Our texts since Easter have been stories of Jesus’ appearance in various places with various people after his resurrection. We call them “post-resurrection appearances” and there are many of them recorded in the gospel accounts and this morning in Acts 1.
We remember the book of Acts continues the narrative of the Gospel according to Luke by tracing the story of the Christian movement from the resurrection of Jesus to the time when the Apostle Paul was in Rome proclaiming the gospel and where he eventually died in prison.
In order to understand this morning’s text that begins with verse 6, we need to hear the first five verses of Act 1 which describe what Jesus was doing during the forty days between Easter and his ascending into heaven that took place on this last Thursday.
Luke writes in Acts 1:1-5 . . . In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during 40 days and speaking about the Kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This”, he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
The resurrected Jesus knows he is about to leave them and tells them that even though he is leaving, they are to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father. Waiting and Praying.
This morning’s text picks up with verse 6 when they’ve come together one last time with Jesus and ask him one last, hopeful question. “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom of Israel?”
Is this the time you will bring peace to the world? Is this the time there will be no more Ukraines, no more Iraqs, no more Afghanistans, no more Syrias, no more West Banks, and no more terrorism around the world? Is this the time? Is this the time where there will be no more school killings, no more mass shootings, and no more death penalties? Is this the time? Is this the time of the new creation – the time when there will be no more suicides, no more corrupt politicians, no more alcohol and drug addiction, no more child abuse? Is this the time?
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the Kingdom of Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 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.”
In other words, forget the new creation, forget the new global community, forget all these prophecies about the end of the world – “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.” It is not for you to know, so instead, focus your energy on waiting, praying, and acting.
In Jesus’ last words before his ascension, he tells us to wait, pray, and act. “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. When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.”
While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” Why are you standing around, looking up at the sky, like there’s nothing to do? Jesus told you to go back to Jerusalem where you are to wait, pray, and act.
“So they returned to Jerusalem from the Mount called Olivet, went back to the Upper Room, and constantly devoted themselves to prayer together with certain women including Mary, the mother of Jesus.”
They gather to wait and pray. In an activist age like ours where many of us need to be doing something, we might think the disciples could do something more useful than waiting and praying. After all, Jesus just told them to “be witnesses to the end of the earth”. But, before that, Jesus told them to wait and pray for the power of the Holy Spirit to come upon them.
So their first response is to gather, wait and pray. In the same way, the action demanded of Divinity Lutheran Church is more than teaching Sunday School, working in the food pantry, serving on a board, attending a Bible study, going on a servant week to Philadelphia, repairing our chapel, working at the Lakeside Homeless Shelter, etc. Our mission as a church requires more than strenuous human effort, which it requires a lot of.
So we also gather to wait and pray in this house of prayer. The grace prayer teams take turns praying with me in the Chapel at 8:15 every Sunday morning and then praying at the end of each pew, at the kneeling rail, at the lectern, pulpit, and altar in preparing us and this holy space for worship and God’s presence. Our telephone prayer chain has probably prayed for you over the years. There are new prayer concerns daily on the Warmline. There are the prayers that happen before board meetings and other gatherings in this building.
For the last twenty years, I’ve been part of a men’s prayer group. Our group has gotten bigger and smaller with new men and others dying. At 7:30 every Saturday morning, 8 of us kneel at the kneeling rail and take turns praying whatever we are moved to pray. We pray the Lord’s Prayer together and get into SUV’s for a trip around the corner to “Luna’s”. We sit around our 3 tables where the waitress simply asks, “the usual?”
But waiting and praying is a terrible burden for us computerized and technically impatient modern people who live in an age of instant everything. So waiting and praying becomes one of the tough tasks of the church.
Yet we have learned there are things that need doing in this church and in this world that are beyond our ability to accomplish solely by our own efforts and programs. We’re praying and acting on those prayers to refurbish our Sunday School rooms with today’s technology. We’re praying and acting on a new projector and new thermostats for the sanctuary and narthex. So the whole church waits, prays, and acts.
Also think about this. The gift of the Holy Spirit is never automatic. It is never an assured possession of the church or of any individual in the church. Our waiting and praying indicate that the gift of the Holy Spirit is a gift that must be constantly sought anew every day in prayer.
The prophet Isaiah teaches us that when we take time to wait and pray, we shall be made strong to work hard.
Isaiah 40:31 . . . “but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
We wait, we pray, and then we take action. We wait, we pray, we are strengthened to mount up with wings like eagles, to run and not be weary, no matter how old we are.
I was inspired on Holy Saturday morning when I walked into our narthex kitchen to see our women going the extra mile the day before Easter to prepare the desserts and decorations for between services. Another group of women including some of our high school girls were in the front placing the flowers around the altar space. They are our inspiration and role models for servanting, for praying and acting.
This congregation has been, is, and will be blessed with many who have learned to wait, pray, and to have their strength renewed that we might mount up with wings like eagles, run and not be weary, walk and not faint.