So, here in Hudson, the schools are getting out this week. I guess that means summer is just about officially here. Thankfully, the weather is cooperating so far. Summer means a lot of things to a lot of people, and to many of us, those with kids and without, it means we’re going to log some miles in our cars. The season of road trips is upon us.
In our family road trips tend to be to one of two place - - back to Nebraska to visit Phil’s family on the farm or down to Iowa for Synod School. The summer trip is usually to Synod School.
Synod School, if you haven’t heard one of my raves about it, is an intergenerational conference put on by the Synod of Lakes and Prairies, our upper Midwest region of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Each year a FANTASTIC speaker is brought in from around the country to lead morning keynote addresses, kids learn and have fun in Vacation Bible School-like classes, and adults can take classes ranging from cake decorating to website design to God in the movies to African drumming to home electrical repair to introduction to the New Testament. Truly if you can think of it, it has probably been taught Synod School, and if it hasn’t, feel free to teach it next year.
Anyway, Synod School is often our summer road trip, and I love Synod School. (Could you tell?) I start talking about our trip to Synod School as soon as June rolls in even though it doesn’t happen until the last week of July. (There’s still time to register, if you’re interested.) I get excited about my classes. We usually get a letter from the kids’ teachers. We’re in touch with our roommates for the week and deciding who is going to sleep where with whom. The excitement builds rather dramatically.
When the day of the trip finally comes, we pack up the car early in the morning so that we can change our clothes in the church restrooms and hit the road pretty soon after worship. Dinner is served at 5:00 p.m. on campus in Storm Lake, Iowa, and we like to have a little time to get settled in our room and find our friends. When worship is over and we have said our goodbyes here, eating a little bit more of the fellowship treats than usual so we don’t have to stop for lunch too soon, the kids and I (and Phil if he gets to come) load up in the car and hit road.
I love pulling onto the interstate and knowing we are on our way until, of course, that inevitable question comes. Can you ask it with me? “Are we there yet?”
“Are we there yet?” the disciples asked their risen Lord. “Are we there YET?” OK, so they really asked, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” but it means the same thing. They had been hanging on for a long time. They had been called and they followed. They learned and they listened. They were sent out and the taught. They healed and were rebuked. They were mocked and shunned. They had been fed and walked a lot. They had walked a whole heck of a lot, following this Jesus, the Messiah. They had lived through all sorts of preparations and it seemed the time had finally come. “NOW are you going to do it, Jesus? Now will you restore the kingdom?”
The disciples were like my kids in the car. For more than just the three years with Jesus, for all of their conscious lives really, they have been waiting for the Messiah to come and do this one thing - - restore the kingdom to Israel. They had been waiting for the Messiah who would come and set the kingdom of Israel back on top in the eyes of her people, in the eyes of the world. They had been waiting like their parents and grandparents and generations even before had been waiting for the kingdom David sang about in the Psalms, the kingdom of prosperity and power and good fortune, the political kingdom that was a sure sign of God’s favor and presence on earth
They had been with him since he called them to follow, the ones who had dropped their nets, left the tax collectors’ office, walked away from family and friends. They had endured the roller coaster of emotions as they celebrated healings, grumbled about crowds, worried about his arrest, agonized over his crucifixion, and celebrated his resurrection. They had stayed in Jerusalem waiting for the promise of their heavenly parent, thinking, “Surely it’s almost time now.” So when they had come together, of course, they asked him, “Jesus, are we there yet?”
Now, when my kids ask I want to shout, “Yes! Yes! We’re there. We have been waiting for months and months. We have made all our plans. We have washed and packed and loaded. We have worshiped and fellowshipped and changed our clothes. We have used the bathroom one last time and buckled into the carseats. Yes! We’re there. We’re on vacation!”
But apparently that’s not what they mean. So, somehow we are at the same time “there yet” and “not yet there.” We have gotten to the time when the vacation has started. We have come to the day we have all be waiting for, but it is not yet completed. It is, as we like to say in theological language, already and not yet.
That’s Jesus’ final message as he ascends into heaven. “Yes! Yes! We’re there. We have been waiting for months, for years, for centuries, for millennia. We have made all our plans. We have taught and washed and healed. We have worshiped and fellowshipped and served. We have met one last time and the Holy Spirit is one her way. Yes! We’re there. The kingdom is on its way!”
But apparently that’s not what they meant either. He said it as they were listening and watching intently. And as he spoke, he left them. He left them staring up into a cloud asking with their gaze and their frozen feet, “Are we there yet?”
It took some angels to break their gaze and thaw their feet, asking them why they were just standing around. Jesus had given them work to do. With the same certainty that he had called “Come, follow me” he had also just commanded “You will be my witnesses.” He didn’t ask, “Please can you take some more time?” He didn’t suggest “You could be, if you wanted…” And actually this time he didn’t even invite, “Come, be my witnesses.”
Jesus just stated it as the truth. You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and you will be empowered, you will tell my story with your words and with your lives starting right here where you are in Jerusalem, when you move out into Judea, even when you go to the place of your enemies in Samaria, and as far as you can imagine throughout the world. You will be my witnesses.
It’s the “not yet” part of his answer. Jesus has come. The kingdom has been ushered in, but it’s not yet here. We can see; it’s not yet here, not because Israel isn’t at peace. Not because a political kingdom has borders that are threatened, although don’t be fooled that is exactly what is behind some Evangelical support for their political agenda in the Middle East. We can see that the kingdom of God is not yet here because there is still pain and sadness, war and rumors of war. There is still homelessness and hurting. There is still addiction and arguing. There is still hatred and bigotry, prejudice and hunger.
We’re not there yet. And we’re not going to get there any faster with our feet stuck in the sand and our eyes tilted up there wondering, “When is he going to get around to fixing all of this?” He told us not to worry about when because we have more important things to do. We have work to do. We must get to work being his witnesses, get to work unveiling his kingdom, get to work bringing the places of “not yet” in line with the vision of his kingdom that is already here.
Are we there yet? Yes, we are. We are here, and we have felt and known the love of God. We have seen what Jesus can do in our lives and in the world. We trust in his promise of forgiveness and wholeness and new life.
Are we there yet? Well, not quite, but as his witnesses we can help bring his kingdom one step closer. We must engage our minds, move our feet, open our mouths, and work with our hands and get to work witnessing. We must get to work feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, freeing the captives; remembering the forgotten, encouraging the disheartened, comforting those who mourn; praying for those who mourn, teaching the young, listening to the old. We must be Christ’s witnesses…We ARE Christ’s witnesses here and to the ends of the earth.
Why are we standing around looking up toward heaven? We’ve got somewhere to go!