"Theophilus, the first scroll I wrote concerned everything Jesus did and taught from the beginning, right up to the day when he was taken up into heaven. Before he was taken up, working in the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus instructed the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he showed them that he was alive with many convincing proofs. He appeared to them over a period of forty days, speaking to them about God's kingdom. While they were eating together, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for what the Father had promised. He said, "This is what you heard from me: John baptized with water, but in only a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." As a result, those who had gathered together asked Jesus, "Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?" Jesus replied, "It isn't for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority. Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." After Jesus said these things, as they were watching, he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going away and as they were staring toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood next to them. They said, "Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you saw him go into heaven." - Acts 1:1-11 (CEB)
We’ve been in a season of change. Take graduation, for example. There are pictures all over Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram of happy graduates, their families, and their friends. Yes, this time of year change is in the air. If you’ve ever graduated before you remember what it’s like.
You’ve been preparing for years. You've been learning from your teachers, soaking in information about how to do things, learning new skills. Your teachers and classmates have been planting seeds in you, giving you new perspectives to think about, starting something in you. You do things you never dreamed you’d do, you make some of the closest friends you’ll ever have, and you all have the same goal – to graduate, to walk across that stage, and get that piece of paper that validates all you've been working toward. You’re willing to do anything to reach that goal. Your energy is focused, directed, on that goal. You're single-minded in what you do. Everything is leading to graduation. If you can just get that diploma everything will be good, life will be waiting for you on the other side of that slip of paper they give you. You get closer to graduation, you prepare, you order invitations, you plan for your family to stay in town with you, you plan parties, you order your cap and gown. Finally you graduate. You walk across that stage, get your diploma, take lots of pictures with your family, selfies with you friends. Then you go home, your family leaves, the parties are over, you look at your diploma and think, "all this for a piece of paper?" And you’re left, just waiting, thinking, "what now?"
All of this preparation, all of this learning, all of this work you’ve done for this one goal, and it’s not exactly like you expected it to be. It’s kind of anti-climatic. You've learned all this stuff, I have all this knowledge, You've been taught what to do, but You don’t know where to go from here. You don't have a goal to work toward anymore. You’re left, without a new goal, just waiting, thinking, "what now?"
When have you experienced that moment? When have you worked unimaginably hard toward a goal for what seems like forever, then it finally comes, you’re left without a new goal, without knowing where you’re headed? When have you been left thinking, "what now?"
The disciples are at that place. They know Jesus, they know he’s risen, they get to speak with him and be with him for 40 days. They’ve eaten with him, Thomas has touched his side, and they believe that he is real, not just a ghost or apparition. They believe Christ is the Messiah, they’ve heard what Jesus, their teacher, has to say about the Kingdom of God and they are ready for it. They’ve done a lot of learning and preparation. Years worth of preparation. They’ve been single-minded, they’ve been directed, focused on receiving the Kingdom of God through Jesus. They’ve seen what the Kingdom of God can look like, and should look like by the way Jesus has lived and shown them how to live. The Kingdom of God is the hungry being fed, the thirsty having water, the widows being cared for, the imprisoned being set free, the naked being clothed, the sinners being forgiven. Jesus has taught them about what the Kingdom of God is, how to receive it from God. He has planted a seed in the disciples.
The disciples know what Jesus can do now that he’s back, alive again. "Oh, good, Jesus is back – now he can do what he was supposed to do in the beginning – bring the Kingdom of God to Israel," they think. But what they are expecting to happen, doesn’t happen. "Jesus," they ask, "are you going to restore the kingdom?" Like the teacher he is (maybe you've had professors like this before), he doesn’t give a direct answer – it would be too easy to give a simple "yes" or "no." Instead, he says something like, “You’ll just have to wait and see. BUT… I can tell you what’s going to happen next. The next step is that you’ll receive the Holy Spirit very soon, and then you'll be my witnesses, first here, then a little outside this community, then even further away, and finally all over the world." Cue the disciples again, "But Jesus, are you going to restore God’s Kingdom?" [shoulder shrug and Jesus exits] Jesus leaves, and they are left alone, watching and waiting for something big. You're left waiting, thinking, "what now?"
That feeling can be frustrating, it can be aggravating, it can be infuriating, it can be confusing, it can feel lonely, it can make us anxious. "Jesus, I just want to know what is going to happen! Can’t you tell me what’s going to happen? Will I find a job? Will I get into grad school? Will I get married? Will I have kids? Will I be able to overcome my addiction? Will I make it through this divorce? Will I get to see my kids again? Will I get a second chance? Will I learn to be content? I just want to know, please tell me!" But instead of getting a direct answer, we get a disappointing answer.
"You don’t get to know. God knows, but you don’t get to know yet." That's the hard part, I think. The not knowing what's going to happen, or when it's going to happen. And we’re left waiting, thinking, "what now?"
Let us remember the comforting word that Jesus gave to his followers, the word that he still gives to his followers today -- You’ll have the Holy Spirit to guide you. The Spirit will lead you in the right direction. How do we know it's the Holy Spirit? We know it’s the Spirit because the Spirit will lead us to do what Jesus has commanded, to love others as he has loved us. We will know it is the Spirit because it will produce fruit. We will know it is the Spirit because it will work toward the growth of God's kingdom – the widows will be cared for, the hungry will be fed, the imprisoned will be set free, the thirsty will be given drink, the naked will be clothed, the uneducated will be educated, the sick will be well. These are signs of the Spirit working toward the kingdom. You will get to see these things in your own life and in the world as the Holy Spirit is given to you and moves in you. Jesus, in living his life and receiving the kingdom of God, gives us this glimpse, this vision, a seed of hope in us, that the Kingdom will be built by the Holy Spirit moving in Jesus’ people, in the church. But right now, we’re left visioning, wondering what it will look like in our own lives, what it will look like in Henning Memorial United Methodist Church, what it will look like in Sulphur, LA, what it will look like in the United States, what it will look like in the world. A seed is planted in us, but we are left wondering how the Holy Spirit will build the kingdom of God using the church. We are left wondering, thinking, "what now?"
We are left with a seed. We are left with a seed that has great potential. If you’ve done any gardening before, you know that seeds, once planted, can take a really long time to grow above ground. It takes weeks before you get to see any kind of green pop above the dirt. It takes even longer before you actually see a sizable stalk. It takes even longer before you can see the fruit of your labor, even the smallest little glimpse of it. There is potential, there is promise. But you plant it and you wait. For a long time you wait, hoping to see results, hoping you’re not waiting in vain. A seed has been planted in us.
This is what Jesus tells his disciples, this is what Jesus tells us: "I promise, the Holy Spirit will come. You will witness to what you have seen in me – you will witness to what I have taught, you will live what I have taught, you will witness to my death and resurrection, you will live like I am alive in you, because I am. And you will see fruit." But for now, we wait. And we think, what now? Knowing that we receive the Holy Spirit, knowing that eventually the seed that has been planted will grow, knowing that if God is in it our seed will flourish and produce fruit, knowing that Christ keeps his promise to us, knowing that the Holy Spirit moves in ways we don’t understand and in moments we don’t expect, knowing that God has a plan for us, trusting that God's timing is right even if we don't get to know when it is… we wait. we vision. we hope. We dream. And we ask God, what now?
The seed of the kingdom of God has been planted… God, now what?