A catch phrase often used by someone standing around is, “I’m waiting for Godot.” I have never seen the Samuel Beckett play but I have read it. It is long and tedious, something I can’t imagine anyone watching on stage.
The play consists of two guys passing the time of day in an unfocused conversation. Much of the time they just sit silently. There is no action, just one long scene, occasionally broken when the two men speak. They have nowhere to go. They suspect life should offer a bit more, but they are not sure. So they wait for Godot to break the monotony of their lives. The play is complicated even further because they have no idea if Godot is actually coming, and if he does, they aren’t sure they will recognize him. So they sit, sometimes in silence, sometimes in awkward conversation, waiting for someone they are not even sure exists.
The Book of Acts opens with a similar scene. Easter had come and gone. Jesus takes them up a mountain where he ascended into the clouds. Immediately the questions started. “When is he coming back? What are we to do? Do we stay here and wait? How do we manage without him?” They stood on the hill, looking up, waiting, hardly aware that life was beginning to pass them by.
What is it like to wait for God? Are we like those two guys in Beckett’s play? Are we like the disciples with our heads in the clouds? Do we really believe God will make another appearance?
On a shelf in my office, somewhere between Niebuhr and Tillich, irreverently sits Bertrand Russell. Many folks find the writings of Russell to be as invigorating and challenging as anything presented in the 20th century. He entered the academic world as a mathematician always applying logic to complicated questions. He moved from mathematics to philosophy and still approached life from the perspective of logic. Since reason and common sense often are in conflict with faith, it should surprise no one his most famous essay was titled, “Why I am not a Christian.”
Bertrand Russell has not convinced me to give up my faith, but he draws conclusions which I am often hard-pressed to refute. Russell claims Christianity has impeded human progress by creating a narrow set of moral parameters which inflict undeserved and unnecessary suffering on the masses. Christians manipulate the general population through fear rather than logic. According to Russell the principal message of the church is believe what we teach or suffer eternal damnation. The result of this rigidity causes Christians to fear progress, fear the mysterious, fear defeat, but most of all, fear death. Bertrand Russell believed Christianity deprived humanity of the joy of pursuing knowledge, kindliness and courage. While I would love to argue with Russell, I have witnessed far too many churches that stand frozen in time, and if they do anything it is nothing more than looking toward heaven and repeating, “Come Lord Jesus, Come Lord Jesus.”
I would like to think that Bertrand Russell would be a bit confused if he visited our congregation. We do not shy away from the power of knowledge. Between our small groups, Sunday School class, Pub Spirituality and the casual conversations which ruin my golf game, this is a very inquisitive and informed congregation. We do not shy away from acts of kindness. Ask anyone who has been ill. Ask the recipients of wood or mittens. Ask the increasing number of folks who receive help with electricity, medication, and rent. Ask the parents of Head Start children. Ask the folks who gather for AA meetings or those that drop by for the counseling services offered by Dwight or the recipients of the music lessons Kathleen provides. Are we courageous? It depends on who you talk to. We can certainly agitate each other. Sometimes we just sit on our hands. I like to think we are politely vocal. Others of you might want to suggest we are politically inappropriate. The truth is everyone has a line that defines our moral consciousness. For some that line is crossed too often. For others it is not crossed enough. The amazing thing is despite our theological and political differences we get along because we really like each other.
Bertrand Russell would view us suspiciously. He would probably ask, “OK, you might be a nice group of morally motivated folks. But do you actually believe your inspiration comes from some mystical being looking down from the heavens? Are you inspired the resurrection or are you simply gentle folk compelled to do some good things?” Then Bertrand Russell would point his finger and say, “Your preacher seldom ventures beyond the moral clarity of the Old Testament. Your first service choir hates to sing songs using the words blood or cross. Your Sunday School class spends much too much time questioning what the Biblical writers really had on their mind. Your men’s luncheon finds its inspiration in old war stories. The truth is you like each other too much and bicker too little to actually qualify as an average church. So why do you really need Jesus?”
Which is worse, being paralyzed from looking up, or breaking all the churchy rules and then wondering if you really need God at all?
So here we sit, between Easter and Pentecost. Certainly we understand Easter. A month ago we sang, “Christ has Died, Christ has Risen, Christ will Come Again”, as we hid Easter eggs and stuffed our grandchildren’s baskets with chocolate bunnies. On Monday we returned to our regular routine. We are like most folks. We don’t know what to do with the resurrection. It is so easy for Southern Baptist. They are quite comfortable saying, “Believe in Jesus or you will go to hell.” We don’t even feel comfortable sending folks to Stuart’s Draft.
So some of us wait for God, not sure what to expect. Some of us try to act like Jesus only to discover those are awful big shoes to fill. And most of us try to do a little of both and still come up short.
Beckett got it wrong. We are doing more than just waiting. Bertrand Russell got it wrong. I don’t think we are restricting or condemning free thought. But what exactly is it we are doing? If folks walk through our doors we make every effort to be neighborly. But how intentional are we to invite folks sitting at home to join us on Sunday morning? We have a lot going for us. We are nice people. We have great music. We have two services most of the year. We don’t even require visitors wear a tie. But who are we beyond the obvious? What do we have to offer to someone with a broken heart? What do we offer to someone curious about their faith? What do we offer to a family with children? The only thing that distinguishes us from a gym or social club or even the community center is Jesus. Why does the mention of that name make us so nervous?
Next week is Pentecost. It’s the day the disciples got their heads out of the clouds and seriously went to work becoming part of God’s story. Do we need to get our heads out of the clouds? Do we need to stop waiting for Jesus? This week, revisit the story of Jesus. Remember why you got so excited in the first place. To God be the glory. Amen.