“Constantly Devoting Themselves to Prayer”

Meditation on Acts 1:6-14
First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown
Pastor Karen Crawford
May 21, 2023

Her name was Wilma. She was a member of my flock in Coshocton. And she was my friend.

We became close during the pandemic in 2020. But our friendship started before then. We sang in the choir together, and we shared a love for church history and orange cats. Hers was named Eddie. Mine was Melvyn. She was smart and outspoken. Though she didn’t have the opportunity to attend college, she had worked for the historical society and museum and as a genealogist, tending the collection in the historical room at the library. She had co-written two local history books.

Our dream was to work on a local history project together. I was going to help her sort through a large collection of 19th century letters and write the story of her husband’s great grandfather, the Rev. William Ellis Hunt. He served as the pastor of the Presbyterian church in the 1800s for 42 years.

Her husband, Paul, struggled with health and mobility problems. We visited him in a personal care center, celebrated Communion there, and shared stories about the good old days. But when the pandemic led to closures and the virus swept through the town, we were not able to see him. Wilma continued to call and sometimes visit him by standing in the yard outside his window.

When Paul tested positive for COVID, he was put into isolation at the hospital. The nurses finally allowed the family to visit. They were dressed in special coverings from head to toe and could only see Paul through the glass in the ICU. He died on June 29, 2020.

I presided over the funeral at our small chapel. Only 10 people were allowed to attend. I still remember how Wilma looked under the tent at the graveside, with her twin sister, Wanda. The strong, smart, no-nonsense woman with a quirky sense of humor was overcome by emotion. She wiped away tears and apologized for crying. I told her it was OK.  It was more than OK.

We had prayed and prayed for Paul.  And God’s answer was that the Lord took him home.

Wilma, with her characteristic strength and good humor, became more involved in the church than ever! She attended Thursday night Zoom book studies with me, wrote articles and member spotlights for our newsletter. She wrote and shared scripturally based devotions for our prayer fellowship group.

And we still talked on the phone regularly and shared memories of Paul. About a year after his passing, she underwent back surgery. There were complications. And we prayed, and we prayed, and we prayed. The energetic, spry little woman that I knew was now in a wheelchair.

She continued to hold onto hope that she would be able to walk, again. But she couldn’t go back to her home or to her big, orange cat Eddie. She couldn’t live independently anymore. And we would never work together on William Ellis Hunt’s story.

Her new home was an assisted living facility—a nice one that served ice cream in the middle of the night if you wanted it, she said. But it was 45 minutes from the town where she had lived nearly all her life—away from friends, family, church, and me. And it was still the pandemic; visitation was limited. Her friends continued to call her, leaving messages on her unanswered cell phone. They wondered why she wasn’t calling back.

All we could do was pray.

The disciples praying together in the Upper Room—being constantly devoted to prayer—stirs me to wonder…. What are they praying for? And were their prayers answered in the way they expected?

Jesus was continually surprising them. And it seemed like they weren’t on the same page with him. When the risen Christ was with his disciples and was teaching them, they still didn’t understand what his death and resurrection meant. The disciples asked him at the beginning of our passage in Acts chapter 1, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 

Jesus replies, oh so patiently, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.” But you are going to receive power from on high, he goes on. The Holy Spirit will come upon you. And you will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.

And just like that—he’s gone!! Lifted into the air, as they watch down below. “A cloud took him out of their sight.”

Yes, I’m pretty sure they weren’t expecting that!  They continue to stand there, watching the sky, until finally two men in white startle them by asking why they are still standing there, looking up? Here’s the promise. “He’s coming back.” This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

He’s coming on a cloud! He’s coming, again!

So, they return to Jerusalem in haste and gather in the Upper Room. They have a calling and a purpose, but no direction or power to move forward in ministry. These are not just the original 12 disciples, minus Judas Iscariot, but others, even “certain” women, including his mother, Mary, and his brothers—half siblings.  Locked in the Upper Room, they have nothing to do but pray and wait…..For the promise of the angels to come true—that Jesus will come again, just as he left. And that the Spirit would come, and each would have Christ’s power to not just be his disciple, but his apostle, from the Greek apostolos, meaning “one being sent.”

This passage read alongside Jesus’ prayer for his disciples in John—just after he tells them that his hour has come—reveals how Christ’s request that they become One is coming true—through prayer!

 I am asking on their behalf,” Jesus says in John 17:10, near the end of this beautiful prayer. “All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

The arrival of the Spirit will draw them ever nearer to God and one another and empower them to be his witnesses, as he has said. Still, we are waiting for that ultimate promise, made by the two men in white—that Jesus will come again, just as he left. We pray, as Andrae’ Crouch sang in that wonderful gospel song, that it will be, “Soon and Very Soon,” when we’re going to see the king.

And we continue to hold each other in our powerful prayers. We never give up hope, though the prayers may not be answered in the way that we expect. We trust in the things we don’t know or understand, yet, because we are still tightly enmeshed in this world, just as the first disciples were who asked Jesus, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 

We pray, as the Lord continues to pray with and for us—that we would be One—with each other, in the Lord, in God’s love.

I traveled to visit Wilma a couple of times in her new home at the assisted living center. We talked a few times on the phone, with her daughter’s help. The last time was right before I left Coshocton to come and shepherd my new flock.

She excitedly told me about how she was leading a Bible study for the residents—and they were asking good questions and one fella, with a salty tongue and a flirty manner, was making her laugh. She was leading a current events discussion group, reading the paper aloud each day. She was organizing games of wheelchair beach ball, encouraging others to keep moving and have fun. She was beginning to see the surgical complications that left her in a wheelchair as the thing that set her free to do what God had ordained. She had found her purpose, a ministry—an answer to her prayer. While she still missed Coshocton and her church, she was content that God was using her. She was at peace.

It was my turn to be overcome by emotion. She gave me her blessing to go on to my new ministry—wherever God was calling me. At that moment, I only felt grief, knowing that I would probably never see Wilma again—not in this world, anyway.

Surprisingly, I heard from Wilma’s daughter, Christy, yesterday! Christy responded to my text from a New York phone number, “Mom is doing great.” She directed me to the FB page of her assisted living center where there are pictures of her and “all the things she’s been doing.” “She’s found her groove,” her daughter said, “and enjoying herself! Thank goodness!”

She gave me her mother’s mailing address and phone number but warned that she still never answers her cell phone or returns calls—because she is too busy! I saw her on Facebook—smiling with her friends—poised to eat lemon cake in one photo, painting a large sign in another that says, “Believe.”

 I look again at the photo because I don’t see it right away. Yes, she is still in a wheelchair, but she sits easily and naturally, as if it is, well, just another chair. All of this is an answer to prayer, but not the answer we expected.  We wanted her to walk again.

And by her faith and the grace of God, she is learning to soar.

Let us pray.

Holy One, thank you for your Son, Jesus Christ, who prayed for his disciples and continues to pray for us today. Help us, Lord, to be One in You, One in Your Love. May we feel the safety of your grace and embrace. Stir us to hold one another in our powerful prayers and be constantly devoted to prayer, as your disciples were in the Upper Room. Teach us how to pray. Guide us in your will. Give us patience when the answer is “Wait for my answer,” and when your answer is not what we expect—or what we want. Thank you for showing your purpose to Wilma, using her for a special ministry, and entrusting all of us to be your witnesses to the ends of the earth. And dear Lord, please hold Wilma and all of the vulnerable senior citizens in our flock in your tender care.  Bless and protect them from harm. In the name of Your Son we pray. Amen.

Published by karenpts

I am the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, New York on Long Island. Come and visit! We want to share God’s love and grace with you and encourage you on your journey of faith. I have served Presbyterian congregations in Minnesota, Florida and Ohio since my ordination in 2011. I am a 2010 graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and am working on a doctor of ministry degree with Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I am married to Jim and we have 5 grown children and two grandchildren in our blended family. We are parents to fur babies, Liam, an orange tabby cat, and Minnie, a toy poodle.

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