Apr 19th | The Reverend Kevin Scott Fleming | Acts 1:1-14
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I can see that some of you washed your pajamas this week. I appreciate that. You didn’t know that this camera thing works both ways? I’ve seen everything. And some of you are forgiven.
Our time of staying at home - physical distancing - has gone for about four weeks. It’s going to go a little longer. We’re seeing the positive results of staying apart for a while. The infection rate is beginning to show signs of decline. The survival rate among those infected is improving. New drug protocols, progress toward a vaccine, inventive treatment options - are all showing signs of promise.
Still, everyone is getting a little tired of this new way of living. There are times when the walls seem to close in. There are times when we just need to see other faces and hear other voices - preferably real faces and voices and not the creation of our imaginations! There are times when a trip to the grocery store seems a decadent diversion. There are times when anxiety and uneasiness threaten to swamp us.
As one resident of our house says, “I’ve had it with this Corona virus.” The implication is that she would prefer things to get back to normal. And we’re all right there with her. We want to get back to normal - or as close as some of us ever got to it. We want the freedom to come and go as we please. We want to eat in a restaurant. We want to put away the masks and the gloves and the disinfectant. We want to buy toilet paper.
Yes, we’re sick of this current life and we saw that spill over in some state capitals this week, when protesters honked their horns and claimed an infringement of their personal rights. Some people define their value and worth by the ability to bring home a paycheck and provide for their family. If that is not possible, they have a crisis of worth and value. And, of course, some people just like to complain and protest about most anything.
So, maybe we can better appreciate how the disciples were feeling - according to Luke - following the resurrection. They had been with Jesus all along. They had seen almost everything. They had experienced Jesus in the fullness of his resurrection. They were ready to go! Let’s take on the world!
“Hey, Jesus,” they said. “Is this the moment when you’re going to restore the kingdom?” Are we gonna throw out the Romans now? When are we going to get this revolution going?
Jesus’ answer was probably not what they expected, or what they wanted to hear. They were “fired up and ready to go.” Let’s change the world, Lord!
Jesus says, “Wait.”
“Wait...wait here until you receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Jesus says, “Wait.” That sounds crazy even to us. Why wouldn’t Jesus want them out there, doing ministry, healing the sick, challenging the authorities, and continuing Jesus’ work? Why not open things up and get things moving again?
Jesus says, “Wait.”
According to Luke, the presumed author of Acts, that is precisely what they did. They waited. They went back into Jerusalem - carefully observing the sabbath laws concerning travel - and went to the room where they were staying. The disciples “self-isolated” - sequestered themselves away from all - not out of fear from a virus, but out of fear of the authorities who had killed Jesus and out of obedience to Jesus’ instruction.
They emerged from that room on the Day of Pentecost. In Hebrew, the festival is Shavuot, the spring harvest festival and a celebration of God giving the people the Torah. It is celebrated after a “week of weeks” from Passover. In other words, seven weeks after Passover, which is why Christians refer to it as Pentecost - fifty days.
The disciples were stuck inside for seven weeks! That alone should make you feel a little better this morning, though - according to some - we should stay in that long as well. Seven weeks! I don’t care who you are, that’s a long time!
And what did they do while they were self-isolating? Luke tells us that they “were constantly devoting themselves to prayer.” They spent time with each other, grew together in their faith and understanding, and - through the practice of prayer - more fully embraced the way of Jesus and found themselves being changed. They took advantage of some time away to prepare - as best they could - for a new world on the other side of the resurrection.
Maybe that is what we are also being given. Maybe this is a time for us to prepare ourselves for what comes next. Maybe this is a time when we tune in the ears of our hearts to listen for what God is calling us to do.
Because what comes next will not be what came before. If we allow ourselves to think that we are going back to “normal” - whatever that was - we are fooling ourselves. Too much has changed in too short a period of time and there will not be a moment when, as if by magic, everything goes back to the way it was in December of 2019. It’s not going to happen and I would be unfaithful to you if I didn’t say it out loud.
Too many realizations have been made by too many for a return to pre-Corona time.
We are discovering just how much time and money we waste on distractions that only temporarily offer a respite. We are learning how close to the economic edge we really live. We are finding out, when forced to live more simply, that there are benefits we never anticipated. We are uncovering hidden joys that were overwhelmed by the power of our normal interferences. These are eye-opening discoveries for many of us.
But there are other discoveries that are disturbing and challenging. We are seeing in real time that the disparity between rich and poor, black, brown, and white is more real than we want to admit. We are seeing that our healthcare systems are not as vibrant as we believed. We are seeing that hunger is real in a country where much of the world’s food is grown. We are seeing with a clarity unknown before how many people are living a paycheck-to-paycheck existence. We are seeing that the highly touted “social safety net” catches fewer and fewer of those in the most dire need, while corporations and their hierarchies always seem to come out unscathed.
As if all of that were not enough, we are seeing remarkable signs of an improved environment as a result of a world-wide sequestration. The Himalayas are able to be seen in India, where they have been masked by horrific air pollution. Residents of Los Angeles and other major American cities are seeing cleaner air than they have seen in a generation. We have evidence that there can be positive changes to the environment with the result that we can work together to care for this planet entrusted to our care.
And in the church, we are seeing a wave of creativity and innovation that hasn’t been seen in decades. Let’s be clear: we are being creative and innovative, not because we want to be, but because we have to be. The church is still not crazy about change, but it is either change or decay. If you would have told me that we would be worshiping with this technology just a few weeks ago, I would have denied it like Peter denied Jesus. But, here we are. And, strangely, there are as many - if not more - people worshiping with us online as there would be if we were worshiping in person. There are lots of lessons to be learned.
And maybe - just maybe - that is the gift of this time apart. Could it be that, in some strange way, God is giving us the gift of time to consider the new world that will emerge on the other side of this pandemic? Are we being invited to time away from the world, as the disciples were given time away from their world, to prepare for the ministry and mission that is to come? Are we being invited into a season of prayer and reflection and consideration of what God expects from us in the days and years to come? Are we being given an opportunity to reprioritize our values and our lives to be more reflective of the life to which God calls all of us? Are we being given a sabbatical - more than a time of restriction - a sabbatical that renews, refreshes, rejuvenates, and resuscitates the church? Are we being asked to wait and expect the Holy Spirit to show up and empower us to be the church in whole new ways?
Could it be that we are, in fact, in an “in-between time?” Are we waiting in an upper room to see the new world that is waiting to be born? Are we somewhere in-between what was and what will be and are we ready to shine the light of the Risen Christ into that new world?
I don’t know about you, but I am excited and enthused when I consider the possibilities. We are being given an opportunity to be Christ’s witnesses in a whole new world! Think of it! Think of the impact we can have that we haven’t had in years!
Thanks be to God for this “in-between time” - this time for reflection and discernment - this time of empowerment and preparation. Thanks be to God to be the church!
For now and evermore. Amen.