top of page

Waiting and Persisting

Sermon Preached by Jack Cabaness

Covenant Presbyterian Church, Palo Alto, CA

April 7, 2024

Sermon Text: Acts 1:1-14


What did the apostles do after that first Easter?


Well, according to Luke, they were given strict stay at home orders and were told to wait indefinitely.


And after they had waited a while and they were all together again, they asked Jesus, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”


Which is another way of asking, how much longer do we have to continue sheltering in place?

You told us to wait. We’ve waited. Now how much longer do we have to continue to wait?


Sound familiar?


I’m afraid it sounds all too familiar. The pandemic, I’m afraid, forever altered how I hear these beginning verses to the book of Acts.


I remember that weariness, how we were all weary with waiting.


This year we can enroll our kids in summer camps and other summer programs and not have to worry about whether the camps will be able to reopen, but that was definitely not the case four years ago, even three years ago.


Even before the pandemic, we knew what it was like to have to wait, and how hard that is for a culture that prefers always to be on the move.

When we do have to wait, it is only natural for us to cry out, how much longer?


For those apostles gathered in Jerusalem in the weeks after Jesus’ resurrection, they must have wondered if Jesus’ resurrection would mean that at long last all the messianic hopes would be fulfilled, that Jesus would reign and the Roman oppressors would be overthrown.


Those hopes had not been fulfilled when Jesus first entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. The excitement of Palm Sunday gave way to the horror of the crucifixion. But now that Jesus has been raised from the dead, surely now is the time when Jesus will forever establish the realm of God and depose all the Pilates and the Caesars.


And so they asked Jesus, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”


And Jesus replied:


“It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.”


That sounds familiar, too, doesn’t it?


Four years ago we had no idea how much longer the pandemic would last. We had no choice but to wait.


And the disciples had no choice but to wait. And what were they waiting for?


They were waiting for power.


Listen again to what Jesus told the apostles in Acts 1:8:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”


How extraordinary to be given a promise of power at the very time when they were feeling powerless. And how extraordinary for us to be given a promise of power in all those times when we feel utterly powerless.


What kind of power?


The power to witness. The power to demonstrate by our faith and actions that we are an Easter people, that we are people of the resurrection, that we joyfully share the new life in us.


Well, that sounds great on Easter Sunday. But about the Sunday after Easter? When perhaps we are experiencing a slump, when our own spirits are low-slung and weary. When we are tired of waiting, and by now you’ve grown tired of hearing me say that we’ve tired of waiting! How much longer do we have to wait for the preacher to stop talking about waiting?!?!


So, while we wait, what kind of power can we have in the here and now?


I believe we hear a clue in Acts 1:14. In the New Revised Standard Version this verse begins: All these were constantly devoting themselves.


According to New Testament scholar Beverly Gaventa, a more literal translation of those words would be: “these all were persisting together.”

What kind of power have we been promised?


The power to persist together.


In terms of church life, these post-pandemic days can seem even more uncertain than the pandemic itself. During the pandemic we had to follow CDC and other local guidelines. But there is no rule book for post-pandemic life. That we have to navigate for ourselves. Even so, we have been promised the power to persist.


When the Gospel writer Luke tells us that the apostles were persisting together, the persistence was not an end in itself.


Luke tells us that they were all persisting together in prayer.


If praying seems hard, remember that we are promised the power to persist in prayer, the power to turn again to God even with our sense of powerlessness and disappointment and grief and anger and fear.


If you haven’t been able to pray in a while, you may not realize the power you have, the power you have been promised, the power to turn again to God and wait and rest and rejuvenate your spirits.


In the early 1990s a delegation of Presbyterian pastors from the United States traveled to South Korea to meet with a group of Korean pastors. During their time there, the American pastors overhead the Korean pastors talking about church plans once the long-awaited reunification of North and South Korea had taken place. The Korean pastors were talking about these plans as if they were short-term plans.


This confused the American pastors. They could not recall hearing anything at all in the news to indicate that reunification was even on the table. And so they asked their Korean counterparts, is there something we don’t know? Has there been some new development in the relations between the two Koreas that makes reunification likely to happen in the near future?


And the Korean pastors replied, no, no new developments. You haven’t missed any major news stories.


Then how, the American pastors asked, can you be so certain that reunification is imminent?


And the Korean pastors replied, because we’ve been praying about it for forty years! (story told by Thomas G. Long in a sermon he preached in the 1990s)


Well, that meeting took place 30 years ago, and now it’s been 70 years since the cease fire that ended the hostilities in the Korean conflict.


Do you think the Korean pastors are still praying for imminent reunification?


I do. Because there is something about human resilience and persistence that cannot be explained in terms of human power alone.


They and we have been promised power. The power to persist together.


All glory and praise be to our God. Amen.

Please note: Each week I try to write a complete sermon manuscript in advance, but in the preaching moment I often use an outline or sparse notes. Accordingly, this written blog post will likely differ slightly from the sermon as actually preached.



bottom of page