Creating Encounter: In the Waiting

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Today is Pentecost Sunday when we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples gathered in a house in Jerusalem, traditionally thought to be ten days after Jesus had ascended to be with the Father. Ten days and nights of waiting must have seemed a long time. It must have been a strange time, too. It was so generous of the Risen Christ to spend time with them all over a forty day period before his Ascension to make sure they were all certain of the truth.   I wonder if he had only given them fleeting glimpses, there might have been moments or hours, especially when they were trying to sleep, when this band of people would have wondered separately if they had been deluded. Had they really seen the Christ risen from the dead? He made sure they had had ample opportunity to test it out for themselves, to see and even feel his wounds, before doing what he must have longed to do, to take those hard-won battle scars home.

It was almost too amazing to contemplate. And yet, that is exactly what they had time now, to do. To think it all over, to mull, cogitate, meditate on all that had happened during their time with Jesus, and to think on how the Scriptures had been fulfilled. It must have been a time filled with the wisdom of hindsight.  “So that’s why he said that!” “I wondered what he meant by that, and now it is becoming clear!” A time of sharing wisdom and ideas, a time filled as well with “What now?”  Because they all knew they’d been told to wait for something, but they didn’t know what.

Jesus had told them, “ ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.  For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.’ “ (Acts 1: 4-5)

The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is when we say the Church was truly born. But I find that short gestation period when the worshippers all met together and prayed, just as fascinating. Those in between times, those waiting times, those times when we are holding on to faith that God will act but have no real idea of what he will do. Those times probably tell us more about where we are spiritually than how we react to outpourings of blessing.

I’ve read a sermon recently where Peter was criticised for backwards thinking in using some of this time to replace Judas with another disciple. But I think that if nothing else it showed great faith, because he was already preparing for the existence of the Church. He was already acting so that all he could do was in place. He knew that this was just the beginning.

In my life, it is a time of waiting on God. It has been for years, but right at this point there are a number of things which may or may not bring great change. Whilst it might seem like living in Limbo, or being sat motionless in the doldrums, the best way I can hold on to my faith is by preparing. I don’t know what for, any more than Peter truly did, but I can put as much in place as possible, so that when God moves, I know I won’t be totally ready, but I can be getting there. Like an athlete who knows there is going to be a competition, I can exercise and practice. Like a chick who has no idea what flight is, I can still follow that instinct to prepare to flap my wings and start venturing out along branches. However still the wind might be now, God is always about to breathe.

 

Text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt Photo from Pixabay

On Not Getting out of the Boat

fishing-1245979_1920 Photo from Pixabay

(See Mark 4 and 6)

There is a phrase which I see versions of bandied about a lot in Christian circles, perhaps after the title of a John Ortberg book (which admittedly I’ve not read), “If you want to walk on water, you need to get out of the boat!” I see people term themselves “water walkers” and so forth. Where this is about growing courage and faith, that’s great, but it can also be an exercise in completely missing the point.

Does anyone ever say, we need to get out of the boat in order to sink? Which Peter also did, and which is much more character-forming, frankly. Jesus didn’t ask Peter to get out of the boat, nor did he berate the other disciples for not doing likewise.

For one thing, being in the right boat in the first place might be an idea. A great many churched Christians today have very little idea what boat they are in, if they have even the heart to have got on board, let alone the courage to climb out of it. A lot of us are still on the shore, and not even looking in Jesus’ direction. It’s not all our fault, because surprisingly, we aren’t always taught very much about the realities of discipleship.

Most people get shoved out of the boat at some point, and a lot of us are treading water or trying to climb back in. Life is hard enough without pressurising ourselves into leaping into places where only miracles can save us. Peter’s greatest example to us may be, not that he was not afraid to move out of his comfort zone, but that he was not afraid of failure. I don’t think, once he climbed back on board, that he was standing there, dripping wet, crying and bemoaning the fact that he couldn’t keep the miracle afloat for long, I think he was ecstatic that he’d walked on water! He had to embrace the divinity of the miraculous and the humanity of inevitable failure within moments of each other. Perhaps this gave him more insight into the nature of his Messiah. It was not about an achievement, but about learning.

We do all need to try to walk on water perhaps, but only because we shan’t find out who we are or what really matters to us until we fail, and sink, and reach out to grab whatever means the most to us. For Peter, it was an experience, not only of a brief victory, but of seeing his own weakness right before his very eyes and needing to reach out to Jesus. Failure is an immensely powerful teacher (I should know) and the spiritual road we travel as followers of Jesus, if we are truly committed, is strewn with it.

When Jesus was in the boat, earlier, he slept. “If you want a nice rest, climb into the stern” doesn’t have quite the same dynamic pocket devotional/house group session ring to it. But actually, didn’t Jesus say, “Come to me all you who are weary or burdened, and I will give you rest”? Can’t we know ourselves well enough to realise that there are seasons in our lives and faith journeys where what we need to do is not leap into action, but snuggle down there into the pile of cushions/coats and possibly torn fishing nets, and still be disciples? Is sleeping through the storm as courageous and miraculous an act as leaping over the side? Or am I a woman overboard?