In the Name...
A journalist visiting Jerusalem heard about a very old rabbi who had been going, for as long as anybody could remember, to the Wailing Wall and praying for one hour every day at noon. So, she went to check it out, watched him pray, and when he turned to leave, she approached him for an interview. "Rabbi, how long have you been coming here?" "For about 60 years." he said. "Sixty years! That's amazing! What do you pray for?" "I pray for world peace" "Wow.”, she said, “How do you feel after doing this for 60 years?" "Like I've been talking to a wall."
During the forty days after the resurrection, Jesus visited with his disciples on several occasions. He taught them, encouraged them, and, on the day of his Ascension into heaven, when they were asking about the next instalment in the divine plan, the last thing he told them, the last words of Jesus on earth, was that they should go back to Jerusalem and wait. Wait for the Holy Spirit and the power they would need to witness to him there, and in Judea and Samaria, and ultimately to the ends of the earth.
Now, a lot of folks don't know how to live without excitement or stimulation. Whether it comes from pleasure, or from crisis, they thrive on activity, on doing things, on adrenalin. The time between one activity and another is regarded, by them, as time that is lost, time that is wasted, time that doesn't count.
One reason, I suppose, we feel anxious about waiting is that we're not in control of the situation. We're at the mercy of others. Of course, waiting can be exciting when we're waiting for something good - like a new baby in the family or a tax refund. And, far from a waste of time, waiting can be a pause that refreshes; in which we can grow and prepare for whatever's coming next. But, living in that waiting time between one phase of our lives and the next can be difficult. It can even be exhausting.
Many of us know of the Russian psychologist Pavlov, whose experiments with dogs revealed techniques of mental conditioning and reflex. In one of his famous experiments, he rang a bell and then gave the dogs some food. Eventually, each time the bell rang, the dogs stopped whatever they were doing and lined up to be fed. But, Pavlov noticed that if too much time elapsed between the ringing and the feeding, the dogs fell asleep, exhausted, because their whole attention was so firmly fixed on waiting to be fed, that they wore themselves out. Doing nothing wore them out.
Now, the people of whom we read this morning gathered in the Upper Room were waiting for something very good and exciting indeed - the Coming of the Holy Spirit - but, they were not just sitting around wearing themselves out with nervous anticipation. They were doing something very useful, indeed. When the disciples returned to Jerusalem, while they waited, it says they devoted themselves to prayer. In other words, they meditated, they discussed the experiences they'd had with Jesus; they deepened their spirituality and strengthened each other in faith. They worked to stay connected to Jesus even though he was no longer with them.
Back in the late 1940's, there was a missionary named Herbert Jackson who arrived at his post in Korea delighted to find an old car at the mission station. But, he also found that it didn't start until it was pushed and since the car was too much trouble to run, he made his rounds for the two years he was stationed there on foot or donkey. Well, when his successor arrived, Dr. Jackson showed him the car and lamented its uselessness. Opening the hood, the new man looked inside, fiddled around, and said, “Actually, I think the problem might be this loose connection." He then got in, turned the key, and the engine roared to life.
It was only a loose connection that kept Dr. Jackson from putting the power of the car to work and being connected to God is key to accessing the power of God. And that's a good lesson we can all accept. But, the reason for having that connection is not just to be connected to God. It’s so we can be connected to other people.
A lot of Christians talk a lot about having a personal relationship with Jesus and we should. No question about that. Each one of us should have a personal relationship with our Saviour. But, too many Christians think that that's where it begins and ends.
Our lesson today showed us that when the disciples got together and prayed, they did so with two other groups - the women who were with them and Jesus' mother and brothers.
The disciples had been with Jesus. They heard all the sermons. They saw all the miracles. They even saw him ascend. But, even so they didn't represent the whole story and that's why the other two groups are so important. The women - Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Salome - they were the first to see the Risen Christ on Easter morning. The disciples missed that one. And the Blessed Mother, Mary, who bore him and raised him with his brothers. Three groups, then, who together provide a complete witness to the life and ministry of Christ. Christmas, Easter, and Ascension.
A great saint once said that there is no such thing as a Christian without a Christian community, but, many Christians are so wrapped up in their own personal salvation and holiness that they forget that the last thing Jesus told his followers before he ascended was that they were to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.
An artist, once, seeking to depict the meaning of the Gospel, painted a storm at sea. Black clouds filled the sky. Illuminated by a flash of lightning, a little boat could be seen disintegrating under the pounding of the ocean. People were struggling in the swirling waters, their anguished faces crying out for help. The only glimmer of hope appeared in the foreground of the painting, where a large rock protruded out of the water. There, clutching desperately to the rock with both hands was one lone seaman. It was a moving scene and the artist titled it, "The Rock of Ages", the only hope of salvation when all is lost.
But, as he reflected upon his work, he realized that the painting did not satisfy him. Something was wrong with his picture. So, he started again and painted another. It was very similar to the first with the black clouds, the lightning, the angry waters, the little crushed boat, and the people struggling in the water. And, in the foreground was the same lone seaman clutching the large rock. But, here the artist made a change. In this version, the survivor was only holding on to the rock with one hand. With the other, he was reaching down in the water and pulling up another man.
Like the disciples, we, too, are people who are waiting – waiting in our case for the return of Jesus. But, while we’re waiting, that painting is the picture of what Jesus wants us to be doing. Holding on to him with one hand and reaching down our other to rescue the people drowning in the storm of this life and bring them to safety and peace. For that is how we witness to the ends of the earth.
And there's no reason for us to wait to do that.
In the Name...