Ripples

by Pastor Doug Stratton — May 24, 2020

Acts 1:6-14 

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

CCI: The Great Commission and the Ascension invite us to be faithful in the midst of our waiting.

Marriage, Graduation, Moving, Death, Buying your first house, Divorce, Birth, Learning to drive, Retirement, Conversion, Baptism, First day of school, Covid-19, Zoom Church services, Teething, Winter to Spring – all these things have something in common, they are all times of transition, they are events or passages when we move from one reality to another.

Times of transition are always challenging. While we may look forward to some transitions, each one brings unique challenges, additional responsibility, new ways of relating, lessons that must be learned. As we shelter at home, we are in the midst of huge social transition. We are learning to mitigate risk, and because many of us are new at this, the chance of our becoming hyper anxious is very real. 

As the disciples were adjusting to life after the resurrection and getting used to being surprised by the appearance of Jesus, they were also being prepared by Jesus for another transition. His ascension was at hand, and Jesus knew that when that happened their lives would be changed forever. 

Transitions have a way of changing us. Transitions help us understand what is really important. As the disciples transitioned from being in Jesus’ presence all the time to life in the post resurrection world, the value of the fellowship they shared with one another grew in their hearts and minds. But even then they wanted to get back to normal. 

It seems like that is what we are all asking for. When can we get back to normal? The governor announces a planned move to yellow and we think we can suddenly return to normal. We want to get back! 

Well, after the resurrection when the disciples gathered at the time of the ascension, the question they asked Jesus was, will we get the kingdom now? Can we get back to normal? 

But here is the reality that Jesus underscored with them. Getting back to normal is not a faithful question. And it never has been. The church has forever asked, “How do we go back to what we once knew? How do we go back to when Jesus was actively ministering in Galilee? How do we go back to the days of David when he was king and everything was wonderful? How do we go back to the days of blue laws and everyone respecting Sunday? How do we go back to the days before Covid-19?” And that has always been the wrong question. Jesus response to the disciples was, “Nope, not going to happen.”

The faithful question is: “How do we go forward in the power of the Holy Spirit?”

The way we move forward might be rooted in what we have done in the past, but when we are longing for normalcy, we are creating an idol of what once was. March 8, the last Sunday we were together in person, cannot be recreated. Meetings are going to be different, participation in worship is going to be different, relationships are going to be different.

However, the feasts of Ascension and Pentecost tell us that Jesus has gone before us. Jesus is preparing the way. Jesus, as the angel told the women at the tomb, “is not here. He has gone before you into Galilee, there you will see him.” In the Ascension, Jesus has gone before us, and so while it will be different, the way has been prepared. Are we ready and willing to follow, or are we seeking to go back to the days of old? How do go forward from here? 

Notice what the disciples do after the ascension. They go back to Jerusalem and sit and pray and wait with each other. They did not go back to private lives, rather they connected in prayer, fellowship and planning. Even at this point in the history of the infant church, Lives have already been transformed. When Luke lists those who waited in Jerusalem, he included Jesus’ brothers, the same men who in the gospels had been trying to bring Jesus home because they thought he had lost him mind. Already they were on a new path, but even after lives were changed, they were sent back to wait for God to act. And so they went back, they waited and they prayed. 

The waiting and praying is often the most difficult part of our walk with Jesus. And that is where we find ourselves today. Two nights each week a group of 12 to 15 people are gathering at this same Zoom address to pray for one another and for the future of our church. This is how we wait. We have heard the commission to be witnesses, we have begun to live as a church without walls, We have embraced the call to connect to God, to others and to ourselves, but now we are in a period of waiting, and praying, and planning, and learning. Join us on Tuesday and Thursdays at 6:45, pray with us, seek God’s leading.

The commission Jesus gave the disciples was what I like to call a ripple commission. When Jesus promised dynamic power through the Holy Spirit, he sent them to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Each place they went, was like a pebble dropped in a pond, from that point, the influence of the gospel expanded into ever widening ripples. 

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will carry my message to Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Spreading, growing, moving, transforming – that is the work of the Gospel. 

Last week we heard from 4 members of the Bahama Mission Team. Today we have already introduced Marley to you. And now, I would like to talk to Stacie Burke about how the ripples of the gospel have impacted her life. She may want to tell us about the ripples of Covid, the Ripples of the Bahamas, or the Ripples of the Gospel in her life. 

Stacie, What was it like to have Jim away for that week in February?

How have the ripples of the Gospel impacted you in this time?

What has it been like to wait for God to move during this time?

Is there anything else you want to share?

Today, our lives are still being changed. But even though the world thinks the changes are being caused by Covid, that is not the power that is changing us today. Our lives are being changed by the ripples of the Resurrection! Our lives are being changed the message of the gospel. Our lives are being changed by the ever expanding work of the apostles. Our lives are being changed by those who are willing to be Christ’s witnesses in Hatboro, and Montgomery County and in Philadelphia, and along the East Coast, and through the heartland, and in The Bahamas and onto the Mexican border, and across social boundaries carrying the Good news of Jesus’ loving embrace the LGBTQ+ community, and the immigrant community, and the inner city, and the bayous, and Mountain Hollows and Jungles. 

And it continues to spread as the ripples intermingle and the message spreads and is adapted and becomes our story. 

Jesus began the ripples when he spoke to the woman at the well. She went back to Samaria and soon her message sent people right back to Jesus. As he spoke with them they said, “We no longer believe just because of what she said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” The Woman’s story had become their story. And that is what happens when the ripples of the Gospel intermingle with our lives. 

May your life create ripples that change the lives of the people around you as the Spirit of God changes your life and makes you witnesses in all you do. 

~ Pastor Doug