The 7th Sunday of Easter
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Sunday, May 8th, 2005
Loving God, there are many times when we are caught in between one thing and another and end up waiting with anxiety and uncertainty. Teach us to use these times to strengthen our faith in you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
You may feel as if this is a well-worn theme lately, but in today's readings, there it is again: some in-between times and the need to wait! The in-between times are always times of uncertainty and anxiety. For some people, they are in between the beginning and the end of illness. Some are in between the beginning and the end of school. Some are in between the end of school and finding employment. Some are in between jobs. Some are in between relationships. Some are in between life and death. Some are in between horror and violence in their own country and an unknown life in a new country. Some are in between the life that they used to have and a new life without the people or the things that they have lost. Most people don't like in-between times, because it usually involves waiting and making a transition from one set of circumstances to a whole new set of circumstances.
Take the earliest disciples of Jesus, for example, who had gotten used to the idea of Jesus being there with them. They had already gone through the very dark time in between Jesus' death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead, a time which had filled them with despair. Now, following the joy of the resurrection, they had gotten used to the idea of having the risen Jesus present there with them. For 40 days he had walked and talked and eaten with them and had taught them about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3). Now, in today's first reading from Acts, the time comes for Jesus' ascension, or going up, into heaven. As Jesus disappears from their sight, the disciples are left in another in-between time.
The risen Jesus is no longer right there with them, and they have been told to wait in Jerusalem for the gift of the Holy Spirit. So what do they do? -- At first, nothing. They stand there, looking up at the sky, as if waiting for instructions of some sort. It is as if they are totally lost without Jesus being right there to tell them what to do. And so two men in white robes appear beside them to give them a little hint.
Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven (Acts 1:11).
Apparently, this little reminder is all that is needed to get the disciples moving again. They return to Jerusalem to wait for the gift of the Spirit, as Jesus had instructed them, and did you notice what they do while they wait? They pray! The eleven disciples who were left, the women who had travelled with Jesus, Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers -- they all devoted themselves to prayer (Acts 1:14).
How often, when we are waiting for something, do we think of praying? Whether it's waiting in a line-up, or in a traffic jam, or waiting for the bus, or in a doctor's office, or in a hospital waiting room, or even waiting to be able to fall asleep, think about how much extra time for prayer those times of waiting give! -- Prayer for the people who are dearest to us. Prayer for those who are in need. Prayer for ourselves. Prayer for the church and the world. Prayer for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Prayer for patience. Couldn't so much more be accomplished through prayer, rather than cursing the fact that we have to wait?
In fact, prayer can also do a lot for our attitude, especially if we are able to be thankful and to bless God for all of the good things in our lives. At the end of the gospel of Luke, we hear about what the disciples did while they waited, and we read that "they were continually in the temple blessing God" (Lk. 24:53). This isn't always easy to do, especially when we are in a painful in-between time. Yet, there is always at least something for which to be thankful - and often far more than we can see when we are focussed on what we have lost. Thus, prayer is not only to be asking for what we need, but also thanking God for what has already been given to us.
Now, if we return to the waiting game for a moment, in our second reading today, people are waiting, too. They are enduring suffering because of their faith in Jesus Christ, and they are waiting for their suffering to end. While they wait, the first letter of Peter has some advice for them. First of all, they are to humble themselves "under the mighty hand of God," knowing that God will lift them up in due time (1 Pet. 5:6). They are to take all their anxiety and fears and give them to God to worry about, because he cares for them. They are to discipline themselves and keep alert.
Perhaps this same advice applies to us when we are caught in an in-between time. An uncertain future -- not knowing when something is going to end -- these times are always full of anxiety for us. Can we, too, learn to take that anxiety and give it to God to worry about? Can we place ourselves in God's care and trust that there are better things that lie ahead for us? Meanwhile, can we continue to pray and to worship and to study and to offer all that we have and all that we are? If we can do these things, we have the same promise that was given to the people in Peter's time:
The God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you (1 Pet. 5:10).
The message in 1 Peter is clear: Suffering will not be absent from the lives of those who follow Jesus Christ. However, because the Spirit of God rests upon us, we will have the ability to move beyond any suffering to share in the glory of Christ. In fact, sometimes our faith is strengthened because we have come through a time of suffering and have relied on God's strength and power in order to do so.
Some people who are here today are currently living in an in-between time, myself included. Others may not be right now, but have gone through such times in the past. Whatever our current situation, all of us who are part of the church are collectively still living in an in-between time. We are still living in between the first and the second coming of Christ. As the disciples were told in today's first reading, Jesus will come again. So what do we do, while we wait?
Well, as with the first disciples, there is no room for just standing around, looking towards heaven. There is work to be done!
You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).
There is good news to be shared. Death doesn't have the final say, and neither does any other trouble which might come our way in this life. Christ is risen! Through him we are reunited with our Creator: restored, forgiven, made new, healed. Through him we have been given the power of the Holy Spirit to make all things new.
Our job as a church and as individuals is to get to work, relying on the power of the Holy Spirit for guidance and renewal and strength. Our job is to live each day as if Jesus is going to return tomorrow and ask for an accounting of what we have been doing with our time and our talents and our treasures. Over and over again Jesus taught that we would not know the day or the hour of his return, but that it would happen suddenly. Today, we are reminded of this teaching again, and called to be faithful, even in the in-between times. Amen.
Easter 7(A) Acts 1:6-14
May 8, 2005 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
St. Luke's Zion Lutheran Church
Pastor Lynne Hutchison Moore
? 2005 Lynn Hutchison Moore All Rights Reserved