Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) | Streaming Licensing # 20105663Children's Sermon Guide
Making the Most of the Time: A Time For Waiting
Acts 1:1 - 1:8
May 10, 2020
Reverend Jason Harris
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The Irish playwright Samuel Beckett wrote a work in 1949 that changed the face of modern theater. Waiting for Godot is ostensibly a play about nothing. Writing for the Irish Times, one critic said that Samuel Beckett had “written a play in which nothing happens, twice”—referring to both Act I and Act II.
The entirety of the play takes place in a bleak landscape along a lonely road near a barren tree. Two men dressed in tattered rags, named Estragon and Vladimir, are waiting for a man named Godot—who—you guessed it—never arrives. This is a world in which nothing happens, nothing is certain, and there is nothing to do—except wait. While Estragon and Vladimir wait, they engage in meaningless actions like taking off their boots or swapping their bowler hats. They try to pass the time through conversation that ranges from the trivial to the transcendent, mixed with a little humor, all of which leaves us wondering whether we should laugh or cry or both. One thing is clear: these two men are suffering from endless boredom and crushing despair.
The play opens with Estragon struggling to remove his boot from his aching foot. In frustration, he speaks the first words of the play: “Nothing to be done.” And that’s the point. There’s nothing to be done. They are simply killing time. Eventually Estragon decides to leave, but Vladimir reminds him that they can’t leave because they are waiting for Godot. However, neither one can be certain if they have ever met Godot, if they are waiting in the right place, if it is the right day, or if Godot will ever come at all. Towards the end of Act I, a boy finally arrives and informs them that Godot has sent a message that he will not come that night, “but surely tomorrow.” It becomes apparent, however, that the boy had delivered the same message the day before, and he will do so again the day after. Both Acts end in similar fashion. Estragon and Vladimir agree to leave, but they remain standing where they are as the curtain closes. You can guess what happens next.
As the days go by, perhaps you feel like you are trapped in a Beckett play. Instead of waiting for Godot, we are waiting for Cuomo—waiting for Governor Cuomo to tell us how we can phase out of our stay-at-home orders and go back to work or resume some kind of normal life. Or if we are working tirelessly on the front lines, we are waiting for a much-needed rest from so much agonizing activity. Either way, we all feel like we are waiting for a day that never seems to come.
Beckett famously refused to comment on any of the many speculations that circulated out there about the meaning of the play or the identity of Godot in order to keep his audiences guessing. Beckett said the only thing he could be certain of was that the two men were wearing bowler hats. The lack of clear meaning has made the play open to countless readings and interpretations.
Beckett claimed that if he wanted Godot to represent God he would have simply said so, but I tend to think he might be toying with us because the play is filled with biblical allusions. There are references to various proverbs that are deliberately misquoted as well as the story of Cain and Abel, and the parable of the Good Samaritan—although this time no one comes to the aid of the man who is beaten and left in a ditch.
Early in the first act Estragon asks Vladimir what it is that he has requested from Godot. He responds by saying: “Oh ... nothing very definite.” - “A kind of prayer.” - “Precisely.” - “A vague supplication.” - “Exactly.”
The sole leafless tree on the stage could be suggestive of the tree of life or perhaps even the cross of Jesus, especially because Vladimir and Estragon engage in an extended conversation about the two thieves who were crucified on either side of Jesus. Vladimir recalls that one of the two thieves was saved, so they’ve got a 50/50 chance at salvation but they struggle to understand what the thief was saved from. Vladimir suggests the possibility: “Suppose we repented?” But repent of what? The best Estragon can come up with is to repent of their “being born?” The problem in this play is existence itself.
Beckett seems to be saying that we may be able to find ways to pass the time and idle away the hours, but ultimately all our words and all our actions are meaningless because Godot is never going to come. Ultimately there is no remedy for our boredom or our despair. So is Beckett right? Are we all waiting for a day that will never arrive?
In many ways, the Christian life is a life of waiting. The Psalms repeatedly exhort us to “wait for the Lord,” and one of the frequent cries of the Psalms is: “How long?” “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” The Psalms are utterly realistic about how heart-wrenching and painful it can be to wait for the Lord to act. Yet they insist that our waiting is not in vain because there is a day when the Lord will come in fulfillment of all his promises. The question is: What are we supposed to do while waiting?
That’s why I chose our Scripture passage today which is taken from the first chapter of the book of Acts. Here we learn that Jesus used the 40-day period between his resurrection from the dead and his ascension into heaven to accomplish a number of specific goals. First, he provided his disciples with several assurances that he really was alive. Second, he spoke to them about the kingdom of God. But then Jesus tells them to wait. He orders the disciples not to depart from Jerusalem but to wait for the promise of the Holy Spirit.
In a similar way, we too have been told to wait. The third chapter of Second Peter, for example, tells us that we are all “Waiting for new heavens and a new earth.” We are waiting for that day when Jesus will eradicate all sickness and sorrow and suffering and usher in a whole new world. But - as for the original disciples, so for us—this period of waiting can lead to serious misunderstandings regarding what we are waiting for, why we are waiting, and what we should do while we wait. Let’s consider the what, the why and the how. What are we waiting for? Why are we waiting? How are we supposed to wait?
First, let’s consider the what. The disciples come together and ask Jesus: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” You can hear the confusion in their voices. They thought that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the one upon whom all the promises of God would be fulfilled. The signs were all there. No one spoke like Jesus. No one related to people like Jesus. No one acted like Jesus. No one could do the kinds of things Jesus was doing unless he really had been sent from God.
Throughout the three years that they had spent together, they knew that Jesus and his ragtag group of followers didn’t look like much. They didn’t have much in the way of money, power, position, or influence. But they assumed Jesus was just biding his time. One day the climactic moment would come, and Jesus would lay out his master plan, reveal his true colors and seize control of the situation. As they approached Jerusalem during that fateful spring, their expectations were riding high. But then, rather than grabbing the levers of power, Jesus went and got himself killed. Wait a minute. That wasn’t supposed to happen!
You can almost hear the disciples saying: Jesus, you really threw us off with that whole death by crucifixion bit. We definitely didn’t see that one coming. Talk about a curveball! When you said you were going to die and rise again we thought you were just being poetic. But you really meant it!
At this point, they feel like they have finally caught up to Jesus and his plans. So they ask: Now that you are back on your feet again: Are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now? You can sense their confusion. They are assuming Jesus’ kingdom will be an earthly kingdom. It will be limited to the people of Israel. And it will be established immediately. But they still don’t get it. What’s the problem? Well, let’s back up and think this through.
The heart of Jesus’ message was the kingdom of God. He told his followers that the reign of God had drawn near, meaning that it was confronting them as a present reality. Though it had not yet come in its fullness, it was nevertheless here. It was available. They could enter into it and experience it for themselves. God is at work even now to reclaim the world he loves. But the disciples didn’t understand what Jesus was saying. And they are not the only ones who are confused.
When Jesus was questioned before his crucifixion, Pontius Pilate asked him: Are you the king of the Jews? Jesus responded by saying: My kingdom is not from this world. Some people today make the mistake of thinking Jesus is claiming to be a king, but it’s an entirely spiritual kingdom. They assume Jesus is the king of an other-worldly kingdom that doesn’t have anything to do with the real world in which we live. It’s just some place beyond the clouds where we will go when we die. Therefore, brutes like Pilate don’t have anything to worry about from Jesus.
But Jesus’ disciples made the opposite mistake. They assume that Jesus’ kingdom is just like any other kingdom. It’s not other-worldly. It is this-worldly, and it relies on force to establish its power. They figured if Jesus was really the Messiah, he would drive out the Romans and make Israel a great nation again. Notice their preoccupation was with Israel. They didn’t care about the rest of the world. They asked Jesus: Now will you restore the kingdom to Israel?
But Jesus’ followers—whether modern or ancient—are both wrong but for different reasons. Rather than having nothing to do with this world, Jesus claims his kingdom has everything to do with this world. That is why Jesus encourages us to pray: Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. He wants to see this world renewed. But while Jesus’ kingdom certainly has a this-worldly goal, it does not have a this-worldly source. It’s not from this world. It’s not like anything we’ve seen before.
Jesus’ kingdom doesn’t play by the same rules. It doesn’t operate according to the same principles. It is not based on force but love. It’s not limited to one particular ethnic group, but is intended to embrace the whole world. From the beginning God chose Israel as his special family in order to bless ALL the families of the world. And while the kingdom of God is here and is starting to make in-roads into the broken world in which we live, it has not yet come in its fullness. We are still waiting for the consummation when Jesus will fulfill the promises of God and make all things new.
That is what we are waiting for. But why? Why do we have to wait? And why doesn’t Jesus at least tell us how long we have to wait for? Wouldn’t that make it easier? Jesus’ response to the disciples is fascinating. He says: “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.”
The words that are translated “times” and “seasons” are chronos and kairos. The Greeks had two words that could both be translated as “time,” but they imply radically different concepts. Chronos refers to ordinary, chronological time. It counts the seconds and minutes, hours and years. But kairos speaks of the right time or the opportune time for action. If chronos is quantitative, kairos is qualitative. It measures moments, not minutes. That’s the word Paul uses when he encourages us to be wise and to make “the best use of the time” (Ephesians 5.16).
We tend to live in a culture dominated by a chronos mindset. We’re obsessed with efficiency and productivity because we believe that “time is money.” In a similar kind of way, the Greeks personified Chronos as Old Father Time: an old man with a long beard carrying a scythe and an hourglass. He looks like the Grim Reaper for a reason. You’ve got to watch your back because Time is a killer. It takes away everything you have and renders your life meaningless. Samuel Beckett assumed that’s the only kind of time there is. We’re just ticking off the seconds and trying to find ways to kill time before time kills us.
But Jesus encourages us to live with a kairos perspective. God has appointed specific moments for his special purposes. At just the right moment, known only to God, he will intervene and change the course of human history and our own personal destinies. It would be easy if we knew precisely when those moments would occur because then we could plan for them. But Jesus tells us that it is not for us to know the chronos and the kairos. Instead, we have to learn to cultivate a posture of expectation—knowing that God could appoint any moment for his divine work. With that expectant attitude, we will always be ready for action—always ready to make the most of the time that we have been given.
But still, we might ask: why do we have to wait at all? If Jesus is going to renew the whole world—what is he waiting for? Why doesn’t he come now? Why doesn’t he just show the whole world who he really is and remove all doubt?
2 Peter, Chapter 3, answers that question. Peter writes: “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
God doesn’t experience the same limitations as we do. One day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day. Unlike us, Jesus’ timing is perfect. He’s never rushed. And he’s never slow. Peter acknowledges that it might seem as if Jesus is slow to fulfill his promise, but there’s a reason for it. Jesus’ slowness is a sign of his patience. He does not wish that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. Jesus is giving us all time to respond to him.
As C. S. Lewis famously said years ago, one day Jesus will reveal himself and interfere openly and directly in our world for everyone to see. But when that day comes, it will mean the moment has already passed. When the credits begin to roll and you see the name of the director on the screen, you know the movie is over. Writing after the war, he said, “You and I would not think much of a Frenchman who waited until the Allies were marching into Germany and then he announced that he was on our side.” When Jesus reveals himself to the world that will not be the time for choosing: it will be the time when you discover which side you have already chosen, whether you realized it before or not. Now, today, this is your kairos moment. This is your chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give you that chance. It will not last forever. You must take it or leave it. That’s why you shouldn’t waste another minute.
We’ve considered what we are waiting for and why we have to wait. But how are we supposed to wait for Jesus to bring his kingdom in all its fullness?
The message of Waiting for Godot is that salvation—however it is defined—is never going to arrive and therefore it doesn’t matter what we do. None of our actions are any more meaningful than putting on our boots and taking them off again. It’s all just a waste of time.
But the message of the Gospel is that we are not waiting in vain. We are waiting in hope. Jesus will come at just the right moment to fulfill his promises, and therefore we are called to wait in an active rather than a passive sense.
Jesus tell his disciples that they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon them. The word for power is the root of our English word “dynamite.” They will receive dynamic, explosive power. To do what? Not to pursue their own agenda, but to bear witness to Jesus. You will be my witnesses, beginning in Jerusalem and spreading from there to Judea and Samaria and on to the ends of the earth.
The word “witness” comes from an Old English word that we don’t use much anymore. It’s the word “wit.” To “wit” means to “know.” A “wit” is a knowledgeable person. If you are at your “wit’s end,” it means that you don’t know what to do. Therefore, a witness is someone who knows something and testifies to it.
A witness doesn’t claim to know everything. A witness may freely admit that he or she only knows part of the story. But that’s all right. The job of witnesses is simply to share what they do know with others so that they might discover the same truth. Just think about how a witness functions in a law court. You don’t need any special training to be a witness. Some may be more credible than others, but anybody can do it. A witness is simply someone who has seen something, heard something, experienced something which they share with others in the pursuit of truth.
That is the task that has been entrusted to all of us—to point away from ourselves and to direct people to Jesus—through our words, our actions, and the community we embody. As witnesses, Christians do not claim to have all the answers. We don’t presume to possess the truth. We simply point to the one in whom the truth can be found. We point people to Jesus so that they can come to see what we see - and so they can come to know what we know.
That’s what turns the seconds and minutes of chronos time into a potentially life-changing kairos moment. No one ever said it would be easy, but that’s what we’re all called to do during this time of waiting.
Let me share with you a little story from a children’s book called Waiting Isn’t Easy by Mo Willems. I bet a lot of the kids know this one. It tells the story of two friends: an Elephant named Gerald and a Pig named Piggie. Piggie tells Gerald that he has a surprise for him which makes Gerald very excited. He asks: Is it big? Yes. Is it pretty? Yes. Can we share it? Yes.
I cannot wait! he says. But you will have to—because it is a surprise. Gerald tries, but it’s hard. He groans. He’s tempted to give up. He’s not sure this surprise is worth all this waiting. Then he’s worried that they’ve waited too long. It’s getting dark. Soon it will be too dark to see. They’ve wasted the whole day. Finally, he says: “We’ve waited and waited and waited—and for what!? And Piggie simply points—For that! He directs Gerald’s gaze to the night sky filled with brilliant stars. Gerald—satisfied—concludes: This was worth the wait. And Piggie says: I know.
Mo Willems is right: Waiting isn’t easy. It’s not easy for kids—and it’s not easy for adults either. But sometimes our vision of Jesus becomes most clear the darker things get. Sometimes, it’s just when we’re tempted to give up, when the darkness is closing in on us, when we feel like we are simply wasting our time and we’ve waited too long, that’s when the light breaks through the darkness and we see Jesus for who he really is. There’s an old Puritan poem that says much the same thing. Our vision of God is often most clear in the valleys of our lives: In the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells, and the deeper the wells the brighter Thy stars shine.
Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot suggests that we’re waiting in vain and none of our actions matter. God is never going to come and there is nothing to save us from our boredom or our despair. And yet, throughout the play there’s only one object that shares the stage with the human characters. It’s the single, solitary tree that has been stripped of all its leaves. Even in the midst of the seemingly meaningless actions and circular conversations of the human actors that solitary tree subtly reminds us of the cross of Jesus.
Perhaps there’s another message to Beckett’s play that not even he fully realized. We’re all waiting for God to reveal himself, to show his true colors, and to reveal his master plan. But don’t you see? He already has. That single tree shows us everything we need to know. We thought we were all alone in the universe, but the cross of Christ has shared the stage with us all this time. You thought you were waiting for God. But the reality is that God has already come in the person of Jesus. Jesus is the one who is waiting for you. And the only reason why he is waiting is to give you more time to turn to him. Once you do, you can never view the play the same way. Now your job is to point others to see that tree silently standing in the background that has been there all along.
Will you please pray with me?
Father, we pray that you would meet with us in the midst of this period of waiting. Use it to remind us that we are waiting for you to fulfill all your promises to us. Though we may not know when that moment will come, nevertheless we do not wait in vain. We wait in hope. Strengthen us in the knowledge that even as we wait for you, you are waiting for us. Until that day, fill us with power to point others to Jesus so that they too might discover what we have found in him. In Jesus’ name. Amen.