Anxious Disciples on Their Knees
[Acts 1:1-14; I Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11]
What does all this mean? After three years walking the roads with Jesus, after many supernatural healings & miracles, after mulling over Jesus’ words, and being challenged to do the very same things as Jesus did, after the anguish of seeing him crucified and the astonishment of spending time with him in a resurrected body – “whoosh!” – Jesus is lifted up and a cloud takes him out of their sight. Jesus is gone. Yet, Jesus’ best friends remain… still dumbfounded and staring into the sky… into the clouds…speechless and without a definite plan for what’s next.
Sometimes this is how people feel after a tremendous LOSS… like a death in the family. I remember how I felt after my mother died…my complete concentration had been on her for 7 weeks… for some folks that might be 12 years. We are focused on ONE PERSON for whom we are largely responsible and then they are gone. There’s a HUGE VOID… and for those who have been tirelessly attending around the clock to that person and their needs… when it’s over – there’s some relief… and yet there’s also disorientation… what’s next? How do I re-orient my thinking, my time, and to what do I orient myself? She or he was my “all in all.”
The first time I walked into my mother’s pharmacy, where the pharmacists were so friendly and personable… and I had to tell them: “Mom is gone. She died.” I could barely get the words out of my mouth. What next? When I got a “reminder call” on the telephone for her next mammogram, again I was speechless and it was hard to get the words out: “She won’t need that. She died.” What next?
Imagine the disciples, individually named in the first chapter of Acts: Peter, John, James Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James, Simon, Judas, Mary the mother of Jesus and his brothers. They are still looking up in the sky where they last saw Jesus, sort of like I do after a weekend with my daughters, I watch their cars leave out of my driveway and wave until I can’t see them anymore and sometimes I stand there a little longer trying to “hold onto the moments” we shared together, before turning the page and reminding myself of my next responsibility or task. What’s next? Back to my real life, back to the daily grind, back to the salt mines as Rebekah often says to David!
Here we are with those disciples in the Upper Room, where they were staying in Jerusalem, along with Mary and Jesus’ brothers and we learn they were “constantly devoting themselves to prayer.” Jesus’ last instructions to them were to stay in Jerusalem where they were to WAIT for the promise of the Father…the Holy Spirit.
Right when Jesus gave them their final “orders,” the disciples barely let the words settle before they begin asking him questions totally unrelated to what he just said: “Lord… is this the time you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” In one brief sentence Jesus re-directs them OFF that question, saying: “It’s not for you to know the times that the Father has set by his own authority.”
Jesus re-directs them BACK to what they really need to hear and know. Acts 1:8: a highly memorized Bible verse. Jesus says: “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.” WHOOSH… Jesus is gone… Acts 1:8…lingers in the air. It’s NOT about the restoration of Israel or the way things USED to be – it’s about the power of the Holy Spirit empowering anxious disciples to share the Good News of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. They could barely fathom what was coming…
Those anxious disciples would be launched into the world like the first astronauts blasted from Cape Canaveral to explore places folks had never been. They never imagined they were the “new players” – the “instruments” of grace Jesus had called and equipped to become the LEAD proclaimers of Jesus’ name. Jesus passed the “baton of grace” – to a group of regular folks…like you and me.
They were nervous. What do YOU do with your nervousness and anxiety, when God’s baton is put in your hands? Do you quickly put it into someone else’s hands, like it’s a hot potato? Or do you “hold on to it” mindfully & recognize that God wants YOU to DO something with the baton. It’s suddenly YOUR TURN! We’re never quite prepared or ready. We’re never fully trained, because much of our training as disciples comes on the job.
Those disciples weren’t “ready” – they weren’t even asking the right questions yet. But the cloud came, Jesus disappeared… and they are now “it.” They hold the baton of grace; they hold the ball in their hands. What do they do with it? Do they dribble the ball, pass it back and forth? What do they do? Acts tells us they “devoted themselves to prayer.” They got down on their knees and waited, in community, together with Jesus mother and brothers. They prayed and they waited.
There’s PURPOSE in the interlude & the waiting, the not knowing, & the praying, just as there is PURPOSE in the 9 months gestation before a human life is born. For a pregnant mother, there’s no way to “speed up the process.” Pregnancy is a wonderful spiritual discipline. I remember as if it were yesterday. My body was not my own any more. It belonged to someone else, someone I did not know even though we spent every waking and sleeping hour together. I had no control of when or how this child would arrive. I treated my body even better than usual, because it was not just mine. No alcohol. No caffeine. No medications. Healthy food. Vitamins. Exercise. Another human life was depending on ME to exercise good judgment.
The time of waiting and prayer in our spiritual lives is preparation. These interludes remind us we are not in control. The disciples devoted themselves to prayer. I wonder what they said… if their prayers were full of words or silence. Wish I could have been a “fly” on the wall of that Upper Room…to hear what they were saying to God in their prayers.
We are in a similar period of waiting. This year’s Homecoming and 175th Consecutive Communion was breath-taking. The church was completely full with 280 people. It was joyful -- the culmination of much preparation. The energy was palpable, exhilarating… perhaps similar to what the disciples felt in their last moments with Jesus.
The following Sunday we had 41 people. I think that number is significant. Our sails were full on May 11th – the wind was with us—and we were soaring through the water. The prayers of the saints, past, present and future were with us that day… and then they were gone… for another year. Some of them may never return here again.
We are left looking into the clouds… wondering what’s next. The number 41 is significant, because it’s probably a good estimate of how many members of St. Pauls Presbyterian Church have “energy” for the future. That’s not a bad number. It’s larger than the 12-15 people Jesus had in Acts chapter 1. We in the 41… are anxious about what to do next, how to turn the corner, how to be the witnesses for Jesus. Those first 12 were not smarter or more gifted than the 41 sitting here.
I recommend we do what those first 12 disciples did. Get on our knees and pray. We wait and commit ourselves to what God is whispering into our ears as we pray. It is best if we come together to pray as a community, not just in our individual prayer closets. The disciples stayed together in the upper room of Jerusalem, awaiting the Holy Spirit & awaiting the guidance and discernment the Holy Spirit would provide.
This summer God is raising up new “teams” – to be witnesses of God’s love, acceptance and care. Joe Barnhill is facilitating “Why Worry?” a Wednesday night service of outreach to the community with Duncan Mackie, Bobby Evans, & Sue Hudson backing him up.
Family Fun Night’s new leadership team will include: Michelle Packard as coordinator, along with “The Fun Crowd” hereafter known as TFC – Bill and Vivian Millar, Lisa Brisson, Sue Hudson, Marilyn McNeill, Adam Packard and Amy Godwin, as partners in this outreach of playfulness.
The Prayer and Wholeness monthly services are being coordinated by Sue Hudson and Marilyn McNeill, with partners Lisa Brisson, Duncan Mackie, Amy Godwin, Michelle Packard and anyone else who would like to join us.
We will soon be hiring a Summer Youth Intern, whom I hope and PRAY the children, youth and parents will rally round and support.
Before we pray for these teams, let’s look at the I Peter passage. Peter advises Christians that we might very well experience fiery ordeals which “test us.” If we are following in the footsteps of Jesus, we are not always affirmed nor praised for doing it. In fact we may be reviled and harassed instead. Peter encourages us, saying: this is merely a test. “If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.” (I Peter: 4:14)
I would like to conclude with Peter’s words of encouragement to anxious disciples who feel like the “tasks” before you are bigger than you are. If you feel like you are being asked to pick up a grand piano with your bare hands and have no assistance, hear Peter’s words in the contemporary language of Eugene Peterson’s The Message:
6 So be content with who you are, and don't put on airs. God's strong hand is on you; he'll promote you at the right time. 7 Live carefree before God; he is most careful with you. 8 Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. 9 Keep your guard up. You're not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It's the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith.10 The suffering won't last forever. It won't be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ - eternal and glorious plans they are! - will have you put together and on your feet for good. 11 He gets the last word; yes, he does.
Friends, it never has been about us. This is God’s story and it’s all for God’s glory. So let’s enjoy the journey as we wait and pray for God’s power to be poured out upon us. Let us pray.