The Waiting Place:
An Ascensiontide Sermon

Our lectionary committee, the ones who chose which readings we get on any given Sunday, knew the reality of Christians well.  Recognizing that most of us wouldn’t mark the Feast of the Ascension which happened this past Thursday, they made sure our first reading from Acts included Jesus’ Ascension.  Here we sit three days past the Ascension and seven days until Pentecost in the in-between time.  We’re still in the midst of those Great Fifty Days of Easter 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.

A sermon based on Acts 1:6-14.

In his graduation 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.

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? Why would you wait when the world is there to explore and mountains to be scaled?

However, Luke, the author of the Acts of the Apostle, describes Jesus encouraging his disciples to pause: “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 of course the Holy Spirit,  but they had to wait in Jerusalem.  So that’s just what they did.

We tend to think that the waiting time has no value.  Writer 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 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.”

The disciples could have just given up and gone back to Galilee.  This One that they had followed on this wild and amazing experience had left them, and gone back up to the place he had come from.  Jesus told them to wait, yet they could have decided it was too much for them, too much unknown spread out before them.  If Jesus had handed them a reservation ticket like at the deli counter or the RMV 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 without any indication of how long.

So they returned to the room upstairs where they had been staying, possibly even the room where they ate the Last Supper with Jesus, and they devoted themselves to prayer.  They gathered in community in order to worship and pray, anxious for what God would bring next but also being present to what they needed in the current moment.  They couldn’t just head back up to Galilee and return to the way life had been.  Nor could they just take up their former vocations as fishermen or tax collectors or whatnot.  They had experienced too much with Jesus, so they did as he instructed.  They stayed in Jerusalem to wait.  But they didn’t just play solitaire or surf the web, they stay connected with one another and 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.

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 because we are so easily bored.  You can see it in restaurants as people fidget with smartphones instead of engaging with the ones they’re seated 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 as well.  When we dash 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, they established a community of faith while they waited with one another.  What they did during that time prepared them for what came next.  

It’s easy to think sometimes that our lives can only have meaning at the big moments, at the Ascensions and Pentecosts of our lives.  But we live most our days 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 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 offer of a new job or reaching those fitness goals or getting the house finally perfect or reaching retirement or, well, 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.  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.  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. It’s hard, of course. But that is the message we want to share both with our graduates that we honor this morning, and also young Harrison that we will baptize: do not rush your way through life, rather be present in each moment and see God’s grace in those moments of waiting.

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.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

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