Journey through The Great 50 Days of Easter with Foundry as we let stories from the early church as recorded in Acts inspire us. In story after story, we receive examples of followers of Jesus’ Way who face obstacles, keep going, and learn and grow as a result. These and other stories will be highlighted as we seek encouragement for the living of these days.
“When You Don’t Know How Long the Wait Will Be”
Rev. T.C. Morrow
Foundry United Methodist Church, Washington, DC
May 29, 2022
Texts: Acts 1:1-11 and Luke 24:44-53
Good morning on this seventh Sunday of Easter when we also mark the Ascension of the Lord. Before getting to our topic of the day, a brief word on this Memorial Day weekend. As any of us honor members of the military who paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country, know that there are family members and veterans amongst us, some of whom we know their stories and some we do not. For some the loss or losses are very recent, and others it is decades ago.
There is much talk in the United States about military service to protect our freedoms. Let this be a weekend for those of us who call ourselves Americans to reflect on our country’s true past, with realities far from our stated ideals. After the recent shootings in a grocery store in Buffalo, a church in Laguna Woods, and a school in Uvalde, alongside countless other preventable “tragedies,” let this be a weekend for those of us who call ourselves Americans to reflect on our country’s true present, with realities far from our states ideals -- and to gather courage and political will to help our county be a little bit more of what we long for it to be.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
You know that little spinning wheel as something tries to load on a computer? Or that feeling when 45 minutes have passed and you’re still sitting in the waiting room of the doctor’s office?
This week I read about an office building in New York City in the 1950s that had major complaints on wait times for the elevators. Long before we had smartphones to distract ourselves in a similar situation, the building management installed floor to ceiling mirrors near the elevators and the complaints virtually vanished. People looked at themselves in the mirror and it was enough to occupy their minds, not letting themselves get bored. Waiting for something can be full of boredom and impatience, but also great anticipation or dread. Unlike the wait as the seconds count down for the next episode in your latest Netflix series, waiting when you have no idea how long the wait will be can be extra exhausting and challenging.
We experience everyday-type waiting from the time for the coffee to brew to the grocery store line to a friend or coworker running late. Then there’s waiting for college acceptance letters, for an invitation to a job interview, for the biopsy report, for word on how the surgery went.
Just a few days from when it is possible that a long wait in my life will be over, or at least move to the next chapter in official terms, I have spent some time these last few weeks reflecting on what has gotten me through when I didn’t know how long the wait would be. I’ll come back to some specific reflections on my time pursuing ordination in The United Methodist Church, but first let’s look at our scripture texts and some wellsprings to nurture and tap during periods of waiting.
Our scripture texts from the very end of Luke and the beginning of Acts describe periods of waiting. In both passages of these companion texts that describe some of Jesus’ encounters with the disciples after his resurrection, Jesus tells the disciples they need to wait in Jerusalem to get the power that is coming from God. We’ll hear more on that next week as we celebrate Pentecost. For today, in the passage from Acts, the disciples ask Jesus a big-picture question:
"Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”
We long for a yes from Jesus. A yes that means an end to suffering and pain, a yes that means an end to war and all that divides us, a yes that means an end to school shootings, a yes that means an end to racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, nationalism and all that spurs hatred and scorn. We long for a yes from Jesus.
Instead, Jesus says, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.”
The disciples want to know when all that Jesus has been preaching and teaching about is going to be ultimately fulfilled. Instead Jesus tells them that some help is coming in the form of the Holy Spirit, so that they can be Jesus’ witnesses to the end of the earth. The disciples want to know how long the wait will be and Jesus instead reminds them of their mission.
When I looked at this morning’s passage from Acts in the original Greek, I was struck by the use of two different words related to time in Jesus’s answer – chronos and kairos. In the ancient Greek, chronos was used more to mean the linear, earthly time, a quantitative concept. Kairos was used more qualitatively, to indicate the right or appointed time. Some theologians talk about kairos time more as God’s time, the time when things might align in order for something to take place.
“It is not for you to know the times or periods” -- the chronos or kairos. Jesus says we are not to know how much chronos, how many minutes or days or years or indeed millennia. Jesus also says it is not our business to know the kairos, the opportune time for when the kingdom will be fully manifested.
And so we wait, not knowing how long the wait will be. Along with those early disciples, we have to figure out how to live in the already, but not yet days. We have to figure out how to hold onto hope and not fall into cynicism when we experience glimpses of the kin-dom but know that there is to be more.
For getting through the everyday waiting and the much more significant waiting, I think we can draw from the same wellsprings. This morning I offer a few wellsprings that we can nurture, perhaps particularly through the small stuff so we will be ready for when the more consequential waits come:
First, nurture the wellspring of patience. Literally pause and take a deep breath. Learn what sets you off and practice for times that you know will come. Write that scathing email and then let it sit in your drafts folder. Practice waiting on small things, like just a few minutes delay before you open your favorite game app. When we practice on small, routine things we can be better ready for the more substantial times of waiting.
Second, nurture community. If you are not already in one, I encourage you to join one of Foundry’s small groups. Some meet on Zoom, so you can join regardless of where you live. You can learn more under the Connect section of the Foundry website, or talk to one of the pastors. Take the time to meet up with friends. Make the trip to visit relatives or chosen family that you want to do but you’ve been putting off because you think you are too busy. Depending on what you are going through, a support group might be beneficial. Community is crucial.
Third, nurture a sense of purpose in your life. I find myself using as a mantra: “love God, love each other, and change the world,” one of the ways we describe our collective mission here at Foundry. In response to their question on restoring the kingdom, Jesus reminded the disciples of their mission. “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.” We wait for the fulfillment of the reign of God, but we do not wait passively. We wait along with the first disciples with the mission to be Jesus’ witnesses. We are each called to do our part in sharing Christ’s liberating message of love and justice. We are to be witnesses for shalom, peace and wholeness, to the ends of the earth: in our neighborhoods, in the streets, in break rooms, in Zoom rooms, in board rooms, in Congress. I encourage you to do the work to discern the overlap of your passions and your gifts and what the community needs. Where those intersect you can be involved with life-sustaining purpose.
On Ash Wednesday in 2016 a news article ran with the title “Married lesbian recommended as Provisional Deacon.” After first discerning a call to ordained ministry while in college in the late 90s and then finishing seminary in 2005, it was in 2012, during a witness for LGBTQ inclusion at the United Methodist General Conference, I received a strong word from God: Stop waiting. Stop waiting for whatever kairos moment you think needs to happen before you put yourself forward.
On that day in 2012 there is no way I could have guessed all that would transpire. Afterall, the polity, our denominational rules, had not changed, which was what I thought I was to be waiting for. However, God telling me to go ahead and put myself forwarded gave opportunity for the Board of Ordained Ministry to further discern what to do with candidates in same-sex marriages that might come before them. That news article in February 2016 was accompanied by another article describing that the Board would hold all married candidates to the same standards regardless of the gender of their spouse.
As things kept moving along and then hit some bumps, people kept describing me as filled with patience, perseverance, and fortitude. While I am a bit hard-headed by nature, have cultivated some amount of patience, and God continues to grant me strength, when the wait for justice drags on it can get rough. My wife and other family members, the support of the Foundry community and so many others, and a strong sense of purpose seeking to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ are what have buoyed me through twenty-five years of waiting.
We can’t think and pray our way to the world we want to live in. Thoughts and prayers have an important place, especially for faith communities, and I’m often the first to call for a prayer vigil. But we know so much more is needed. As our bishop, Bishop LaTrelle Easterling, said in a message this week, “We must seek the courage to speak out and act against hatred, against violence, against all the oppressive evils that swirl through our culture, already creating the conditions for the next mass shooting. We must work to create a world in which all people are valued as beloved children of God. This is how we put feet to our prayers.”
We are now three days before the scheduled clergy session and a vote that prayerfully will go well and then the service of ordination is set for Friday. I hope to be wearing a Deacon stole like Pastor Ben next Sunday signifying that I have been ordained, but if not I will still be here bringing all of who I am so that you know you can bring all of who you are. I will still be here because regardless of what happens this week, Jesus is calling us to provide a witness to the ends of the earth.
I hear the echoes of what those early disciples were told – it’s not for you to worry about when things will be fulfilled. That is in God’s hands. Your task is to do what is placed before you in the meantime. Don’t get snarled by inaction while waiting for some future “perfect” time. God calls you now. The world needs you now.
May God support each of us when life feels like it is stuck on that spinning loading icon. May God surround us in our times of waiting and empower us to move forward seeking to love God, love each other, and change the world.