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"Waiting"

But we also witness to the fact that waiting is part of faithfulness. We worship a God who acts in God’s own time. Not on our timetable. So sometimes that means waiting. It means trusting.

“Ascension” by Gwyneth Thompson-Briggs
“Ascension” by Gwyneth Thompson-Briggs

Acts 1:1-11

May 21, 2023

Dr. Todd R. Wright “Wait!” That was Jesus’ simple command to his followers that last day with them. It catches us by surprise, because Advent is supposed to be about waiting … and this is not the season of Advent. We thought we were done with all that waiting. Nope. Jesus has been with them for three years, teaching them how to follow him … from their hometowns and families and jobs, out into the great unknown; from Galilee to all of Judea, from Judea into Samaria, from the countryside into Jerusalem, all the way to the cross, from life to death and death to life! Now he is asking them to stay in Jerusalem for a little while – to wait.

 

They should be good at waiting. They have been waiting for God to act for generations: waiting for deliverance from Rome, waiting for a little light in the darkness, waiting for someone to lift their burden, waiting for a Messiah, But practice had not made them any better at waiting. You can probably sympathize: We still wait for things to get back to normal after COVID. We wait in traffic on MacCorkle as heavy equipment slowly grinds and digs, pours and paints. We wait for packages to arrive, spoiled by Amazon’s quick delivery, and yet still impatient. We wait for school to end for another year or for retirement to arrive … and then what? Waiting doesn’t make the waiter better at waiting. And yet God asked them to wait. Do you ever wonder why?

 

Luke tells us that after Jesus ascended, the disciples gazed up toward heaven … like a child watching an escaping balloon drift off into the clouds, or a loved one’s plane whisk them out of our presence, out of our arms, out of our sight. Maybe they were amazed. Maybe they were wistful. Maybe they were confused. Maybe they were sad. Whatever they were feeling, they just stood there. The two angels who appeared, reassigned from their spot outside the empty tomb, eventually lose patience. They grumble, “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” They imply that it is time for the disciples to move on, to move forward, to do what Jesus has told them to do – to wait in Jerusalem to “be baptized with the Holy Spirit, not many days from now.” While the angels are messengers, they are clearly not poets, or at least they have a different view of vocation from Mary Oliver, who said, “My work is loving the world … Which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.”[2]

 

Post-ascension discipleship is not about standing still and being astonished. Jesus has other plans for his disciples. He tells them that when the gift of the Holy Spirit comes, it will empower them to become witnesses “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth!” One scholar invites us to consider the emotional geography implied in that commission. “Stay here in the big city you are visiting (Jerusalem), until God makes God’s presence known; then go from this city to the outlying region (Judea) — the place where you are [most] comfortable; then go to those people whom you despise, and who despise you (Samaria); then go to those people you don’t even know, (to the ends of the earth), [people] who are probably very different from you,”[3] people who deserve to hear about all you have experienced. What would they bear witness to? Jesus’ life and ministry, his death and resurrection. Not as reporters, or historians, or door to door salespeople, but as people who have experienced his grace and love firsthand. One preacher put it this way: “We are the witnesses of the love that did not bend to the social and political pressures of rulers impatient to preserve stability and security, the love that persevered … despite the controversies over … scripture and tradition. We are witnesses of the love which was tortured and beaten, strung up and crucified, taken away and buried. We are witnesses of a terrible story that tells itself again in every generation, wherever love and innocence and life is crushed and broken and swept aside. And … a love which refuses to be congealed in the dry blood of defeat and hopelessness but bursts out again [stubbornly alive!] We are witnesses of his resurrection.”[4] [Because the love God has for us will never die!]

 

But we also witness to the fact that waiting is part of faithfulness. We worship a God who acts in God’s own time. Not on our timetable. So sometimes that means waiting. It means trusting. Robert Wall writes about our text: “Waiting for God to act is … a community project. Waiting with others is an act of solidarity with friends. The apostles do not scatter and go their separate ways to await a private Spirit-filling or [a] personal experience of divine faithfulness. They ‘were joined together’ in a specific place to await God’s action on them all.”[5] So I want to try something with y’all – a concrete experience of waiting and witness: You will find candles at the end of your pews, there on the central aisle. They are the same candles we use during Advent, that season of waiting, and this is the Christ Candle, the one we lit after weeks of waiting! Just as on Christmas Eve I will come and share the light. [If y’all are watching this service at home, please join in by lighting a candle of your own!] Please pass the light to others in your pews.[6] Be patient. You may have to wait a while for the light to come to you. [Begin sharing the light. Once everyone has received it, blow out the Christ candle.] Now I want you to notice what has happened. The light that was once confined to the Christ candle has dispersed all across the sanctuary. When you leave here, even after the candles have ben snuffed out and returned to the box, the light of Christ will go with you, for you are witnesses … here in the capital city and to your neighborhoods, to places you never thought you would go, places that challenge you to trust God and love your enemies, and to the end of the earth! You won’t have to wait long to see God at work, in you and through you! Amen

[1] “Ascension” by Gwyneth Thompson-Briggs [2] From the poem “Messenger” in her collection Thirst [3] From Sharon Betsworth’s reflection on the text at workingpreacher.org, 5/18/23 [4] From “Why do you stand looking up into heaven?” by William Loader [5] From The New Interpreter’s Bible commentary, Volume X, entry on Acts by Robert Wall, page 45 [6] This idea is sparked by the description of a worship service at a Lutheran regional gathering by Bradley Smelling in his reflections on the text for “The Christian Century”, 5/28/14
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