Sunday, May 24, 2020
Stuck in an in-between time.
The Rev. Mark Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Sunday after the Ascension
Today we are in a period of waiting again. Liturgically as well as in our own lives. This is what is called liminal space or time. That in-between time. We are still in our stay at home mode in some sense. For many nothing has changed yet because they cannot yet risk venturing out. Many have evoked the image from the movie Ground Hog Day where each and every day is exactly the same and just like with the main character we long to break out of the cycle. For some there is the start of the return to way the things they were, but they really aren’t the same. Masks, hand sanitizers, gloves and social distance have changed our lives at least for the foreseeable future even if we are venturing out again. I submitted the plan the vestry approved for the first phase of resuming in-person services, but it will not be the way it was, not for a while at least. So we are left with the big question when will we get back to normal if we ever do. And what will “normal” look like. This is where our passage from Acts and our gospel are so appropriate. For the disciples do not know what their “normal” is going to be either. They have just been told to wait.
Ascension Day was Thursday, 40 days after Easter. Probably one of the most ignored days in the church calendar. We did celebrate it with the readings for Morning Prayer this week and next year maybe we will try to do a little more with this Holy Day. Jesus has ascended into heaven and the disciples have been told to wait, to wait for another, the promised Spirit to be sent which we know happens next Sunday when we celebrate Pentecost. The disciples both the men and the women gathered in that upper room have no clue what is coming. Try to stay in that mindset for a while.
Now the disciples were all excited and asked Jesus if now was the time that Israel was going to come back to power and glory. Jesus typically really doesn’t answer the question but tells them to go and wait. So now they are back in Jerusalem praying and praising God, but most of all they are waiting which is something none of us like to do.
In reading the accounts of the Ascension it strikes me that the reaction of the disciples is important to note. Jesus tells them to wait for the Spirit and they do just that. Patience, waiting for God and the Spirit to do their work is sometimes one of the hardest things for people. First of all, we want to think that we are totally in control and as a wise person said, if you want to make God laugh make plans.
Sometimes it is best to step back and ask God, “What in the world are you doing?” Have you ever considered asking God that question? I have and I do ask that question. The problem is it has taken me a long time to learn to wait for the answer. Most of us ask it as a rhetorical question never expecting an answer and then go on with our plans never giving God the chance to reveal what God may desire.
This waiting on God is one of the reasons I have not jumped into major new programs or changes since coming here and given what we have experienced these past 3 months I think we are fortunate that we aren’t knee deep in some new program. The new program that Bishop Doyle is asking us to think about is what will church look like going forward? I’m being patient and asking God, what are you doing here?” Followed by what are you calling me, and now us, to do. I moved very quickly from the why God question to the really important question, what now? What are you calling us to look at during this liminal time, this in-between time where the chance for growth is so profound. Growth not in the numerical idea, although we are having a large number of views of our online offerings, but growth in our understanding of God’s call to this parish and to our individual lives.
In one of the commentaries they quoted Jesus’ statement “You did not choose me, I chose you.” What does it mean to be chosen by God, Jesus or the Spirit? And for what have we been chosen? The simple answer is chosen to spread the news of the love of God. Bishop Curry constantly reminds us of that. The big question is how.
We have taken some great steps in reaching new people with our livestreamed services. On average 10 people join me every morning at 8:00 for Morning Prayer. This livestream service is then viewed by 30-50 people during the day and that number is holding steady. They are not all St. Paul’s members. Our Sunday 10:30 service draws between 180- 250 views in a given week. Each view may also be more than one person so we are reaching a large number of people some of whom are not members. Julia’s children’s video last week had 98 views with 164 people reached! That’s amazing! We have taken a huge leap and are working on putting in permanent cameras and tying our sound system into the live feed. Livestreaming our services is here to stay.
We have been doing Zoom bible study and are getting a good group to tune in and participate. Is it as good as in person, maybe, maybe not. Nothing replaces face to face interaction, but we do have people where Zoom makes it possible for them to attend where an in-person study doesn’t.
Then we ask, God what else do you want us to do with this new-found ability? I was at a parish that used to do a lunchtime program for people who worked downtown. I got to wondering what if we offered a lunchtime book or theology gathering via Zoom. Most everybody takes a lunch and maybe some folks who haven’t been able to engage in some form of weekday Christian Formation might be able to enrich their lives this way. I am going to give this a try so if you are interested please let me know. Where two or three are gathered I’m happy to be there too.
Andrea Smith our senior warden mentioned that in dropping off the Easter bags to our families was really aware of how few of us live near St. Paul’s. Why is that, is a very good question. This may just be the time to ask that question. Since arriving I have had several conversations with members of the diocesan Mission Amplification team about that topic. We have just begun to partner with Katy Christian Ministries and connect with the elementary school across the street. Next month Denise Trevino (who is the multi-cultural consultant for the diocese) is going to meet with the vestry to talk about a program that the diocese would like us to consider for connecting with the neighborhood. We would be one of the first churches to try this program. Jason Evans from the Mission Amplification team has also offered to come and meet with me and the vestry to brainstorm how we might better engage our neighborhood. He will be meeting with us in July.
This time out from regular activities gives us a chance to ask these important questions. Liminal spaces like we are in right now, like the disciples were in between the Ascension and Pentecost are times ripe for change and growth. Just like the disciples there is an element of go to your room, pray and wait for the Spirit. I sense the Spirit is definitely beginning to speak to us as a parish. Pray, ask God what God is calling you to do and then be patient, wait and listen. The answer will come, of that I am sure.