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 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 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. 4 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. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days, you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 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.”
9 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.
You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/wT-tEhG9hJM
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