Easter to Pentecost: Following the Light of Resurrection
Easter 7 – “In the time of testing”
Psalm 68; 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11; Acts 1:6-14
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A few weeks ago my parents and I set our alarms for the wee hours of the morning, awoke in darkness and bundled ourselves up to go out into the night. We were looking, as I know some of you also did, for the meteor shower. We walked down my parents’ long driveway searching the sky.
I wonder if the disciples looked a bit like our motley crew, sanding together staring into the sky, the space where Jesus was taken up. Were they longing as some of us might be, to be taken away with Jesus. Get us out of this moment in time. This world all feels too much for us. Jesus, we would like to escape with you!
As we made our way back up the driveway we all started getting kinks in our necks from looking upward. We didn’t want to tear our eyes away from the sky; scared we might miss a blazing trail of light. We walked backwards so that we could keep our gaze fixed on the part of the sky where the flash of light might come.
Was this the fumbling moment for the disciples when the angels showed up, two men in white robes? But instead of adding to their enthusiasm for looking upward the two men direct the disciples eyes in a different direction. They steered their minds away from a cloudy heaven and onto the task that awaits them here on earth. They remind us that our feet are firmly grounded here. We are not to get too engrossed by the sky but to look to the task Jesus sets for us. Jesus had just said: You will receive power from the Holy Spirit and you will be my witnesses here on earth.
The disciples left that mountain moment and went back to the upper room to pray. Acts tells us that they “were constantly devoting themselves to prayer”.
As we think of these disciples praying, I want us to consider another group of followers of Jesus, as we look at the 1st Peter passage. We hear in verse 12 “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you”. Wait, is the author of this letter talking to us, here in 2020 in the middle of a pandemic that has turned our lives upside-down – it feels very current to our situation.
But the first hearers of this letter were dealing with suffering of a different kind. They would have been part of scattered communities of believers, possibly with many women and slaves in their number who were seen as inhabiting the bottom rungs of the social hierarchy. They would have truly felt like resident aliens, having a minority status and living in a “truly oppressive and hostile environment” (1-2 Peter, Jude; Believers Church Bible Commentary, page 20).
Do we need to have a reality check on our suffering – to get our eyes and feet back on the ground?
I have been sitting with the idea of holding our current state in two hands. In one hand we hold out to God the reality of our situation, how it truly makes us feel and how it is affecting us. All of our disappointment, the fear of the unknown and what confined isolation does to us. There are days when this feels like suffering.
Then we hold out our other hand, realizing our power and privilege. Naming how much we have to be grateful for. I have an income, internet, a non-abusive home life, health care professionals who are willing to care for me, the beauty of nature around me and space that I can work. I cannot look away from either of these realities. I know that what others are holding may look vastly different and that some day these things we carry may cause us to slip into feelings of aloneness.
As I read 1 Peter I started singing a camp song: cast your burdens on Jesus, for he cares for you”. The next part of the song gets a little more theologically dicey. “higher, higher, life Jesus higher. Lower, lower, stomp Satan lower.” A group of campers approached me one evening at camp after I had led this song. They were concerned about the violent imagery and wondered why at a Mennonite camp we were talking about stomping or crushing something or someone as if it were a good thing. “Isn’t that song too violent for children” my campers asked.
I’m not well versed in talking about Satan or the devil so these campers had picked up on something that makes me uncomfortable too. While this passage doesn’t say to stomp on Satan it does say to stay alert, to resist the power of evil and stay steadfast in your faith.
What I have been wrestling with during this isolation are my own demons – my cutting words that so quickly hurt others, my temper that flares as I rush to blame, my fears of what life might look like especially if I loose loved ones, my grief and guilt that send me into self doubt spirals to the point that I want to curl up in the fetal position and sob. I have tried not to shrug these things off but have attempted to turn and face them. I want to listen to the words of my spiritual directors who have counseled me to let myself hear and to feel the strong emotions. To humbly notice them and say “welcome, what do you have to teach me”.
This is hard work and not work for everyday. We need to remember that we do not face our suffering alone but with God by our side and in community. By the grace of God maybe I can face a little of what is ugly and in need to redemption within me. This is the place I find myself on my knees before God crying out in honest prayer. I find myself with the disciples in the upper room and listening to the words in the Psalms calling us to cry out to God.
This is where I come back to the Bible and find that it is not just some holy book with stories of long ago times. It is the story of God with God’s people through their tough times, their times of testing and the mundane ins and outs of everyday life. In the little details of the Bible, of who was in the room, what people were wearing and how long it took to walk some place, I see that God is in the little moments of my life as well as the big emotions. And that is where I need to see God right now. In the hugeness of this virus, how it is effecting so many all over the world and yet in the smallness of my little life.
We are called to examine ourselves in our suffering.
I’m drawn to the words of Oriah Mountain Dreamer in her poem The Invitation that ends with:
I want to know
if you can be alone
and if you truly like
the company you keep
in the empty moments.
We are told to cast out burdens on Jesus. Verse 7 “Cast all your anxiety on God, because God cares for you”. Will we throw ourselves into God’s arms fully trusting our savior and creator?
I have been helping my Dad carry fallen branches and trees down their steep hill from the woods so we can cut them as firewood. After half carrying, half dragging a huge log, when I drop it I feel first the huge relief but then the wobble in my body as I try to recover from casting off my load. Can we pray like this and are we ready for the adjustment in our minds and spirits to the heavy weight being lifted.
Jesus doesn’t leave us staring into the sky, just longing for a better future, waiting for some bright light and the passing joy that follows. We are left with the hope of the Spirit – spoiler alert we are being prepared for Pentecost – 1 Peter’s blessing for us is restoration, support, strength and that we will be established.
May we hear these words in our own situation – with one hand extended, grounded in our own reality of day-to-day life. And also with our other hand extended, holding a reality much closer to the suffering and hardship of those first hears of Peter’s letter.
What do God’s promises mean not just for us – this promise is for poultry workers, those in meat packing plants, for indigenous communities where the virus is striking hard, for essential workers who still have to use public transport, for African American brothers and sisters who are too well acquainted with the fear of something or someone who will hurt them entering their homes and lives unbidden. This is also for those in refugee camps, prisons and trying to cross a border that is rejecting them. What do these words of Jesus and the breath of the Spirit mean for them.
With our feet firmly planted on earth we say we see you. We look into the eyes of the other and say we hear you. We notice what has been pushed to the margins of our lives and the world; we pledge to use our power to amplify the voices of the outsiders. It is standing in that space with an open posture that we hear God’s promise to restore, support, strengthen and establish.
We need to be heavenly minded for the earthly good. We don’t have control but we are given the power of God’s Spirit to witness to the world. Lead us to prayer. Help us to trust in the God of all grace, who has called us to God’s eternal glory in Christ. Amen
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