Waiting & Praying During Quarantine

May 31, 2020 – Cathy Harris – PFM – Acts 1

Welcome to Plainfield Friends’ online worship service for May 31st. We are glad you are here.

We are still planning to tentatively begin worshiping together – starting next Sunday, June 7th, at 10:30 a.m. Worship will look a little differently next week. We will have information on our website and Facebook pages, and we will be sending out information via email and the newsletter is being mailed this week.

Masks are recommended, but not required – and we will have some available sitting out on a table in the foyer. We will not be singing hymns – initially – because when we sing, we force air from our lungs out farther than when we are simply talking. We will still have special music that you can listen to and enjoy. Initially, the nursery will not be available, and children will stay in worship for the whole service. There will be a children’s message, but children will be asked to stay seated with parents/grandparents. Every other row of pews will be “roped off” in order for us to maintain social distancing. You may sit with family, but we ask that you sit six feet apart from other individuals/families.

We can’t wait to get back together and worship together! Our Ministry & Counsel Committee – which oversees our worship services – has been working to put a plan in place to create a safer environment for us to worship during this time of the pandemic.

If you do not feel comfortable yet to come and worship in person, that is fine. We will continue to post our worship services online – although once we start meeting in worship, we will be taping the service on Sunday morning and it will be posted to our website later that day.

Today – this Sunday – the last Sunday of the month – is birthday Sunday here at Plainfield Friends – so, if you have had a birthday in May, we wish you a very happy birthday!

1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with[a] water, but in a few days you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit.”

6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
Matthias Chosen to Replace Judas

12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk[c] from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

SERMON – May 31, 2020

Over the past several weeks of quarantine, I don’t know about you, but in some ways it wears on me – the social distancing, the self-isolation, the voluntary quarantine – trying to stay safe when going out and seeing lots of people not wearing masks in stores is concerning, and trying to stay connected with family, friends, and church family – in these difficult times.

The word “quarantine” —was originally shaped by and takes its meaning from – the forty days that – at one time – some sailors had to remain in isolation to ensure that they hadn’t brought the plague back home with them.

So – how have you been experiencing this quarantine? – as slightly stressful and soul-sucking – kind of like a spiritual dementor from Harry Potter? Or has it been relaxing and life-giving?
I’d say it’s been some of both for me.

The idea of quarantining semi-voluntarily in social isolation actually resonates with this morning’s scripture reading.

After Jesus’ resurrection, over the course of the next 40 days, he appeared many times to the disciples and other followers. He kept going over all the things he had taught them about God and God’s kingdom – before his death. Then Jesus left and ascended to heaven.

In the wider church, last Sunday was recognized as “Ascension Sunday”, and today is celebrated as Pentecost – the coming of the Holy Spirit. But what happened in-between the time when Jesus went to heaven and the coming of the Spirit?

Before Jesus left and ascended to heaven, we find in Acts 1:4-5 that Jesus: “ordered the disciples not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This,’ he said, ‘is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’”.

So – Luke (the author of Acts) – tells us that the disciples returned to Jerusalem and “went to the room upstairs where they were staying” (Acts 1:13). And then, just so you and I would know how crowded they all were as they isolated together in an upstairs guest room, Luke names them all—“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 … together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.” We are told that there were 120 people in that room – that’s a lot of human flesh in one upstairs room!

What did they do while they were waiting for the promise of the Father?
They were waiting for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
And they were waiting for the restoration of their country – to have the kingdom of Israel restored.

Today – we find that the disciples have been waiting and praying – they’ve been waiting and praying for 10 days since Jesus left.

We’ve been waiting and praying for the past several weeks – during this pandemic. Waiting for things to settle down so it’s safe to be around family – many of you have been waiting for weeks and weeks to see your grandchildren and give them a big hug, waiting to see loved ones in assisted living or nursing homes, waiting to go to the grocery yourself, waiting until we can gather for worship in person and be together, waiting to eat at your favorite restaurant, waiting to get back to the gym, or waiting for test results.

Waiting is not easy – just think about how excited children are as they wait for Christmas – and that’s a good thing to be waiting for! But sometimes waiting is difficult and can quickly feel like a burden to us – especially in our modern age of instant everything – with computers and technology, and now with social distancing and semi-voluntary quarantine – waiting is not easy.

But waiting is one of the tough tasks of the church.
Waiting implies that the things which need doing are beyond our own ability to accomplish solely by our own effort – and that some other help or empowerment is needed – therefore, the church waits and prays. And that’s one of the reasons we have some quiet waiting and prayer time during our worship services – to wait, to listen to God, to pray.

Today we find this group of disciples and followers of Jesus gathered on a hillside talking with Jesus and then in the upper room – they were real human beings, with names, identities, histories, and hopes.

They followed Jesus as far as they could: then they waited for the coming of the Spirit. This group of people were the ones who made up the first church.

Though the times have changed – radically from Jesus’ time on earth – it is still – real human beings – men and women with names, identities, histories, and hopes – who gather to wait for the coming of the Spirit – it is us! It is we, who make up today’s church as we gather (okay – we are not gathered in person, but we are gathered in spirit) to pray for the coming of the Spirit in our own lives and in the life of our Meeting.

Will Willimon says: that the Spirit is a gift – a gift which must be constantly sought anew in prayer – and that we join the disciples and early followers of Jesus – in praying for understanding, wisdom, guidance, and strength to move forward. And that the early church – and we, ourselves, – pray in hope and fear, in faith and doubt, in obedience and wonder.

What lay ahead for those early followers – that first church?
They had anticipated the kingdom of Israel would be restored in all of its ancient power and glory, but Jesus kept talking about the kingdom of God – not the kingdom of Israel.

God’s kingdom is here and yet it continues to come. Jesus had tried to explain to the disciples about God’s kingdom – loving God with your whole heart, and loving your neighbor as yourself – it would not look like the kingdom of Israel back when David was king, and Jesus would not be driving out the Romans – God’s kingdom would come through them – God working through their work their hands and feet – their own lives – a kingdom founded – not by power, but by love, compassion and justice.

Karl Jacobson says that to pray is “to open a window of the soul to the kingdom of God.”

I think Karl got that idea – that when we pray, we are opening a window of our soul to God – that he got that idea from the great Jewish Bible scholar Abraham Heschel, who wrote that to pray is to “open a window to Him [God].”

Abraham Heschel wrote:
“To pray is to take notice of the wonder, to regain the sense of the mystery that animates all beings, the divine margin in all attainments. Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living. It is all we can offer in return for the mystery by which we live. Who is worthy to be present at the constant unfolding of time? Amidst the meditation of mountains, the humility of flowers—wiser than all alphabets—clouds that die constantly for the sake of beauty, we are hating, hunting, hurting.”1

Heschel concludes, “It is gratefulness that makes the great.” But then adds, “However, we often lack the strength to be grateful, the courage to answer, the ability to pray.”

Abraham Heschel wrote that book, called, “Prayer” – in 1945 – which, ironically, really resonate with our situation today: “Prayer clarifies our hopes and intentions. It helps us discover our true aspirations, the pangs we ignore, the longings we forget. It is an act of self-purification, a quarantine for the soul.”

So – in 1945, Heschel wrote that prayer is – a quarantine for the soul.
And here we find ourselves – in the midst of a quarantine that is stressful and kind of soul-sucking in some ways, and Abraham Heschel says that the answer is to pray – and to pray means that we quarantine our souls from suffering … through prayer!

To “quarantine our souls from suffering” – is to take time away – not only from busy schedules, but taking time away from the TV or our cell phones, to take time away from the constant stress of the news – and to spend some time – like those 120 people did in that upper room – to pray.

As we await the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, as we await the coming of the Spirit to end this pandemic, as we wait to see loved ones, as we await the coming of the Spirit to renew our own spiritual lives, we can do so by opening the windows of our souls to the kingdom of God by taking time to wait and to pray.

So, if waiting and praying is a challenge for us, it must have been just as challenging to the people in that upper room.

If God’s kingdom is a kingdom based on love and not power, then what sort of kingdom is founded on love? What ruler or subjet, leader or follower on earth forgoes power and privilege in order to provide charity and compassion?

Rick Mixon (a Bible scholar) says that – waiting, praying, and doing God’s will is what Jesus called those early Christians to do – and it is precisely what they signed on for. They must do the work of the One who called them and sent them; they must center themselves in God and God’s will; they must listen for the voice of love and wrap themselves in its empowering cloak.
And then Rick Mixon asks: Are our life stories to be any different?

We, too, are called to do the work of the One who has called us and who sends us.
We, too, are called to center ourselves in God and God’s will,
And we, too, must wait and pray and listen for God’s voice of love – and then wrap ourselves in love’s empowering cloak.