"Pregnant Pause," Pastor Fred Kinsey
Today is the 43rd day of Easter, three days after the Ascension. Which means we’re just 7 days, one week away from Pentecost, sometimes referred to as the birth of the Church. On Ascension, Jesus asked the disciples to remain in Jerusalem, and wait for the power of the Holy Spirit to come upon them. Then, when Jesus was taken up out of their sight in a cloud, they all went back to the Upper Room to wait.
What do you do while you wait for a birth? What do you do when there’s only one week left before the new-born arrives? Well, I’m not a parent - so I had to google it!
Here’s just 12 of the 25 things my google search turned up:
- Make sure that everything is in order at work before you officially start maternity leave.
- Select birth announcements and put together a list of friends and family to send them to.
- Catch up with long-distance friends via telephone or Skype.
- Write a letter to the baby, with hopes and expectations for them, and with anecdotes about your pregnancy.
- Buy a baby book.
- Get a manicure and pedicure.
- If you're up for it, cook some make-ahead meals that you can pop in the freezer.
- Do a supergentle prenatal yoga workout.
- Meet a friend for coffee (or lunch, or dinner, or ice cream . . . ). You deserve it.
- Get together with your own mom and learn about your own birth story.
- If you have older kids, take them shopping for a special "welcome gift" for their new baby sibling.
- Read for pleasure – not just your Baby book!
These all sound well thought out, calm, and reasonable to me. But parents know, after the birth, things can get just the opposite – pretty chaotic at times. And new parents often report feeling overwhelmed, unsure if they’re doing the right thing, and always, short on sleep!
So, maybe this isn’t a bad analogy for the disciples who were expecting the birth of the church – or, some sort of surprise package that the Holy Spirit was supposed to bring them – any day now, after Jesus had ascended.
So, what is it that the disciples decide to do while they wait? They decide they need to get their house in order, by picking a replacement Apostle, for Judas. That’s right, they feel it’s of utmost importance, that to be completely prepared for leading the Jesus movement, that they have 12 Apostles, not just 11. It might sound trivial at first, until you remember that, if they want to be the New Israel, a new construct of 12 tribes of Israel, God’s chosen people, they need 12 Apostles!
And the reason why they had only 11, was a serious embarrassment. Judas was the one who had betrayed Jesus, “who became,” as the book of Acts says in our 1st Reading, “a guide for those who arrested Jesus.” Remember, for 30 pieces of silver, Judas had tipped them off that Jesus would be in the Garden of Gethsemane. And our lectionary is still embarrassed apparently, because it leaves out the three verses in Acts that detail what happened to Judas: that, “as you know, he took the evil bribe money and bought a small farm. There he came to a bad end, rupturing his belly and spilling his guts. Everybody in Jerusalem knows this by now; so they called that field in their language Ha-kel’da-ma, that is, Field of Blood.”
Jesus himself prophesied, at the last Supper, that the 12 disciples would be servants like him, who administered the 12 tribes of Israel in his absence. So this was pretty important! And Peter gathered the crowd of 120 followers to suggest a process for accomplishing this task.
Basically, it should include two things, Peter contended: 1) the replacement for Judas must be an eyewitness, someone who was with us from Jesus’ baptism by John, all the way to his Ascension, just three days ago; and 2) it has to be God’s decision. So, they came up with two candidates: Joseph called Bar-sab’bas, whose nickname was Justus, and, Matthias. Then they prayed for God to choose the right one, casting lots. And when the lot fell on Matthias, he became the new, 12th Apostle.
Immediately after that, comes Acts chapter 2, the Day of Pentecost, when the Apostles are delivered from their pregnant waiting, and the church was born by the Holy Spirit.
The disciples were, as ready as they could be. They had all been followers since Jesus’ baptism by John; had accompanied him along the road to Jerusalem, to the passion of his suffering and death, his resurrection and ascension. But they still had little idea what would be required of them, after the Pentecost.
As it turned out, the apostle Matthias, who seemed so important to choose beforehand – saving the Apostolic band from total embarrassment! – is never again mentioned in the book of Acts, or any other writings. We don’t know his story, and apparently it wasn’t what was important to the growth and formation of the church afterwards. It was a lot like parents who calmly prepare for the birth of their first child, who must let go of things, post-birth, that they had thought would be important beforehand – for the Apostles, it was the Holy Spirit who would re-birth them into their new roles of table servants and evangelists, letting go former friends who hadn’t caught the fire.
But the symbolism of 12 Apostles, representing the 12 tribes of Israel, the people of God, remains with us still. Of vital importance to Jesus and the 12 was that they were grounded and rooted in the history and meaning of the chosen people. Even though the four Gospels never quite agree on all the names of the 12 disciples, still, the leadership of the early church had to be chosen from those who were with Jesus during his ministry, those who had been birthed and weaned on the Law and the Prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures – foundational traditions, which Jesus made clear in the Sermon on the Mount, he was not abandoning, but indeed fulfilling!
St Paul – himself a Jew, and who never renounced that, even as he became the most well-known evangelist for Jesus, in biblical times – describes us, the Gentile believers, as being branches, grafted on to the tree of Judaism. This is who we are.
But the Holy Spirit also blows where it will, and we hear the sound of it, though we know not where it comes from or where it goes, as the Gospel of John says. And so, the followers of Jesus did not continue to reside only in Jerusalem and Israel, but fulfilled God’s promises by the prophets of the Hebrew scriptures, that all nations shall become believers in Yahweh. The symbol so basic for so long, of the presence of God in the Temple, would be transformed into the symbol of Jesus as the Body of Christ. And the Holy Spirit would blow the Apostles, and the Church, across the Mediterranean, Africa, India, and the whole world.
Like the disciples who waited these 10 days between the Ascension and the Day of Pentecost, none of us have all that many days of preparation, or reflection on our journey of faith. The days of pregnant waiting can seem unreal, unconnected, unusual! But initially, they are an exciting gift we have, when we first discern God’s will for our lives.
As members of the Body of Christ, the church, we want to follow Jesus and be bearers of the good news! That’s the work of the church, the chosen people – not the visible church that through the centuries overstepped its authority and engaged in wars and persecution, or peddled dubious theological promises, or abused its own. Not even the invisible church that is other-worldly and serves as a heavenly prize, ‘bye and bye.’
I think what we want to create is a church that is much wider, much more diverse and full, that lives up to the ideals and life-giving imagination and promise of Jesus, our Christ, here and now, and forever – for us, our children and our planet. We believe in the One, universal God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who lives in our every cell, our every breath, who’s at the heart of human life, among the poor, who never dies, who forgives and redeems without end, who is light without darkness, who remembers and never forgets us and all of the creation.
So, Let us use this time wisely, this pregnant pause, as we await the coming of the gift of the Holy Spirit, who will guide us and advocate for us, that we might be ready for the mighty Day of Pentecost.
Alleluia, Christ is risen...