In the time between

The folks at Paul Masson wineries used to say, “We will sell no wine before it’s time.” It was their assurance that they were offering the real deal: a high-quality wine, not a cheap imitation pretending to be wine. It takes time to create a fine wine or anything else of value, especially good ministry – which is why Jesus said to the church: “Undertake no ministry before its time.”

He didn’t use those words, of course, but he meant the same thing: Don’t try to do my ministry until you’re ready, until you have my power. The disciples had seen the risen Christ. They shared a meal with him. He helped them understand his ministry and what was to be their ministry, what they were to do, that they were to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to the whole world and that their lives were to be witnesses that what they said was true (Luke 24:44-53, esp. 47-48).

Who could be more fired up and ready to go? What better time to send them out to change the world? What a moment for action! But he told them to wait. “Stay where you are,” he said, “until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49b). How could they be more full of power and ready to go than they were in that moment? Why would he hold them back? What would be gained from having them wait?

One advantage to waiting is that we have time to shift from a combination of ego and adrenaline to an infusion of Holy Spirit. “Wait,” Jesus told the disciples, “until you’ve stopped depending on your power and have tapped into God’s power.” In the time between pastors, it can be tempting to forge ahead and keep the momentum going. But it’s a time to pause and wait. We need to be certain we’re not following our dreams and visions but are following God’s dreams and visions. We need to be sure we’re not asking God to support our enthusiasms, endorse our ministries, and fulfill our will. We need to wait until we’re able to pray honestly: Lord, show us your way, tell us what you would have us do.

Another advantage in waiting is that we may stop looking for a perfect tomorrow that never comes; instead, we may start noticing God’s abundant blessings, the fulfillment of God’s promise, precisely where we are, here and now. There is nothing more sacred than today, than this moment. Instead of rushing toward what we envision for the future, if we wait upon the Lord, we may discover untold blessings hidden in this day.

On Christmas Eve in 1513, Fra Giovanni Giocondo wrote to his friend:

No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in today. Take heaven! No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instant. Take peace! The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. There is radiance and glory in darkness, could we but see. And to see, we have only to look. I beseech you to look! Life is so generous a giver. But we, judging its gifts by their covering, cast them away as ugly or heavy or hard. Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it a living splendor, woven of love by wisdom, with power. Welcome it, grasp it, and you touch the angel’s hand that brings it to you.

“Wait for the Lord,” the psalmist wrote; “be strong and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord” (Ps. 27:14). And Isaiah assures us that “those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isa. 40:31). God strengthens us not by empowering us to have our way but by making us wait until we have the clarity to see God’s way – to see just enough of it, at least, so we can take the next step in faith.

The last advantage in waiting that I’ll mention is that what we are waiting for is not as important as what happens to us while we are waiting. In her book When the Heart Waits, Sue Monk Kidd wrote:

I had tended to view waiting as mere passivity. When I looked it up in my dictionary however, I found that the words passive and passion come from the same Latin root, pati, which means “to endure.” Waiting is thus both passive and passionate. It’s a vibrant, contemplative work. It means descending into self, into God, into the deeper labyrinths of prayer. It involves listening to disinherited voices within, facing the wounded holes in the soul, the denied and undiscovered, the places one lives falsely. It means struggling with the vision of who we really are in God and molding the courage to live that vision.

Maybe the true ministry of the church, or maybe life itself, is not about accomplishing the dream, the goal, the vision. Maybe it’s really about the choices we make today, right now, while we’re waiting, the choices to live what we already possess, to feast on the banquet of life that is already spread out before us.

These ruminations were delivered as a sermon to Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Tonawanda, New York, on Sunday, 2 June 2019.

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