Psalm 47; Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:1-14
There is an immense sense of satisfaction I get out of following a set of instructions and completing something. Checking off my to do list. Doing something that I know will work once I have followed the directions. Finishing a puzzle. Weeding my flower beds. Putting together a new toy or bookshelf; even folding the laundry! These are tasks that when I do them, I know what the results will be. I can follow the directions and it will turn out the same every time.
And sometimes, I wish that’s how faith was. How nice it would be if I could stand before you and give you a list of ten things to do before tomorrow that will increase your faith, make your prayers come true, and bring forth the Kingdom of God!
People have been trying it for ages. Even here, as Jesus is about to leave them, the disciples ask him, “Lord, are you going to restore the Kingdom to Israel now?” We’ve been following you for three years. We’ve been through your death and resurrection. We know your teachings and have seen your works. We think now is a good time, don’t you? And what does Jesus promise them? Not that they will know the time, but that they will receive the Holy Spirit. We want the instructions, and instead Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit— the same Spirit that hovered over creation; the same Spirit that brought Ezekiel’s dry bones back to life; the same Spirit that empowered Mary to sing her song when she realized she was pregnant with Jesus. This same spirit, whom we are told blows as it wills, is our gift.
And all we were hoping for was the manual— the book of directions that we can follow and get the same results every time— the Kingdom of God that we have been dreaming about.
How much do we long for that Kingdom? When God’s peace will be over everything; when God’s love will be known by all people; when pain will be no more and we won’t cry tears of sadness. When our young people will dream dreams and our old people will have visions and those who plant will see their harvest. This is the Kingdom that has been pronounced since the beginning— through Moses, through the prophets, through Jesus and the early church— we long for that Kingdom and we look at the disparity in the world, and we wonder— where’s the manual, God?
And it’s important for us to see that disparity— to recognize how people are hurting and our world is not what God intends. It’s important for us to recognize that Jesus cares about our very lives— how we are living and how we are suffering and what brings us joy— that this isn’t just about our souls, but about our whole lives— our bodily selves and the way that we treat one another. It’s important that we see also that the Kingdom is meant for here and now— it’s not just about some future time and place; Jesus said the Kingdom is here— and God desires for us to experience it not just in the next life, but in this life— right here. To spiritualize our experience of God as having nothing to do with this earthly world, or to say it only has to do with our future life, is a cop-out. Even the angels in Acts tell the disciples as much— as the disciples are rubber necking to see where Jesus went, the angels appear and say, “Stop looking towards heaven! Keep your eyes on earth!” Jesus made no excuses that God’s love isn’t meant for our bodies and our families and our neighbors; or God’s love isn’t meant for the here and now. Jesus proclaimed a release to those who are captive; a recovery of sight for the blind; to set the oppressed free— these are the current conditions that we live in, and Jesus proclaimed God’s Kingdom here and now.
So what do we do, without a manual?
There are some differences in the way that the author of Luke and Acts shares the story of Jesus’ Ascension in the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. But there is an overlapping message that cannot be missed— after Jesus left the disciples, they waited and prayed. And why did they wait and pray? Because Jesus promised them the Holy Spirit so that they can be witnesses for the Kingdom of God in this world.
And that’s as close to a manual as we get from Jesus: Wait; pray; and be witnesses to God’s love in the world. Oh, and by the way, you will receive a gift— a gift of the Holy Spirit.
And like all gifts that come from God, it may not be the gift we were hoping for, but as it turns out, it’s even better.
Think about it. What did Adam and Eve do with the one rule God gave them? They ate the fruit. What did the Israelites do with the 10 commandments that God gave them? They worshiped another god. What did the Pharisees of Jesus’ day do with the over 600 laws that were in place as interpretations of the 10 commandments? They used them to maintain their own power and judge who was in and who was outside of God’s law.
Maybe we don’t need a manual. Maybe the gift, is that when we learn to rely on God and wait; pray for the Holy Spirit; and be witnesses, then God’s Kingdom can come instead of our own. That God can then decide on what that Kingdom looks like, and we
Waiting. Praying. Witnessing. These are what we are called to. And as I reflect on the things that really matter in my life, I can see God’s Spirit at work in this way. When I think of the relationships in my life when I have held a grudge towards someone— when I have been waiting, without even realizing that I’m still holding those painful feelings or ill will towards someone else; and then God sends that person into my life— uses my prayers to bring me full circle to face that person. So often I have to laugh out loud because it’s so ridiculous. Maybe I ran into them at the grocery store in a part of town they don’t live; or one time a person I held a grudge against became my supervisor… and I had to face that God was inviting me to forgive. I had been waiting without realizing it; I had been praying— although not usually for the power to forgive them; and then I was able to forgive because of God’s grace— nothing I did— and could witness to God’s love. Or I think of times when I’ve been grieving. And in that grieving I have waited for that grief to pass; I have prayed for it to pass; I have longed for something else while all the while desperately hanging on to the person I was grieving or the situation or the place that I had to leave. And somewhere, in the middle of it all, God begins to bring new life and hope and love and by being open to seeing God, and witnessing to God’s goodness, I begin to heal— little bit by little bit. Or I think of the really good relationships in my life— the ones that have held me and encouraged me and made me who I am. And I realize that even while I’ve been trying hard to love these wonderful people in my life, it is often in spite of myself that these relationships have flourished. And I am so very grateful because God is good. Waiting; praying; witnessing to God’s goodness— have always led me to the things that matter most; have led me to joy!
Isn’t it great that our role is to wait and pray and witness? Isn’t it great that we don’t have to bring the Kingdom? Isn’t it amazing that God does the heavy lifting, and we get to be filled with joy?!?