What to Do While We Wait

What to Do While We Wait

May 03, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge


Luke 24:44-53                        Acts 1:1-14                                         Ephesians 1:15-23



As we shelter in place, we are becoming good (or at least better) at waiting.  Some of us have been able to catch up on our reading, organize parts of our home, do spring cleaning, exercise, do crafts, learn new skills, resume an old hobby or take up a new one, start our spring and summer gardening projects, or any number of other things.  Others of us are watching videos, surfing social media sites, and playing video games.  And despite our efforts in all these activities, in addition to our employment and schoolwork, many of us are going a little stir crazy.  While introverts are generally better at being alone, even they are beginning to miss the ability to have a little human interaction from time to time.


But what else can, or should, we be doing?


Is there a spiritual component to social distancing and quarantine?


The answer is “Yes.”  In scripture, and in the history of the church, it was not uncommon for people to spend time apart from others in order to focus on their spiritual life.  When Jesus prepared to begin his ministry, he went out into the desert for forty days, and after Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, he went away, out of the public eye, for a year or two to study, learn, and reevaluate his life in light of this experience and new knowledge.  But there was also a moment, that is key to the Easter story, that tell us of a time when all the disciples and the followers of Jesus Christ spent a considerable time waiting.  They waited, of course, after the crucifixion, for the resurrection.  And then they waited for forty days from the resurrection, occasionally meeting Jesus, until Jesus left them and returned to his Father in heaven.  We read a part of that story in Luke 24:44-53 where we hear this:


44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”


50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.


The first part of this reminds us of the promise that Jesus made to the disciples before he left them.  Jesus promised that he would send the disciples what God had promised, but that they must stay in Jerusalem and wait until God’s power came upon them.


Jesus promised that God’s gift would come, but in order to receive it, they had to wait.


That’s good, but it’s a little brief and not terribly clear so in Acts 1:1-14, Luke expands on that story and writes a clearer, more detailed account of what happened, and there he says…


1:1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days, you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”


12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.


In this retelling, once again we hear Jesus promise that he would send the Holy Spirit but that the disciples would have to wait a few days, in addition to the 43 days they had already waited, before God’s promise would be fulfilled.  And so, the disciples return to Jerusalem, from the Mount of Olives, with great joy and waited.  Between the two accounts we see that they must have spent their time moving between the temple and the house where they were staying and, as they waited, presumably beside the time that they were sleeping and eating, they were almost constantly in prayer.  I would guess that they also spent time remembering the things that Jesus had taught them and speculating on how long they might have to wait, as well as just what Jesus meant by sending the Holy Spirit and what that might mean to them when it happened.


But, for the most part, other than this fifteen or twenty people, and those that they encountered at the Temple, they spent their time separated from the rest of the world.  Obviously, this isn’t as isolating as what we are experiencing, but the disciples did as they were told, they followed Jesus’ instructions to wait and, as they did, they spent a significant amount of time in prayer.


But we also find some good suggestions of how to spend our time from the Apostle Paul, who again wasn’t exactly practicing social distancing, but who was separated from his friends at the church in Ephesus while he was in prison.  In Ephesians 1:15-23, Paul writes…


15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.


Paul says that there are several things that he does to occupy his time during this time of forced separation (and imprisonment).  First, he listens to the stories that he hears about his church and his friends, he continually thanks God for their friendship and for their faithfulness and is regularly in prayer for them.  Second, he recommends that his friends take the time to know God better and to build their relationship with him.  And finally, whether it is through prayer, contemplation, or study, to find a reason for hope.  And one of the best reasons for hope is that Jesus rose from the dead, has been given the power and authority over all of creation, and over the church which is the body of Christ.


And so finally, as we remember the ascension of Jesus and prepare for Pentecost, we should also remember that there are things that we can do during times when we are separated from others and separated from one another.  Before Jesus left the disciples, he asked them to follow his directions, to wait patiently for the gift that he would send to them.  During that time of waiting, the disciples took the time to listen to what God might have to say to them, to reflect on the things that they had already learned, to pray, and to study with the teachers at the Temple.  While Paul was in prison he listened for news about the church and about his friends, he thanked God for those friends and for the gifts that he had been given, he spent time in prayer, and he encouraged his friends  to take the time to know God better and to build their relationship with him so that they could find a reason for hope.


During our time of separation, during this battle with the Coronavirus, let us not only remember and reflect on these lessons but take them to heart and put them into practice.  Let us use this time to grow closer to Jesus, to find a reason for hope, and to share that hope with the people in the community, and in the world around us.


Have a great week everybody.





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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Why this Conservative Evangelical Stopped Supporting the Death Penalty

    I used to support the death penalty.  After all, that’s what good Christians did, right?  Murderers received what they had measured out to others.  The death penalty was in the Bible and that was good enough for me.  But as the years went by, I began to wrestle with facts and ideas that didn’t fit.  It took time, years, even decades before I realized that I was changing my mind.  Even then, as a member in, and then as a pastor of, conservative congregations, I didn’t talk much about it. 

    I was troubled as I wondered how grace and mercy were served by the death penalty.  I was also troubled as I heard more about the costs of a death penalty conviction.  I suppose the last straw was when I first heard about the number of convictions being thrown out as DNA testing was first being used in the legal system.  Over the years, the evidence piled up until I had to surrender a notion that I once thought was reasonable.  I am not any different than I used to be.  My political and religious leanings are not significantly different than they ever were but I now believe that it is both logical and reasonable to oppose the death penalty from both a practical and a religious point of view.  Here’s why…
The Death Penalty is Not a Deterrent–Crime statistics in places where there is a death penalty are not statistically different from places where there is not.
Cost – It costs more to incarcerate a death row inmate.  Prisoners convicted under a death penalty statute are granted mandatory appeals and that process is expensive.  Estimates are that a death penalty inmate costs 2 to 5 times more over his or her lifetime than one who is incarcerated for life.
Fairness and Justice – The scriptural standard of evidence, particularly for murder, was from the beginning (Deuteronomy 17), two eyewitnesses.  In our modern world, having two witnesses is rare.  Mistaken identity is now one of the leading causes of error in our legal system.   Add a host of other errors, and suddenly a lot of people find themselves wrongly convicted.  For the last decade or so, an average of 18 death row residents per year were cleared by DNA evidence.  It’s so bad, that nationwide, a Columbia University study found serious errors in 68% of all death penalty cases and 2 out of 3 death penalty cases were overturned on appeal.  Of those overturned, 82% were retried on lesser charges.  Granted, no system is foolproof, but when ours is so messed up that we get it wrong 2 out of 3 times, its time to try something else.
Consistency – The church is usually among those who proclaim the sanctity of all life and declare to the world how God loves all people.  If we really believe that, then why is the life of a murderer not just as sacred?  Does God love murderers less? 
Grace, Forgiveness and Redemption – If we believe (and I do) that the Gospel message is all about grace, forgiveness and redemption, how do we justify the state sponsored killing of incarcerated criminals?  Where’s the grace and forgiveness in that?  How can God do a work of redemption in someone’s life when they’re already dead?  If we believe that God can change the hearts of human beings, then why are we so quick to assume that these men and women are unredeemable?
    As I wrestled with these questions, I realized that I didn’t have any answers that could make my continued support of the death penalty make any logical or spiritual sense.  That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a part of me that thinks the perpetrators of particularly horrible crimes shouldn’t die in some particularly painful way.   
What it means, I think, is that I’m beginning to understand the difference between retribution and justice.

Why the Russian Adoption Ban is a Disaster in Slow Motion

    By now most of you have heard about the adoption ban put into law in Russia.  It all began with an attempt by our United States government to rein in human rights violations in Russia.  President Obama signed the Magnitsky Act, which provides sanctions against Russian citizens deemed by the US to have violated human rights.  Prior to this, the Russian government was concerned about the abuse some Russian children have received at the hands of their adoptive parents in the United States but had only recently, in November, 2012, signed a new treaty designed to provide greater access for Russian officials who desired to review the treatment of adopted children.  This new agreement was only in place for eight weeks before the adoption ban was signed by President Putin.

    The Russian government claims that the adoption ban was necessary because they were not getting access to the documents that the new treaty was supposed to give them and the American government claims that the whole thing is just retaliation for passing the Magnitsky Act.  Whichever is true, it is neither the American nor the Russian government that is the big loser.  The big losers remain the children who will remain in Russian orphanages instead of in loving homes.
    I know something about this.  Our family includes two children who were adopted from a Russian orphanage.  The trauma that they suffered in their first year of life has been a real education.  Before we witnessed it firsthand, I never would have believed that children could be so damaged in their first year of life.  We were always told that “Love heals all wounds,” and “Love conquers all,” and things like that.  We genuinely believed it when people told us that all we had to do was take them home and love them.  But sometimes love isn’t enough.  Thankfully, the problems that our children have, though not insignificant, are not nearly what other parents, whom we’ve met, live with every day.  Some of the neurological, emotional and psychological problems that grow out of living in an orphanage, even for a few months, are frightening. 
    While I could not ever condone abuse, I have seen enough to understand how parents of some of these children could reach a point where they simply don’t know what else to do.  Many parents do not abuse these damaged children but recognize that they cannot cope with the behaviors of their children and choose to dissolve or disrupt the adoption.  That means what it sounds like; they go in front of a judge and declare that they are no longer the parents.  This frees them, but makes the children orphans yet again and turns their care over to the state in which they live, or to yet another set of adoptive parent and cause still more emotional and psychological damage.
    Children from former Eastern bloc countries (primarily Russia and Ukraine) bear a higher risk for behavioral problems and eventual adoption disruption.  We don’t completely know why, but although similar problems are seen in children from other nations, these children see higher rates of disruption than any others.  I cannot quote any particular sources but I have heard estimates as high as 10-20 percent.  That means that even with the resources of wealthier American parents, even with parents who love them, even with access to modern medical and psychological care, between one in ten and one in five of these kids have real, serious problems.   Do the Russians have a right to be concerned about what is happening to their children?  Certainly.  But what happens if they don’t come here, don’t have parents, and don’t have access to care?  Russia does not have a history of adoption.  Adoption is not a part of their culture.  While adoption does happen, fewer Russian children are adopted by Russians than by Americans, and we are just one country among many who has, until now, been able to adopt from Russia.  Children who remain in Russian orphanages are likely to stay there until they “age out,” until they are old enough that the Russian government turns them loose on the streets with no support whatsoever.  The majority of children who age out of Russian orphanages will end up dead or in prison within two years.
    Yes, these children can be scarred and damaged by even a few months in an orphanage.  Yes, we should strive with all that is within us to do a better job than we are doing.  No.  No child should suffer abuse at the hands of their parents regardless of their behavior.  But the Russian government needs to look in the mirror as well.  Our system may not be perfect, but an adoption ban that prohibits these children from coming home to loving parents doesn’t fix the problem and in reality only makes it worse.

As usual, when grown-ups fight, the ones who lose… are the children.