Meadowbrook Congregational Church
“In The Meantime”
Rev. Art Ritter
May 24, 2020
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
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, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.
One of my friends is getting ready to retire. He and his wife are ready to sell and leave the house that they have lived in for thirty-eight years, and move closer to a warmer climate in another state. As you can imagine, the house is full of memories. My friend talked emotionally about the day they moved into the house, about bringing babies home from the hospital, about watching all of the neighborhood children grow up, about hosting friends at summer cookouts, about celebrating Christmas and decorating the tree, and about the house being the one constant through a life of changing circumstances and situations.
My friend told me that the house by itself is nothing special. It is relatively small, three bedrooms and two baths – but it fit their family of four. They had the bathrooms changed and the kitchen remodeled twice, but the house was never what anyone would call a palace. It was just a modest house that sat in a modest neighborhood. My friend said that when he and his wife moved into the area, they had to find a house quickly. While they toured many they just couldn’t seem to find what they really wanted. And so they settled on the house in which they lived for thirty-eight years, thinking that they might live there for just a few years, that is until they found the house that they were really looking for. It was never the house of their dreams. They were always searching for the house of their dreams, and in the meantime they managed to build and live their dreams in the little modest house that became their nearly forever home.
In the meantime. How much of life do we live hoping for a situation to change? How much time do we waste waiting for tomorrow to bring something more to our suiting? How many opportunities go by while we seek resolution to our needs and our source of uneasiness before we are motivated take action? How much of our lives are lived while we await the promise that we hope will be coming, lived in that unknown yet perhaps ordinary territory that we call- in the meantime.
In the meantime. Those moments between one door closing and another door opening. Those times lived between an unexpected ending and a hoped for yet uncertain new beginning. Meantime moments are longer versions of the time when the nurse takes our weight and temperature and blood pressure and then leaves the room, assuring us that the doctor will soon be in to see us. In the meantime things are out of our control until we speak with the doctor and hopefully get on our way again, back to the place where things are the way we think they should be.
In the meantime. Perhaps that is how all of us are living right now. With the arrival of the COVID-19 virus, our world and our lives changed. Nothing is as it was before. Work. Schools. Travel. Shopping. Medical appointments. Visits with family. Child care. Leisure. Worship. Each of us yearns for that day when things get back to normal although we all may have a different interpretation of what that day might look like. Will it be when restrictions are lifted? Will it be when there is a vaccine? Will it be when for whatever reason we are certain the pandemic is over?
William Bridges, in a book called Managing Transitions, writes about the meantime as a neutral zone, an in-between time when the old is gone and the new is not yet fully operational. In the meantime there is a state of limbo with nothing to hold onto. He gives examples of graduating from college without a job; of awaiting the birth of a new baby; of waiting for a loved one to pass within the hospice experience; and of having children leave home. It certainly seems like this time of living with the virus around us is one of those moments. We are living in an in-between time. We are living in the meantime.
The Scripture lesson from the book of Acts describes what we might know as Ascension Day. Most of us Protestants don’t realize it but the church observed Ascension Day last Thursday, forty days following Jesus’ resurrection. The event was in the midst of a time of great uncertainty. Before he ascended into heaven, Jesus was asked by his disciples, “Is this the time when you will restore the Kingdom of Israel?” They wanted to know if this was the time when things would happen that would make all of their hopes and dreams come true. Will things get easier for us now Jesus? Will life become just like it used to be Jesus, controllable and certain?
Jesus’ response was that it was not for them to know what would happen. The future is in God’s hands. They were to understand only that they would receive the power to live in their time through the gift of the Holy Spirit. He was not leaving them without wisdom and energy and courage. And he was giving them a job to do. “You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And then he lifted up out of sight. For the meantime he left them with work to do and a promise of the power to do it.
They stood there gazing up for quite a while, perhaps wondering if Jesus would return immediately or be more specific in his instruction to them. Suddenly two men dressed in white robes came and stood with them asking, “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus will come back to you in the same manner that he left.” In the meantime, he has given you something to do. Get busy!
And so the disciples returned to Jerusalem to await the gift of the promised Holy Spirit. And they returned to the familiar Upper Room. And they shared in fellowship together. And they devoted themselves to times of prayer.
In the meantime. The words of those angels seemed to inspire the disciples. They were taken from their sadness and their apathy and their worry and their grief; and they were reminded that God’s promise of the Holy Spirit awaited them. They really didn’t know what was coming next. But in faith they accepted the task and trusting in God’s promise they moved forward, knowing that God had something important for them to do- in the meantime.
On Ascension Day I like to recall a scene in the Inherit the Wind, the play loosely based on the famous Scopes monkey trial in early twentieth century Tennessee. In the scene one of the characters says, “He got lost. He was looking for God too high up and too far away.”
Perhaps that is a lesson for us as we find ourselves living in the meantime. We might see God only in our safe and secure past. We might hope for God only in the future that restores our certainty and brings complete safety. We might be looking for God too high up and too far away. And yet we discover that God is with us in the meantime. Jesus went to be with God so that he would not be bound to a specific time and place. He went to be with God so that he could always be with us, experiencing our breath, our hopes, our fears, our very life. We cherish what we had. We yearn for something better. But in the meantime we can find the presence of God not in a far away heaven, or a distant dream. God is close at hand. Jesus is in our midst. We will find him when we prayerfully consider what is at hand and we faithfully follow his call to be is witnesses.
This is the promise of God. Things will get better. Something good is coming. In the meantime stay connected to God in prayer. And be witnesses of Jesus in your words and actions of grace and mercy.