Service May 24, 2020
So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to 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.’ 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 towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.
1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. 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.
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves; keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
I don’t think that waiting is anyone’s favorite thing to do. At least I’ve never heard anyone say, “I just love to hang around and wait.” No, it is something that is usually imposed on us and not appreciated. It tests our patience.
In the reading from Acts we heard the question, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom of Israel?” That was not a casual question. Israel had been occupied by one nation after another. When the disciples asked Jesus if he was about to restore the kingdom of Israel, they did not only express the hopes Jewish people garnered for centuries, namely that the Messiah would come and bring back the glory days of Israel, but they also expressed a broader meaning, namely the question, “Lord, has the time come when all wrong will be made right and justice will prevail for every single person on earth? Lord is this the time when you will restore the kingdom…?”
There was a certain urgency in the question if the long wait was over. And then came this rather harsh answer that it was none of their business. They had to live with the fact that everything was in transition and they were not quite sure what would happen next. In other words, they had to wait some more to find out.
There are certainly different ways to wait for something. We can be impatient and become aggravated when things do not happen in the time we expect, when we just sit around until whatever we wait for will happen, or we can use the time productively for something else. And it looks as if the disciples used this time of waiting in a good way.
The disciples’ waiting had an active quality to it, going beyond merely sitting around and maybe complaining. While the apostles waited they constantly devoted themselves to prayer along with others who followed Jesus, both men and women. The group remained sequestered, yet expectant. In their waiting they obeyed Jesus’ recent commands; but, even more, they also expressed a readiness for the wild stuff yet to come. In doing so, the waiting had a certain quality.
They understood that in time, but not yet, the realities about which Jesus spoke earlier – the kingdom of God, forgiveness of sins, release from the things that bind people – would come into clearer view.
More importantly, the waiting made a point about the relationship between the disciples and God, how God would interact with them. It made clear that God was the one who called the shots, who would determine the timing. The disciples had to learn focusing on God and being attentive to what God was about to do at a given time. In a way they were honing their skills while waiting.
We are transitioning into a new phase of living with the Corona virus. The Jersey Shore opened for Memorial Day (with restrictions), more stores are open, and on Friday President Trump announced that churches should open this weekend no matter what the governors of a given state say. We have been living with zoom meetings and pre-recorded worship services for quite a while and I know that patience is wearing thin. Of course we want to go back to in-person service.
The question is whether this is prudent and safe now, especially when we consider that some of our members are elderly, some have underlying health issues, or if we are just tired of waiting and being patient and therefore are willing to take some more risks.
One argument for opening is that churches are essential. I too belief that churches are essential and provide essential services. However, I don’t belief that we become unessential as soon as we don’t gather in person. Our worship services, whether online or in the church building, are essential. Our prayers, whether at home or in the church, are essential, our food collections and donations are essential whether they are collected in the church or just dropped off at the door. Our conversations whether they are via zoom, telephone, or in the church building face to face are essential. Therefore, I am not a proponent of rushing into things, but to wait and to be patient and to be constructive during this time.
The ELCA has published guidelines for the re-opening of congregations. Given that these guidelines are nation-wide, we will use our time of waiting to review and adjust them to our situation here. The council is meeting this week to discuss this. It is a time of transitioning, and in whichever way we get together for in-person worship at some point, one thing is for sure, it will not be the same as it used to be.
We will have to be disciplined and prepared in our approach to worship like never before. Wearing masks, keeping a distance at all times, cleaning thoroughly, no singing, probably no communion, no hugging, no coffee hour – these are all things that need to be thought through and organized. We will follow guidance and directives of state and local authorities, and at the same time we are focused and attentive to the word of God.
Opening or not opening is not just a legal question, but also a question of faith. The core of our faith is to love God and to love our neighbor, to do good as much as possible. That includes to do no harm. So we always have to weigh our wishes and interests against what we think is the most faithful and loving thing to do in regard to our neighbor. Sometimes that is not the same. “Lord is this the time…? “ With patience, praying, and reflecting, the answer will come. Amen.
And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.