St. Michael and All Angels
We seek to be a light of Christ in the community, where all are welcome to experience God's love and blessings.

May 11, 2024 - 7th Sunday of Easter

May often signals a season of transition in the church.  Graduations, maybe the end of a Sunday school season with thanks to the teachers and time off in the summer. These ends often don’t immediately lead to new beginnings but, rather, to in-between times. Bu it’s hard to live in “in between” spaces — in between high school and college, in between college and the next thing, in between one accomplishment and the choosing and pursuing of the next.  Waiting for a deployment, a move, a job change.  Waiting for the results of the next PET scan or blood test.  Waiting … especially when you don’t know what you are waiting for or how long it’s going to take to arrive. Who wants to stay in that space any longer than absolutely necessary?

It’s easy to forget that the disciples inhabited this “in between” space. But the book of Acts puts a break between Ascension (which we celebrated Thursday) and Pentecost (which we celebrate next Sunday).  And the disciples also have this experience of having to figure out what to do when you don’t know what else to do.

The placement of this story is challenging.  Jesus tells them to wait for the Holy Spirit but they start making plans anyway.  Do the disciples jump the gun here? Nowhere in this story or the whole unfolding of the early church do the disciples look back and realize they’ve leapt out in front of God’s Spirit.  The text doesn’t condemn or commend their decision or its timing.  Instead, the text shows us how the disciples make a decision in the “in-between” time.

The first feature of the disciples’ decision-making is geography.  They have to move their line of vision — from looking up into the absence to looking forward to the possibility of presence.  Once they’ve changed their focus, they have to do the harder work of picking up their feet.  Commentator Willie Jennings sympathizes, “We must never discount the next step that must be taken at the sight of Jesus’ leaving. Such a step is understandably a labored step, unsure and unclear. Nevertheless it must be taken because faith always leans forward to Jerusalem, toward the place where God waits to meet us.”

They go back to Jerusalem because, first of all, God promised to meet them there.  But another important reason imbedded in the text is not just that God promises to meet them there but that God has met them there before.  They don’t just go to Jerusalem.  They very specifically return to the upper room where they had been staying, where Jesus walked through a locked door, where Jesus proved himself to Thomas, perhaps even where Jesus fed the disciples the bread and wine of his last supper.

Place matters.  People matter.  The second feature of the disciples’ discernment is the presence of a trusted community. Luke names the 11 disciples, he goes on to call out “the women and Mary the mother of Jesus”, which — let me tell you — would not have escaped the notice of those who first read this account.  Already, this community is shaping up differently than most and, in this community, women matter, they will be named and their perspectives included in the work of leadership and discernment.

It’s also notable that Luke tells us “the group numbered 120.”  It’s not an insignificant group of people.  The number — 120 — is significant too.  According to Jewish law, a town or city needed at least 120 males if they wanted to start a synagogue with its own leadership.

Once you have place and people. The next feature of the disciples’ discernment was prayer. Theologian Robert Wall sums it up: “Waiting for God to act is … a community project. Waiting with others is an act of solidarity with friends. The apostles do not scatter and go their separate ways to await a private Spirit-filling or a personal experience of divine faithfulness. They ‘were joined together’ in a specific place to await God’s action for them all.”  Place. People. Prayer.  They are together and, somehow, amongst them, the prayer is constant.

The last piece of the puzzle, the final feature of the disciples’ discernment in the upper room was Scripture. Place, people, prayer, Scripture. Peter names a problem facing the community.  They are down to 11 apostles, when Jesus’ had meant for there to be 12.  And let’s not forget that they lost #12 from their ranks because of betrayal.

In this upper-room, before the birth of the church at Pentecost, you have what you might call the church in utero.  Even before the church is born, Peter is leading the band through Scripture to the conclusion that the church will meet with no failure or deceit in the world out there that it has not already encountered in itself — among the apostles, within the very first congregation of those who followed Jesus. The church was not birthed in perfection.  It was birthed — as all humans (and human institutions) must be born — imperfect, broken, incomplete, sinful.

Discernment in the in-between.  Knowing what to do next when you don’t know what to do next.  We all find ourselves in this part of the story — in between the glories — from time to time.  When the next goal isn’t clear. When the next achievement hasn’t been named.  When the to-do list has shifted.  When what seemed important before is done or it just doesn’t seem important anymore given what’s coming next.  When you don’t know what’s coming next.

The lesson of the ordinary decision-making and discernment of the disciples between Ascension and Pentecost is that God is still present in the waiting.  The Holy Spirit shows up in careful Scripture reading and prayer within a trusted community even before the Holy Spirit is cast for that break-out role on Pentecost.  Jesus is still working in you during the in-between season.

  • Jesus leads you through Scripture.
  • Jesus leads you through Prayer.
  • Jesus leads you through a diverse and trusted community.
  • Jesus leads you from the places you’ve met with God before to the places you will see God work in ways both familiar and new.