MESSAGE: TIME WAITING ON GOD
This is a challenging day. It’s the 1st of June. That in itself is not remarkable.
But it is that one Sunday – symbolically – when we are in-between Ascension Day and Pentecost.
As if we were in the upper room.
The in-between times of life are challenging generally.
The times between being a member and citizen of one country and having full rights and acceptance in another.
Immigrants know all about this. The in-between – ness of it all. Being born in one country and growing up in another can make you uncertain – betwixt and between as the English idiom says.
The times waiting in other horrid situations.
- Between the ward and the hospital theatre.
- Between life and death when the end comes.
- Between a death and a funeral – for a family
- Between jobs – for the unemployed.
- Between doctors with half-suspected diagnoses – wanting yet not wanting the truth because of what it many mean for our lives.
- Between homes – knowing we have to move out and down size – and not really knowing where we will land up.
You may know some of these times. As a church you will know this.
- In a church – between ministers (the so-called vacancy)
- In a church – between Session Clerk’s and Administrators. We seem to be in between them all at the moment.
- In-between leaders in mainly music and messy church – no one stepping up. And mission support. And in time pastoral concerns.
These things can make you insecure. Scared. Uncertain. Worried. Vulnerable. Especially if you’re in my shoes – when you’re the minister.
They are times of waiting – and especially waiting on the Lord. What do you want us to do Lord?
We’re not good at that really. Even our “best at prayer” (Presbyterians – anagram) rush in with their requests each week in our prayer meetings – asking God to bless our busy lives and our many activities. And we sit a little worried by the silence – and tend to want to scurry off and do something practical.
When he calls us to be still and wait.
Not enough waiting. Not enough surrender.
I asked more than a year ago – in the context of our leadership (probably two years ago) whether we would be prepared to stop it all – and only do the things we really knew we should.
I don’t think anyone took me too seriously. And now we may have to let some of them go.
And now we have to seriously ask Him what we should do – and some things may end. We can’t do it all – we don’t have the resources – financial or people.
And the test is probably whether the things are getting the good news to people who need to hear it! Whether they are part of the great commission.
Well on this symbolic Sunday between the Ascension of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit – almost a vacuum in history – let’s think about waiting on God some more.
Those disciples waited – and then the power came.
It was never their power of course – it was Jesus’ power (we sang that old song again – all power is given in Jesus’ name – and in Jesus’ name I come to you to share his power as he told me to – He said freely freely).
And so in the reading from Acts we heard today:
Act 1:6 So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
Act 1:7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.
Act 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
It’s okay not to know. It’s okay to trust.
But in the in-between times – in the age in which we live between his ascension and his return – we are empowered to witness.
Not complicated. It’s not all about us! It’s about the mission we have.
Luke tells us after he left them – this is what happened in Jerusalem:
Act 1:14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
The lines we heard from the last chapters of 1 Peter – were written to a church that was waiting desperately for His return – as they were persecuted and suffering.
They are exhorted to stand firm in their suffering – to rejoice when suffering for doing good.
And to be discerning:
1Pe 5:8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
1Pe 5:9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
Of course the favourite passage is this one:
1Pe 5:6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.
1Pe 5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
We listened to Simon Ponsonby again this week in home group – speaking about desert or wilderness experiences.
He starts with Jesus being led by the spirit into the desert to be tempted by the desert in Matthew 4. And of course we too have those desert times too.
In fact he quotes Selwyn Hughes who lists a number of experiences in life where we as Christians are tested: failure, suffering, humiliation, bereavement, estrangement, doubt and dereliction.
God allows these things because they are good for us – they make us really wait on him and depend on him – so that we don’t become self-sufficient.
On Ascension Day we stopped to say – you Lord Jesus are the Head of the church! And we are your body!
How scary that you should want to use us!
We’re so helpless and weak really. Vulnerable. And that is probably where we are meant to be.
So when we come to the Gospel reading today – we are still in the zone of suspension.
It’s not an easy passage.
There is some clarity again about His authority:
Joh 17:2 For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.
There is one clear-ish Johannine verse that I like to quote:
Joh 17:3 Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
The passage – the prayer – goes on and is not easy to fathom.
But the simple bits jump out:
Joh 17:9 I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.
And then another glimpse pf hope and encouragement:
Joh 17:11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one.
What a huge relief – that the Father has given us to the Son – and that he prays for us.
He recognises we are still in this messed-up and complicated world.
Thankfully he prays that the Father will protect us by the power of His name!
What is the name that the Father gave Jesus – by which we are protected?? I’m not entirely sure what this means. Probably simply this: “I am who I am” – the name given to Moses at the burning bush, which by the way is still the principle logo of the Presbyterian Church – born in the fires of persecution – NEC TAMEN CONSUMEBATUR – burned but not consumed. Our all sufficient One! Jesus was certainly comfortable using the “I am” part in in his various “I am” sayings.
Why should God protect us?
So that we may be one!
Because that’s how people will know that we are Jesus’ people.
As you read the rest of John 17 – twice more he prays for our unity.
Because it’s when we are united – sometimes with our backs to the wall – that we are the most effective witnesses.
It’s a testimony that we can actually be one – because the odds are stacked against us as human beings. Our default settings are I, me mine and myself. Narcissistic obsession – loving ourselves. Our default settings include a propensity to war and violence.
We’re so judgemental of the terrible things people do – especially when people are murdered in our safe little country – forgetting that we all have the same capacity. We are not just children of Adam. We are related to Cain who killed his own brother out of anger and jealousy – in a quarrel about what? Offerings! Religious matters!
When we’re in the in-between times – vulnerable and uncertain – we all too easily lash out, blame, and seek some reason outside of ourselves. When it fact both blame and sin crouch at our own door.
So what’s to be done?
- Watch and pray.
- Seek his face.
Crying out to him in our desperation – that’s what he wants.
He wants to take away our self-sufficiency.
And he sometimes does that pre-eminently – through failure. It could besuffering, humiliation, bereavement, estrangement, doubt and dereliction.
But most commonly its failure.
- Failure is followed by repentance
- Repentance has with it new faith and absolute trust
- And when we walk with a limp forever after that –as Simon Ponsonby rightly says – we limp so that we can’t run ahead of God on the journey.
Wait on him – let him reduce me and you to barely nothing – so that he can be everything.
It’s not for any other reason than that He allows it to happen for our long term good. And for His glory!
At the end of the day – our FAITHFULNESS is tested more than anything else. Not unlike Job – who says: “though he slay me, yet will I trust him” (Job 13:15 KJV).