Active Waiting

Scriptures: Acts 1:12-26; James 5:7-11a

There are a lot of people who simply seem to be unable to live without excitement, without stimulation. Whether it comes from pleasure – or from crisis – they thrive on activity, on chaos, confusion – on dealing with problems – on adrenaline – on constant drama – in fact, we sometimes call them “drama queens,” regardless of gender, or “adrenaline junkies.”

The time that exists between one crisis and another, between one activity and another, is regarded by them as boring, dull, … as time that is lost, . . . time that is unimportant, … time that doesn’t count.

Even people who are not adrenalin junkies find it difficult sometimes to face a period of time in which not too much is happening, things are relatively calm, a period of time in which they must wait for a promise to be fulfilled, … for an event to happen, …. something new to begin.

In our Scripture in Acts today, just prior to what was read, Jesus ascended into heaven. While the apostles were standing there gawking, an angel came and said, “What are you doing standing here? Go back to Jerusalem, and wait.” So they did. And I want to note a couple of things about this time of waiting, and some background for you, to help you understand the situation, a little bit perhaps, as they waited.

First of all, as was noted in the skit, going back to Jerusalem was a chancy thing. Jesus had been raised from the dead forty days prior, but the elders of the Jews, and the Romans, were still looking for his disciples, because they had put out a rumor that the disciples had stolen the body. They wanted to find that body. So the disciples were hunted men and women.

They were hunted beforehand as well, because when they went into Jerusalem, as Thomas Didymus said, “Let us go and die with him,” they were expecting trouble, because Jesus was hated. That had followed through with the death of Christ on the cross, and then the resurrection. Now they were still hunted people.

The second thing that I want to note is that they went to the upper room. Most scholars believe, as I do, that this was the same upper room where they met for the Last Supper, where Jesus gave his final discourse, said his final prayer, washed the feet of the disciples, where he broke the bread. I’m going to get back to that a little later, because it’s important, but I want you to note that.

The third thing is also about that room, that frankly I hadn’t thought about a whole lot, but it’s made evident in the passage here in Acts. This room was a lot bigger than you might think. Normally when we think of the upper room, we think of that painting that was done, with the twelve disciples on one side of the table, all gathered together and Jesus in the middle.

In reality, they would have been spread out and they would have reclined at the table, first of all. They would have all been on one side, but it would have taken up a lot more space. It would have been closer to a horseshoe than one long table.

But also, apparently, they fit 120 disciples in that upper room. Because it says in Acts that there were approximately 120 people. So that is either a much bigger room than at least I imagined initially, or else they were really cramped, packed in there, for days. So I suspect it was a bigger room. The owner, I’m almost sure, was one of Jesus’ disciples. A secret disciple, so he could protect them. It was a safe place to be.

The next thing I want to note, before we go on into the meat of the message, is that with those 120 disciples, and with the speech that Peter gives here, we recognize the fact that it wasn’t just the twelve disciples that were Jesus all the way.

We hear mentions of disciples that are with Jesus, greater than the Twelve. Some of them fell away, for instance, after he told them that they must eat of his body and drink of his blood, which he indicated Communion.

But apparently there were those that had been there from the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, all the way through to the cross, and then saw Jesus after the resurrection. They just didn’t get the kind of PR that the Twelve did. I think that’s important to note, because it shows how important it is, when you’re a disciple of Christ, to be faithful.

They weren’t in the inner circle. But you know what? That was OK. Sometimes we’re not in the inner circle. We may even feel left out. I’m sure they did, at times, when Jesus went away with just the Twelve. But they stayed faithful to the Christ whom they loved and followed.

Today’s reading from the book of Acts tells how the disciples found themselves in that kind of situation where they were waiting – how they found themselves facing a period in which they would simply have to wait for Christ’s promise to them to come true.

I don’t know about you, but I have a tendency, when I’m waiting, to be one of two ways, either very fidgety and impatient, or I want to take a nap, just sit back and relax. These disciples did neither. Instead, they did what I call “active waiting.” They filled that time, not with busy-work, but with purposeful activity, until the time when the promised gift of God came.

The first thing they did was they found a space for remembering, that upper room that I mentioned. I’m sure that the towel and the urn in their place by the door reminded them of Jesus washing their feet. (I’m sure the bread wouldn’t be the same bread, by now.) But having bread there, every time they broke bread, and drank, they remembered Jesus.

They would think about his final discourse, when he told them about him leaving and going to prepare a place for them, and that the Comforter would come. About when he prayed, and he thanked the Father that none of those who were called by him escaped from his grasp. They knew that they were safe in Christ’s hands. When waiting, we should find these places of remembrance and sanctuary or safety.

They didn’t wait alone. Again, when waiting, a lot of times (when we’re not making a scene somewhere), we have a tendency – and this is the best analogy I could come up with on my own – to act like a wounded animal. We go off by ourselves. We lick our wounds, and wait for healing.

But what the disciples show us here is that we should be waiting in community, because community helps us remember. It helps hold us up when we’re too tired to wait anymore. It helps us to heal from our wounds.

When the disciples returned to Jerusalem, they stayed together. In fact, they joined themselves with the rest of those who believed in Jesus. Now, you have to mind the company you keep. You can’t just go team up with anybody and any kind of community. There are some that would be destructive for you during this time of grief and pain, and would take you down a darker path.

You need folks who are going to support you, are going to care for you, are going to love you, in the way Christ wants us to love one another, while you wait. Whether it’s for word about a biopsy, or about a job, or about school, or about a relative.

They stayed together, and they didn’t just sit there. They prayed. It says they constantly prayed. I’m pretty sure that doesn’t mean that all 120 were speaking at once. That would be pandemonium. Though they were a little be looser about prayer than we tend to be, in our tradition. But they prayed constantly. There was always somebody offering prayers for that people, to Christ, to God. So they were being reminded of why they were there.

They strengthened one another and prepared themselves for the job that Jesus told them they would do when the Spirit came, which was to spread his witness through all the world. They were waiting, and anticipating, together, in a safe place, where they could remember their mission, and remember who it was that gave it to them.

When we’re waiting, we often have lots of time to think. In those moments, do you find yourself thinking about people who have hurt you? Experiences that left you with a wounded heart? Did a trusted friend betray you? Did your beloved leave you behind?

Or is there just a dull ache, a general feeling of incompleteness that is brought into focus by the waiting? Sometimes God commands us to “Wait!” so that He can heal those wounds, so that He can fill what was left empty.

I’ve been ordained for almost twenty years. But there were a few years, which many of you know about, during my ministry walk, when I did not serve actively as a pastor in ministry. I had a very bad experience at a church and had to resign after ten months, and it was very hurtful.

It was all for the better, as I’ve mentioned before, because it brought us to Muscatine, and that’s what Al needed. But there’s also another reason, I think, that God put us there. That was so that I could heal, and Pauline could heal.

We went to a church that was aware of the situation, where we came from. We went to a church that had people who were willing to step up and pray for us, be with us, spend time with us, be in small groups with us.

It wasn’t that we did nothing but sit in the pew. We’re just constitutionally incapable of doing that. Fairly shortly, Pauline was in the children’s ministry, working with kindergarteners and first graders, and I was teaching Sunday School for middle schoolers and working with the middle school youth group for a while.

But I wasn’t in that position of pastoral responsibility, that position of preaching the Word and giving God’s message to the people in a prophetic manner. Because I needed to heal from the hurt that had occurred. Sometimes God commands us to wait so that He can heal those wounds, fill what is empty so that you are ready, prepared to take the next step, the next mission He has for you, the next call He has placed in your life.

Listen to what you hear and feel while waiting, both in private moments of remembering and sanctuary, and in the conversations with your companions. Do you feel afraid? Do you feel impatient? Do you feel abandoned, or do you feel hopeful? Acknowledge what is in your heart, and then ask for a personal Pentecost, a personal baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps not like the tongues of fire that came down and had the apostles speaking in tongues and such. But remember that the Holy Comforter is with you. As Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled; do not let them be afraid.” Grab hold of that peace that the Spirit brings. Take advantage of the feeling that Christ gives us during that time of waiting.

Because when he heals us, He brings us to a fulfillment much greater than we have experienced before. Gardens can grow in our deserts. The betrayed places in our hearts are filled anew with trust and friendship. We are brought into a loving community of brotherhood, sisterhood, trust and prayer, and we live safe in Him, resting in His upper room, surrounded by the beautiful and sustaining memories that live anew. And as we wait, remember always, around the corner are tongues of fire…

May your time of waiting be fruitful in every way that it can. And just as the disciples learned that even though there’s a Friday of Christ’s crucifixion, Sunday is on the way with his resurrection, may you always remember that the tongues of fire are meant to come upon you as well. And may you give God praise and glory in all that you do and say.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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