Are We There Yet?                                  Luke 23:27-43

Proper 29C Last Sunday                                November 20, 2022,                               St. John, New Orleans

“Dad? Are we there yet?”

Long drives are a part of life in the Sukstorf family.

My grandma's brothers moved to California in the 1960s. 

And whenever she wanted to visit them, or they visit her, t

hey would always drive the long distance between Nebraska and California. 

Flying back then was for the rich and famous, or so they thought. 

Growing up in eastern Nebraska, the big vacation spots were all eight to 10 hours’ drive. 

You had the Black Hills of South Dakota, 

skiing in the Rockies in the winter or touring the national parks in the summer, 

there was fishing in Minnesota and Canada, 

or all the attractions and country music shows in Branson MO. 

After Susan and I married we never lived closer than five hundred miles to our parents until we moved to Kansas City. 

And what a blessing that was, as we were now only four hours to visit my home, 

and twelve hours to visit her home. 

For her It's always been a long trip home until we moved here to New Orleans 

and now it's only an 8-hour trip to her family home 

while mine is now 16 hours. 

being so far from home means you seldom stop along the way. 

We lived in Saint Louis for five years and never visited the Cahokia Mounds UNESCO World Heritage site. 

And every year we lived in Kansas City we drove right by them on our way to Camp Linn haven or to see anyone on Susan’s side of the family.

Until, finally, in 2020, without kids in the car, we took a few extra hours and stopped there. 

And we're glad we did. It's an amazing place and the museum was interesting. 

When you are on a long trip, you are tempted to just keep driving. 

The destination is your focus, 

and the journey is an inconvenience to your getting there. 

After a time, you know the route so well you don't even need to plan for it anymore. 

You know where to get off the highway for gas which of the gas stations have the cleanest restrooms. 

You know which city has the better hotel rooms and which ones don't. 

But regardless of the stops, detours, and roadside attractions you may or may not visit, eventually you arrive at your destination. 

Everyone piles out of the minivan. 

Grandma and grandpa are waiting at the door. 

Cousins and siblings are running to meet you halfway, 

and as you walk in the door, the smells of food cooking make your stomach rumble. 

And now that you are hear you just want to soak it all in, rest from the trip, and get reacquainted with everyone again.

I'm sure some of you can relate to experience, but many of you are blessed with having been born and raised here and all your family is still nearby. 

But perhaps you had a family member who went away to school or for a job. 

Or perhaps you served in the military which took you away from here for a while. 

Or even on the occasions when you evacuated for one of the bigger storms that blew through here, at some point there is a homecoming to look forward to.

But in the gospel, Jesus speaks of a homecoming that will not be so joyous. 

On the last day when Jesus returns in judgment, will be a fearsome and horrible day. 

It will be so horrible women will wish they had never bore children to experience it. 

People will wish to be buried beneath mountains rather than witness the horrendous pain and suffering and destruction set upon the earth.

But near the end of the text we have hope.

As Jesus replies to the thief on the cross next to him who confessed faith in Jesus, Jesus promised him the joys of heaven that very day. 

We hear Malachi in our Old Testament reading say something similar when he writes, 

“they shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him.” 

and in his letter to the Colossians, Paul says, 

“he has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of his beloved son... making peace by the blood of his cross.”

As we examine all three texts on this, the Last Sunday of the church year, it would seem to tell us that we will miss the last gasps of the late, great, planet earth. 

That, after all the days are counted, God will take us home to be with him before the destruction begins. 

Not only will we be spared its effect but will not be witness to this world's undoing. 

We will be here and then we'll be there. 

The thief on the cross dies and then he is with Jesus in paradise. 

We are going through life, and then we are at the throne of God. 

The reality is that the destination cannot be the main point of our existence if we don't know where and when it will appear. 

Rather, the destination of heaven is the result, one day, of faith. 

But the entirety of this life is about receiving, sharing, building, and multiplying, faith. 

So that faith will grant us escape before the world is ended in spectacular fashion.

Therefore, there is a reason and a point to our lives other than serving as a waiting room for paradise. 

This life is all about the journey along the way with no real arrival time in mind. 

We can stop and smell the roses. 

We can savor the local flavor. 

We can meet the eccentric citizenry. 

The goal of life's journey is not about efficiency but about fullness. 

I've lead a couple of tours overseas 

and after each one I say, “we need to go back and see more of that.” 

group tours hit the highlights and make an introduction 

but to experience a place you need to go back on your own and linger awhile. 

So, as we go through life as a Christian, the lessons we learn as a child in Sunday school and as an adult in Bible class are the group tour. 

They are the highlights that are intended to pique your interest. 

But to really experience life as a Christian 

you need to leave the tour bus and the cruise ship behind. 

You need to walk the cobblestone streets another place and culture 

and you need to break bread with people unlike yourself. 

All the things we do in worship and Christian education are not the full experience God has planned for you as a Christian.

His plan for you extends to the other six days of the week as well. 

And it happens outside of these four walls. 

Your Christian life of faith is meant to be lived, among others. 

In your homes, workplaces, neighborhoods, and everywhere we go.

We also know this is by divine design because Jesus passed his work on to us and his church. 

After he rose from the dead, the saving work of Jesus was complete. 

By remaining faithful and sinless unto death he became the perfect, unblemished, sacrifice. 

And at that point all who believed in the promised Messiah would realize the reward of their faith, eternal life in heaven. 

But Jesus wasn't satisfied with only saving a few Israelites and an even fewer number of converts to Judaism. 

As the savior of all humanity, Jesus wanted the rest of the world to know about his saving work on the cross and in the grave. 

And so, using his last words before he ascended, he gave the disciples the Great Commission. 

That they should preach the gospel the good news of salvation to the whole world, 

baptizing those who believed, and teaching them everything Jesus taught them.

As we continue in the days and years we are given this focus on the journey instead of the destination changes our perspective on a great number of things. 

Now, when we say, “are we there yet?” 

it's not with the hope that our travels are over so the fun can start. 

Rather, we want to be sure we still have time left to enjoy the trip. 

Every day the journey opens new possibilities for following Jesus. 

Not only getting to know him better like the twelve did during his ministry on earth 

but learning what he wants us to know and what to do as his disciple. 

And when we wake up each day, we are not disappointed we aren't yet in heaven, 

because it means he still has opportunities lined up for us here 

and there are others he wants to interact with along the way. 

It also means there is more time for us as his Church 

to work together to make a difference to the world around us 

and to be the place where the community can gather to experience and receive Jesus on a personal level. 

All this can be both liberating and confusing at the same time. 

For the sinner looking for a savior

He is right here before us in Word and sacrament, ready to forgive and give life! 

Yet, we don't get to be fully with him yet. And we don't know when we will. 

For the new Christian filled with eagerness to follow Jesus on this journey, 

every day is filled with new adventures and opportunities. 

But after a while, might seem pointless, or doubt may creep in 

as the endless days without reward blend into one another 

and long periods without ministry success lead one to wonder if it's all worth it. 

For the mature and seasoned Christian, 

there is comfort in his abiding presence as well as the communion of Saints 

as we worship him and receive the sacrament regularly 

and as we join one another in fellowship and service. 

Yet, at the same time, the firmness of the convictions of our faith leads us to complacency, or even cynicism. 

Knowing Christ will never renege on his promise of salvation, we get lazy in the journey and embrace it less and less. 

Settling, instead, for the ride which takes us to the destination with the least number of stops and detours. 

And we give thanks to God that he not only loves us but is patient with us as well. 

So that on the days when we are not such good passengers on this journey, he doesn't kick us out of the vehicle, the church. 

But, rather, it gives us many chances to reengage the path he has set before us 

so that we can enjoy the change of scenery and the new experiences 

and so that we can grow become better disciples as we do.

As this church year ends, we are reminded that one day our journey will end as well. 

And that will be good news for us who know and follow Jesus. 

But it will be bad news for those whom Jesus planned to be saved by your presence in their life. 

Whether by word of encouragement or as a witness to Jesus, 

or by your example of righteousness and faithful living because of being Jesus’ disciple, 

when your journey is complete, so is your effect on the world around you for the better. 

And so, when our days are over the work started in us transfers to another. 

Both the personal connections we've made, 

as well as the work we shared with our brothers and sisters in the church. 

And all of this is simply a reminder that nothing about the faith is dependent upon us. 

We are simply the vessels Jesus has chosen for this work, 

and we are blessed to house the Holy Spirit for a time while that work is done by our hands, feet, and our words.

Next week the New Year begin as we welcome the first Sunday in Advent. 

And while it too has a theme of the last day to come, 

the focus is on that salvation to come and the eternal life we will live with him in heaven. 

Yes, there is urgency to prepare our hearts so that we may not be found without faith, 

but it is a celebration of the sure and certain hope we have 

that the eternity of joy in the presence of God is real, 

and that it will one day come to all who believe.

Being here at the end of one cycle while on the cusp of another, reminds us also of the duality of faith. 

We live in a time which we call, “now.” 

A time filled with urgency to share the gospel so that his Kingdom might expand on earth 

And a time when we seek to bring his love and comfort to a world that is broken and hurting. 

But we also live in a time we called the, “not yet.” 

While we are forgiven sinners with the promise of eternal life, we are not yet saved from the judgment on the last day. 

While Jesus death and resurrection opened the doors of heaven to all believers, all who will believe have not yet heard his call to follow him as his disciple. 

And so, this journey is lived most fully when we can embrace both those realities; the “now” and the “not yet.” 

Because the “now” gives us the encouragement we need to plow through the “not yet.”

As you celebrate Thanksgiving this week with your loved ones

perhaps you might consider the journey you walk with them. 

If it's the same as theirs give thanks together that other disciples of Jesus surround you! 

If your journey with Jesus is not shared with those with whom you celebrate, give thanks to God even more! 

Thank God that he has graced you with even more interesting side trips and conversations 

and that you have been so blessed to bring Jesus with you into their corner of the world. 

And may all of us give thanks that we have been brought along on this journey 

by the gift of faith in Jesus 

by the power of his Holy Spirit.