“That Awkward In Between Phase”

May 28, 2017                                                                            

Acts 1:6-14, John 17:1-11

“That Awkward In Between Phase”

 

There is an old joke about a preacher who found three little boys sitting on a curb playing hooky from school. “Don’t you want to go to heaven?” he admonished them. “I sure do,” two of the boys answered, but the third replied, “No sir.” “What’s the matter? You mean you don’t want to go to heaven when you die?” “Oh, when I die!” exclaimed the youngster. “Of course I do, when I die. I thought you were getting up a crowd to go now.”

 

Our scriptures today place us squarely in that awkward in between phase. There were the initial resurrection encounters, but those have faded. The church has not yet been established and you can feel the anxiety in the disciples as they ask, “What do we do now?” In the text from John, Jesus is eating his last meal with the disciples and he launches into the longest prayer attributed to him in the Bible. Our text study group really wrestled with this prayer this week. For one, the language is convoluted. We couldn’t figure out what to do with his words. It feels to me like he is having a conversation with God for the benefit of the disciples. It is easy to get lost in this prayer, but he ends with something very clear – a prayer for unity.

 

We can’t argue with Jesus’ longing for us to be one. Yet too often we focus so much on our differences and miss the places we can come together. The United Church of Christ motto is “that they may all be one” and it comes from this prayer. The UCC isn’t suggesting that we all think alike or do everything the same way. There is a saying attributed to John Wesley that elaborates on this beautifully: "In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” I love the call to unity in the essentials and charity in all things.

 

Let’s hold that prayer for unity as we step into the reading from Acts. It will serve us well. Let’s be honest, the reading from Acts is weird! If you are thinking of inviting your friends to church, you might not pick Ascension Sunday. The disciples are talking with Jesus and asking if he is going to establish the God’s reign now and he tells them they don’t get to know when that will happen, but not to worry, they will be given the power to witness to the ends of the earth. Then he just floats up in the air into the clouds. Where do we even begin to make sense of this?

 

The next scene feels a bit like a comedy show to me. While Jesus is riding up on that cloud, Luke tells us that “suddenly two men in white robes stood by” his followers and asked why they were looking up toward heaven?

 

Are you kidding?!? Where else would they be looking? One minute they are having a conversation and the next minute, Jesus is floating up to heaven. Of course, they are standing there with their mouths hanging open! These white robed figures show up at the strangest times and ask questions that are less than helpful. At the empty tomb, they ask, “why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here. He has risen. Go and tell the disciples.”

 

Talk about awkward! Jesus floats up and the disciples stand there unsure what to do next. Most of us know something about that awkward in between place:

 

o   Our graduates can tell you about no longer being in high school, but not yet in college.

o   Talk to recent retirees who are trying to figure out what this phase of life will look like.

o   Undocumented immigrants are living in terror as they wonder if they will be deported.

o   I met a man this week who left his hometown in Texas because he had done some awful stuff. He wants to go home, but he is afraid.

 

Our church is in that awkward in between phase. We have outgrown our current staffing. That is a beautiful thing! But we have not yet hired a new person to join us as we seek to be God’s people in the world. How do we live in these in between times?

 

Let’s go back to Acts. These followers go to the Upper Room and join the others who are praying together. Here we are given the simplest, yet profound formula for that awkward in between phase. Show up with your community and pray. In Acts, every major event is preceded by prayer. The Bible is full of helpful tools for us to live. If we want to know how to be the church, Acts is the place to go. Acts tells the story of the fledgling beginning of the church to an explosive movement that changed the lives of people everywhere. Remember Jesus’ last words before he ascended: “you will receive power.” He promised them that the Holy Spirit will breathe life into them and give them what they need to be God’s people in the world. That’s exactly how it went.

 

Luke makes a point of naming those who are gathered in that upper room. The disciples are there, the women are there, and Jesus’ family is there. We are given a glimpse of the unity that he prayed for in all the early followers (no matter what gender they were) coming together to pray. Last week I talked about our diversity as a community. Today, I am pondering a Spirit that moves among us and calls us together in all essential things.

 

We move through this in between time by praying together. We get out of the way and make room for God to move among us. We actively wait on God’s Spirit to show us our next steps and we can trust that the Spirit will empower us to act. I know this is true and I know how powerful it is to show up with this community each week to pray. When the shootings happened in Charleston and then Orlando, I walked into this room with you all and felt such relief to pray with my beloved community.

 

Prayer is our strongest tool as a faith community. Theologian Karl Barth said, “To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.” We need to use this tool as we seek to be God’s people in the world. It will empower us to stand with immigrants. It will give us courage to feed the world. It is prayer that strengthens our ability to act. It is prayer that enables us to live God’s love, justice, and inclusion.

 

As a community of faith, we need to remember that prayer shapes our life together. Peter Marshall once began a Senate session with this prayer, "O Lord, forgive us for thinking that prayer is a waste of time, and help us to see that without prayer our work is a waste of time."

 

Next Sunday, we will hear the story of Pentecost where all these followers are gathered and praying to know what to do next. Then the Holy Spirit blows in and turns them from insecure, passive people to active followers whose movement spreads like wildfire as lives are changed.

 

And so, my friends, that awkward in between place is not a bad thing. During times like this, we recognize our need for the Spirit to show us the way. We are unified as we gather in this room to wait and to pray. Jesus’ promise is real for us today: we will be given the power we need to be God’s people in the world. We’ve got this. Bring on the awkward. We will step in boldly and God will show us the way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Benediction:

Teresa of Avila (1515–1582)

Christ Has No Body

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.