Have you ever noticed how kids get into trouble when they have to wait. I remember several times when my mother left my sister and me in the car while she just ran into the store to get some milk. Those were the times when we would get into a fight. Since I was the oldest, I think I usually got in the most trouble for starting it. Of course, it was never my fault . . .
Pastor Scott Hippler tells a similar story about a day when he was about seven years old. His grandmother had taken him and his cousin to the grocery store. On the way, his grandmother had stopped at another store for a few minutes. Young Scott and his cousin stayed in the car. Grandma found a few other things to look at, and she was gone longer than she planned to be.
Back then, he remembers, they put prizes in laundry detergent boxes as an incentive for people to buy those detergents. His grandmother always bought everything in bulk so there were two giant boxes of laundry detergent in the car. On top of that, Scott had discovered that you could pop the ashtrays out of the doors in the back seat. Do you remember when cars had ashtrays? When you did that and looked down in into where the ashtrays had been, you could see a big black hole. So, he and his cousin popped both ashtrays out, opened both boxes of detergent and began to poor the detergent into the hole where the ashtrays had been in order to get to the prizes from the boxes of detergent. Before they knew it, the boxes were empty, and they had retrieved the two prizes: a small coffee cup and a small salad dish. It was then that they realized what they had done. All the detergent was gone. And there was no way to hide the misdeed. But, after all, they said, it was his grandmother’s fault. She had kept two little boys waiting, and you can get into a whole lot of trouble while you are waiting, especially if there is no purpose to wait. Grandma was not happy. My grandma would’ve made us fish all the detergent out with a spoon or something and then vacuum out the car.
So, the disciples are waiting. In Acts 1 verses 4-7, just before his ascension to heaven, Jesus tells the disciples to wait in Jerusalem. What were they waiting for? I’m not sure they even knew. But Jesus had a reason for their waiting. They were waiting for Pentecost, a harvest festival, when the gift of the Holy Spirit would come and help them be Christ’s witnesses in ‘Jerusalem, in all Judaea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’.
Fortunately, they did not get into mischief like the little boys left alone in a car. They listened when their master told them to wait until the Holy Spirit came upon them. And although it wasn’t easy, because they waited, they were rewarded in a powerful way.
But waiting must have been challenging. I bet there was some bickering. I’m sure they often wanted to go back to their former lives. I imagine the disciples were moping around, feeling abandoned. They had walked with Jesus for up to three years before he was murdered on the cross. Then through the miracle of resurrection, he reappears. And he walks again with them, only to seemingly abandon them again at the ascension. Now they wait, disappointed again.
As the story progresses, we can sense a feeling of jealousy and inadequacy creeping into the questions of the curious “devout Jews” in verse 5 who wonder why they were not invited to the party. And we also understand the nervous tension of the ‘crowd gathered’ in verse 6 as they were astounded at the “divided tongues of fire” resting on them and at the sudden ability of these brothers and sisters to communicate with folks from far and wide who have actually just come for the festival party. The spectators, the Jews, the local officials, must have been confused and uncomfortable, fearful of this crazy display of unity, attributing it to drunkenness.
Right now we probably are also confused and uncomfortable. The pandemic has affected almost everyone on earth. We mourn the lost lives, lost jobs, lost pleasures of last year. Many people are exhausted, at the end of their patience. One of my neighbors had an extended argument with the mailman. Parents who are doing remote learning at home report meltdowns, sometimes of the kids, sometimes of the parents. Older folks, especially those who live alone are lonely. Alcoholism, addiction, and suicides have increased.
Mr. Rogers said, in times like these, ‘look for the helpers’, the ones making the situation better, but we also can’t help to see tragedy this week: 100,000 people in our country dead from the COVID virus, racial divisiveness in our country, worries about unemployment and the economy.
And so today we are waiting in the midst of mixed emotions. And it is Pentecost Sunday, the day we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the church. It is one of the most hopeful days in the church year. Our lesson of the day is from the book of ‘Acts’ or ‘Acts of the Apostles’. It might be more appropriate to call it ‘the Acts of the Holy Spirit’, for it is the Holy Spirit that empowered the disciples to do the amazing things they did.
Jesus had said to his disciples to go into all the world and preach the Gospel. But how could a small group of uneducated men and women with few resources possibly have any impact on the world? There is only one way. God would be working through them. That is why it was important to stay together in Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit.
And thus in Chapter 2 of Acts we discover what our Lord was talking about. On a feast day, people from all over were gathered for a Jewish Festival, Shavuot, an agricultural celebration that takes place exactly fifty days after Passover. Meanwhile, Jesus’ disciples were waiting ‘all together in one place’ as they were instructed, faithfully waiting and praying. Men and women who had been hiding behind locked doors became unstoppable witnesses for Christ. And it was all because they heeded their Master’s words to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Their waiting would change their lives and ours forever.
On that day, over two thousand years ago, God’s love and healing appeared in the person of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God was poured out on sons and daughters, young and old, men and women, rich and poor. Diverse people could understand each other. People gave praise to God. They celebrated with great joy.
And so today, we are asked to call forth the Spirit to show us how to claim our authentic vocation as Christians. Let us be the prayers, the helpers, and the healers, and the peacemakers. Let us receive the power of the Holy Spirit to meet the challenges of our time just as much as the first-century church received the power of the Holy Spirit to meet the challenges of its time. Let us look for the ways to serve God and others in this time. Let us pray for unity and healing for our people, our country, and the whole world.
Please pray with me:
Help us to find the voices, gifts, and skills to love, worship, and serve in a new way. The Spirit that swept through the house gifted more than those disciples. The Holy Spirit was loosed into us for our church, our country, and our world. Help us to wait without getting into trouble, help us to be the helpers, to be the healers. Help us to learn from the waiting. Help us to be patient and loving with others while we wait. Help us to use the gifts of the Spirit and adapt to change ourselves and our world in ways that glorify Christ. We pray for these gifts while we wait. In the name of Jesus we ask for your Spirit to live in us. Amen