May 16 2021

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1 1:8

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Peter Luckey from Kansas wrote about a time that he went fly fishing with his friend in the Pack River in northern Idaho.  He writes, “We were fishing near a waterfall with a steep drop.  I caught one small trout and then leapfrogged from rock to rock, climbing upstream.  At the crest of the falls, I waded out into the river.  The second I stepped with my left foot, I knew I’d made an unfortunate choice.  My feet flew out from under me on the slippery granite.  Then nothing.  But at the base of the waterfall, the cold water startled me awake.  I crawled out of the river, panicked, panting, grasping at the rocks.  I drifted in and out of consciousness, waking again to the sound of roaring water.  I was shivering.  How long had I lain there?  I wondered, how did I lose my balance?  Did I misjudge the water’s depth or the strength of the current?  Hadn’t I remembered I was wading into a river at the crest of a waterfall?  What if the water had not awoken me?  I could have drowned.  ‘God drew me out of deep water,’ says the psalmist (18:16).  ‘God rescued me.’  [Yet] being saved means being healed, rewoven into relationship with God – it’s more than simply being given more time on this planet.  What was I being saved for?  What would this experience teach me about what’s next?  I realized that I am vulnerable to nature, gravity, and mortality.  The Gospels teach me that such moments are the gateway to embracing our radical dependence upon God.” (The Christian Century, 3.10.2021, 24-25).

Thousands, even tens of thousands, of black parents are afraid of what they have to teach their children.  One such parent, Sophfronia Scott, explains that her son is “growing up in a time when it’s not uncommon to see videos on the internet and the evening news of unarmed Black people being shot and killed.”  She writes, “I feel the need to affirm his attitude, but I also have to be real with him.  I don’t want Tain to become fearful and angry.  But he also has to be aware, now that he’s grown lanky and well past the six-foot mark, of how others may view him.  His dark brown hair, once worn short and close-cropped, is now long and curly, topping his head like a soft cloud.  It’s the hair we often talk about.  Tain needs to understand the possible effects of having such hair.  I remind him to pull back the hood of his jacket from his head when he walks into a store.  When Tain learns to drive, I will teach him how to behave during a police stop, how to keep his hands in view and make no sudden moves.”  Her question: “I don’t want to be a rigid flame of indignation.  I don’t want my life weighed down by anger, hopelessness, and resentment.  How do I do that?” (The Christian Century, 3.24.2021, 29).

Our book group has touched on what it means to find God in the ordinary.  In short, whatever we are doing, wherever we are, God wants to be involved in every aspect of our lives.  If we are driving to work, God wants to be involved.  If we are stuck behind a train, God wants to be involved.  Where you are right now, in whatever you are thinking about – whether it is directed here or somewhere else entirely – God wants to meet you in that place.  God repeatedly met God’s people throughout the Bible; their most common response was surprise, telling God, “Why me?  What is so special about me?”  Perhaps nothing, except, as 1 John has told us in previous lessons this Easter season, we are children of God.  That makes us special enough for God to want to meet us in whatever moment or place we find ourselves in.  The psalmist, King David, wrote Psalm 59 knowing that God noticed his enemies returning day after day, even seeking his life.  Yet, he had the courage to ask God to deliver him from his enemies, saying, “But you laugh at them, O Lord; you hold all the nations in derision.  O my strength, I will watch for you; for you, O God, are my fortress.  My God in his steadfast love will meet me; my God will let me look in triumph on my enemies” (Psalm 59:8-10).  On Wednesday nights we are studying the book of Ruth; one of the first things we noticed in Chapter 1 is that Naomi and Ruth are experiencing the worst kinds of suffering that we can imagine.  Naomi has lost her husband and both her sons.  Ruth, Naomi’s son’s wife, or daughter-in-law, has lost her husband and her father in law.  Ruth is a Moabite; Naomi’s son had met her in Moab because the family had fled there to escape the famine in Judah.  Naomi believes that God is the reason for the suffering.  Yet Ruth chooses to trust Naomi’s God and follow her back to Judah after ten years with her in Moab, traveling away from everything that she had known.  Eventually, Ruth’s willingness to trust God and provide for Naomi helped Naomi’s own faith.  If they were able to lean on God in that extreme suffering, and God met them there and provided for them, God is willing to meet us in whatever circumstance we are in.  Yes, God even is willing to meet us when we are blaming God for our troubles, like Naomi.  Whatever we feel, whoever it is directed toward, God calls for us to meet God in that moment.  We sung “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” last week, because Jesus has promised to be our ever-present friend: “Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share?  Jesus knows our every weakness, take it to the Lord in prayer.”

We may be guilty of asking God when all things will be set right in the world.  On the day that Jesus was taken into Heaven, which we call the Ascension Day, the disciples asked the same question.  While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:4-8).  So, Jesus takes the easy way out.  It is not for us to know.  We wonder if he even knew at that time.  What he did tell us was what was next.  Our Easter series has applied the question that was faced that very first Easter to what we are doing today: “Now what?”  We have learned how to live with the pandemic; and perhaps we are still learning.  We are also still learning how to be an Easter people.  We are praying for God to make us more loving, as we seek to understand and be the church as we feel that Easter calls us to be.  Jesus gave us the Great commission as recorded in Matthew 28, where we are called as disciples to share the good news “to the ends of the earth.”  This call is repeated in Acts 1.  Yet, before we are to know anything about when justice will be served and the world will be made right, restored to God’s kingdom, we are called to do two things.  First, expect the Holy Spirit to come upon us “not many days from now” (Acts 1:5).  The Holy Spirit will not work in our lives if we do not expect it to come; after all, only those who were waiting and expecting the Messiah to come even recognized that he was here.  We will study how we understand the role of the Holy Spirit in our Christian lives in the weeks ahead.  For now, expect something amazing to be revealed; even if you do not understand what it is, it has been promised to us.  The disciples most likely had less of a clue than we do today.  We are told only that we will be given a mysterious power when we receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8).  The second call that we are given is the call to be “witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  Jerusalem was the very place who had tried and crucified Jesus, but they were called to minister there anyway.  They would be trained to have the strength and courage to respond well when they encountered a “police stop,” when the Pharisees – who were the teachers of the law – and the Sadducees – who had a deal with the Romans that they would keep the peace in Jerusalem, felt that they had gone too far.  Further, although Judah was home, Samaria was a land of foreigners – definitely non-Jews – which may have instilled a bit of fear in the disciples when faced with the thought of going there.  Then, to expand that region to beyond the territories that they knew, to the ends of the earth, must have seemed overwhelming and confusing.  Jesus was not just for the Jews.  And the disciples were faced with an enormous task and extensive traveling, with a lot of unknown and frightening prospects ahead of them.  Like Ruth, traveling to an unknown land, they had to learn to trust their faith, wait for the Holy Spirit to come upon them, and trust Jesus whom they had come to rely on so much.  Like Peter Luckey, perhaps they felt like they were in deep water, but God was drawing them out for a purpose.

Perhaps we find ourselves still looking into Heaven, waiting for answers, staring at the spot where Jesus disappeared.  Perhaps we need two men in white robes to ask us, “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” (Acts 1:11).  As an Easter people, we miss Jesus being with us.  But as an Easter people, we are called to work on spreading the gospel.  Through this Easter season, we have learned through the examples of those who have walked this faith journey before us.  We have learned that we are vulnerable, but at least for now, we are still here and God wants to use us.  To do that, allow God to reserve a block in your schedule to meet with you.  Be accepting of the gift of the Holy Spirit so that you might have the power and strength to resist the influence of evil on your mind.  When you ask yourself or the world, “How can I not feel angry, hopeless, and resentful as I live here and see what I see?” perhaps now you can have an answer:  Because God is with me, the Spirit is with me, and Jesus is still present even when he feels absent from the world as we know it.  Even though little has really been set right, Jesus promises to come back to serve justice.  Even though we feel scared and alone at times, the most important thing we can teach our children and those around us is that God wants to be our friend and we can find God wherever we are, in the loss of a spouse, in the threat of violence or even death, and even between the face of evil itself and you.

Despite what you might feel now, Jesus does not need to stay socially distant from us.  Jesus is part of our family unit.  He is a close friend.  The disciples missed being with Jesus in person just like we have missed being with our friends in person during these last fourteen months.  Jesus, to them, was a friend.  It was hard to lose him.  Yet, they experienced his absence, but they also were taught how to experience his presence in a new way (TCC 5.5.2021, 18).  It is not what they expected nor wanted.  But when they asked, “Now what?” they were given an answer.  The presence of Jesus through the strength and power of the Holy Spirit would guide them in their mission of Easter.  They were to wait expectantly for this gift to come upon them, in only a few days.  Let us wait with them.  With this power, we ascend to new heights.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Scripture Readings:

Acts 1:1-11
1:1 In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning
1:2 until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.
1:3 After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
1:4 While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me;
1:5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
1:6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”
1:7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.
1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
1:9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
1:10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.
1:11 They said, “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.”

Luke 24:44-53
24:44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you–that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”
24:45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,
24:46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day,
24:47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
24:48 You are witnesses of these things.
24:49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
24:50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them.
24:51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.
24:52 And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy;
24:53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

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