on the Mount of Olives. Now, on their last day with Jesus, the disciples could ask anything. Anything!

And the disciples said, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” Perhaps they’d discussed this question among themselves as they cautiously navigated the streets of a city controlled by occupying forces. Would Jesus finally fulfil the words of the prophets?

The Mount of Olives was just beyond Jerusalem’s city gates, a hill overlooking the city’s monumental Temple and palace complex. Perhaps their question came out of a true devotion to seeing Israel restored as God’s light to all nations. But still. It was an awkward moment.

Because didn’t Jesus tell them over and over that he was not that kind of Messiah? Not a savior for a failed state. Not the one to claim the throne as David’s heir. Jesus had made it clear that the reign he was bringing was not going to be anything like the politically powerful Israel of old.

Instead of commenting on the restoration of the kingdom though, Jesus responded to the apostles’ question about timing. God’s time is a matter of God’s authority, and not for mortals to know. It was a gentle and reassuring re-direction.

Then Jesus said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem…Judea…Samaria…and to the ends of the earth.” So, as it turns out, the disciples would not only be washed by the Holy Spirit, they would also receive power from the Spirit for God’s purposes yet to unfold.

And then, the time for questions was over. The next thing the disciples knew, they were looking up at the soles of Jesus’s feet. Until a cloud interfered with their view and he was gone. They might have stayed there for the rest of their lives. But two men in remarkably clean robes who seemed better informed than the disciples, showed up.

They said, there’s nothing to see here. Move along. Jesus is working remotely from heaven, but don’t worry, he’ll be back. The disciples didn’t argue with the men who seemed to possess the authority of angels.

The disciples returned to Jerusalem and “the room upstairs” to wait for the Spirit’s cleansing and empowering visit. The women and others like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea had gone on with their daily lives in Jerusalem. But the disciples may not have moved about so freely.

Some of them were known to be committed followers of Jesus. Their Galilean accents made them noticeable in Jerusalem. Reprisals from Jerusalem’s elite Temple leaders or Roman authorities might have felt immanent. They needed a safe place.

This upstairs room was probably where Jesus had celebrated the Passover with them. It’s likely the same place where they waited, behind locked doors in fear after the death of Jesus. It’s where the resurrected Jesus had come to them, alive, but bearing the marks of crucifixion.

Jesus had remained to instruct the disciples for thirty of their forty days’ wait. The numbers reminds us of Noah’s ark time. Of Israel’s desert time. Of Jesus in the wilderness. All events associated with God’s provision, instruction and mission.

So the implication for the disciples is clear. God has provided a waiting place. They have received instruction. The Spirit will come to cleanse and empower them all. Then, ready or not, the community of faith, headed by the disciples must leave their upper room.  Because it’s go time. “You will be my witnesses…”

But what does it mean to be God’s community empowered by the Spirit to a life of witness? According to 1 Peter, our most reliable spiritual resources are not the things we think are most obvious or good. The Spirit’s power resides in internal and hidden things.

It is to swim in an ocean of joy that cannot be drained. To take a position of humility so profound that no one’s opinion can take you down. It is the attitude that suffering is not personal, nor is it the devil’s work, but it can lead to wisdom. It is confidence that God’s grace is greater than anything we can imagine, and will more than restore all that this world can ever take away from us. Jesus was all about these things. And, “You will be my witnesses…”

In John’s gospel, Jesus prays for the disciples to know and serve God’s glory. God’s glory is not merely something luminous or shiny. God’s glory is weighty – something filled with gravitas.

It is all that is hidden in the sown seed, spread in the wild yeast, freed when prison doors are opened, honored in twisted bodies reset. It is all things that declare that this is not the end, it is only the beginning. God’s glory is infinite: beyond time, unlimited and eternal, ever moving in this expanding universe.  And, “You will be my witnesses…”

John also said that out of eternity Jesus came into human time to teach us to be attentive to God’s Word. God’s true word speaks only the language of love. You know that, right?

Jesus shared God’s glory in his love. God’s love glorified Jesus in the resurrection. And whoever enacts God’s love, is a reflection of God’s glorify. And, “You will be my witnesses…”

Oh yes. Came the day each disciple entered into eternal rest. But not before raising up a new generation of witnesses. God’s people out of the box. Taking God’s love off the ark, beyond the desert years, down from the upper room, out through the doors of our churches. No reason to stay here. Because, after all He Is Risen, there’s a whole lot of glory to be spread around, and,

You will be my witnesses…”