Acts 1:6-14; 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11; John 17:1-11
Are we asking Jesus the wrong question?
The disciples look at their risen Lord and want to know: Is now the time when he will restore the kingdom of Israel? Surely, their teacher and master, the one whom the empire’s cross could not contain, the one who even death could not destroy, surely, now he will restore the kingdom of Israel. Such a victory seems like the next, right, glorious step. That kind of earthly comeuppance would be so satisfying for Jesus’ followers. How do you like us now, Rome? But Jesus shuts down this line of thinking quickly, telling them the restoration of the kingdom of Israel is none of their business. Jesus says, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.”
But Jesus says, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses.” That’s enough information — all the information you need to be the disciples God calls you to be. You have a God-given mission and God-supplied resources to carry it out. Ours is not a question about when or even what; ours are questions of where and how. Where are we being sent to share the good news of Jesus Christ? Where are we to go to bear witness to Jesus Christ in word and deed? We have the power. We have the mission. Our question is where. Where is our Jerusalem? Judea? Samaria? Our question is how. How will we witness to Jesus Christ? How will we glorify God? How will we demonstrate the difference our discipleship makes in our lives and in creation? The rest is up to God. If we know and believe in Jesus, we are to go and show and tell.
I’m teaching a Bible study on Wednesday nights. We’re exploring the ordination question: Will you seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination and love? This week we talked about serving with intelligence. We pondered the choice of “intelligence” as opposed to “wisdom” or “knowledge.” There were not too many Scripture passages to lean on. We did some digging around the commandment to love God will our mind and we examined the biblical contrast of the wise and the foolish. But what really generated discussion was the idea of multiple intelligences and an expansive understanding of intelligence. Do we value all of those various intelligences from linguistic to musical, naturalistic to kinesthetic, emotional to interpersonal? Do we share the good news of the gospel in ways that speak to differently gifted people? Maybe, just maybe, serving the people with intelligence entails radically new ways of witnessing to Jesus Christ.
For a long time we church insiders have asked: Why aren’t people coming? Or: Why are so many people leaving? Jesus, we want to know, when will you restore the overflowing pews and our influence upon culture and our sway in the halls of earthly power? I wonder if these are the wrong questions. Maybe our risen Lord is telling us: These are not your concern. Maybe Jesus instead is reminding us: You do have power, the power of the Holy Spirit. You do have a mission, be my witnesses to the ends of the earth. Do not ask why people are not coming or why they are leaving or when the church buildings and budgets will expand, instead exercise the power of the Holy Spirt and be my witnesses to those who never darken the door of a church. Go to the city and the people nearest you and show my grace, my compassion, my mercy. Go to the places where many are afraid to go and feed my sheep. Bear witness to the abundant and eternal life given to you, but not limited to you. Be generous. Be welcoming. Work for reconciliation. Be forgiving. Do justice. Love kindness. Use all your Spirit-powered intelligences to light up the ends of the earth with the love of Jesus Christ. God will take care of the rest.
Our pandemic-enforced exit from our church buildings became a catalyst for rapid change in how we witness to Jesus Christ. Worship and Christian formation, pastoral care and mission, all must be done differently. We livestream and video, Zoom and make phone calls, share meals in to-go boxes and leave care packages on doorsteps. We think carefully about who among us and around us is most impacted and vulnerable and then get creative about alleviating their suffering. We can no longer sit in the pew and look up at the pulpit. We can no longer stand around and talk to each other in the fellowship hall. We have been kicked out of the building and forced to create community in new ways. Our expectations of so much have been upended. And yet, we still have the gift and power of the Holy Spirit. And yet, we still bear witness to Jesus Christ through handwritten notes, video devotions and food bank donations. And yet, some who never entered our sanctuaries now have access to the Word of God. And yet, we are seeking out and reaching out to those who have been unable to come to us.
We certainly have many unanswered questions: When will this pandemic end? When will our old ways of life be restored? When will it be safe to gather in person again? How long, O Lord, will this COVID-19 reality last? While these are legitimate and pressing questions, as we wait for the answers we still have the power of the Holy Spirit. We still have the mission to bear witness to Jesus Christ. Praise God, we still have the gift of eternal and abundant life to share. We still can glorify God in all we do. We still can come together and serve our Lord through serving others. We still are to go to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth, even if only virtually.
Where are we called to go to witness to Jesus Christ? How will we show the love and grace and mercy and hope and compassion and care and joy of God in those places? These are the questions we are to ask, no matter the days and times. These are the questions the Holy Spirit will give us the power to answer.
- What questions are weighing on you right now? Are there some questions that you can set aside and entrust to God?
- Where are you being called to be Christ’s witness? How will you bear witness to Jesus in those places?
- What have you learned about yourself during this season of disruption and forced change? What have you learned about the church? God?
- In John’s Gospel, Jesus defines eternal life as knowing the only true God and knowing Jesus Christ. What does this definition of eternal life mean to you?
- When have you experienced the power of the Holy Spirit personally or in community? How did you know it was the Holy Spirit?
- The text in 1 Peter this week assures us that Christ will “restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” Can you rest in this promise and allow it to comfort and encourage you during this challenging time?
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