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Waiting and Waiting … Where’s God?
May 24, 2020 Acts 1:1-11
It’s been 74 days since we began sheltering in place, and for some of us it’s getting a bit old.
And especially because of the contradictory messages we are getting from our leaders, many of us aren’t exactly sure what we are waiting for.
The disciples may have felt a similar way.
In our culture, we don’t care much for waiting.
Last Monday, Vivienne and I ordered dinner from Outback Steak House and
we didn’t give it a second thought when they delivered it to our doorstep in 25-minutes.
That’s how it’s supposed to be, right?
Earlier, I caught myself complaining to Vivienne that episodes of a new Netflix show are being released one week at a time rather than being streamed all at once – we’re supposed to wait a week for the next installment?
In our culture, waiting is generally something to be avoided, but the Bible says that God acts in His own time and that a key ingredient to faithful living is waiting and preparing ourselves for when God chooses to act.
That’s one lesson from today’s passage that Tim just read to us.
Acts 1:4 On one occasion, while (Jesus) was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.”
Let me give this some context.
Luke wrote two books.
The first we call the Gospel of Luke, the second we know as the Book of Acts.
If you look in your Bible you see they are separated by the Gospel of John, but Luke didn’t intend that – they were meant to flow as a continuous narrative.
The first book reports about Jesus’ ministry when he was in the flesh, in a specific time, place, and culture.
He healed people, taught about the Kingdom of God, and shared firsthand experiences of the trials, temptations, heartbreaks, and celebrations of human life.
Then he was killed by religious and political leaders trying to protect their power, but he conquered death, leaving an empty tomb.
But before he ascended to heaven, he spent forty important days hanging out with people.
This is the transition into Luke’s second book, which continues with accounts of apostles empowered by the Holy Spirit launching the new Jesus movement throughout the known world.
Why did he spend those forty days with his disciples?
Because if they were to proclaim the Kingdom of God, they’d have to be fully convinced witnesses of his resurrection, and carry a deep, heartfelt understanding of Jesus’ message.
We sometimes think that Jesus’ disciples must have had saint-like patience and spiritual depth … but no.
That’s one of the things I love about the bible: it is about real people like you and me not “getting it” and needing to be taught over and over again.
Here in Acts 1, his disciples’ understanding of the Kingdom was still wobbly.
For example, Acts 1:6 “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
If I were Jesus, I might want to slap my forehead and go, “Jeeze, have you not heard anything I’ve said?”
Instead, Jesus responded not by answering their question – but by reorienting his questioners.
They had been reading their own agenda into his words all along, so Jesus explains his real agenda … and notice how diametrically opposed those two agendas were:
The disciples ask, “Are you…”
Jesus replies, “You will….”
I admit that I want Jesus to be a kind of cosmic vending machine: insert prayer, Jesus delivers what I want.
Like the disciples, we often look for Jesus to serve our interests.
Jesus does care personally for us and does answer prayers.
But often, Jesus has already given us all we need and now is calling us to appreciate what we have and to be his servants.
Jesus did not abandon us with his ascension to heaven – it was his gift to us.
Jesus was not going to spend eternity running around every corner of earth caring for people.
Instead, he returned to Heaven and sent the Holy Spirit to millions of people throughout time to do that work – and be blessed as they do it.
Luke 24:48-49 You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
Next the disciples ask, “At this time…”
It’s human to want to feel in control by knowing what’s coming when, but Jesus answers, “It’s not for you to know the times….”
Instead, Jesus says not to fret, just focus on the presence of God and know that He’s in charge.
God hears our prayers and either answers, “Yes”, “No” or “Not yet”.
“Not yet” can be the toughest to receive, but God often is preparing us for something we’re not yet ready for, or is working with us through a tough time He did not choose.
After my first marriage ended and I was raising my son alone, I frantically was looking for someone to fill that void.
I went from relationship to relationship.
Many were very nice women who would have made wonderful wives, but in one way or another I sabotaged each relationship.
That went on for nearly a decade, and it was really tough to wait.
Now, looking back I can see that God was preparing me to receive the healthy and truly loving marriage I was not yet able to receive.
Maybe there’s someplace in your life where you are waiting: for the right job, the right partner, we all have something.
God may be using this time of sheltering-at-home to work within you to prepare you for the thing you’ve been waiting for.
And remember, God can use what He did not choose.
God did not choose for the Coronavirus to evolve into the form that is plaguing the earth right now.
We’re not in a waiting room of God’s doing.
But, as long as we are here, God invites us to draw closer to Him, to discover whatever gifts we might find in the situation, and to prepare for what lies ahead.
Psalm 46:7, 10 The Lord Almighty is with us;
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
In addition, the disciples focused on the restoration of their country – the Kingdom of Israel – but Jesus was focused on their witness to the world.
Acts 1:8 … you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
Jesus loves the people in Tehran every bit as much as He loves us in Los Angeles.
And God allows societies He’s blessed to suffer the consequences of their own foolishness.
It is sobering that our nation – that has led the world in science and economic development – is 4.3% of the world’s population but has 30% of the world COVID-19 deaths.
What might that be saying to us?
Proposing answers is beyond my pay grade, but we should all be reflecting on what
about our cultural response to the pandemic has led to our disproportionate rate of disease.
It’s not enough to just point an accusing finger at the current administration.
If you were raised in America, then some of this culture is knit into your psyche, too.
So, what is it about American exceptionalism and rugged individualism that has contributed in unhealthy ways to our crises?
Dallas Willard wrote,
“The end-stage of every successful society is when it begins to believe that it is responsible for its success and prosperity and begins to worship itself and rebel against the understanding and practices that enabled it, under God, to be successful in the first place.”
What can we learn during this time of waiting so that we emerge as a more godly nation?
Then, the disciples’ agenda was getting themselves on top.
Remember, as Jesus approached Jerusalem, James and John’s mother asked,
Matthew 20:21-22 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.
“What is it you want?” he asked.
She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”
But while the disciples asked for them to get on top, Jesus’ agenda was getting God on top
That’s what the book of Acts is about – how the Ascended Jesus worked through the Holy Spirit with a bunch of sometimes-befuddled men and women to turn the world right-side-up, so that God is King and we are his willing subjects.
Waiting, serving, confronting injustice – hey, Jesus, my plate is already full.
Well, in Jesus’ way, as we give so we receive.
As we wait in the Spirit, share God’s love, grow in God’s ways,
we are transformed and we experience the fruit of the Spirit
Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Those are the gifts that are waiting for those who wait and prepare.