Psalm 47 & Acts 1: 1-11
“The Significant Pause”

“The Significant Pause”

Psalm 47 & Acts 1: 1-11 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ Northwood United ~ May 12, 2024

Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Most of us do not need to think too far back to remember those four impatiently shouted words amidst summer road trips. And they will soon be along again: are we there yet! Impatient children (and sometimes even us impatient adults) longing for the arrival of the ‘hoped for’ destination. Are we there yet? As the journey feels too long to endure, these words will be offered. Are we there yet? As one questions if the driver has led us astray, we utter the frustrated words ‘are we there yet?’ As summer visitors make plans to come and see us…as we make our plans to visit new destinations…we offer the collective cry… “are we there yet?”

Shifting to this morning’s scripture texts, I would suggest that these are the kind of sentiments in the minds of the apostles as well. They don’t exactly say “are we there yet”, but you can feel it in their words. In the Acts reading, the apostles ask the question “Lord is this the time when you will restore the Kingdom of Israel?” Is it time yet? Are we there yet? When will the Kingdom of Israel be restored? In the Easter season, they have witnessed God’s power of death and resurrection…isn’t now the time for you to restore the Kingdom. Are we there yet?

The reading reveals that Jesus had been with them for the past 40 days showing himself to be alive, giving convincing proofs and speaking about the Kingdom of God. Just like Moses on the mountain for his 40 days instructed by God on how the Israelites should live, surely now must be the fullness of time when all arrives. There is a powerful term coined by 20th Century theologian Karl Barth who names this in between time of waiting as: “the significant pause”. The “significant pause” is the time between Christ’s promise to restore the kingdom and the church’s waiting for this all to come to fruition. We await justice to roll down like a mighty river; we await the recovery of sight to the blind; we await the captive being set free. We await the Kingdom to be ushered in. Yet, the apostles are more than ready for it. They shout: “Lord…is this the time? is this the time? Are we there yet?”

Coming back to modern day, I think it is helpful to consider our location in the church year. We in an ‘in between time’ on the church calendar of waiting, as well, aren’t we? Today marks the conclusion of the season of Easter ~ the season of Jesus’ resurrection; our reflecting upon what this means to be ‘Easter People’; our pondering of what New Life and resurrection means to us. Yet we still find ourselves waiting and asking: “are we there yet?” We are ‘in between’ and I do not know of anyone who enjoys this uncomfortable tension that is found here? Are we there yet? ~ says the frustrated child in the backseat. Lord, is it time yet? ~ shout the frustrated apostles who have been waiting and waiting. Are we there yet?

Getting back to our road trip. To those questions that the driver receives from the impatient traveler, how does one counter the impatience? Well…there are a variety of approaches that may be offered: Rationalizing…one might calmly explain that there are still another two hours left until arrival ~ but, let’s be honest, there are only a few saints like that among us. After countless ‘are we there yet?’ requests, many will try other options. Distractions…we try and distract the questioners…which is how I suspect the games: “I Spy” and “would you rather?” originated. And lastly, ignoring: there is always the, ever popular, option of ignoring the complaining voices: turning up the radio; or initiating another car karaoke outburst.

It is informative, however, to observe how Jesus responds to the impatient apostles: Jesus’ reaction to the disciples’ question is, I think, informative for those of us impatiently waiting for the Kingdom. The text reports him saying “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that God has set”. But … in the meantime “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you”. In Jesus’ response, there is a kind of movement away from the imminent return of Jesus to a focus upon a new reality that is about to birth…the Holy Spirit. This was the call to the early church as we move into the book of Acts.

The central question for us today, then, centres around our ability to live into this new and unknown reality? Asking ‘are we there yet?’ is not the right question. The faith challenge for the apostles, and for us, is ‘can we live in the uncertainty?’ Can we live in this ‘significant pause’? Can we await the promise of the Spirt? Or will we continue impatiently asking the question: “are we there yet?”  The challenge is not about coming to a place of ‘knowing’. The challenge is about coming to place of trust. A trust that all will be well. And when I think about how we are as God’s people…about how we have been throughout the ages…that is exactly what we are good at. God’s people, since the beginning have been formed as a people of trust. We have been a people who live with a promise…we are people who live in anticipation of the new heaven and the new earth. We know it is coming. I think this modern time in which we live is one when we are truly called to live the faith that has been deeply embedded upon us since the beginning!

This Sunday is an interesting one, when one considers it in terms of the history of thought. The church calls it “Ascension Sunday” because it celebrates the ascension of Jesus from the earthly realm towards the heavenly one with God. Written in a time when Greek philosophers and people of faith alike held an understanding of a 3-tiered universe: the realm in which we live, the hellish realm below, and the heavenly realm above. This, of course, is not a universally held belief in present day. So some churches will choose to forgo this text and not honour Ascension in favour of other Easter readings. And, frankly, I think this is a mistake. I will tell you why. Whether you believe in it literally or figuratively, there are still parts of the theology of the Ascension which are informative for us today. Most people I talk to understand both heaven and a hell existing on earth right now. Hell on earth is a very real thing that some have or are experiencing right now. For many going through the big challenges that life throws at them, they will this is an experience of hell on earth. Hell is real and present! Heaven is also real and alive. Few I know gaze upon the mountains and fail to hold them in a sacred regard. Hiking up a steep mountain and enjoying the view at the end of one’s climb is often a heavenly experience. The heavenly realm is very real as people describe such deep and heavenly experiences in their living. And then, of course, we all ponder the mystery of the next. How the shift from this life occurs into the heavenly of the next realm. So, I think it is an error to do away with Ascension in our modern day because it is a reminder of the Way Christ connects us with the deep, rich and heavenly realm of the Holy One. Ascension allows us to more fully connect with the heavenly. It allows it to be even further birthed into our world; birthed into our communities; birthed into our lives.

This morning, many will observe ‘Mother’s Day’ celebrations. For some, this is a day of joy and celebration where Moms / Grandmas / Great-Grandmothers are honoured for the qualities of nurture, care and love given to her family. Yet for others, it is a day of struggling with loss, unmet expectations and sadness. The shift, as we do here at Northwood, to ‘Mothering Sunday’ is a wise one because it broadens the gift and blessing of ‘Mothering’ to something that can be offered by us all. As a follower of Christ, we offering mothering ways of care and love into the world. A deeper consider for Ascension Sunday: what if we considered on this ‘Mothering Sunday’ how the mothering way of Christ births this connection between us and the Holy One. What if we consider the Way of Christ as that which births the Holy into our community, into our world, into our soul? Perhaps we, at times, are like midwives helping the birth of Christ’s Way into the world. Perhaps, at others, we are expectantly waiting for the birth to come. The gift of the Ascension on Mothering Sunday.

But…yet we are still here…waiting. We are not as patient as we should be. We impatiently shout ‘are we there yet? And to this waiting, we receive a most helpful section of this text. Jesus’ promise given to the impatient disciples is an instruction to wait at the place where God’s great works first occured: to wait in Jerusalem. They are instructed to wait there…for in their waiting they will receive power. The power which Jesus refers to is the Greek word: dynamis, which is where we (of course) get the word ‘dynamic’. The power that we wait for is that robust force at work that all will see and feel. This force will inform our tasks, inspire our words, uphold our works…if we open ourselves to this presence in our patient waiting. This period of ‘are we there yet?’ is the training time for patient apostles about to receive the dynamic power of the Spirit. This ‘are we there yet?’ time is OUR time that we will receive that same Spirit birthing a new heaven and a new earth as we will be commissioned to be God’s prophetic, pastoral, patient pilgrims. May we await what God is birthing upon our world.


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