Waiting - St Bride's: Reflection

St Bride's: Sermons


Acts 1: 6-14

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When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?

And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.

But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.

And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.

10 And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel;

11 Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.

12 Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a sabbath day's journey.

13 And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James.

14 These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.

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Rod Liddle, Sunday Times Columnist, has just written a book in which he trenchantly described growing up in the 1960s, and the differences of attitude between his generation and his parents' generation.

He says of his parents:

Like 40% of the population in the late 1950s, they had no TV. No telephone either, and no refrigerator, no vacuum cleaner, no car. All that stuff would come in time, my parents knew, when they could afford it.
My parents, and particularly my dad, were very sniffy about borrowing money. If you wanted something, you saved up for it. There was nothing, really, that couldn't wait a while, often a long while, once you had your food and shelter. And this rather stringent view was shared by a majority of the population at the time.
My mother wanted a fridge, of course she did. But there was no sense in which she felt she had a right to such consumer durables, as if they were something that should automatically accrue, or be immediately available on demand. It was a case, we all understood, of waiting. Saving and waiting. Waiting 14 years, in the case of the fridge.
This waiting is the thing my generation no longer does, is no longer cool with. It does not see why it should. Life's too short, isn't it? Paradoxically, life was rather shorter back when people did wait - but still they waited.

We are the generation that intended to wait for nothing, and could not see the point in so doing.

This attitude has made us and our children impatient generations. Whether it is emails, traffic jams, supermarket checkout queues, or buying things we can't really afford, we don't like being kept waiting.

Now waiting can be frustrating - it can cause illness. But it can also be productive. St Luke at the beginning of Acts gives us a picture of the disciples, after the Ascension of Jesus, returning to Jerusalem and joining together in prayer at home and in the Temple, and waiting - waiting for something of which they know little, but which we know as the coming of God's Spirit - the event we celebrate next Sunday.
The coming of the Spirit empowered the followers of Jesus to spread the Gospel and become the church, but before that could begin there is this period of waiting, a time of prayer and reflection and strengthening, before their work of mission began.

We are not used to waiting. We find it irritating. Watch how people react in a traffic jam, or a queue at the bank, or in a coffee shop - it doesn't take long for the impatience to bubble up to the surface: and that is allied to what Rod Liddle talks about in his book - the loss of the idea of deferred gratification - a puritanical Christian idea that believes there was something morally good about waiting for things, about denying yourself in the present because it was good for your soul.

We don't like waiting because we've lost (by and large) that outlook on life, and because we live in a society where a high premium is placed on being in control, of our lives and our immediate environment.

That is why we fear illness, unemployment and old age: because in these situations we change from people who do things to people who have things done to us, people who have, to a degree, lost control of our lives, and who have to cope with being passive and helpless. People who have to learn to wait.

In the poorer parts of the world people are much more used to waiting. They wait in queues for food, for the basics, for public transport, and so their pace of life tends to be slower than ours because waiting for them is a condition of living, while for us in the developed world it is an irritation an interruption to the smooth, fast flow of events.

Our Epistle today reminds us, however, that waiting does have a value - and that we in the west need to relearn how to wait. We often assume that God is a God of action, and God wants us to be people of action too. But in Jesus we can also see that God is also a God who lets things be done to him, not least in his passion and death on the Cross. It's a powerful reminder that when we wait, even for ordinary everyday things like food and sunrise, we are identifying with God: as we wait in prayer, we open ourselves to reflect about our lives and receive from God.

Waiting. That is what those early Christian disciples did in Jerusalem, and for them it wasn't humiliating or boring or frustrating, but a time of joy and fulfilment. We too need to relearn the value of waiting, waiting on God and making use of those quiet or apparently useless times in our lives.

Even apparently frustrating times in traffic queues or on station platforms, in shops of hospitals can be moments of prayer and encounter and grace. As Isaiah says 'They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.' May that be true for us. Amen.

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