Easter 7A; Acts 1:6-14
“Is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”
People have been obsessed with God restoring kingdoms, or with God cleaning up the world's messes for probably as long as people have been in relationship with God. “How long, O Lord?” is a familiar refrain from both those who look with glee to their enemies destruction as well as from those who are overwhelmed and don't know what to do anymore.
This obsession with the return of Christ and/or the restoration of the kingdom leads me to ask a couple of questions. 1) Why do you want Jesus to return, and 2) Why do you want the kingdom restored?
And then these lead to other questions: Do we want the kingdom restored to reclaim our past glory? Do we want it restored so that we will no longer be forced to live on the margins? Do we want Jesus to return because we can't be bothered with doing the work? Do we want Jesus to return to prove we were right all along?
We need to be very careful about why we want Jesus to return and/or why we want the kingdom restored. That is because, if left up to us, the restoration of the kingdom often is based on our desires to control and punish others. Look at almost every attempt to create a theocracy. When Rome became a Christian empire, they began to persecute Jews and instigated the Crusades. The Spanish Inquisition brutally attacked and killed Jews and Muslims. Under the Ayatollah, Iran began to control women and purge the country of heretics and infidels. Baptists in this country fought to uphold their definition of Christianity while also fighting for slavery and segregation. We can look at the rise of right wing christian nationalism that is running rampant throughout our country today.
When people say they want the kingdom of God restored, they often want a kingdom made in their own image – an image that sets themselves up as the ones with power, forcing others to accept it or be purged.
I strongly believe that this is why Jesus says, “Don't worry about it.”
The kingdom of God isn't about power or control. It's not about forcing people to accept your definition of what the kingdom looks like. It's not about legislating morality or religious codes to create a “pure” country. Instead, the kingdom of God is about inviting people to experience a relationship with Christ that ultimately leads to union with God.
We see this when Jesus tells the apostles, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
The first thing you might notice about this is the procession of evangelism. Start where you are, start locally, and then that will ripple outward. If Jesus was talking to us today, he might say something like, “You will be my witnesses in Hagerstown, in all Maryland and the Mid-Atlantic, and to the ends of the earth.”
This might be simultaneously encouraging and discouraging. It's encouraging because we don't need to make a huge effort to travel to the ends of the earth; we can start right here, right now. It's discouraging because we need to start right here, right now, and start talking about Jesus to people we know.
The second thing to notice, and maybe most important, is that we will be his witnesses.
Witness has two primary meanings: 1) it means to see something take place – to witness bird fly or to witness a car accident; and, 2) it means to testify to something – the official witnesses at a wedding testify that it took place, or a person who is called as a witness at a trial. In today's passage from Acts Jesus is asking us to be a witness in both senses of the word.
First, we are witnesses to what Christ and the Church are doing in our lives. We can see how being here and being a part of this community has benefited both ourselves and others. Being part of this community allows us to see how Christ is working in us, in those around us, and in the world.
Second, we not only see what God is doing, but we are called to testify to those works as well. We are called to tell people about Christ, the Church, and our faith. We are called to not only witness (see), but to be a witness. We are called to not only passively watch what is happening, but to actively pursue this faith and proclaim it to others. As witnesses we are called to see and proclaim the good news of God in Christ.
What we are not called to do is to conquer. We are not called to make disciples by force. We are not called to legislate our morality on others. We aren't even called to make our country a Christian nation.
What we are called to do is to witness to the love of Christ. We are called to witness to the good news of God in Christ. We are called to tell our story and invite people to come and see.
Love God. Love neighbor. Be kind. Pursue justice. Care for the widow and orphan. Give to those in need and to the mission of the church. Be faithful in worship. Respect the dignity of every human being.
These are the things we need to be concentrating on, not on restoring a kingdom designed to recapture past glories.