Christ Lutheran Church Upper Darby
May 24, 2020 Worship Sermon - "Here and Now"
Delivered by Rev. Stephen Keiser
Acts 1:6-14; 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11; John 17:1-11
When the disciples had come together, they asked Jesus, “Is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”
Is this the time? That question has been on just about everyone’s mind for the last few weeks as politicians, and health departments, and business owners, and church leaders, and people from every other segment of society debate when and how to “reopen” our society. Some people have urged a slow, deliberate approach to reopening, recognizing that if we open too fast, cases of Covid-19 will spike and we will be right back to where we were in the middle of March. Others have urged a more speedy reopening, arguing that keeping businesses and organizations closed is harming more people that the virus itself. To add to the confusion for churches, President Trump announced on Friday that he was ordering state governors to allow houses of worship to reopen this weekend. I’ll have more to say about our congregation’s reopening during the announcements, but just to clarify: in Pennsylvania, churches have always been deemed essential and have always been exempt from the stay at home orders. At no point did the governor of Pennsylvania or any other state or local official prevent us from opening our church building for worship. The leaders of our congregation, like leaders of most faith communities across our state, wisely chose not to gather for worship in this building because we recognize that putting people’s lives at risk is not what the Gospel calls us to do. We as a congregation have found ways to gather, to worship, to pray, and to learn without endangering the health of our parishioners.
Again, I’ll have more to say about reopening our building during the announcements, but let’s get back to the disciples’ question, “Is this the time?” You can hear the urgency in the disciples’ voices as they ask Jesus whether he was now going to bring about the restoration of Israel. This was something that they had been hoping for, just like we have been hoping for an end to the pandemic. And you can probably imagine the disappointment on the disciple’s faces as Jesus tells them, “It is not for you to know the times or the periods that the Father has set by his own authority.”
Knowing the future is a skill that most of us wish we had. And to a degree we can predict the future. If we pay close attention to the signs around us, we can know what is probably going to happen in the near future. If I drive west on the turnpike, I know that in about two hours I will probably arrive in Harrisburg. If I keep eating sugary foods, I will probably gain some weight. If we keep adding carbon to the atmosphere, we know that the decades to come will probably be warmer. These are all futures that we can predict based on the signs and conditions we see around us today. That’s not to say the future can’t be changed or that there aren’t other factors we can’t see. But to some degree, we can predict the future and wise people are those who learn to make good forecasts based on their reading of the signs.
But when Jesus says, “It is not for you to know the times or the periods…” I think what he is saying is, “Don’t be so caught up in the future that you fail to appreciate the present.” And if that’s what Jesus is saying, those words were tailor made for me, because I am definitely someone who spends a lot of time worrying about the future. I can’t remember if I ever shared with you the advice my therapist once gave me. He said, “A person who stands with one foot in the future and one foot in the past pees on the present.” My therapist was right: those of us who spend all our time dreading the possibilities of the future and regretting the mistakes of our past never get to experience the joy and the blessing of the present.
C. S. Lewis put it even more profoundly in his book, the Screwtape Letters. He said the present is that point in time that is most like the eternal… the present is that point in time that is most like the eternal. You’ve probably had the experience of being so absorbed in an activity that you lose your sense of time. That’s what the eternal is like; you’re completely absorbed in the present and unaware of the passage of time. And since God dwells in the eternal, it is in the present moment that we are most likely to encounter God. When we let go of our concerns about the future, when we give up of our regrets about the past and live fully in the present, that is when we are most likely to encounter God.
Jesus listens to his disciples’ question about the future and says, “Don’t worry about that. That’s for God to figure out. You live in the present. And to help you live in the present, I will send you the Holy Spirit so that God will be present with you here and now, in every time and in every place.”
Next Sunday is Pentecost, a day when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. But we don’t have to wait until Pentecost to enjoy the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is with you now in this exact moment. Take a moment to recognize that. The Spirit is closer to you than the breath in your lungs.
Let the Spirit nurture you and love you and give you strength for this moment. We need the power of the Holy Spirit, because not only has Jesus given us the Spirit; Jesus has given us a mission. “You will be my witnesses,” Jesus says to his disciples and to us. To a world that is paralyzed… paralyzed between regretting the past and dreading the future… we are called to witness to a God of forgiveness and healing and hope… a God whose loving presence is with us now and in all eternity.