Back in November of 2017, I read an article in Smithsonian Magazine. At the time, the article was really nothing more than the interesting account of a moment in American History that I knew virtually nothing about. In fact, before reading the article, had you asked me what I knew about this particular American and world event, I would have had to admit my ignorance for I would have had nothing to say. That article which I read in November back two and a half years ago was about the Spanish Flu of 1918. As you have likely heard by now, that pandemic killed between 500,000 and 850,000 Americans which is more Americans than were killed in World War I and World War II combined. Yet, while we remember vividly the World Wars, like me, most of us know little about the Spanish Flu of 1918.
Of course, one of the reasons that the Spanish Flu has suddenly become such an important moment in history and a hot topic in our current day is that it is a profound reminder that we are not plowing new ground or exploring unknown territory in dealing with Covid19. Certainly, you and I have not lived through something like we are facing today personally or in our lifetimes. But, America and the world have been here before with the 1918 Spanish Flu being one of the most recent examples. This moment isn’t a first for America or the world.
Yet, we must admit that this is often what we as humans think and how we react. We like to act as though what we are dealing with is uncharted territory. We act this way in life at times and we certainly act this way in our lives of faith.
As believers, we are quick to bemoan the challenges of our lives and of our times as if we are the first people in recorded history to ever travel down this road. We wonder how we can trust God with so much uncertainty. We struggle to follow when we have so many questions unresolved. We bog down under the weightiness of needing to make decisions without feeling a strong sense of direction one way or the other. And, we worry about our faith when God feels oddly distant, when we feel all alone and when we do not sense God’s hopefulness. As we lament where we find ourselves, we often do so with the perspective that we are unique in these experiences.
This is the human experience and it is exactly why I think passages like Acts 1:1-14 are so valuable to us. This passage at the very beginning of Luke’s second volume which focuses on the story of the early church begins with the moment that Jesus is getting ready to ascend to the side of God the Father. The moment is set after the 40 days of Jesus’ resurrection appearances and before the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. In between Easter and Pentecost, Jesus says goodbye. He ends his time on earth in the flesh and leaves his follows waiting for the Holy Spirit.
If you read the passage with honesty and attentiveness, you can cut the tension with a knife. Despite what Jesus has told them, the disciples are struggling to get their arms around what is happening and what is ahead. They are still hung up on Jesus’ establishing some type of earthly kingdom and overthrowing Rome. They are still unsure exactly how the Holy Spirit is going to work in their lives. And, they are not certain what they should be doing with themselves in the meantime. They feel so terribly confusing and lost in the midst of the mysteries of God.
But, we can relate can’t we? They’re experience feels a lot like ours. We can find comfort here can’t we? After all, part of the beauty of this passage is that it reminds us that they dealt with the same things we do and didn’t understand the ways of God at times any more than we understand them.
The truth is that every generation of believers has lived with similar struggles and questions. From the early church in Acts 1, to churches like ours in the American South in 2020, the challenges remain the same. Sometimes we just don’t understand where God is leading, what God wants us to do or how things are going to turn out. And, on this weekend when we often remember the lives of those we have lost in our church and when we also remember the lives of those who gave everything for our country, we also acknowledge that in the midst of death we often feel like we are walking around in the dark not just in life but also in our grief. Again though, these very same experiences have been the challenge of believers in every generation.
So if mystery and faith as strange bedfellows are just a part of life, in ever generation, what is a person to do? I think our text offers three reminders. First, we realize all generations and all believers have lived through similar experiences and have asked similar questions. We are not alone or unique. Second, just like the believers in Acts 1, we remember to lean into each other. As we have said in recent weeks the early church is where Christian community begins. It begins as early believers struggling to figure out life’s mysteries while remaining faithful recognized they needed each other. Things remain the same for us. Third, we do what we can day by day while we wait to learn and understand more. Though they were scratching their heads in bewilderment, Acts 1 still finds the early believers doing what they can. They start meeting together, praying together, sharing thoughts together and they move forward with replacing Judas among the twelve. They do what they can while waiting to understand more. That is our mission, to continue to do what we can do, while we wait to resolve more of the mysteries.
One of the hottest items of recent weeks has been jigsaw puzzles. Who would have thought we would see a time where Amazon was sold out of jigsaw puzzles. But, when you are spending lots of time at home and when you have watched every show on Netflix and read every book on your shelf, why not work a puzzle? Jigsaw puzzles are frustrating and they are not for impatient people. Many of us just can’t sit that long or concentrate that much. But, you have to admit, they teach a good lesson. Faith and life’s mysteries are like a jigsaw puzzle. Patience is required. We must simply take it one piece at a time and we must do so even while waiting for the full picture to emerge. Amen.