Be Still & Know that God is God
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: Acts 1:6-14
Image: "The Ascension," a 14th-century silk embroidery on canvas (Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that God may exalt you in due time. Amen.
It’s true that preachers often like to make sport of the disciples. Including me. I mean, they just can’t seem to get it. By the time we get to the Acts of the Apostles, they’ve spent A LOT of time with Jesus. They have seen Jesus heal the blind, raise the dead, and tell them more parables than they probably cared to hear. They watched the Romans take Jesus, torture and kill him, and then they saw him come back. From that. From death. They touch his wounds just to make sure he’s real. Spoiler: he is. And then they celebrate their friend and teacher with a meal.
They hang out with the resurrected Jesus for a full 40 days before Jesus leaves them for good. 40 days of meals, laughter, and, the scriptures tell us, speaking about the kingdom of God. Jesus is still teaching, still trying to explain God’s vision for our world.
And they still. Don’t. Get it.
“Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom of Israel?” they ask. Is this the time when you put the right people back in charge? Is this the time when you swoop in and fix everything for us with your God power?
Maybe by this point the resurrected Jesus has so completely embodied serenity that he no longer experiences irritation, and he accepts the things he cannot change. If they haven’t learned after all this time that God’s power doesn’t look like earthly power, it wasn’t worth explaining now, especially right before he’s about to leave.
And, oh, I like to think I’m better than those disciples. I like to think that I understand God’s kingdom in a way that they don’t. But the truth is, I’m waiting for God to take over, to fix what’s wrong. Especially now. I’m waiting for God to swoop into the White House and Congress and slap our leaders upside the head with expansive, inclusive love. I’m ready for God to yell at the entire world, “If you care, you’d wear a mask!”
I think I know what God’s power should look like just like those disciples thought they knew. I am a disciple of Jesus for my own time—faithful, hopeful, and still pretty lost.
Aren’t we all? Particularly now.
And honestly, Jesus gives the disciples—and us—the best possible news just before he disappears into the clouds: “It is not for you to know the times or periods that God has set.”
It’s not up to us. We’re not in control. God’s got plans that are bigger and more beautiful than anything we could pull off by ourselves.
Our scripture from Acts doesn’t end with anything triumphant or profound. It ends with the disciples gathered together after Jesus ascended. They’re locked in a room together, waiting for this Spirit Jesus promised, or maybe even for Jesus himself to come back. “It is not for you to know the times or periods that God has set.”
They sit. They wait. In deep uncertainty. For something to change.
We’ve been waiting awhile. Over two months now, locked in our homes except for essential outings. How’s everyone doing with that? Not great? Me neither.
I know it’s hard not seeing our people, not interacting with the world. That’s a real struggle. We are social animals, and we feel that loss of connection. We’re grieving.
But there’s something else going on, too. For a lot of us, this waiting has opened up our time, forced us to reckon with a bunch of extra hours in the day, forced us to reckon with ourselves when we don’t have something else to do.
Ours is a busy culture. A culture that values productivity. If you work, you’re paid to do, to produce. If you’re retired, you fill your time with hobbies or volunteering. Doing. Moving. Being productive.
But what happens when circumstances beyond your control keep you from all that? If you’re not doing things and being productive, who are you? It’s a serious question.
What is left when you stop? Who are you when you’re not busy?
And here’s where the disciples have something to teach us. Because they didn’t go into the upper room and busy themselves by making bread, or doing a deep clean of the space, or sewing garments for lepers, though those are all fine things to do. They didn’t try to fill every moment as they waited. No, they went into the upper room and, we are told, they constantly devoted themselves to prayer.
Our faith has a long and deep monastic tradition. In the early years of Christianity, men and women went out into the Egyptian desert to become communities of people who prayed. That’s it. Whatever else they did—making food, tending to their shelter or personal health—was done to support their prayer life.
Since then, monastics have built their days around prayer. They have developed a rule of life which always points them back to prayer. They’ve marked their days praying the hours, waking well before dawn for the day’s first prayers and gathering seven more times for prayer throughout the day.
Monastics aren’t trying to be productive. They are trying to live the Psalm: Be still and know that God is God.
This way of life has been criticized. They’re just running away from the world, some have said. Shouldn’t they be helping people? What’s the point of all this praying if they’re not doing anything?
Which makes me wonder. Do we really believe in the power of prayer? Do we really believe that when we give our burdens and joys to God, that God hears us and makes a way for us? Do we really believe that “it is not for us to know the times or periods that God has set.”
Because all this frantic doing, all this desperate filling of time, all this productivity, makes it seem like everything is on our timeline, that it’s all up to us.
But the Psalm tells us otherwise. Be still and know that God is God. When Jesus had gone, and the disciples were waiting for whatever came next, this is what they settled into. The monastics made this a way of life.
They were still. They prayed. And maybe, just maybe, they let themselves know and believe that God is God. Amen.