As a result, those who had gathered together asked Jesus, “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?”
Jesus replied, “It isn’t for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority. 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.”
After Jesus said these things, as they were watching, he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going away and as they were staring toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood next to them. 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.”
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, which is near Jerusalem—a sabbath day’s journey away. 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— all were united in their devotion to prayer, along with some women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.
Peter and John were going up to the temple at three o’clock in the afternoon, the established prayer time. Meanwhile, a man crippled since birth was being carried in. Every day, people would place him at the temple gate known as the Beautiful Gate so he could ask for money from those entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he began to ask them for a gift. Peter and John stared at him. Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gazed at them, expecting to receive something from them. Peter said, “I don’t have any money, but I will give you what I do have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, rise up and walk!” Then he grasped the man’s right hand and raised him up. At once his feet and ankles became strong. Jumping up, he began to walk around. He entered the temple with them, walking, leaping, and praising God. All the people saw him walking and praising God. They recognized him as the same one who used to sit at the temple’s Beautiful Gate asking for money. They were filled with amazement and surprise at what had happened to him. --Acts 1:1-14; 3:1-10 (CEB)
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God, our Father; Jesus, our risen Savior; and the Holy Spirit, our Advocate and Comforter. Amen.
A riddle. Why is an elephant big, gray and wrinkled? Because if he was small, white and round, he'd be an aspirin. (They’ll get better, I promise!)
In honor of the NFL draft this week, did you hear about the quarterback who wanted to call his wife? He couldn’t find the receiver. (Okay, I promised they would get better, didn’t I?)
Last one. I promise. One Sunday morning, a mother went in to wake her son and tell him it was time to get ready for church, to which he replied, "I'm not going." "Why not?" she asked. "I'll give you two good reasons," he said. "One, they don't like me, and two, I don't like them." His mother replied, "I'll give YOU two good reasons why YOU SHOULD go to church. (1) You're 59 years old, and (2) you're the pastor!"
We love to tell jokes, don’t we? And, in these times, when things can feel very dark, jokes and laughter can help lighten our mood. We love to tell jokes. Perhaps, it's because there is often a nugget of truth in them.
I was looking online for jokes about men looking up into heaven. Strangely, I couldn’t find any. But, it feels like this first part of today’s story is kind of a joke, isn’t it? A joke on the disciples? Perhaps, a rather cruel joke. After all this time they had spent with their teacher, the years of teaching and learning, the good experiences and the “not so good” experiences. Even with the shame of abandoning Jesus in those last moments. The grief at his death. Then, the fear and amazement of the women at the end of the Easter story in Mark - a cruel joke of an ending. Not really even an ending, but a void waiting to be filled in. It all must have felt like some cruel joke on the disciples.
But, the joke didn’t end there. As we move into a new book, the Acts of the Apostles, part two of Luke’s Gospel, we enter into a book that begins to fill in the void with details in a more satisfying way. The beginning opens with a brief summary of everything that has happened. Perhaps it wasn’t such a cruel joke, after all. Especially, as the disciples learned that Jesus had been resurrected. Had experienced their risen teacher in their midst. As Jesus had continued to teach them about the kingdom of God over those 40 days. Speaking to them about what was to come. And, how, even after all they had experienced and learned, they still didn’t quite get it. “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?” they asked. Perhaps, the joke was on Jesus.
Quickly, he sets them straight. It’s not about the when. But about the how. The how of the kingdom. And, they learn, they will be the how. “You will be my witnesses.” In Jerusalem, among the Jews. In Judea, among a more mixed population. In Samaria, among their political and religious enemies. And to the end of the earth - the Roman empire - the known world at that time. They were to be the how.
I mentioned earlier that the joke, though, didn’t end there. Because just after they had learned all of this - that they were to be the “how” of God’s kingdom - Jesus simply disappears up into the heavens. Can’t you hear what the disciples are thinking as they stand and watch Jesus go? “Oh, crap!” they think. “What the heck are we going to do now?” The joke is truly on them.
But, they wait. Together, men and women in that upper room. For days. They wait, following Jesus’ instruction to them. To wait until the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit. And, then, they begin. Probably, like us, never really knowing quite what to do.
But the opportunities begin to present themselves. During the course of the day as they go about doing their usual things, the opportunities arise. One day, as Peter and John are going to the temple for prayer as they always did, they come upon a man, crippled since birth. For whom, every day, his friends would engage in an act of mercy that helped him to survive. Carrying him to a place where there were people. Where he could beg the passersby to drop just a few coins in his cup. And, then, Peter and John see him. One has to wonder why they never noticed him before. But, our text says, they “stared” at him. Perhaps, for the first time, empowered by the Holy Spirit, they truly saw him. And, then, they engaged in an act of mercy that was way beyond the previous boundaries. Way beyond the imagination of the man’s friends and what they had done. “Look at us!” Peter said to him. “Look at us! You are worthy to make eye contact with us. You, who have suffered for years, you deserve to be healed. And then, purely with the gift of healing given to him by the Holy Spirit and in the name of Jesus Christ, Peter heals him. No joke.
Sisters and brothers, you and I are called to do this same work. You and I, like Peter and John, have been baptized with water and the Holy Spirit, to be the “how” of the kingdom of God. To notice those in our hurting world and to engage in acts of mercy, whatever they may be. But, not to stop there. To invite them to look at you, so that you, too, like Peter and John, might witness to the “why.” Why you do these acts of mercy. And why is that? Because we have a God who loves us, who comes to be with us, to be like us, to experience the whole of the human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life to the isolation of pandemic life, from lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, of defeat, of despair, and of death. And, then, to free us from it all: from sin, from the power of evil, and from death.
So that we, like the man in our story, who experienced healing after years of suffering, might jump up for joy. Walking, leaping, and praising God. And inviting others to experience that same joy. No joke.
Knock! Knock! Who’s There?
Howl. Howl who? Howl you know if you don’t open the door?
Go. Open the door and go. Be the “how” of the kingdom of God. Amen.
Preached online at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY, on April 26, 2020.
Readings: Acts 1:1-14, 3:1-10; Mark 6:7-13; Psalm 47