The Value of Waiting

Photo Credit: vd.Bruck via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: vd.Bruck via Compfight cc

My sermon for the 7th Sunday of Easter. Based on Acts 1:6-14

Our lectionary committee, the ones who many years ago chose which readings we’ll do on any given Sunday, had great insight for today.  Recognizing that most of us wouldn’t mark the Ascension this past Thursday liturgically in any way, they threw us a bone giving us the reading from Acts that includes Jesus’ Ascension.  Here we sit three days past the Ascension and seven days until Pentecost.  It’s still the Easter season with our flourish of Alleluias, but I bet it’s the dregs when it comes to any Easter candy left at your house.  In seven days we’ll bring out the red hangings and hear again of the Holy Spirit’s coming like tongues of fire.  But in the mean time, we wait.

In the graduation present favorite Oh the Places You’ll Go, Dr. Seuss writes,

You can get so confused
that you’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…

Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come,
or a plane to go or the mail to come,
or the rain to go or the phone to ring,
or the snow to snow or waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.

Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night

or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.

Everyone is just waiting.[1]

 

It’s evident, of course, that waiting is a horrible thing.  Who wants to wait when there are places to go and things to see and the world to explore and mountains to scale?

Luke, the author of the Acts of the Apostle, penned the following words just before those we heard this morning: “While staying with them, [Jesus] ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father.” (Acts 1:4)  That promise is the Holy Spirit.  But they had to wait there in Jerusalem.  So that’s just what they did.

Did you know can now head online to see the wait time at your local RMV branch here in Massachusetts in order to plan your trip?  This past Wednesday morning I discovered that if I needed to renew my license I could wait well over an hour in Milford, but less than 10 minutes at the RMV on the MassPike in Natick.  Disney recently announced that in an effort to reduce wait times they will now allow visitors who pre-purchase tickets the opportunity to reserve a spot at their favorite experiences up to 30 days before they arrive at the Magic Kingdom.  A month before you head out the door, you can whip out your FastPass+ and know when you’ll be riding Space Mountain.  We’ll do just about anything we can to avoid waiting.

We tend to think that the waiting time has no value.  Jeff Goins, in his book, The In-Between: Embracing the Tension Between Now and the Next Big Thing, explores how we grow as people during the times of waiting.  “My schedule is full of obligations and opportunities that tempt me to push through the now, moving on to the next thing.  I’m tempted with distractions, to linger in the glory of the past or hold out hope for a better future.  These are all ways I distance myself from the moment.  And I wonder why the abundant life I’ve been searching for seems so evasive, even taunting me at times.  In frustration, I’m confronted with an old lesson of letting go, of looking beyond personal ambition and replacing it with something better.  The slow growth that happens when I surrender to what life — and maybe God—is trying to teach me.”[2]

The disciples, those whom Luke names and few others, could have just given up and gone back to Galilee.  The one they had followed on this wild and amazing experience had left them, had gone back up to the place he came from.  He told them to wait, but they could have decided it was too much for them, too much unknown spread out before them.  If Jesus could have told them they had a reservation already, if he could have handed them a FastPass+ so they could just show up at the appointed time, well it might have been better.  But he simply told them they needed to wait.

So they returned to the room upstairs where they had been staying, possibly even the room where they ate the Last Supper with Jesus.  They went to this familiar place and the devoted themselves to prayer.  They gathered in community in order to worship and pray and wait, anxious for what God would bring next but not missing that they needed the now too.  They couldn’t just head back up to Galilee and return to the way life had been.  Nor could they just return to their former vocations—from fishermen to tax collectors.  They had experienced too much with this one whom they followed, so they did as he said.  They went to Jerusalem to wait.  But they didn’t just play solitaire or surf the web, they stay connected to one another and to God.

I wonder how much of God’s desire for us gets lost because we don’t like waiting.  How much we miss when we are distracted from the moment we are living in by either reflecting on the past or dreaming about the future.  Instead we should be fully immersed in the moment set before us.

There are those people in life whom you love to be around simply because you know when you talk to them that they will be present with you listening and engaging.  They won’t be looking over your shoulder to see who else is walking in the door, or become distracted by what’s playing on the TV nearby.  They are with you and sharing the moment with you and there’s no place else they’d rather be.  That’s a true gift to you and to them.  It’s taking part in life as it’s presented and recognizing that each experience in life is a gift to be cherished.

I suspect what’s troubling is that we’ve come to believe that all of life needs to entertain us.  We need to be distracted before we become bored.  You can see it in the patrons of a restaurant who fidget with smartphones instead of engaging with the people they have come with.

But in times of waiting we can do something else.  We can see what this time might offer us and also what we might offer to our world.  When we zoom from point A to point B in our lives—be it literal or figurative—we don’t notice what might be there in front of us.  For the disciples, in waiting they established a community of faith.  What they did in that time prepared them for what came next.

It’s easy to think sometimes that our lives only have meaning at the big moments—the Ascensions and Pentecosts—of our lives.  But we live so much more of our lives in the in-between, the times hanging out at home having a conversation with those we love, or going to the library or running into a friend at the gym or making a home cooked meal.  We sometimes get hung up dreaming about the way life will be when we reach the milestone we long for: the baby to walk or the kids to graduate or the new job or reaching those fitness goals or getting the house finally perfect or reaching retirement or fill-in-the-blank-here.  But it’s the waiting time, the ordinariness of the day in and day out that defines our lives.  Go and wait, Jesus told the ones gathered on that day, Go and wait and I will send the Holy Spirit to you and you will be my witnesses.

And so they did just that.  They went back and hunkered down and prayed and waited.  They obeyed; they lived in the present moment.  May we do that too.  May we see that God is with us in the moments between the milestones. (Tweet that.)  That the ordinary days of our lives are never wasted but are always opportunities of grace and life.  We grow in those moments, we become the people God longs for us to be in the way we live as we wait.

I end this morning with a poem titled “Patient Trust” by French Philosopher and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.

Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.[3]

 

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

 

[1] Dr. Seuss  Oh the Places You’ll Go. (New York: Random House.) 1995. Pgs. 23-25.

[2] Jeff Goins. The In-Between. (Chicago: Moody Publishers). 2014.  Pg. 16

[3] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.  http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/8078/prayer-of-theilhard-de-chardin/  Accessed May 30, 2014.