Scripture: Acts 1:1-11
Some people are better at it than others, but I think it is fair to say no one truly enjoys waiting. We can find ways to make the best of it, but if we were given preference more often than not we would rather not wait. Of course, not all waiting is equal. I do not know what your experience is, but I think the worse waiting is being stuck in traffic. There are several reason why waiting in traffic is the worst. First, unlike waiting in line or at a doctor’s office being in traffic feels much more stuck because we are in a car surrounded by other cars with nowhere to go and no way to get there. Second, there is the frustrating dichotomy of being in a machine that is capable of traveling faster than a mile a minute yet moving slower than walking speed. Third being stuck in traffic is the worse because sometimes we do not even know why there is a slow up and we often have no idea how long we are going to end up waiting. This was especially true in China in 2010. This is when the worse traffic jam in human history happened. China National Highway 110 had been seeing an uptick in traffic for years. In August of 2010 multiple factors converged. There was a large increase of trucks hauling goal on the road from Mongolia. This influx of large vehicles mixed with elevated traffic condition meant that the traffic volume was 60% higher than the normal design capacity. This increase in traffic volume happened the same time that road construction started which reduced the normal road capacity by 50%. The result was a traffic jam that ended up stretching on for more than 60 miles and lasting for ten days. The gridlock was so bad that some people reported being stuck on the highway for five days. That kind of wait would push even the most patient person to their limits.
In general we do not like to wait, which is what makes this morning’s scripture so refreshing. This morning’s scripture ends with the disciples looking up and waiting, and two angels essentially shoo them off and tell to stop waiting and to go. Often we think of patience as a virtue that the bible lifts up. We are likely to think of verses like Psalm 130:5 “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits.” While it would probably be helpful for most of us to improve at being patient, this morning’s scripture reminds us that there is a time to wait and there is a time to go. In this morning’s scripture, Jesus gave his original disciples a roadmap for where they should go and we can follow that same path today.
This morning’s scripture ends with the disciples standing around looking up to the sky and it takes angels to get them moving, but I think this is an instance where we should cut the disciples some slack. It is understandable why they were waiting. In the days following the resurrection, life for the disciples was kind of chaotic. We get glimpses of this especially in the gospels of John and Luke which contain several post resurrection details. One of the details we can gather from this time is that Jesus had a tendency to come and go. For instance, on the afternoon of the day of the resurrection Jesus appears to two men on the road to Emmaus and has soon as they break bread together and recognize Jesus, he disappears. The gospel of John records that Jesus appears to the disciples while they are gathered together in a locked room, and that gospel also records an instance where after the disciples have returned to Galilee Jesus appears on the shore. The end of the gospel of Luke records in verse 24:45 that during this time while Jesus was with them, “he opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures.” After the painful waiting and uncertainty the disciples endured between the crucifixion and resurrection and then the experience of Jesus coming and going for weeks, the disciples had probably gotten fairly good at waiting expectantly for Jesus to show back up. Given all they experienced, it is no wonder they did not bat an eye when they watched Jesus being take up before their very eyes and looked intently at the sky waiting for Jesus to return. The disciples had gotten used to waiting.
Again, there is a time to wait and this a virtue to patiently waiting on God’s timing. However, if the disciples had listened to Jesus’s words in verse 7 and 8. This was not the time to wait. Once they received the Holy Spirit they were to go and be witnesses. The gospel of Matthew ends with a similar emphasis. In that gospel, Jesus’ last instructions to his disciples are “therefore go and make disciples of all nations.” The directive seems to be clear. In light of the good news of the resurrection, the time of waiting is over and it is time to go and share the good news. In this morning’s scripture, Jesus told the original disciples exactly where they were supposed to go to share the good news: Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. The directive to go make disciples and to be witnesses, still stands today. As followers of Christ we are charged with being an Easter people who proclaim the good news that the tomb is empty and Jesus is alive. It may not be our job to take the good news to Jerusalem like it was for the original disciples, but when we consider this scripture in broad strokes it gives us pointers today on how we share the good news and where we share the good news.
This morning’s scripture contains a clue to how we share the good news of Jesus Christ and his glorious resurrection. We do so by being witnesses. A witness is someone who can testify to what they have seen and experienced firsthand. We see this throughout the New Testament. In the book of Acts and then in Paul’s letters the way that Jesus is shared is the apostles witness to their personal experiences with Jesus as a risen savior first hand. They tell others what they have seen. Today, we do not have the luxury of having experienced the resurrection first hand like the original disciples, but we still have a testimony to share. If we consider ourselves Christians, then we have an experience with Jesus to share. We can still witness to the power of grace, the ability of Jesus to change lives, and the truth that Christ Jesus lives today.
The hurdle we have to get over though is not figuring out what our witness is. We all know our own story, so that should be the easier part. The hurdle to clear is that we have to then actually share our witness. For many this is a lot easier said than done, and that is because culturally we have bought into the lie that religion is a private affair. Faith is treated as something that is only supposed to be practiced behind closed doors. Now there is wisdom in not aggressively forcing our beliefs onto everyone, but there is a lot of middle ground between shoving religion down the throats of others and keeping it all to ourselves. It does not have to be one of the extremes. Being to forceful and taking a “my way or the highway approach” to faith is going to push a lot of people to choose the highway, but choosing to always be silent means we do not to do what Jesus asked of us, we are not witnesses. We should follow the example of the apostle Peter and heed the advice he gave in 1 Peter 3:15, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
This morning’s scripture also gives us clues to where we should share our witness. Jesus told the disciples first to go to Jerusalem. This is where the disciples already were. They did not have to go on a mission trip to some exotic location to share the good news, Jesus told them to just step outside. Not only was the first place to share their witness geographically close, but it was to start with sharing their experiences of Jesus with the people most like them. This makes a lot of sense. The people they would have been the most equipped to share their witness with would be the people who are close to them. The original disciples had a common background, a common starting point, and a set of shared values with the people of Jerusalem. The disciples had roots there. The starting point was to be the people who were most like them and who shared a similar context.
In the same way we can be a witness for Jesus in our context. Just like the original disciples had roots in Jerusalem and shared a common background, language, and basic understanding with the people there, you have roots in your community. You share a common context with the people of this place. So just like the disciples were uniquely suited to be the ones who were witnesses for Jesus to 1st century Jerusalem, you are uniquely suited to be the ones who are witnesses for 21st century North Judson. Chances are you already have people in your life, people that you know how to talk with and reach, who need Jesus. Just like the original disciples had to rely on the leading and power of the Holy Spirit to reach the people of Jerusalem, you too can rely on the Spirit to reach the people of your unique context.
Jesus assumed that the disciples would reach out and be witnesses to the people around them, so he challenged them to go further because he continued that they would be his witnesses not just in Jerusalem but also “in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” This would have required the original disciples to leave their comfort zones. It would have required them taking the good news of Jesus out the relative safe space of being with their kind of people. The Samaritans of Samaria and the Gentiles of the rest of the world, were very different from the Jewish background of the Disciples. To be witnesses and share the good news, would have required courage, but it also would have required having compassion and understanding for those who are different. The book of Acts records, in part, how the disciples followed Jesus instructions and were his witnesses starting at Jerusalem and by the end of the book making it to the heart of the Roman Empire.
Church tradition remembers that several of the disciples took the good news beyond just Jerusalem, but perhaps none so more than Thomas. Tradition remembers that he eventually left Jerusalem and headed East into the Parthian Empire, which was mainly focused around Modern day Iraq and Iran. There he was a witness and shared the good news of Jesus Christ. This led to a unique branch of Christianity known as Eastern Christianity and denominations such as the Assyrian Church of the East still holds that Thomas is the witness who led to their founding. Yet, tradition remembers that Thomas continued on and ended up in India. The Hindu culture of India is about as different from a Jewish background as Thomas could have found in the first century, but even in that radically different culture Thomas was a witness for Jesus. Today, St. Thomas Christians are a distinct ethnic group in India with millions of members.
Thomas went to the literal ends of the earth to be a witness and share the good news. In doing so he found people radically different than him. He had compassion for them and learned their ways so that he could share the love of God with them. Today, we do not have to go the ends of the earth to find people different than us. We are living in an increasingly polarized culture and while we know people who are similar to us we probably also know of people who are radically different than us. People who view the world differently and who seem to hold different values. It is common today to have an us vs. them viewpoint pushed on us and to treat people on the other side of the aisle as a foreign enemy. Yet those people who we see as different, are the very people that we are to witness the good news of Jesus Christ for. Instead of posting social media memes to ridicule the people we disagree with, we should have compassion for them. Like Thomas did on his journey to the East, we should seek to understand the people different than us so that we can fully include them in the life changing grace and amazing love of God.
Whether we like it or not, we will inevitably have to wait in life and likely we will have to wait a lot more than we want. This morning’s scripture reminds us that when it comes to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ the mandate is not wait, but go! So in the meantime, may we go to our communities, may we be a witness that testifies to those we know how Jesus has changed our lives. For the sake of the gospel may we go a step further, may we have compassion for, seek common ground with, and be inclusive for those people different than us. May not just our words but may the way we treat all of the people around us be a testimony to how Jesus has changed our lives for the better and a witness to God’s never ending love.