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Pondering Possibilities

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You can watch the video of Pastor Kris’ reflection HERE.

With summer approaching, many of us are finding our summer plans changed due to the coronavirus. From summer camps, to summer school, and family trips up north, life has been altered. Even pastimes such as taking in a baseball game, Concerts on the Square, and firework displays, have been canceled (or moved online). A phrase my family uses a lot keeps coming to mind: Regrouping. As in, “let’s go back and regroup.”

We most often use this phrase when we are on family vacation in northern Minnesota. Following hours spent out on Lake Vermillion fishing from before dawn and nearing lunchtime (or in my case, fishing also includes reading a book, or drawing), someone will inevitably say, “Let’s go back and regroup.” This is code for, “I need a break.” Or, if I am being really honest it is slang for, “I need to use the bathroom.”

Sometimes, we need to regroup for the most basic of human needs.

And maybe this is what the people in today’s Bible study experienced. Hanging around outside on the Mount of Olives, just a short distance from Jerusalem, these friends gathered to talk. It was during the period of time after Jesus’ arrest, public crucifixion, and resurrection. Life was chaotic. These were people who had known Jesus while he was alive, who were now encountering him after his death in surprising ways.

The gospel of Luke and the book of Acts is really one, continuous story—broken into two parts. In fact, what we heard read this morning of Jesus’ ascension into (depending on the translation you read) the sky, or the clouds, or the heavens in Acts is a repeat of what is written at the end of Luke (with some of the details altered). This is Luke: Book 2. The story of Jesus’ ascent leaves his family, friends, and disciples… those who had known Jesus… in a really uncomfortable place. Or, at least a place in which they didn’t know what to do next.

There they stood. Their heads tilted back, their mouths open in amazement, the sky seemingly blank. What had just happened? They knew in their minds Jesus was dead… but yet over the past few weeks they had been bumping into him. They had been walking with Jesus, eating with him, and asking him all sorts of questions. Now today, out on the hillside, everything suddenly evaporated.

Whoa. Full stop.

Who wouldn’t be in shock, frozen in place, after what they had just witnessed?

How would you answer the question, “Why are you standing here?”

Unfortunately, Luke didn’t record their answer for us, but I imagine someone in their group eventually said, “Let’s go back to Jerusalem and regroup.” And so, they do. Renee Jackson writes, “They withdraw into the “upper room” to ponder faithfully what was happening to them, and to await the Spirit which would empower them to be witnesses to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.”[1]

So, here we are. We have withdrawn into our own “upper room”… this digital, many-roomed room… in which we have an opportunity to do our own pondering.

It would be totally justified for us to be standing around, shell-shocked, wondering what just happened as communities and businesses struggle with whether or not to reopen during the pandemic. And now churches are too. Is everything back to normal? Or, has everything changed?

I think the disciples, the women and men, and the members of Jesus’ family who regrouped that day—and for many days—offer us a model for what we can do in the weeks and months ahead. For they, “went to the room where they were staying… (and) were constantly devoting themselves to prayer…” (Acts 1:13-14).

They went into the room(s) where they were staying, and were constantly praying.

Like Luke, we too have two chapters, two books. A book of Before the Pandemic: What Was, and the sequel The Acts After COVID-19. In this moment we are in-between the two. We have left the space of what was, and are in the very beginning of the Good News of what will be. We have an opportunity to pause in this “upper room” through worship, Bible study, prayer groups, coffee hour, faith development… and explore possibilities. We can ponder where our own pausing, praying, connecting, and regrouping are leading us.

Poet and social justice activist Sony Renne Taylor notes, “We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, deletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate, and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.”[2]

Today, we are with the disciples in the space in-between. Between what was, and what will be. But what we know, that they didn’t know, is Pentecost is coming. A sudden burst of the Spirit on US, in us, and through us in unexpected ways. Our timeline will be different.I don’t think our post-covid Pentecost moment is coming as soon as next Sunday, when we will celebrate Pentecost… the whoosh of the Holy Spirit in worship, but just think: WHAT IF A NEW PENTECOST IS COMING?

For it is. And it will. Ponder the possibilities.

What do you think?

Has this time in quarantine—our many “upper rooms”—alone yet together, offered any insight into the congregation’s life? What has “this” (Virtual Worship) taught you?

Those gathered virtually posted in “chat,” or “comments”:

  • Care for people
  • Physical distance doesn’t mean social distance
  • To be grateful
  • When God says Be still – be still
  • Appreciating nature even more
  • I have been able to connect with Church more
  • It’s taught us that stay at home hasn’t kept us apart on a spiritual level
  • That truly the Church is the people not the building
  • Our church community is more important than ever
  • We can still get together…
  • How valuable our time together is

Has mission of the church come into any new focus?  We talk about being a church who reaches out in ever-widening circles. What does that mean to you, and is that mission any clearer now?

Those gathered virtually posted in “chat,” or “comments”:

  • Expanding our paradigms
  • We’ve continued to be creative in how we reach out and connect with each other
  • Being online means we can reach out to those who might be afraid to come into a church building
  • Reaching more people with social media
  • We can keep reaching out: This is more important than ever
  • Supporting our Church family in new ways
  • Using technology to create new bridges

In our digital upper room, is patience wearing thin, or proving an unexpected source of strength? 

Those gathered virtually posted in “chat,” or “comments”:

  • The overwhelming response was BOTH

All indications are that until a vaccine has been developed and is readily available to be distributed widely, we will not be able to safely worship in a physical sanctuary. That will be months, maybe even a year into the future. Thus, I encourage us to take this time to continue reflecting on this question: What does this time away from the building empower us to do?

  • For it provides us with opportunities to build on the strength of one-on-one relationships. Stay connected. We have embraced digital spaces a Church. We now have two campuses: The physical building and our Digital Church. I believe this hybrid church, both in-person and online, is our future.
  • Make time to look at our community, the neighborhood around us. Take a walk. Watch the news. What are the needs? How can we prepare to respond to the financial crises the pandemic is causing? The relational, mental health, and spiritual needs?
  • How can we use this time to develop the insight and awareness of God’s will for us? The purpose of this faith community in the way forward?

Those are complex questions of discernment. They take time. Prayer. Regrouping. But I have great hope that our answers to those questions will allow the Spirit to move anew.

So, let us prepare ourselves for a new Pentecost moment!

~Pastor Kris

Reflection on Acts 1:6-14 offered May 24, 2020

[1] Adapted from Jackson, Rev. Renee C. “Online Easter 7 – May 24.” United Church of Christ. Accessed May 18, 2020. https://www.ucc.org/online_easter_7_may_24.

[2] Taylor, Sonya Renee. “Pandemic: A Gateway to a Better World?” Impakter, May 18, 2020. https://impakter.com/pandemic-a-gateway-to-a-better-world/.