Summary: Sermon for Ascension Sunday
Introduction: Some of my most interesting theological conversations take place in the hot-tub at the YMCA. Kind of a strange thought, isn’t it? Well, let me tell you about a conversation I had with a guy this past week. We’ll call him Hank.
Hank is nearly 70 years old and works out almost daily. He has kept up this schedule since his wife passed away about three years ago with cancer. I imagine it helps to be out-and-about, staying busy when you are dealing with this kind of grief. The physical activity is probably good, too.
Hank comes to the pool area and hot-tub after doing some cardio and weight training. His swim-trunks are a walking commercial for Heineken Beer, adorn with images of beer bottles and a marketing phrase I’d rather not repeat.
“You’re a pastor, aren’t you?” Hank asks, after a few minutes of idle chit-chat. It always amazes and frightens me how people seem to recognize me as a member of the clergy. If I wore a clerical collar and carried a 17lb KJV Bible with me everywhere I went, I could probably understand it. But I was sitting in a hot-tub in my swim-trunks. Perhaps the steam was glistening on my “clergy halo.”
“Yes, I am a pastor,” I said. “I am the pastor of the Red Bank Baptist Church in Marionville.”
“That’s nice,” Hank said, as if he didn’t really care. “Listen, I have a question for you. The question is this: ‘Why doesn’t God fix things?’”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I mean, look at our world. Every time I get a gallon of gasoline, it reminds me that we are at war in Iraq. That reminds me about 9-11 and the ongoing threat of terrorism. Add to that all the other wars, the crime, racism, poverty, illnesses, and cancer and it just seems that everything is a real mess. I want to believe there is a God and that this God is good, but it’s really hard when things are in such a mess. So I want to know: ‘Why doesn’t God fix things?’”
It dawned on me that this was the same basic question that the disciples asked Jesus in the passage of scripture that we are looking at for this morning. “Lord, at this time are you going to restore the Kingdom to Israel?” “Jesus, are you now going to finally fix things?”
The people of Israel were living under terrible oppression. They were a vassal state under the control of the Roman Empire, occupied by the Roman Army. Their own leaders (Herod and crew) were corrupt. Their legal system was in shambles. Their religious establishment had recently conspired with the Roman officials to crucify their now risen Lord. Their economy was in real bad shape. Everything was a mess!”
Following the resurrection they were now fully convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, the one whom God has anointed and ordained to save them. So they ask a very logical and theological question: “Lord, at this time are you going to restore the Kingdom to Israel?” To put it another way, they asked: “Jesus, when are you going to fix things?”
You’ve asked that kind of question yourself, haven’t you?
…sitting across the desk from a physician and she announces the test results.
…sitting across the table from a spouse who tells you that your marriage is over.
…sitting across the coffee table from your pastor as you plan a loved one’s funeral.
…sitting across a conference table with an employer who says you are being laid off.
You’ve been in setting and situations that have prompted you to raise your hands toward heaven, asking: “Lord, when are you going to fix things!”
The initial reply of Jesus is both encouraging and discouraging at the same time.
“It is not for you to know the times or the dates the Father has set by His own authority!”
These are encouraging words in that they assure us that one day God WILL fix things. God will wipe out all illness, sickness and suffering. God will dry every tearful eye. God will cause wars to cease and lead out world to turn swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. God will bring about a time where poverty and hunger and injustice are no more. In other words, GOD WILL FIX THINGS.
But these words from Jesus are also a tad bit discouraging. The disciples wanted instant action and an immediate resolution to their trials, troubles, and tribulations. Unfortunately for them Jesus informs them that their timetable and God’s might very come from two different calendars. Yes, God will fix things – but only when God is ready. It is not for disciples “to know the times or the dates the Father has set by His own authority!”