Sunday’s sermon: In Between Living

in between

Text used – Acts 1:1-14

 

 

  • Most of the time, “in between” isn’t really a very fun place to be, is it?
    • Inconvenience of being in between sizes in everything from shoes to pants to dresses to any other item of clothing
    • Discomfort of being in between two people who are arguing – getting caught in the middle of someone else’s fight (a fight that often doesn’t even pertain to you at all)
    • Fear and stress that comes with being in between jobs, uncertain about what the future holds
    • Remember the exasperation of being the kid in between two others in that most-frustrating of all childhood games: Pickle in the Middle? (Or Monkey in the Middle or Keep Away, depending on where you grew up)
    • Yeah … being “in between” can be a pain. It can be stressful. It can be aggravating. It can be uncomfortable. Or it can be, well, sort of boring. That time in between books or in between tasks or in between one big event and another can feel a little … blah. It can feel like it isn’t really “real time,” like it’s just saving space between one period of “real time” and another. I think it’s pretty safe to say that “in between” isn’t usually our favorite place to be.
  • And yet “in between” is exactly where we find the disciples in our Scripture reading this morning.
    • Set up
      • Reminder that gospel of Lk and Acts were written by the same author as a set → Acts = continuation of the story from Luke (gospel sequel, if you will)
      • With that in mind, the set-up for today’s Scripture reading is actually the end of Luke.
        • Jesus has been resurrected → encountered the women at the empty tomb (the myrrhbearers, from last week’s service!)[1]
        • Road to Emmaus story → Jesus encounters two (unnamed) disciples walking on the road from Emmaus to Jerusalem → disciples don’t recognize Jesus until they stop and eat together (break bread together) → once they recognize Jesus, he disappears[2]
        • Jesus finally appears to all the disciples together[3] → eats with them → gives them some explanation (recalling words of OT prophets) and a commission: “A change of heart and life for the forgiveness of sins must be preached in [Christ’s] name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. Look, I’m sending to you what my Father promised, but you are to stay in the city until you have been furnished with heavenly power.”[4]
        • Final bit = short (4-verse) account of Jesus’ ascension → This is the part that clearly leads into our reading for this morning – a reading that’s a more fleshed out version of that same encounter.
    • A little bit of recap from Lk – text: After his suffering, [Jesus] showed them that he was alive with many convincing proofs. He appeared to them over a period of forty days, speaking to them about God’s kingdom. While they were eating together, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for what the Father had promised. [5]
    • But then we get the fuller account of Jesus’ ascension … and it is quite the story! – text: After Jesus said these things, as [the disciples] were watching, he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going away and as they were staring toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood next to them. They said, “Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you saw him to into heaven.”[6] → Okay … is it just me, or does this read just a little bit like a comedy sketch?? Jesus is just hanging out with the disciples, then suddenly a cloud comes down, whisks him up into heaven, and while the disciples are standing there, craning their necks and watching him go, a couple of strangers in white walk up and go, “Hey … whatchya lookin’ at?” I mean, it’s odd, right? It’s just … odd!
      • But then into that odd and awkward moment, messengers of God speak words of reassurance and promise: Jesus will → promise that comes with other promises attached
        • Promise of God’s steadfastness
        • Promise of God’s continued blessing
        • Promise of God’s hope
        • Think about it. Would Jesus bother coming back to a place that God had written off as a lost cause? Would Jesus bother coming back if God didn’t have confidence in the work that the disciples – all disciples throughout the ages – would do? Somehow I doubt it.
    • Taking heart in the words of these messengers, disciples return to Jerusalem – text: When they entered the city, they went to the upstairs room where they were staying. Peter, John, James, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James, Alphaeus’ son; Simon the zealot; and Judas, James’ son – all were united in their devotion to prayer, along with some women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.[7] → And this all sounds well and good. It sounds peaceful. It sounds faithful. And it is! But still … all of a sudden, once again, the disciples are unexpected and unwittingly thrown into yet another “in between” time.
      • 1st in between time = time between Jesus’ death and resurrection – a time that they didn’t even know was an “in between” time → They thought that Jesus had been killed once and for all – that his life and ministry were over forever. They were mourning. They were afraid. They were uncertain about what their futures held. But then, just three days later (three days that probably felt like years to Jesus’ followers), they encountered the resurrected Jesus and their “in between” time was over. They had a Teacher again. They had a Savior again. They had a leader and a purpose and a plan again … until today. Then just like that …
        • Savior gone again
        • Plan-less again
        • Thrust back into “in between” time → And Jesus doesn’t give them much help with this. – remember Jesus’ words from Lk: “You are to stay in the city until you have been furnished with heavenly power.” → That’s pretty vague. Actually, that’s really That’s maddeningly vague. That’s as vague as it gets!
          • In today’s reading, the disciples even try to get some clarification on this whole “in between” time – text: Those who had gathered together asked Jesus, “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?”[8] → Jesus’ response is – you guessed it! – vague: Jesus replied, “It isn’t for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority. Rather, 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 end of the earth.”[9] → Vague vague vague vague vague.
    • So we find the disciples in this in between time. And yet what do they do? Do they complain? Do they pace and make contingency plans and start storing up provisions for whatever’s to come? No. They gather together. And they pray. They inhabit that in between time – that frustrating, nebulous time of uncertainty – with devotion and prayer.
  • And y’all, “in between” is exactly where we find ourselves this morning, too.
    • Uncertain about the path that this coronavirus will take
    • Uncertain about ways to combat and protect against this virus
    • Uncertain about how long we will be sheltering in place
    • Uncertain about when “life as usual” will resume again … or what that new “usual” will look like … or what waits for us on the other side of this global situation
    • And it’s hard. This “in between” space is hard. It’s lonely. It’s anxious. It’s so blasted uncertain. And we don’t like uncertainty. And we don’t like fear. And God knows we don’t like waiting … and yet, here we are. And yes, we could be filling the hours and days and weeks of this “in between” time with worry and complaints, with contingency plans and stockpiles of provisions. Or we could take this time and turn it over to God – it and all the difficult and overwhelming emotions that come with it. Because the good news is that God is still with us. God waits with us. God shelters us. God holds us close and gives us hope even in this in between time.
      • Tish Harrison Warren (from Liturgy of the Ordinary): Redemption is crashing into our little stretch of the universe, bit by bit, day by day, mile by coming mile. We have hope because our Lord has promised that [God] is preparing a place for us. We are waiting, but we will make it home.[10] → Indeed, friends. Like it or not, our world is currently an “in between” time world. But our faith is also an “in between” faith – a faith that hopes and trusts in a Savior who loves us and redeems us even while we wait. Alleluia. Amen.

[1] Lk 24:1-12.

[2] Lk 24:13-35.

[3] Lk 24:36-49.

[4] Lk 24:47-49.

[5] Acts 1:3-4a.

[6] Acts 1:9-11.

[7] Acts 1:13-14.

[8] Acts 1:6.

[9] Acts 1:7-8.

[10] Tish Harrison Warren. Liturgy of the Ordinary. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2016), 114.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s