First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday ~ May 24, 2020)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
I love knowing where I’m going and what’s coming next. It’s the way I’m wired. And if it were left up to me, all of life would come with step-by-step instructions that lead directly through one season into another. I like marked roads with signpost messages along the way.
Unfortunately, or may be fortunately, this is not the case in real life. In real life, much of our life is spent in the “in-between” time. Most of our time is spent in between the start and finish; in between one life event and the next; in between the accomplishment of goals and future dreams; in between our current reality and anticipated future; in between despair and hope; in between the now and the not yet.
No one likes being in the “in-between” time. Yet, as God’s people, we are called to live a life of faith and faithfulness in the “in-between” times. As followers of Christ today, we live in between Christ’s first coming and His Second coming in glory; between the wilderness and the Promised Land.
This week is a strange week in church liturgical calendar. This past Thursday, May 21st, was Ascension Day. Next Sunday is Pentecost Sunday. These ten days, between the Ascension of Christ and Pentecost, are very interesting to say the least. In these ten days, the disciples of Jesus lived between the ups and downs. One could say that they were a bit disoriented.
I think the most important and challenging question to ask today is how should we live in the in-between times? How should we live the pace between those two momentous events, between Christ ascending to heaven and the Holy Spirit descending on us? This is a space of holy waiting, explicitly commanded by Christ in His last earthly words before His ascension.
Waiting is difficult. How can we wait when so many things seem to demand action or response right away? How long must we wait when we’re promised something wonderful? In Acts chapter 1, Christ puts the waiting before the receiving. He tells the disciples to wait, then says that they’ll receive the Holy Spirit. Christ could’ve been more expedient, breathing on them with a “Receive the Holy Spirit” before leaving them. But instead… He told them to wait.
God brings us into the waiting for specific reasons. He wants time to minister to us in the waiting. He wants to prepare us. He wants to give us safety, unity and wholeness when we wait for Him. When the fire fills our hearts, we will be ready for this new call and direction because of the formation experienced while waiting.
So what do we do in this waiting? What do we do in the in-between times? What do we do when we get caught between Ascension and Pentecost? In Acts chapter 1, the disciples of Jesus had nothing to do but wait. What do we do when the God we’ve pinned all our hopes and dreams upon suddenly ups and leaves? What do we do when all we have left is a promise? What do we do when there’s nothing left to do but wait? Perhaps how the disciples waited will give us some direction for our own times of waiting today. Two short observations that I noticed as I read Luke’s account of their waiting in Acts 1.
First: Find Space for Remembering
Acts 1:12-13 reads, “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.”
This is the Upper Room where that fateful and revolutionary Passover Feast—the first communion—took place. There are memories here, lingering glimpses of Christ’s presence, desperately needed now in His absence.
In one corner is the basin and towels Jesus used to wash His disciples’ feet. In the middle of the room found the pillows and low table where Jesus sat and broke the bread, “This is my body, broken for you” and where He lifted up the cup, “This is my Blood, the New Covenant.” Memories of food, fellowship, and God’s presence. They remember the late night after that meal full of conversation in the vineyard. They remember Christ speaking words of promise and comfort to them. So here they wait, remembering Him in a space that evokes His presence. When waiting, find these places of remembrance and sanctuary in your own life. Those memories of God’s faithfulness and His unfailing love can give us strength and hope to wait.
Second: Wait with Community
As you wait, find space for remembering. But there is another great thought that we also see in Acts 1. We read these words in Acts 1:13-14, “Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.”
Waiting can be lonely. One of the best ways to wait is to wait with someone else; to wait with community. Time shared is time halved. After coming to the Upper Room, the apostles gathered with the other believers—all 120 of them. Together, with unity, they prayed. What did they pray for? Did they share memories of time spent with Jesus? What was the emotion in those prayers in that room? Waiting in prayerful community is so important.
Community helps us remember. Community sustains us when we’re too tired to wait anymore. When we’re waiting for tongues of flame, we might need someone else to look at those signs of God’s presence in and around us. We can more easily discern through the eyes of community what God is doing in our lives.
Friends, with today’s celebration of the Seventh Sunday of Easter, we find ourselves get caught between the Ascension and Pentecost. What sustains us in that time of waiting, in the in-between times? Acts chapter one invites to, first, find a space for remembering. This is where God’s unfailing promises are nurtured and celebrated. Second, wait with community. That’s why I value this Church Family.
These two elements are extremely important for living a life of faith in the in-between times. Let’s rest and wait on the Lord during life’s pauses. Knowing that whether life is in motion or seemingly stalled, God is with us, is so comforting and assuring. God is guiding our steps at the start and the finish and everywhere in between. God is our hope and our song, even in the in-between times and places – maybe especially there. To Him be the glory, now and forever more. Amen.
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