April 19, 2020

Wait for the Gift

Acts 1:1-14

A sermon for Hawaii Kai UCC by Janice Ogoshi

April 19, 2020 (Easter 2)


Christ is risen!  Christ is risen indeed!  Alleluia!  I spend the season of Lent preparing for Holy Week and looking forward to celebrating Easter.  And then I take a long nap after all our Easter celebrations.  This is not a complaint—I love it.  The next morning, on Easter Monday, I often wake up and ask, “What’s next?”  Now that Jesus is risen from the dead, what’s next?  What does Easter mean the day after, the week after, and the month after?  The Easter season is not just one day; it continues for six weeks.  So like the disciples, we get to think about what it means to be resurrection people for a while.


God changed everything on that first Easter morning, and in the days following his disciples were still getting their bearings, trying to take in all that his resurrection meant for them and for the world.  I imagine them being drunk with joy—Jesus was really, truly alive, and they got to spend time with him, ate with him, even went fishing with him.  And he continued to teach them about the kingdom of God.  For 40 days!


In verses 4-5 of today’s reading it says, “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.’”


Maybe this was the moment.  Surely, since Jesus was alive again, he would finally take up his position as king and overthrow Caesar.  When God baptized them with the Holy Spirit, they would take their rightful places at his side.  The disciples didn’t get the idea of the kingdom of God  before Jesus was crucified, and they still didn’t get it after his resurrection.   They asked Jesus, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (v. 6).


They were still focused on having an earthly king on David’s throne.  Remember—just 3 weeks ago in our reading from Mark 13 they had asked a similar question.  Jesus had told the disciples that the Temple would be destroyed, and they asked him when it would happen.  Jesus told them then “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32).  And here he said the same thing: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” 


He had told them before his crucifixion to watch and wait.  And he says it again in today’s reading:  “…wait for the gift my Father promised…” (v. 4b).  Wait…probably not the answer they were looking for.  Nobody likes to wait.


Jesus did tell the disciples what they were waiting for:  “…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” (v. 8).  They weren’t waiting for the kingdom of Israel to be restored, at least not in the way most people thought about kingdoms and thrones.  Instead, Jesus’ followers would become witnesses to him and his life, ministry, resurrection, teachings.  They would do this with the power of the Holy Spirit.


They still probably had no idea what Jesus meant.  It may have been a bit intimidating to hear that they would give witness to Jesus in places like Judea, which was heavily controlled and influenced by the Romans, or Samaria, whose people had not been on good terms with the Israelites for ages, or the ends of the earth, places unknown and unimagined.  Do what?  Go where?


Did you notice the change in what Luke called Jesus’ disciples?  In Acts 1 Jesus’ disciples were referred to as apostles.  Disciples are students, apostles are those who are sent out.


After giving them their mission, making them apostles, Jesus was whisked away, hidden by a cloud, taken from their sight.  More disruption.  Jesus was gone—again.  Two men in white appeared and assured them that Jesus would return.


That assurance somehow helped the apostles to move on and to do what Jesus had told them to do—wait.  They returned to Jerusalem, and gathered together to wait.  They waited together—the apostles, the women, Jesus’ mother Mary, his brothers.  “They all joined together constantly in prayer” (v. 14).


This was no idle waiting period.  They needed to get themselves ready to be Jesus’ witnesses, whatever that meant.  While they waited, they imagined what God might do next.  They gathered together to pray.  I think they shared meals and talked about their life with Jesus.  Their conversations were probably filled with memories of how they started to follow Jesus, the lessons he taught, the miracles he performed, all the places he took them.  I imagine they shared how they felt excited, confused, empowered, and frustrated when they were with him; how devastated they were when he was crucified; and heart-bursting joy they felt when he rose from the dead. 


As they waited and prayed and shared, they learned how to see God at work, and how to be attentive to God.  Their expectations grew as the lessons Jesus taught about the kingdom of God were imprinted on their minds and hearts.  In their waiting, the disciples of Jesus were being equipped to be sent out as apostles.


We too are in a time of waiting.  We are waiting for COVID-19 to run its course.  We are waiting to return to life where we don’t have to physically distance ourselves from each other, when we can gather for worship, go back to school, return to our offices, resume our sports and social lives.  We are waiting for a vaccine and antibody tests to be developed and rolled out around the world.  We are waiting for our healthcare workers to be able to relax and return to working reasonable hours with proper protection in place.


Can we as people of faith make this waiting time prayerful, expectant?  I think we can.  We can pray—not only for healing or for an end to the pandemic, but for the world to be healed of the disparities and injustices that became apparent.  We can pray for the church to be renewed.  While I don’t believe at all that God caused this suffering, I do believe that God will redeem it and we can take part in the healing of the world.  We can’t go back to life as usual before the pandemic.  How can we position ourselves to follow God’s lead to a renewed church and a healed world?


We can give ourselves to prayer.  Are you able to pray?  It may not be the kind of prayer when you wake up early in the morning and have your prayer list in front of you.  It may just be a phrase:  Wow!  Thank you!  Help!  Forgive me.  It may just be saying the names of family and friends, lifting them up before God.  It may be sitting in God’s presence in silence.  However you pray, use the time to acknowledge God’s presence and activity in your life and in the world.


The act of praying, of voicing our concerns and cries to God affirms our trust in God.  By praying we acknowledge our need for God.  By praying we entrust our lives and the lives of those we pray for into God’s hands.  By praying we are not telling God what to do, but releasing our cares and concerns into God’s hands.  By praying we acknowledge that God is God, and we are not.  And by praying, we learn to be attentive to God.  And when we are attentive to God, we can respond when it’s time to go.


As we wait for the end of our social distancing and the end of the pandemic, we can take this opportunity to learn to be attentive to God.  We can deepen our faith and our sensitivity to God’s work in the world.  Start by looking for one way you see God at work every day.  Write it in a journal or make a list. 


This week a seminary friend called—unexpectedly.  We hadn’t talked in a few years, but I see him on Facebook so I was aware of some of the things that are happening in his life.  We had a great conversation, catching up and encouraging each other.  He affirmed me and gave me a boost I didn’t know I needed.  That was God.  Where did you see God this week? 


Unless we pay attention, it’s not likely we would appreciate the many ways God is at work in and around us.  And when we are able to resume a wider range of activities, the eyes of our hearts will be more focused on seeing God at work in the world, and we will see opportunities to take part in God’s work.  And as we come out of this time of staying apart from others, we may have a better sense of what God has in store for the church going forward.  The church in the future may look very different than it was before the pandemic.  We have to pay attention to find out where God is leading us.


The season of Easter is about learning what it means to be people of the resurrection.  As we wait in this time of sheltering in place, we can take a lesson from the apostles.  They had time to reflect on the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection for their lives.  They prayed and became more attentive to God.  We can do this too.  In God’s time, in God’s sovereign way, we will be prepared to be released again into the world, to be apostles who give witness to Jesus.  Thanks be to God!