Title: Hope and Nests, part II
Date: May 4th, 2008
Texts: Ps 68:1-10, 32-35; Ac 1:6-14; I Pet 4:12-14, 5:6-11; Jn 17:1-11.
Nests and hope. That’s what I preached about the last time. I told you about the blue birds who moved into the birdhouse in my front yard near the road. I talked about how they show us what hope looks like in our world today. Despite all the dangers, all the threats to life, those birds still build nests, right smack in the middle of it all.
That’s what birds do; they build nests that provide space for birth, for new life. And that’s what we do. We surround each other with the love of Christ; we sustain each other with the Holy Spirit; we offer one another the embrace of God’s love. We are God’s nests of hope, nests for the birth and re-birth of life, abundant life, life upon life. We show, with our lives, how hope is a verb—it’s something we do through the power of the Spirit. We become a reason for hope.
Well, my neighbor told me this past week that he saw a cat climb up that blue bird house while Katie and I were in France. He scarred the cat away before he left for work. But in the evening, when he got back, he peeked into the bird house and found that all the baby birds were dead. The cat killed them and left them there. The nest of abundant life turned into a grave.
What can I say now? I felt pretty good with my hopeful sermon about nests and abundant life. I felt good about that hope—and you all gave me reason to believe it because of your care for one another. But reality has a tendency to get in the way of hope and rain on our parades. That nest, full of abundant life, gets killed. Reality stinks of death.
So now what? My bird house isn’t a sign of hope anymore. Dead baby blue birds—that’s all I see when I look out my front window. And it’s a lot of what I see when I look at the world—around the world and in our cities; and it’s what I see in the lives of some of my friends—completely hopeless situations.
When will hope happen? When will the promises of abundant life be realized? When will the kingdom come? These questions aren’t new to our age. In our passage from Acts, after Jesus’ resurrection, his followers ask him the same question: “So Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” (1:6).
Jesus has been raised from the dead and now he’s hanging out with his disciples. The disciples are looking around the room, maybe even whispering the question to each other. They’ve witnessed some crazy events over the past few days. Their friend and leader, Jesus, was killed. No one expected that to happen—completely shocking. They thought Jesus was going to establish this kingdom he kept on talking about: finally, a time for peace, for justice, for restoration, for healing. The kingdom of God come to earth.
And all those hopes are crucified with Jesus on the cross. Hope dies. The kingdom crumbles. The promise of abundant life is buried in a tomb.
But then comes Easter, and something even more unexpected happens—the tomb is empty. How can this be? Jesus comes back. Is it really possible? He’s alive. Completely unexpected. This stuff just doesn’t happen. But there he is: Jesus, alive, eating and drinking, talking and sitting.
They are all gathered together: the resurrected Jesus and his followers. Now is the time. This must be the moment we’ve been waiting for, the disciples whisper. It’s here. We’re on the verge of the kingdom.
So they get serious and turn to Jesus, “So Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Gk. apokathistaymi or apokathistano) We’ve been waiting for this Kingdom, the Reign of God, the Day of the Lord, they tell Jesus. Is it going to happen now? We’re ready. Let’s do it, Jesus.
And how does Jesus respond? In verse 7 Jesus says, “It is not for you to know the times that the Father has set by his own authority.” It’s a strange reply. Jesus doesn’t say yes or no. Jesus won’t give them the knowledge they want. The disciples don’t get an answer that they can rest on. Their questions aren’t settled; they aren’t put at ease. No. Instead, the disciples are given a task.
Jesus goes on in verse 8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Those are his last words. The disciples want to know if the hope of the kingdom has arrived, and Jesus answers by telling them to receive the power of the Holy Spirit so they can be witnesses, so they can go and proclaim, and be God’s kingdom.
It’s all about the who… Who will establish the kingdom? The disciples are waiting for Jesus to make it all happen: “Lord,” they say, “is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” And Jesus turns that “you” around and says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes… and you will be my witnesses.”
Jesus refuses the mantle of their hope for change, and instead sends the people on their way to spread this message of hope, of good news. This is your task; to be my witnesses; to be my hope for the world. It’s not about taking a back seat and telling Jesus to get to work. No, Jesus says. I’m entrusting the work to you. “You will receive the power.” Hope is not someone else’s job.
Now let me be clear on this: Yes, Jesus is our hope. For us, hope has a name: it’s Jesus Christ. But Jesus does something strange at the end of his earthly ministry, at the end of Luke and the beginning of Acts. Jesus leaves before the kingdom of hope is established. Jesus wins, he’s victorious, he conquers death—that ultimate destroyer of hope. And when he wins, he refuses to take his victory lap.
This may stretch an analogy too far, but I’ll use it anyhow: Jesus is like the president who wins the election—he’s victorious—and when he’s about to take the office, the throne, he bows out, he disappears and says, “You will receive the power; it’s your job to give someone reason for hope.”
In the book of Acts, Luke—the author of the two volume work, Luke-Acts—Luke shows how the earthly ministry of Jesus is continued in Acts, extended and fulfilled in the followers of Jesus. Luke turns the hope of the kingdom of God into a people’s movement. The link is the Holy Spirit—the life-breath of Jesus, breathed into us, his followers.
You will receive my power, Jesus says, when you receive the Holy Spirit. This is the same Spirit who hovered over Mary when Jesus was conceived; that same Holy Spirit who sent Jesus into the wilderness; and that same Holy Spirit who empowered Jesus to proclaim good news for the poor, freedom for prisoners, sight for the blind, liberation for the oppressed. The Holy Spirit is the power that made Jesus’ life possible. And now, Jesus says, you will have that same power. So, get on with the mission. As the two messengers say in verse 11, Stop standing around and looking up at the sky.
The good news is that we are not sent along our way alone. John’s gospel tells us that Jesus is currently at work praying for us, praying for you. In our passage from John 17 we hear Jesus praying to the Father: “I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours.”
We belong to God. And God does not leave us alone in our mission—which is the mission of Jesus. Because Jesus is now a life of prayer, utterly devoted to you. Jesus’ life is prayer—continual outpouring of love and power into us; he lives for our sake, always praying, always breathing into our lives the power of the Holy Spirit.
Now that doesn’t mean we will be safe—as Ryan told us a couple weeks ago. I Peter tells us the same thing: do not be surprised at fiery ordeals or that you are sharing in the sufferings of Christ. It happens. But take comfort because you are blessed, I Peter says, because the Spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you. Therefore, he goes on, “Discipline yourselves and keep alert” (I Peter 4:8).
Discipline. That’s what it means to receive the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ mission working out through our lives. It’s about discipline, which is the stubbornness of the hopeful.
I’ll tell you what this stubborn hope looks like. This past week those blue birds came back. People told me that I was supposed to clean out the old nest so a new family can move in. But I didn’t. I guess I didn’t have time. But the birds returned to their nest that became a grave.
I took a peak in there this morning. I didn’t see any eggs yet. But those two birds are always flying about, going in and out of that nest, never ceasing to prepare for new life… always returning. So I’m hoping that death won’t be the last word in that nest.
And that’s a metaphor for our lives—that death won’t have the last word. That’s our hope—that the eternal of Jesus, the eternal life of love embodied in Jesus, extended through us, will be the last word. We bear witness to his eternal life named Jesus by our stubborn hope. We keep building nests, even when it seems pointless. And the only reason we dare to do such things, to be a reason for hope, is because God has been known to turn graves into places of new birth—the empty tomb, the birthplace of resurrection.
Stop staring into the sky and receive the Holy Spirit, the power of Jesus. Hope is a verb, and it looks like those birds, always returning, even to hopeless places of death. Because the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead rests upon us, turning our life of love into eternal life.
I’ll close with the words of I Peter:
“And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.”