Sent by the Spirit, Acts 1: 1-11

How did you celebrate Ascension Day?  Did you feast, party, invite family, friends and neighbors over for a cookout?  I have been wondering what would be different if we prepared and celebrated the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, like we did the second person of the Trinity at Christmas.  It seems we would at least have some event, noting we are only ten days from Pentecost.

At this point, the reality of Jesus’ resurrection was growing on the disciples.  For forty days, Jesus was with the disciples; proving he was alive and teaching them more of the kingdom of God.  Jesus tells them to wait together in Jerusalem because he is about to leave again.  What and why?

His disciples must have felt like it’s over, but it just had begun.  That common phrase depicts a child describing a summer vacation, or parents speaking of child rearingThe disciples were dealing with the paradox of Jesus’ earthly ministry being over, but their new ministry just beginning.  Acts 1 transitions the disciples and the reader from the lightning of Jesus’ incarnation and resurrection to the thunder of Pentecost; celebrating the coming of the Holy Spirit’s birthing of the church.  These events are separate, but we can’t have one without the other.

So, they had to wait ten days for the full release of the power of the Holy Spirit because the last forty days were full of experiences no human could fully grasp.  They were not ready to fathom the rapid changes before them. Jerusalem,Temple, and synagogues would soon lose significance as these familiar intellectual and emotional landmarks were washed away.  They would no longer live according to the customs of their Jewish heritage or aligned with Greek culture.  Their traditions would give way to the all-consuming mission of extending the kingdom of God.

The disciples hadn’t demonstrated much swiftness in catching on.  They needed some “soak time” to let all Jesus taught them about the Kingdom of God work its way from their head to their heart.  Their lifestyles, priorities, and decisions would be based on the will of Jesus in their lives.  Their faith could not be peripheral; it had to be intimately connected to Jesus and each other.  They were left for ten days to allow it soak in.

In v. 2, Luke indicates his recipients are the chosen saying, “Jesus “gave instructions to those he had chosen”.  Most people are not called to “The Ministry”, but all have been chosen and sent.  The responsibility of disciple making isn’t only for the “professionals”; we each have a role in making disciples that transform the world.  The chosen are better able to understand why they were being sent.  Choosing precedes commissioning.  When you are chosen, mission is more important than tradition, community more important than preference, and Christ’s claim more important than cultural winds.  The chosen will not let others be sent; they’re ready to go.  Chosen folk step into gaps, reaching out and crossing lines of differences.

The chosen can be distracted.  The disciples ask, “Lord, is this when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”  Jesus replied it’s not your business, saying the coming of the kingdom is God’s business, so keep your eye on the ball.  We can make the wrong thing, the main thing.  Jesus didn’t say create great worship, so everyone is happy.  Jesus didn’t say create small groups, so everyone feels connected.  Jesus didn’t say create campaigns, so everyone can give.  Jesus said the Holy Spirit will give power to speak grace filled words that can meet the needs and longings of all persons.

As Jesus leaves them waiting in this ten-day in-between time, he renews the promise of the Holy Spirit.  They would no longer have Jesus; they would have the Gift of the Spirit.  And he promises a power will come with the gift of the Spirit; the same resurrection power; that raised Jesus from the dead.  The Greek word ‘dunamis’; root word for dynamite is the power of God that dynamically transforms; enabling the work of God in the world.  The outward expression of our inward relationship with Jesus is our witness.  We are promised we will have the power we need to witness.

Jesus leaves them staring slack-jawed into the sky.  Two beings in robes comfort them, saying, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?  This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”  It was over, and it had just begun!  Human eyes would not see Jesus again, but Jesus was with them; like the setting and the rising of the sun; gone, but present.

We drop off kids at college.  We would like to stay, but this would hinder their becoming the persons they’re meant.  We had a previous role to play that required our presence.  We now play a role involving absence; staying close through prayers prayed, cell phones charged, and charge cards handy.  Jesus is going to be present with his disciple in his absence in a different way; sending them into their future to offer a witness.

The word for witness is ‘martus’, it’s the word martyr.  It denotes someone who bears testimony, even at the risk of life.  Not many of us are going to be in a situation that requires our lives.  However, we may be in contrarian situations where words of grace might rub against the norms; even graceful words can cost us a relationship, our reputation, or a hard response.

We’re living between the first and second coming of Jesus; surrounded by hurting, lonely, and scared people.  I see the faces of my new neighbors, who pass me by with their heads down afraid to make eye contact.  Eventually Terri came and set beside me on our side porch and I pointed out this behavior of the people whom we share proximity and life now in our new home.  She quickly diagnosed the issue and said, “Just speak!”  She promptly did to the next passerby who both she and I begin to become acquainted.  People need our story of the transforming work of Christ in our lives.  It isn’t easy being chosen and sent.  It is makes us vulnerable and risks misunderstanding.  We are chosen and sent to tell our stories; our witness to the life-changing grace of God. 

Jesus’ demonstrates how to witness.  Notice how he looked deeply into all things to see what was really happening wherever he went or whoever he met.  We are sent to get into the line of sight of people, so all are changed in the way we see the world, even though there is no guarantee something visible will happen.  The more we show up, the more opportunity the Holy Spirit has to work on us and them.  We activate the power of the Holy Spirit by showing up in people’s lives.  Our showing up allows the Spirit to make a difference to people who need our graceful witness.

Eventually, we must speak.  All are sent to verbalize what God is doing in our lives.  Each of us has a unique story, a circle of influence, particular gifts, and the recreating power of God within us to share our witness.  We may claim we have a difficult time speaking; fearing we will mess it up, so we do not give the Spirit a chance.  The Spirit was given for us so we might be sent to engage in heart to heart chats with those who need to hear how our hearts were made right in Christ.  There is no limit to what the Holy Spirit can do if we open our mouths and speak good news.  Trust the Spirit to do with what we cannot; translate words and transform lives.

The witness affects the whole Body of Christ.  Witnessing expands worship because we expand our circle of worshippers.  Witnessing draws in new people because we invite new people into our lives.  Witnessing causes us to consider new ways of giving, including ourselves.  Most importantly, witnessing gives opportunity for people to respond to the amazing grace of God because we showed up.  The Spirit sends us to assure people the world is not falling apart, and a gracious God is holding things together and to invite hurting, lonely and scared people into that reconciling world.  The question is, are we willing?  Let us pray!

“You asked for our hands so you could use them.  We gave them though the work was hard.  You asked for our mouth to speak and sometimes all we could give you was a whisper.  You asked for our eyes to see the pain of people in our world.  You asked for our lives that you might work through us.  Lord, forgive us for calculated efforts to serve you when it is convenient and only in places where it is safe, and only with those who make it easy.  Renew us, and make us a usable instrument so we may answer the call of being chosen and sent with a power to offer a witness to our world.  AMEN!

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