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Waiting On the Promises

Stories
Contents
“Waiting On the Promises” by Keith Hewitt
“The Soles of Jesus’ Feet” by David O. Bales
“An Eye-Opening Ascent” by David O. Bales



Waiting On the Promises
by Keith Hewitt
Luke 24:44-53

Peter stood in the open window, one hand holding back the curtain as he studied the street outside their house. Below, men and some women hurried along the narrow street, each intent upon some self-appointed task of sufficient importance to keep them out even as the sun was setting and families were sitting down to dinner. He watched, trying to guess what each might be doing, finally grew bored with that game and lifted his eyes, caught the last rays of the sun glinting off the golden accents of the Temple, on the other side of the city.

“You shouldn’t be in the window,” a voice said quietly, at the same time lifting his hand from the window frame and causing the curtain to fall. “Someone might see you,” the voice added, “and we don’t want that.”

Peter turned away from the window, shook his head. “You worry too much, Thomas. Nobody’s looking for us anymore — we’re small fish.”

“Small fish get caught, too — and there’s no sense jumping into the net if you don’t have to. Do me a favor and stay away from the windows.”

“The Master said to stay in Jerusalem and wait — not hide,” Peter said gently. “You understand what he was teaching us, now, just as we all do. He expects great things from us — we won’t be able to do them by staying locked away here.”

Thomas snorted. “And we won’t be able to do them if we’re nailed to a cursed tree, either. Let’s just agree to be reasonable, can you do that for me? No unnecessary risks, no big public displays — we just lay low until something happens. Whatever the Master is asking us to wait for — I mean, if we heard right, something is supposed to happen.”

Peter frowned. “What do you mean, ‘if we heard right?’ He was clear that we were to wait here until we were clothed with power.”

“’Clothed with power,’ what does that even mean? We’re a handful of men — fishermen, tradesmen — not one of us of any importance to anyone outside our families. How are we going to have power? The Romans aren’t going to give it to us. The high priests certainly aren’t going to give it to us — not if it means giving up their own.”

Peter looked at his companion curiously. “Thomas, you know that’s not the kind of power our Master taught about — or showed. The power Jesus held was the power of truth — the strength to be a servant, the humility to be a leader…these are the things he talked about. Repentance, forgiveness, grace…these are all part of the kingdom he was trying to show us, and what he expects us to show the world.” He looked past Thomas for a moment, adding, “I expect ‘clothed with power’ means the same now as it did to our ancestors — to be wrapped in God’s glory, inhabited by his Spirit.”

After a long silence, Thomas said softly, “I just find it so hard to believe that he would trust us with that kind of power — that kind of responsibility — after the way we failed him.” He looked at Peter. “We failed by turning our backs…by running away. I failed by refusing to believe that he had come back to us, even though he had said he would. In every way that we could do it, we failed him and disappointed him. And we’re the ones who are going to be ‘clothed with power.’ How would that even make sense?”

Peter sighed. “You paint a pretty grim picture, friend — and if I didn’t know our Master, I would say you were right. But I do know him — and so do you. We are failed, and flawed, and all those things you say — but we are still his witnesses. We are the ones who have been closest to him, who’ve had our eyes opened. So it falls on us.”

Thomas paused. “Are you scared? The idea that Jesus is entrusting us with this — whatever it is. Does it scare you?”

Peter smiled. “Petrified. More than any man alive, more than any man in this house, I know my weaknesses — my faults. I know how I already failed him. And that all frightens me, because I’ve made a promise to God and to myself that I will never fail him again. No more hiding, no more denying, no more lies. It scares me every day, every hour. That’s why I am looking forward to this idea of being clothed with power — because I’m hoping it will give me the strength to not fail our Lord again.”

There was another long pause, then Thomas said softly, “I wish I had your faith.”

Peter smiled again. “You will. We all will. We’ll have faith, and strength, and the power to humble ourselves as servants. We’ll get it from on high, and we’ll carry it together — helping one another to advance the Kingdom, to preach repentance and forgiveness. It’s what Jesus promised. Jesus knows we’re just common men — and he chose us because it serves his purpose best, to reach out to a world of common people.”

Thomas sighed. “To hear you tell it, it’s almost reasonable.”

Peter shrugged slightly. “The Spirit will do what the Spirit will do — it’s gotten us this far. It will take us where we need to go.” He nodded toward the window. “In the meantime, I think we need to be out there — we should be in the Temple, every day, reminding people about our Master. We should be out there, keeping his name alive.”

Thomas shook his head. “I hear you. And I hate it when you’re right.”

Peter flashed a broad smile. “It’s a burden.” As he spoke, there was a faint rustling noise, and the curtain he had held earlier stirred slightly. He noticed, and said off-handedly, “Looks like the wind is starting to pick up.”

Neither of them had any idea how true that would be.

* * *

The Soles of Jesus’ Feet
by David O. Bales
Acts 1:1-11

As Missy ran toward the house from the school bus, she could see her grandfather at his usual place: dozing in his rocking chair by the window. She slammed the door to wake him up and ran to him, taking off her backpack. If he stayed asleep, or kept his eyes closed pretending he was asleep, she’d braid his beard. His eyes opened as she neared him and his smile was immediate, “Well, how’s my favorite first grader?”

“I’m good Grandpa.” Then she said with a lilt, “How are you this fine afternoon?”

He carried on their ritual, “As accurate as I can tell, I adjudge that I shall not again engage in bungee jumping. My days of sky diving are over, and I swear I will never again sail solo around the world. But,” he said as she joined him word for word, “I will still tell stories.”

They laughed and their afternoon was off to its usual start.

Missy had spent the last hour of her school day thinking about getting home to her grandfather. 15 years before he’d been a farmer and a preacher. Now, she thought, he’s only here to tell me stories. She often asked for her favorite taller tales, as he called them. She requested the one about the bull half as large as a house. In order for the cowboys to manage it, four got off their horses and each grabbed a leg and hugged it like holding a tree. The bull would step around — one on each leg — with a thump, thump. Then Missy asked for the one about the snowstorm that covered all of Canada and the United States except for his hometown of Clarkesville, Arkansas.  

When he finished each tale, they laughed and his rocking chair squeaked with each chuckle. Today he abbreviated a couple by saying merely: “The old spinster and the seven brooms,” and they laughed, each picturing it, no need for words. He added, “The preacher and the sarsaparilla,” and he laughed the most, being a preacher himself, he said, making his rocking chair squeak like he’d stepped on a mouse’s tail.

The two had to catch their breath after that recital. Missy pulled out a paper from her backpack and showed him her work for the day, practicing printing upper case letters. He admired it, then she turned it over to show the drawing she’d made of her teacher and he complimented the green hair.

“I just followed your rule of trying to show things a little better than they are.”

He sat nodding at the drawing and she said, “And I’ve got a question. You said to bring you my wonderings from the Bible. In Sunday school yesterday we heard the story of Jesus going up to heaven, and I kept listening, but the teacher seemed to leave out something really important. It mentioned, “two men in white robes stood by them.” What they said was important, so why don’t we hear more about them?”

Her grandfather took in a deep breath, “Oh my. Oh my. You’ve drilled to the story’s oil. Those two men, yes, yes. Famous in the church. Legends abound.” He stroked his beard to make sure it wasn’t braided and put on his serious voice, “Most people, I think, settle for the theory that it was Enoch and Elijah. Yup. That’s what Christians in old Antioch thought. Lot of thinking going on back there. Probably because Enoch and Elijah had both already gone up to heaven. So, after they’d instructed the immobile disciples and the disciples had gone off and got busy obeying Jesus, the two men just quietly went back to where they came from, to heaven again.”

Missy cocked her head sideways and said, “Mmm.”

“But,” her grandfather said, after a gentle chuckle that barely squeezed a sound from his rocking chair, “another story goes that the two were fairly young, a little younger than Jesus. They came from Persia and each was a son of an original wise man who’d arrived years before bringing gifts to the baby Jesus. They’d been raised on only goats’ milk and persimmons all their lives in order to grow up to be priests like their daddies.”

Missy laughed and continued to giggle as her grandfather said, “But neither of them had listened well in Persian priests’ school; because, all they wanted to do was to draw pictures of their teacher with green hair and travel back to Judea like their daddies and see what became of Jesus. As it was, they arrived at Jerusalem right after Jesus’ resurrection and got to join for forty days in all the reverse funeral parties. They were especially glad, because now they could eat and drink something other than persimmons and goats’ milk.”

He had to stop for a while to chortle and shake his rocking chair into a splendid series of squeaks. Missy nodded to what seemed to be a sufficient end to the story. Grandfather, however, continued, “but the legend that I hold to,” he said as he leaned closer to her as if to tell a secret, “is that these two were Egyptians, pretty old, old enough to be Jesus’ parents age; because they were Jesus’ parents’ friends in Egypt when they fled there with him. They were Joseph and Mary’s Egyptian neighbors. Although the Egyptians didn’t cotton to all the Hebrews who kept tumbling into Egypt for thousands of years, these two were different. They were identical twins and for that reason they were shunned by their family and neighbors. They looked and sounded absolutely the same. No matter who met them when or where, they soon didn’t like the boys because they were confounded that they could never identify which was which. The only way their mama and daddy could tell them apart was when they were eating. One grabbed the knife with his right hand and one with his left. And as all children can be naughty, so they sometimes changed hands to fool everybody. Because the two men never felt accepted in their village, their whole lives were spent looking back to the few months they received genuine friendship from gracious Mary and that dreamer Joseph.

“Their journey so many years later to find Jesus had been a sudden decision and it proved difficult and painful. The twins were so bent by age that when they finally stood next to the disciples who were gazing upwards, they couldn’t even look up as Jesus went to heaven. But they got their message across. You understand their message, don’t you?”

Missy nodded, “Jesus is now in heaven.”

“Yes, that’s the first of it. That’s the message to everyone. But I mean their instruction to the disciples.”

Missy screwed up her face, showing she was trying to think. Grandfather continued, “Consider what the disciples were gazing at. Can you see it? A moment ago, Jesus is right here next to them, and then zoom, up he goes. What do they see? The bottom of Jesus’ feet!”

Missy laughed. Grandfather said, “Well, am I right?”

“Guess so.”

“That’s what those two old, stooped, right-and-left-handed Egyptians were telling the disciples. They meant that the disciples were focusing on trivialities: Jesus’ feet. Are Jesus’ feet real? Yes. Are they important? Well, when he was alive someone’s washing them showed devotion, but not after his resurrection as he’s heading to heaven. See what that means?”

Missy couldn’t come up with an answer. Grandfather continued, “Christians have spent too much time concentrating on things like the soles of Jesus’ feet, things that aren’t important anymore. They grab a slice of the faith and miss the whole pie, just looking at the soles of his feet. These two fellows remind us to listen carefully to Jesus’ whole message. If it’s important, the Bible will tell us it’s important. So, you know what? People, be they old or young, who study unnecessary things in the Bible — like concentrating on these two men in white robes — are just wasting time ogling again at the soles of Jesus’ feet. And grandfather laughed so hard that his rocking chair seemed to play a tune.

Preach point: Concentrating on the center of the biblical message.

* * *

An Eye-Opening Ascent
by David O. Bales
Psalm 47

“Get ready to clap,” Beroka said to the Firuz. The crowd in the middle of the street started to part, forcing everyone to the sides and nearly squeezing the two young men against the buildings lining the street. The procession approached, ascending to Jerusalem’s upper city and the noise of the musical instruments began to drown out the crowd’s shouting. The two young men were violently pushed against a wall as the crowd vacated the center of the street. If the two weren’t accompanied by bodyguards, they could have done what other younger people did: run ahead. But also, they were royalty and each in his own country had been taught how to act like royalty: Beroka because he was a Judean prince and Firuz because he was a prince from Borsippa visiting Judah with his father.

Beroka might have made an embarrassing mistake. Now they had to stay in one place while the procession passed and he wondered what sort of an international crisis would occur if both he and Firuz had the breath of life squeezed from them. Such accidents had occurred on Jerusalem’s frenzied streets before.

Twenty trumpeters were in the lead and they didn’t just point their instruments forward, but turned them to the side, aiming them directly at the bystanders. Beroka and Firuz received the full blast yet they didn’t cover their ears with their hands. To do so was most insulting, the kind of behavior royal households, whether in Jerusalem or Borsippa, had taught them to avoid.

The singers followed the trumpets, shouting their chant, “Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises. For God is the king of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm. God is king over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.”

As squeezed as he was, Beroka raised his arms with the crowd and began to clap. He glanced at Firuz, nodding that he was supposed to clap too. He could tell by Firuz’s expression that this would be another demeaning experience. So far Firuz belittled everything that Beroka thought was wonderful about his nation’s capital city, its people, and especially its religion — if not by word, by his expression, which at this moment was unmistakable.

How could anyone be bored when the Ark of the Covenant was ascending to the temple? This was the most wonderful event in Beroka’s life. He looked forward to it as the height of the year. The Ark now approached. Levites carried it, followed by more musicians playing their flutes, shaking their cymbals, and banging their tambourines. Firuz, smashed against the wall, clapped in a lackluster manner. As much as Beroka could, he was bouncing up and down and clapping so hard he hurt his hands.

Finally, the procession passed. The two princes and their bodyguards stepped back into the narrow street, breathing deeply after having nearly suffocated. The bodyguards took up their positions opposite the two, posting themselves at the young men’s service. Beroka still found his breathing difficult as much from the excitement of seeing the Ark as having been pressed against the wall. Firuz seemed uninterested. He asked, “So why did the rascals blast us with those cursed trumpets? Are they trying to deafen their worshippers?”

“That’s their way to warn us to stay away from the holy Ark. You touch it, you die. Struck down instantly.”

“I didn’t see anybody attending it with swords or spears.”

“Not by weapons of man. Yahweh-God would do it.”

Firuz gave a snort, but said no more. He yawned dismissively, “Let’s get on with this little tour.”

“You don’t want to follow and see the Ark ascend through the temple’s giant gates?”

“I’ve been with father in a dozen other countries and seen their idols processed with much more fanfare than your testimony box.”

“The Ark isn’t an idol. It shows the invisible presence of Yahweh the Most High God, the King of all the earth.”

Firuz laughed, “What you don’t realize, dear boy, is that other nations call their gods ‘The Most High,’ and many claim their gods rule the earth. It’s like father says, ‘All these small towns have their little celebrations, sure that they live at the navel of the world. What would they think if they arrived in a real city, one that takes not half a morning to walk around but a couple days to walk through?’”

Beroka was angry again. He’d felt his anger almost continually since having to pair up with the condescending princeling. But again, he withheld his feelings as his father had commanded him. His father had said to him, “They’re not a very influential family in Borsippa, but tomorrow’s procession of the Ark will be impressive enough to send them home with a sense how strong we and our God are.” Yet from the first, anything Beroka said or showed brought the response that Firuz and his father had seen better.

Firuz tilted his nose up when he said, “My father has traveled half his lifetime as ambassador for our royal family.” When Beroka had walked Firuz around the entire city walls, Firuz said, “Father has been in real cities, much stronger.” When Beroka showed Firuz the envoys lined up to bring their countries’ tributes to Judah, Firuz noted, “Father had to learn the history of the whole world, not just a tiny spot of ground. He says that your country formerly paid tribute to other countries and they will again. No nation has ever continued to reign supreme.”

After a rotten day leading Firuz around the city, Beroka realized that his father didn’t know as much as Firuz’s father and that Judah might not be as mighty as he thought. Beroka was forced to admit to himself, but never to Firuz, that his experience and outlook were limited. He knew little of the world beyond Judah, his nation he could traverse by foot in a week. Yet these visitors had trekked for months to bring their greetings to the king (and probably also to spy, Beroka’s father said).

Beroka crawled into his bed that night with a shiver of doubt. Other kingdoms? Temporary kingdoms? Stronger kingdoms? As frightening as it was to admit that his family’s dynasty might not be as important as he’d been taught, what about their faith? What about Yahweh? Other gods more powerful? As jarring as it was to consider how small and unimportant Judah might be in the larger world, he couldn’t imagine any other god or cluster of gods more important than Yahweh. Was Yahweh truly ruling all the earth? If he were, Firuz and his father hadn’t seen it, and they’d seen far more than their own land.

Beroka’s day had been difficult, yet this night was equally troubling, wondering about Yahweh. He considered what was taught in Judah about the nation and Yahweh. He’d believed it. Yet his day was full of disturbing information about other nations and gods. His only solid conclusion in his dark and fretful chamber was that if Yahweh wasn’t totally and visibly ruling the world today, some day he would. No god is strong enough to be as kind and merciful as Yahweh. No god could be as loving and concerned for every person on earth as Yahweh. Beroka finally pulled the blanket over his shoulder and rolled onto his side half thinking and half praying, “Some day. Some day. Ruling all the earth.”

Preaching Point: Celebrating now that God’s absolute power will be revealed in the future.



*****************************************

StoryShare, May 30, 2019, issue.

Copyright 2019 by CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio.

All rights reserved. Subscribers to the StoryShare service may print and use this material as it was intended in sermons, in worship and classroom settings, in brief devotions, in radio spots, and as newsletter fillers. No additional permission is required from the publisher for such use by subscribers only. Inquiries should be addressed to permissions@csspub.com or to Permissions, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 5450 N. Dixie Highway, Lima, Ohio 45807.
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