Today is the last week in our series Thrive@United. Each week of this series, there has been a choice.
We started with “choosing life over death,” maybe a rather obvious choice. Next we chose community over isolation, then fun over drudgery, bold over mild, and frontier over fortress. Last week we even had the opportunity to put into practice our choice for frontier by going on a prayer walkout into the community. Now, today we have the choice between now or later.
What are you hearing in the choice between now and later? My husband Rob heard candy.
Now sounds trendy. “Live in the NOW.”
Now sounds parental. “I told you to do your chores and I said NOW!”
Now sounds urgent. “We need help NOW!”
In the world of churches, now sounds . . . unusual, doesn’t it? Because churches aren’t always so good at doing things right now. We need to do things decently and in order. We need to take it to committee. We need to run it by session, the board. We need a motion, and a second, and then we need discussion. We need to work together to make a plan and follow the plan together. None of that happened on Pentecost.
By the time the disciples got to Pentecost, they already knew their plans had gone right out the upper room window when Jesus was crucified. That was in God’s plan, but they hadn’t understood the plan quite that way. While they’re still trying to figure out how the plan had changed, Jesus was resurrected.
Then Jesus told them that the next step in the plan was to go out and tell the world about what happened, go everywhere and make disciples . . . but first, wait until you receive power from the Holy Spirit and then go out and tell the world. So they waited, and while they were waiting, they prayed.
What else could they do?
Jesus didn’t tell them when the Holy Spirit was coming.
Jesus didn’t tell them how the Holy Spirit was coming.
Would they have understood even if he had told them?
On the day of Pentecost, they were together celebrating the Jewish feast of Pentecost, and doing what they had been doing every day – praying. And that’s when things got a little crazy.
First there was the wind. Here in Kansas everybody knows about wind. Wind is strong. Strong wind is loud. Really strong wind is really loud.
Then came the tongues of fire, and then everyone began speaking in tongues. That also was loud. We’ve been in crowds. We know how loud they can be.
It was so loud that everyone in the neighborhood came running to see what was happening.
Nobody planned it. Nobody sent out invitations. Nobody made refreshments. Nobody put together a program or arranged for extra chairs and tables. This was just happening and it was happening NOW. Because sometimes the Holy Spirit does unexpected things at unexpected times in unexpected ways.
Not surprisingly, people had lots of questions. Why is this happening? Why are they talking like that? What does this mean?
Peter didn’t have time to run home to do some exegesis to prepare a sermon to answer their questions and explain the meaning. In a surprisingly brilliant move, he just stood up and started explaining about Jesus who died and was resurrected.
Peter knew the scriptures well enough to use them to show that the Prophet Joel had predicted this outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and King David had written a song (Psalm 16) about the resurrection, and though they didn’t quite understand God’s plan from these scriptures before, it is now clear that Jesus, the one who was just crucified, is God’s plan to bring about the salvation of us all.
Hearing all this, the people were amazed, and asking, “What are we to do now?”
Peter immediately had the answer for this question:
“Change your life. Turn to God and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, so your sins are forgiven. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.“ (Acts 2:38 MSG)
He didn’t say, “Go home and think about it.” Or “Go home and pray about it.” This challenge was for right now. He kept on urging them to act now. And that day 3000 people were baptized.
And all the rest of the crowd was left in a quandry, arguing with each other. Did he say, “Yanny? Or did he say Laurel?” Or did he say “covfefe?” Silliness aside, the first and most important way we “choose now over later” is to turn to God, say yes to Jesus and welcome the Holy Spirit.
There’s no reason to wait. This is exactly how Jesus began his ministry in Mark’s gospel, telling people that now is the time to repent.
Jesus said: “Now is the fullness of time,” … “and the kingdom of God is near! Turn away from your sins, and believe in the Good News!” (Mark 1:15TLV)
Now is the time to say yes to Jesus. If you’ve been putting this off, don’t delay any longer. Just say yes.
Choosing now over later means we
- Turn to God
We do put things off. We can come up with all kinds of reasons. There’s always tomorrow, right? Or is there?
The end of all things is near. 1 Peter 4:7
We laugh when we read that because Peter wrote those words about 2000 years ago. The end of all things wasn’t as near as Peter thought. On the other hand, how many of the people who heard or read those words have already met their own “end of all things”?
The Holy Spirit prompts us and we need to act.
Do it now – because we don’t know what tomorrow will bring.
Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. –James 4:14Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring. –Proverbs 27:1
For instance, we might be thinking that one of these days I’ll tell my friend how much Jesus loves them, but that day never comes because he dies of a heart attack.
Sometimes it’s blazingly clear that we need to act now. If we’re thinking about adopting a dog that’s due to be euthanized tomorrow at the animal shelter, now is the time to get ‘er done!
What do you see when you look at a crowd of people? In Matthew 9, our gospel reading this morning, Jesus looks out at the crowds of people and has compassion for them. He sees people who are ready to hear about God’s amazing love and forgiveness. He says, “The harvest is ready.”
He saw people looking for a shepherd. He saw people he loved and wanted to help. He saw people whom he wanted to know that God loves them. And so he says, “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers.”
That’s a call to pray.
- Turn to God
Jesus said to ask God for workers, and then he commissioned the disciples, giving them the authority to heal people and cast out demons, and then he sent them out to tell people about the good news of the gospel. (Matt 10:1ff)
Choosing now means we turn to God, pray, and do.
If we don’t know what to do, we pray until we do.
If we do know what to do, we pray and then do it.
Do it now – because otherwise we will miss the opportunity to be a part of what God’s doing.
I’ll never forget the first time I realized that I’d missed it. I had this brilliant idea for a ministry, a way to serve people in the community where I lived at the time. I knew it was inspired by God, but I hesitated. I wanted to pray about it some more. What if . . .this? What if . . . that? When? How? It’s ok to think things through, but I got too bogged down in all of that, and the next thing I knew somebody else was announcing their plan to implement my brilliant idea. Because it wasn’t my idea. It was God’s idea. And He made sure it DID happen.
It isn’t always easy to know what to do and when to do it. Sometimes it’s very clear. Like when a kid gets brought into the emergency room barely hanging on to life. If they waited to find the parent and get permission to treat, the kid would die, so they don’t wait. They act immediately to make sure the child is stabilized.
Sometimes it’s not so clear and we have to act on faith. So often we hesitate because we don’t like not knowing what the outcome will be. We try to see into the future and predict, but only God truly knows, and we need to trust him for the outcome. To get better at this, it helps to practice.
- Turn to God
This will sound silly, but one of the ways I practice is choosing what to wear in the morning. I used to waste a lot of time trying this outfit, and then another outfit. I’d stand in the closet forever trying to make up my mind while the clock just kept on ticking. So God inspired me to turn to him, ask for help, and go with the first thing I thought of next. Most of the time I wear one of three colors – black, blue or green. I have red shirts because I have bought them over the years to wear on Pentecost, Christmas and the 4th of July, but other than that they just sit in my closet. One morning as I was getting ready to go to a worship conference I was in a quandry. I didn’t know what to expect going to a place I’d never been before and so I didn’t know what to wear. The first thing I thought of after I asked God for help was my red shirt.
I argued. No, God, please, not the red shirt. It’s not a holiday. I didn’t hear a voice, but the feeling I had was a lot like when a parent gets frustrated with child who is arguing. The feeling felt like this: “Just wear it. So I did.
Guess what the main topic was at the worship conference that day? Trusting the Holy Spirit. And I was all ears because I was wearing my Holy Spirit red and I had trusted the Holy Spirit about wearing it. Choosing a shirt is such a little thing, but it’s a little thing that made a big difference in my life. It’s helped me practice listening and trusting. We practice with the little things so we’ll be better prepared to handle the bigger things.
- It’s easy to say that things need to change.
- It’s hard to see that what needs to change is us.
Turning to God and praying is always clear and simple. “Hey, God, help.”
When we DO know what to do, we’ll need God’s help. If we do things only on our own, we will fall short and tire out and fail. We can’t do it on our own. Only God knows what tomorrow will bring, and only God can change hearts.
John 15:5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will [thrive]; apart from me you can do nothing.
We stay connected to Jesus because of the Holy Spirit and we practice listening to the Holy Spirit when we pray. So I’m asking you today as an exercise of this to keep praying for 40 days. On your way out today pick up a 40-days-of-prayer booklet.*
Now is the time to turn to God, pray, and do.
If you know what to do, ask God for help to go do it.
If you don’t, keep on praying and listening and getting ready to dowhatever God has in store for us to do.
Jesus is risen. The harvest is ready. The Holy Spirit is here. Let’s let him work in us right now so we can thrive as God’s people doing God’s work in the world.