Every Friday night we have dinner with the family – as we all set the table and prepare for everyone to come to the table and sit, and especially as all of the food is there and we are just waiting for the time to pray, my niece and nephew like to sneak bites from the food being set at the table.
And if you went home and spent some time just reading straight through the book – you would find that it reads a lot like a journal. While the beginning chapters recall the story of what happened before Luke joined up with the band of disciples, the rest of Acts is Luke’s personal account of what happens in each leg of their journey. It is his personal witness to the Kingdom of God that has already taken root in the world. And, it is his testimony that the Kingdom of God was not yet fully in this world.
Now, the Kingdom of God is a phrase that we hear quite often.
John the Baptist preached that the Kingdom of God was at hand… just as he was preaching that Jesus was about to enter their midst.
When Jesus healed the sick, he said that the Kingdom of God has come near you. (Mt. 10:7)
But also on the gospels we hear all sorts of stories and parables that tell us funny things like the kingdom of God is like a tiny seed, or like yeast, or a priceless pearl. (Mt 13)
We hear things like the kingdom is hard for the rich to enter, but that it already belongs to little children.
We hear that the kingdom is something we are supposed to seek out, but that it’s not necessarily outside of us, but within and among us (Luke 17).
But I think the most confusing thing is that the kingdom has already come among us… and that each week, we pray for it to come in the Lord’s prayer.
The Kingdom of God is already here, but not yet fully here. This morning, I want to help us to see three ways that the Kingdom of God is already… but not yet.
Our first already/not yet has to do with the one we worship.
Already… Christ, the bearer of the Kingdom has been among us.
As the Acts of the Apostles begins, Luke reminds his reader that there is a whole other book that was written about the ministry of Christ from the beginning until the day when Christ ascended into heaven. But just in case they forgot the last bit of that story, Luke tells it again.
Jesus suffered for us and died for us and then by God’s power he showed up again – alive as ever and for forty days he stayed with the apostles. And he taught them about his Kingdom.
It was a kingdom that they had witnessed when the hungry were fed and the blind were healed and the oppressed were set free. It was a kingdom whose power was Jesus. The kingdom was where Jesus was.
And after forty days, Jesus takes his disciples out of the city and they begin to think that this is the moment they had all been waiting for. One of them cries out – Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom?!
Not yet…. The response Jesus gives is that it is not for us to know the times for these things. Not yet is the Kingdom fully come. And as a sign of that fact, Christ is lifted up before their very eyes – not to initiate the Kingdom of God… but he is taken away from their sight. Not yet, is the Kingdom of Christ fully present among us.
What we are left with are promises… the promise from Christ that he will be with us always. The promise of the Holy Spirit – the comforter and advocate who bears within us the seeds of the Kingdom. And the prophetic witness we have in the pages of Revelation that remind us that just as Christ came to be with us once… In the new creation, God will come and be with us again. “See,” the prophet John writes, “the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with him.” (Rev. 21:3)
As the church, we are sandwiched between these experiences of God. We carry with us the memories of Christ’s life and teaching and death and resurrection and we witness to these things. We share the story. Just like kids at the dinner table who sneak a piece of broccoli out of the bowl and quickly pass it to one another – we are eager and excited about this glimpse. But at the same time, we wait. We long for the time when all things will be ready – when all will be present at the table, and when God Godself will be with us.
Our second already/not yet has to do with life and death in the Kingdom of God.
Already, the disciples have witnessed how Christ brought back to life children who were dead and his own friend Lazarus. Already, the power to heal in Jesus’ name has been transferred to the disciples. Miracles have been seen everywhere – including the most amazing miracle of all… Christ died for our sins and then was raised from the tomb. Sin, death, and evil have been defeated for ever more! As we follow the apostles through Luke’s account in Acts – we see signs and wonders of more healings and resurrections, of life and life abundant!
But not yet… Lazarus would eventually die once again. Each of those apostles would all be killed proclaiming the new life of the Kingdom of God. In our own lives today, we experience suffering and pain, death and loss. We grieve, we weep, we mourn.
Brandon’s great-grandma passed away on Thursday at the age of 99 years. She lived a long full life, but we have all been acutely aware for some time now that at some point, her body would fail and she would no longer be with us. Death is the reality of human life. And when it comes, it is not always a sad thing.
Not yet have the promises of the Kingdom of God been fulfilled. For we hear in Revelation that the time will come when the new heaven and new earth are among us. And in that time and in that place, Death will be no more. Reality as we know it, with its cycles of life and death and life again will be no more. There will only be life. Life abundant.
As the church, our foretaste of that life comes when we baptize little children and we place them in God’s hands. Our foretaste of that Kingdom life comes at the altar table when we eat the bread of life and the cup of salvation. Our foretaste of that Kingdom comes at every single Christian funeral… when we carry our fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters and friends across the threshold of death and place them into God’s hands. As the church, we proclaim the reality that death has been defeated, even as we are standing beside the grave. Like little children who stand on their tiptoes and peer over the edge of the counter, we see the dessert that awaits us. We know the truth of the end of our stories. This morning at our graduation breakfast, Wilda shared the story of a woman who wanted to be buried with her fork because she knew, that the best was yet to come.
Our final already/not yet has to do with the joy of the Kingdom of God
Already, we know that when we abide with Christ, when we join in the fellowship of other Christians that we experience joy. As Christ gathered with his disciples in the upper room before he was betrayed he breathed into them the spirit of peace. And we hear stories from the first books of Acts about the joy and the community, the singing and the fellowship that the early Christians experience.
Whenever two or more are gathered, there Christ is among them. We support one another in our walk of faith and together we know the good news of the Kingdom of God.
But not yet fully. There are difficult days. There are times when our church brothers and sisters drive us batty. We argue and fight. We have our ups and downs. We join together as the Christian community around the dinner table, but before we eat, we must confess all of the ways that we have hurt and neglected one another since we met last. Our lives are not yet perfect, and our joy is not yet complete.
And to be sure, there is much that takes away joy from our lives. There is sickness and pain. There is oppression and want in our world. We turn on the television sets at night and the last thing that we find there is good news. To put on a smile and pretend that everything is okay and that we are happy in the face of all of that trouble is dishonest and hypocritical.
In the inbetween time between the already and the not yet, the church has the blessed opportunity to find joy among one another. We share what we have and experience true fellowship. But at the same time, united by our faith and the joy of what God intends for us, we can confront the pain and suffering and injustice of the world with a rightous anger. We can speak out against those places where God’s joy and peace has not been made complete, we can weep with those who suffer, and we can hold forth a vision of the day that is spoken of in Revelation – the day when weeping and crying and pain will be no more.
We gather today as children before the dinner table. Gradually, pieces of the meal are being set for us. And here and there we catch a wiff of the banquet, we sneak a taste of the bounty, we eagerly await with one another the glorious feast that awaits us. But we wait… until what we see already becomes the glorious feast that is yet to come.