SERMON: What are we waiting for?

SERMON: What are we waiting for?

A sermon preached at St. Mary’s, Iffley by Clare Hayns on 12th May 2024

Acts 1. 15-17, 21-end
1 John 5. 9-13
John 17. 6-19

What are you like at waiting?
I would fathom a guess you might be better at it than me. I’m notoriously impatient. I’m always scanning the supermarket line to see which is the shortest, and my family often have to stop me jumping queues, one of the gravest of English sins!

I’m even impatient when waiting for things for other people.

Last week my son had an audition and then an interview and was told he would know ‘very soon’. Each day he didn’t hear I got more and more impatient. He was much more patient. We even had an argument as I thought he should call them to see if there had been an administrative error.

Waiting is frustrating because we like to feel in control, and for much of the time we’re not.

This Sunday is the Sunday after Ascension. It could also be called the Sunday before Pentecost. It’s the Sunday in between Jesus physically leaving his disciples, and the Holy Spirit falling on them releasing God’s power on all people, both Jews and Gentiles.

Just before he ascended to heaven, Jesus tells his disciples to wait in Jerusalem and promised them that they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit ‘not many days from now’. (Acts 1.5)

If I had to choose a favourite disciple, it would be Peter. He’s an activist, not afraid to speak his mind, and so often, he heads into things feet first.

Peter’s reaction to having to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit is to spring into action. He calls a meeting. He gathers the 120 believers in one place and decides that the most important task is to replace Judas who had betrayed Jesus and died.

The twelve apostles represented the 12 tribes of Jerusalem and so they needed another apostle. He calls two of their number, Joseph (or Justus), and Matthias. They pray, and then they cast lots – an interesting tactic for leadership recruitment!

Maybe this was all very important, but there is no mention of Mattias again, and a few days’ later Pentecost happened, the Holy Spirit was released, and thousands became believers. All this activity seems rather superfluous. Perhaps it would have been better for Peter to have waited as Jesus had commanded?

Discerning when to act and when to wait is never easy.

We are also living in a time of uncertainty, and we are waiting in hope for many things.

We look at our world today and there is so that is wrong. The situation in Gaza, Rafa and Israel is desperate. Young people are living with increasing anxiety and mental health problems are rising exponentially; people in our own community here are struggling with food poverty. This week is Christian Aid Week and the focus is pushing back against the dehumanising cycle of poverty.

Each one of us will have things we are waiting and longing for.

In the Gospel reading we continue to read these last words Jesus says to his disciples before he is crucified. We hear his heartfelt prayer for his friends, for those he loves:

‘All mine are yours; and yours are mine’.

He prays for protection for them. Whilst he was with them, he protected and guarded them, like a shepherd guards their sheep. Now he asks that the Father protect them:

‘I now am no longer in the world, but they are in the world… Holy Father protect them in your name’. (John 17.11)

Jesus knows that the ones he loves will now be vulnerable, to suffering, pain, to temptation. He doesn’t pray his followers would be exempt from the suffering and pain of the world, he prays they would be protected from it:

‘I am not asking you to take them out of the world…. Protect them from the evil one’. (John 17.15)

When we’re faced with difficulties in the world, or in our own lives, or are faced with challenges in our faith or unanswered prayer, the temptation can be to be impatient for simple answers when in fact there aren’t any. Or we can get overwhelmed by the immensity of the need and so give up and feel we can’t do anything, retreating into ourselves, or making ourselves busy with things that aren’t important or necessary.

I wonder if that was what Peter was doing with his impromptu committee meeting in Jerusalem?

Churches can do this as well. I’ve been struck by this passage as I begin ministry here; of the need to resist springing into action too quickly, and to wait for the Holy Spirit to lead and guide.

On the other hand, it can be tempting for Christian groups to enjoy being secure in our holy huddles being busy doing our holy things that we fail to notice the things of the world happening right in front of us. There is a phrase, ‘Christians can sometimes be so heavenly minded they are no earthly good’.  

So we need to be wise as we discern when to wait, when to pray, and when to act and get stuck in. We are to be ‘in the world, but not of the world’.

I’ve been encouraged to hear how many people involved in parish life here are also involved in our community, by being governors at the school, involved with Citizens Advice, taking positions in local government, meeting every Friday to pray for the needs of the community.

Rowan Williams in his book ‘Being Christian’ writes that once Christians are baptised, they are then propelled into the depths of the world.

Christian people are, he writes:

..with Jesus ‘in the depths’: the depths of human need, including the depths of our own selves in their need – but also in the depths of God’s love; in the depths where the Spirit is re-creating and refreshing human life as God meant it to be.”[1]

This period of time between Ascension and Pentecost is a time to consider what it is we are waiting for.

What are we waiting (ie. longing) for?

What are the situations in the world or in our communities that are on our hearts now. Let us not give up hope but take them to God in prayer, just as Jesus did when he was worried about his friends.

What are we waiting for?

It may be that we are being prompted by the Holy Spirit to enter into the depths in some way, be that by responding to a need, or by giving of our time or friendship, or perhaps this Christian Aid week our money to others.

We can take comfort in the knowledge that the risen and ascended Jesus is interceding for us just as he did for his friends in Galilee. And that, above all, we belong to him – Jesus said, ‘all mine are yours and yours are mine’, and one day we will be with him in eternity.

And whilst we are waiting, we need to reflect on what is truly and actually important, and get on with what is our to do.

[1] Rowan Williams, Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer, SPCK, 2014