Sunday, May 28, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Acts 1:6-14 & John 17:1-11
There are 50 days in the season of Easter. Today is the 7th Sunday of Easter, and we continue to celebrate the joy of the resurrection. We sing alleluias. We proclaim Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! This season of Easter will end next Sunday on Pentecost when we celebrate the sending of the Holy Spirit to all. We are almost there, but not yet. So we wait.
This past Thursday was the feast of the Ascension, when –as we heard in our first reading from the book of Acts – Jesus was lifted up and a cloud took him out of the apostle’s sight. Jesus had promised he would return. He also promised that he would send the Holy Spirit to be with us always. The messengers assured them of this, yet the apostles stood there looking up toward heaven waiting for Jesus to return. “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.” Jesus will return, but not yet. The apostles had to wait. Waiting, it’s one of the hardest things of all, isn’t it?
Humans aren’t generally good at waiting. We are anxious to have the things we want right away. Parties, holidays, and family get – togethers, are all things we look forward to, and we can’t wait to begin the celebrations. Then, when we return to our every-day activities, we wait for the next celebration. And if we live far away from family and friends, the waiting is harder, yet we look forward with eager anticipation.
There are other times we wait with dread instead of anticipation. We wait for test results to come back, for results from treatments, for goals to be achieved, for things to turn around, and the waiting at times is so incredibly hard. We can do our best to facilitate movement, but there are often things that are out of our control. There’s a point where we just have to wait, and that is not always easy. The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us, “To everything there is a season…” and though we may intellectually know this is true, it’s still hard to wait. So what do we do in this in-between time? What do we do in the periods of waiting?
The answer to that question makes all the difference in the world. We can either use the period of waiting as a challenge to overcome or an opportunity to transform. If we see the times of waiting as a challenge or burden we may sink into despair. We may act in ways that are harmful to ourselves or others, arguing with one another out of a sense of fear or power. If however, we use the times of waiting as opportunities to allow God to strengthen us and transform us, we will be open to new possibilities and new ways of seeing the ways God is at work in our lives, and in the world. Periods of waiting don’t mean that nothing is happening. It may be that things are changing far below the surface – like seeds germinating just under the soil – and if we just wait long enough we will see the plants rise from the darkness to the light. The important thing to remember is not to be paralyzed in the in-between time.
That was the question the messengers asked the apostles. “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” In other words, are you going to stand there paralyzed? What are you going to actually do since you know Jesus will return? That question was just what they needed to snap them out of complacency, and they went to gather with the other apostles and devoted themselves to prayer waiting for the Holy Spirit.
Prayer is one of the most important things we can do. It’s not a last resort when things don’t go our way. Prayer is a way of living. It’s the means by which we stay connected to God. In our gospel reading from John today – which is a flashback before Jesus was arrested and crucified – Jesus was praying. He prayed all the time. On this particular night- hours before he was going to be arrested and killed – he prayed not for another way, but he prayed for us. He prayed that we would all be one, just as Jesus and the Father, and the Holy Spirit are all one. Jesus prayed this because he knew he was leaving this world. He knew that no matter what trials or challenges come our way, if we are united with each other we will not just endure, but thrive. Right before this prayer, Jesus told the disciples, “In the world you face persecution. But take courage, I have conquered the world!” Then, after Jesus had spoken these words to the disciples, he looked up to heaven and prayed. Jesus knows that we will face tough times. He knows that we will have heartbreaks. He knows that we will be tempted to despair. That is why he prayed for us.
He prayed that we will all be one, because together we can lift each other up. Together we can remind each other – just like the heavenly messengers – that we can’t just stand there looking up for Jesus to return. We have work that he has for us. We need to continue his ministry of caring for the poor, the oppressed, the outcast, the alien, and the disenfranchised. We need to continue his ministry of compassion, and mercy, and healing. We need to continue his ministry of drawing all people to him through living lives that exude love and grace. Jesus is coming again, and as Jesus said, no one knows when that will be. In the meantime, we wait not by standing around looking up, looking down, or looking in, but by showing others that Jesus is alive through the way we live our lives.
This week, let us listen to the heavenly messengers. Let’s not just look up while we wait, let’s reach out. Let’s reach out with the love of Jesus and listen to each other. Let’s reach out with the heart of Jesus and forgive one another. Let’s reach out with the passion of Jesus and advocate for justice and freedom for all people. Reaching out to be instruments of peace. Jesus prayed that we may all be one. Let’s be one in mission reaching out in Christ’s love and grace. Amen.