These are holy words – words that reveal God’s love, words that inspire our hope, & words that bring us joy. Listen for signs of love, hope, & joy in the reading of God’s holy word.
The disciples’ lives had now changed forever. Jesus was gone. He was taken up into heaven before their very eyes! As Jesus was speaking, he was lifted up into the clouds & hidden from their sight. And while they stand there staring, 2 men in white robes (remember, these are the days before washing machines & Clorox) pretty much make fun of them for continuing to look for Jesus. Why are you standing here, looking toward heaven?
What a silly question! They were looking for their leader & friend! They were looking for the one they thought would be the conquering Savior. Even after 50 days with the resurrected Christ, they still thought he might restore the political kingdom of Israel & vanquish the Roman occupiers. But no.
The disciples were now on their own – truly. The promised Holy Spirit, the power to fulfill Christ’s commission to be witnesses, will not arrive for another 10 days. So, what were they to do?
They did a good thing. They returned to Jerusalem, together, to the upper room where they had shared meals with Jesus. They met with other followers of Jesus – some women, including Mary Jesus’ mother, & his brothers. And they prayed. Boy, I can only imagine how they prayed!
If the message of love & forgiveness taught by Jesus was to survive, I think they needed to develop some new, faithful, habits. And I believe they are habits we need too. I think they began to pray, & cultivate 5 faithful habits.
First, we are all in this together. There could be no more bickering or backbiting like we had seen while they were traveling with Jesus. (They had fought over who was the greatest. Two of them asked for special seating arrangements in God’s kingdom, etc.) All of that now had to stop. After all, enemies were all around, especially in Jerusalem. It is likely, they could be arrested by the Romans or the Jewish leaders. They needed to stick together to survive.
We, too, need to learn that we are all in this together. Even before coronavirus, the loneliest in our society were those over 65 & those under 25. I believe the pandemic gives us a wonderful opportunity to connect with these age groups & to connect these age groups together. Whether it is by phone, video chat, or brief, socially distanced in-person meetings, we can make coming together a habit.
And when social distancing is relaxed, we should all appreciate the ability to be with one another. My prayer from the beginning of the pandemic is that we would appreciate our friends & our church family now more than ever. That we would appreciate gathering for worship now more than ever. And that we would enjoy serving Christ by serving others now more than ever.
A second habit that developed for the disciples was an appreciation for the value of otherness. The disciples needed to be unified, but not clones of each other. They needed to live out Christlike virtues & values, yet each disciple was unique. This is especially seen as God sent them to various corners of the world with the gospel message.
Once the Holy Spirit arrived, we read in Acts that members of the early church were given many & various gifts (generosity, wisdom, preaching, helping, etc.). It was in working together with these different gifts that the church was born, grew, & thrived. This applies to us as well.
What some fear, & what we all need to remember, is that unity is NOT the same as uniformity. We all have different interests & different abilities & different gifts, but we all serve the same Lord, are gifted by the same Spirit, & are blessed by the same God.
A third faithful habit is to find your voice of wisdom & experience. The church was created by the disciples sharing their personal story & experiences with Jesus. True, their voice was found primarily after receiving the Holy Spirit. But you & I have that same Spirit within us. And it is true the disciples’ message was a counter-narrative to the culture, so counter-cultural that it got many of them killed! But death was a small price to pay for introducing those around them to the love & forgiveness of Jesus.
You & I need to develop the habit of telling our counter-narrative. Jesus told the disciples they would be witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea & Samaria, & to the end of the earth. The key word there is witnesses. A witness is “one who gives evidence; one who has personal knowledge of something.” You & I need to tell our story of Jesus’ love & forgiveness in our lives. We do not have to eloquent. We do not have to extroverted. We simply need to be faithful & honest.
We can develop a habit of putting our wisdom & experience to work by sharing them with others. By sharing our story, we can lead someone to Christ. And then we need to mentor them in the faith. We can invite them to watch worship with us. We can invite them to church. We can invite them to Sunday school. We can attend Bible study with them. We can pray with them. We can find answers to their faith questions. That is mentoring them in the faith.
Fourth, we need to cultivate the habit of being able to hold things in tension. The disciples were to witness but had not yet received power. They had witnessed Jesus overcome the great enemy, death, & yet were still going to die. Jesus had come to earth the first time to demonstrate what a life of loving God & loving others looks like, yet he promised to return. All these aspects of their faith the disciples had to hold in tension. And, pretty much, so do we.
This ability is learned & it can grow larger. For example, community does not come naturally – necessarily. This is what the New Testament is all about; the early church was filled with tension. There were disagreements & decisions to be made regarding Jewish & Gentile believers; between free & slave believers; & between male & female roles within the church.
What was the solution that guided the early church? Love God & love everyone else. So, what should/could be our solution to resolving tensions in our time? May I suggest: love God & love everyone else? It is, according to Jesus, a winning formula.
Finally, we need to cultivate a resilient spirit of joy. Did you know that joy can be a habit? Now, let me be clear: I am talking about joy, not happiness. And yes, there is a difference!
For instance, did you know that the Greek word translated “happy” is used only once in the New Testament? It is found in Luke 19:8, when Zacchaeus climbs out of the sycamore tree to host a dinner for Jesus. Happiness is a fleeting emotion. According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, it means glad or pleasurable.
By contrast, the Greek word translated as “joy” is found 58 times in NT! Again, according to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, it means bliss, delight, contentment. I think the New Testament writers would agree. Paul said he had joy because of his relationship with Jesus Christ. In Philippians 4:11b-13, he writes: I have learned how to be content in any circumstance. I know the experience of being in need & of having more than enough; I have learned the secret to being content in any & every circumstance, whether full or hungry or whether having plenty or being poor. I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength.
And in 1 Thessalonians 5:14b-18, he gives us the secret to having joy: Comfort the discouraged. Help the weak. Be patient with everyone. Make sure no one repays a wrong with a wrong, but always pursue the good for each other & everyone else. Rejoice always. Pray continually. Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
An easy way to share your joy with someone is to host a meal (like Zacchaeus) to share your story (when it is allowed). ‘Breaking bread’ is an intimate, yet relaxed way to share your joy with someone who may not know the joy of having a relationship with Christ. A great opportunity without having to cook are the meals at church (when they return).
In the meantime, we can always, & I mean always, heed the words of Revelation 3:20: Look! I’m standing at the door & knocking. If any hear my voice & open the door, I will come in to be with them, & will have dinner with them, & they will have dinner with me. Friends, we never eat alone!
Five faithful habits that we can develop, hone, & live by: Remember we are all in this together, appreciate the value of otherness, find our voice of wisdom & experience, cultivate the ability to hold things in tension, & cultivate a resilient spirit of joy. And may God’s kingdom grow as it did in the days of the early church!