My kids used to love going on vacation to Chicago, but they hated the trip.
In those days I still had that fresh out of the seminary, new pastor smell and we were crazy enough to make that 16-hour, 1,000 mile drive from Colorado 3 or 4 times a year. Imagine, travelling halfway across the country with 4 young children in a minivan! For all the space those things have, I had to practically become a logistics wizard to cram all our luggage in.
I don’t think there’s anything more frightening in the whole world to young parents than the phrase “family vacation.” You know how it goes: “Mommie, I’ve got to pee!” “Joshua hit me!” “Ruth’s looking at me funny!” And then there’s the cleaning up of vomit and explosive diarrhea (which actually happened when we were moving out to Colorado).
But as aggravating as all of that is, there’s nothing worse than the unending chant: “Are we there yet?” The answer is always that same old refrain: “In a little while.”
As it turns out, this is a sad metaphor of the way we often approach life. We’re in such a big hurry to get wherever we’re going or to accomplish some goal that we forget—to use that tired old cliché—it’s about the journey.
The problem with the journey is that it takes so long to get there. Every time the car slows down, sleepy eyes pop open and you hear the joyful cry, “Are we here?”, when in reality you’ve stopped at a gas station in the middle of nowhere. You barely even have a chance to get back on the road before it starts back up. “Are we there yet?” “In a little while.”
Kids are smart and pretty soon the stock answer doesn’t work anymore. They become relentless. No amount of shouting, “Be quiet, your father is trying to drive!” makes any difference at all. All the expletives and threats of physical violence in the world do absolutely no good. The cries of “how long” only grow more intense and frequent the closer you get. Ultimately, no answer will satisfy. Arrival is the only salvation.
Eventually the skyline becomes familiar. Excitement grows as you start making all the familiar turns. The doors fly open, pop cans roll down the driveway, and pretzel and cheese curl crumbs decorate the lawn, but none of that matters: WE’RE HERE! The kids dive out and actually kiss the grass, and tears of joy fill the eyes of both child and parent alike. The only thing that reminds us of the journey is the smell of orangutan(g) that lingers in our van for weeks to come.
Now, the ride means nothing. We’ve reached our destination. It took a little while, but we’re here.
The disciples have just found out that Jesus is leaving them—again—to return to His Father. And no, they cannot go.
Jesus tells them they will be with Him again “soon”, but the disciples, just like the kids, can’t stand not knowing how long “soon” is. They want to skip the journey and arrive at the destination now. Who wants to be stuck in exile, or worse, the backseat of a car? But Jesus gives the disciples that same, unsatisfying answer: in a little while.
Our Lord’s answer calls attention to the importance of the journey. The apostle describes us as sojourners and exiles on the way to our heavenly home (1 Peter 2:11). Exile is no fun, but He doesn’t tell us to check out until we arrive at the destination.
Our Lord Himself journeyed—From heaven above to earth I come—so that your journey might not end badly. Sometimes we think of salvation in abstract terms, but there was nothing abstract about the suffering of our Lord. Nor does Scripture go directly from Eden to Good Friday. It took quite a while to get there. There are 40 books and thousands of years from Genesis to Matthew. Lots of stuff happened then that matters. And apart from the work Jesus accomplished during His earthly sojourn, there is no salvation. The bitter reality of His suffering and death was no joyride, that’s for sure.
And you aren’t ready to arrive at your heavenly destination quite yet. Christ is preparing you for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison through the light momentary affliction of this life (2 Corinthians 4:17). For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:11). There is no destination apart from the journey.
It’s long and difficult, but by the grace of God it’s sometimes beautiful and exhilarating. But between the two extremes of euphoria and despair is a whole lot of boring. Easter has come and gone, the half price candy’s already been sold, and the baskets and grass have been taken away for another year. This is how it goes in the Church, too. The thrill of the festival season of the Church Year will give way to the tedium of Trinity. The joys of Christmas and Easter, the wisdom of Epiphany, and the severity of Lent—with all their beautiful colors—will soon give way to the monotony of green, week after week after week.
Boredom becomes an epidemic, and what little interest there was in church slowly fades into extinction. If summer church attendance is any indication, the nicer the weather, the lower Jesus falls on the list of priorities. Like the disciples, we walk along the Emmaus road completely self-absorbed. Even when we meet the resurrected Christ, it takes too much effort to stop and greet Him. So we just keep on walking.
You may remember that when Jesus was still a boy, He got lost (at least according to His parents). When they found Him in the temple they became very upset, but Jesus wasn’t the one who was lost. “I must be about my Father’s business,” He told His mother and father. His Father’s business was all that mattered to Him (Luke 2:49). Everything He did, from cradle to grave to empty tomb was Jesus being about His Father’s business.
The map for your journey’s the same. It began at the font, where the pattern of daily dying to sin and rising to new life was established, and where your destination was assured. You belong to Christ, and He would rather die than let any harm come to you.
That’s why He wants you to be about His Father’s business, too. When you’re about that, there is no time for boredom. Instead of asking, “Are we there yet”, we will agree that death is gain, but life is Christ—and, by the grace of God, to carry on in this journey means fruitful labor (Phil 1:21–22)—whether you happen to enjoy it or not.
The Father’s business is not privatized. You are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14). God expects honorable conduct of His children so that the world might see your good deeds and glorify Him on the Day of Visitation (1 Peter 2:12). To be about your Father’s business is to confess Christ in both word and deed. Christianity belongs in the public square. But confessing Christ is so much more than a simple condemnation of the world, since the world always has a face; and when you look at it carefully, you’ll see your own reflection more often than not.
Being about the Father’s business therefore begins with repentance. You must first remove the log from your own eye before you can help your brother with his speck (Matthew 7:5).
Christ’s saints are about their Father’s business, not preoccupied with the “in a little while.” Living by faith in God and fervent love toward one another gives you more than enough to do for several lifetimes. Heaven will be glorious, but what happens in the meantime is just as important, since the narrow way and the broad way lead to very different destinations (Matthew 7:13–14). Christ is that Way. Nobody comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6).
So it might well be ‘a little while’, but in the meantime Christ invites you to come forward and eat at the table He has prepared. His earthly sojourn has not come to an end. Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matt 28:20). Jesus takes you by the hand and sends you forth, filled with His Spirit, so that you too might be about the Father’s business—if only for a little while.
This “little while” is like giving birth: really painful during labor, but followed by a joy you never could have imagined. As the Lord has promised: I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. (John 16:22)
Soli Deo Gloria
+Rev. Ken Kelly; edited for Zion & Immanuel by Eric Andersen
St. John 16:16–22
Jubilate, 2015: “In a Little While”
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