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Sermon For The Ascension - Year A B C
Acts 1:1-11; Isaiah 40:28-31
"Living In The Time Between"


READING:  Acts 1:1-11; Isaiah 40:28-31
SERMON :  "Living In The Time Between"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
ascension 488000

   The texts for Ascension Day each year in the 
   Lectionary are the same, and always include Acts 1:1-11.
   This sermon uses the Acts reading and a non-lectionary 
   reading from the Prophet Isaiah to help address the 
   issue of how we live between the ascension and the 
   return of Christ Jesus our Lord.

   
There are a lot of people who do not know how to live without
excitement, without stimulation.  Whether it comes from pleasure
- or from crisis - they thrive on activity, on doing things - on
solving problems - on adrenalin.

The time that exists between one crisis or another,
between one activity or another is regarded by them as dead time,
as time that is lost - time that is unimportant, time that
doesn't count.

Even people who are not adrenalin junkies find it difficult
sometimes, difficult to face a period of time in which not much
is happening, a period of time in which they must wait for a
promise to be fulfilled, for an event that they are looking
forward to take place.

Today's scripture reading from the Book of Acts tells us how the
disciples found themselves in this kind of situation - how they
found themselves having to face a period in which they would
simply have to wait for Christ's promise to them to come true.

After the resurrection Jesus visited with his disciples on
several occasions.

He taught them, he encouraged them, he commissioned them to do a
job, and then - on the day of his ascension into heaven, when
they were anxiously asking him when his kingdom would be
established, when the next instalment of the divine plan would
take place, 
         he tells them that it is not for them to know the times or
         periods established by God - but that they should go back to
         Jerusalem - and wait, 
          wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit - wait for the
          power they would need to witness to him there, and in
          Judea and all of Samaria, and ultimately in all the world.

For many, waiting is a dreadful thing - Just ask any child - 
But it doesn't have to be like this

Living between times,
living between occasions in which all of our minds and hearts and
energy are absorbed in affairs of significance can, in fact, be
quite wonderful.

It can be - for us - a pause that refreshes - a time in which we
gain strength - a time in which we quietly grow and are prepared
for that which will come next.

I like to read military history.

         When the machine gun was first invented a problem
         developed with it.  It seems that if it was fired
         continuously for a period of time that the barrel would
         heat up and cause the gun to jam - even upon occasion - to
         explode.

         At the beginning two simple solutions were invented to
         overcome this problem.  You could either change the
         barrels - or you could stop firing for a while.

God knows that we too need periods of rest - periods of waiting -
periods in which we can be changed - refreshed - and renewed,
lest we, like those first machine guns, jam up or explode.

And God provides to us periods of time which are times between -
periods in which we can be strengthened and prepared for what is
to come next.

The prophet Isaiah says that 
         those who wait for the Lord will renew their strength,
         they will mount up on wings like eagles,
         the will run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

In this perspective - waiting is a positive thing,
         the time between the making of a promise and its fulfilment
         a time which is, or can be, highly beneficial to us.

But living in the times between, 
in those times between one phase of our lives and the next,
         - between one job and another,
         - between the time when the first child has married and the
         last has yet to enter school
         - between the period when we have lost one dear friend and
         have yet to find another,
these times can be difficult for us if we do not know how to wait
in the manner recommended by the word of God.

So how should we live in the times between?

FIRST - we need to remember the times in between are meant to be
active times - not passive times; times in which we are meant to
work at that which is at hand - rather than at that which is yet
to come.

When Jesus ascended into heaven before the eyes of his disciples 
to take his place as Lord at the right hand of God the father 
an angel visited them and asked them:

         "Men of Israel - why do you stand looking up toward heaven? 
         This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will
         come in the same manner as you saw him go into heaven."

A Russian psychologist by the name of Pavlov who pioneered in the
techniques of conditioning did experiments with dogs - He first
rang a bell, and then a second later gave them some meat.  After
doing this a few times - he rang the bell - but did not give them
the meat.  Even though the dogs did not get the meat - they
salivated - their whole system was geared to receiving meat. 

         The experiment proved what Pavlov wanted it to prove -
         that animals - and indeed people could be taught to
         automatically respond to key signals.

         Pavlov next wondered how long a period of time he could
         create between the time of ringing the bell and the time
         when the dogs would salivate.  So he extended the time
         between ringing the bell and giving the dogs meat. 

         It was quite successful - he could ring the bell and have
         the dogs go for quite a long period of time before they
         automatically salivated.

         But Pavlov finally ran into a problem.  It seems that
         after a certain period of time the dogs would not salivate
         as he had hoped they would - instead they would fall
         asleep - and they would do this because their attention
         was so firmly fixed on where the meat was supposed to come
         from after the bell rang that their entire nervous system
         would begin to shut down.  They concentrated so much on
         what they were waiting for that they had no energy left to
         keep themselves awake with.

We are not dogs - our attention is not supposed to be focussed so
much on Christ's return - or on the next thing that we want to
have happen in our live that we end up forgetting what else is
going on, that we end up falling asleep on the job.

In the times between, our eyes are meant to be fixed on the
present moment that God has given us.  We are called to live now
in the way God intended us - rather to live in the future.

The disciples headed the word of the angel who asked them why
they were looking up toward heaven - and they returned to
Jerusalem as they had been commanded and waited there for his
promise to them to be fulfilled.  

And while they waited - they devoted themselves to prayer.

Which leads to the SECOND important part of learning how to live
in the times between. - namely in those times we are called to
live as Christ has shown us how to live - in obedience and in
connection with Him and the Father.

The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote:

         Let us, then, be up and doing,
         With a heart for any fate; 
         Still achieving, still pursing,
         Learn to labour and to wait.

When the disciples returned to Jerusalem - they stayed together
in fact they joined themselves with the rest of those who
believed in Jesus, with Mary and his brothers and many others,
and they sought to be one as Christ had prayed that they would
be.

They stayed together and they prayed -
and in so doing, they prepared themselves for the job Jesus had
told them that they would do when the Holy Spirit came upon them
as he had promised it would.

In times between people often do take the opportunity to prepare
themselves for what is supposed to happen next.

Between jobs they may go back to school,
Between relationships they may enter into counselling,
Between seasons of endeavour they may sit down and actually relax
and rest so that they have the strength to go on.

There are many ways to prepare for what we believe is coming
next, but in the end - for those who are seeking to do God's will
and to see God's promises come true in their midst, prayer is of
central importance. 

As Jesus told the disciples -

         "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon
         you - and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all
         Judea and Samaria - and to the ends of the world

Prayer and devotion to the mind and will of God is of central
importance because it is this which prepares us for the gift of
the Holy Spirit - it this which allows us to be open to the power
the Spirit bestows.
 
We all know about gimmicks - quick ways to improve your body or
mind - 99 practical solutions to improve your marriage or to
create a better business or build a bigger church - but the real
solution lies not in these kinds of gimmicks but in having God's
Spirit work through you.  

It is the Holy Spirit which enabled and guided the ministry of
the disciples,
         and it is the Holy Spirit which enables and guides our own
         ministry as his followers, our own witness to Christ --
          indeed it is the Spirit, and only the Spirit, which allows
          us to be fruitful with our lives.

As the word of God says - it is the spirit which gives life...  

Our task in the times between -
         whether it is a time between what is obviously one work of
         God and another,
          or simply a time between one event in our daily lives and
          another
is to make ourselves ready to be used of the Spirit; 
that Spirit which may come, 
as it does so often - sooner than we think.

How do we live in the times between?

First - we need to remember in the times between to focus on what
is happening now, not on what is going to happen later.

Second - we need to be follow the commands of God and keep
connected with him through devoted prayer so that we are
strengthened and prepared -

AND THIRD - and last for today - in the times between - we need
to trust and have confidence that what has been promised to us by
God will come to pass.
         - whether that promise is of a spiritual gift,
         - or a promise of comfort and of a new life
         - or a promise to bless us and use us in some particular way
in his service.

We need the confidence - not because our confidence will change
the outcome - what God promises to us will come to pass,
         no - we need this confidence because when we have it - we
         open ourselves up to the peace of God and the other blessings
         that God has for us - right now - now in the time between all
         those other promises and the time of their fulfilment..

To return to Isaiah's words - those words that say - 
         those who wait for the Lord will renew their strength,
         they will mount up on wings like eagles,
         the will run and not be weary,
         they shall walk and not faint.

Notice in this promise the words - will and shall -
and the total lack of modifiers in front of them.

It is not - they who wait for Lord might renew their strength,
it is not - maybe they will walk and not faint -
it is - they will renew their strength
and - they shall walk and not faint..

Unconditional promises - attached to a simple statement of
 condition - the condition which says - "They who wait for the
 Lord" -  or as it says in the King James- "They who wait upon
the Lord".

In the times between, the times of waiting,
trust in the Lord to come through,
         - remember his resurrection and his ascension into heaven to
         be at the right hand of God,
         - remember what he has done for you in the past
         - and wait for the next act - the next promise to come true
         with a firm hope,

Trust in the Lord - not in other things - and live today - this
day - as he asks you to, connected to him and to his word by
prayer and meditation with your brothers and  sisters - and in
holy obedience whether alone - or at work.  Amen 


copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 1997, 2004, 2005
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.



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