A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery
June 1, 2017
Jesus ascends at just the wrong moment. After all the lessons he has taught his disciples – such as, “My kingdom is not of this world” – they ask him precisely as he prepares to leave them, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6, emphasis added) They still don’t get his program.
They are confused, to put it gently. More pointedly, they are dead wrong. How does Jesus respond? Not with a scolding, nor with exasperation or resignation. Instead, he gives them the greatest vote of confidence that a leader can bestow – he leaves them to get the job done without him. He believes in them even when they are utterly off base.
Given their gross misunderstanding of his mission, why would he have such confidence in their capacity to continue his program? The immediate reason is deceptively simple. He knows that he can trust them to obey, even if they don’t understand. He has given them an unambiguous directive: Stay put. They can do that. And he knows they will.
Unstated here but equally significant is another of his directives: Stick together. They can do that, too. And he knows they will.
The rest is up to God. And Jesus has absolute confidence that God will come through, regardless of how poorly his disciples understand their commission. After all, it is God’s program, not theirs.
Still is. We have programs galore, of course, but if the disciples were so far off course even after spending so much face time with Jesus, how much more prone might we be to getting things wrong?
Just as it was for them, so it is for us today. The secret to our being able to change the world is not our knowledge or power, but God’s. Like them, our job is also two-fold simple obedience: Stay put. Stick together.
Stay put. “He ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there.” (Acts 1:4) Waiting may be the hardest task of all for busy Christians. Wait for God to get the ball rolling. When God directs things, they go in ways we could never imagine, let alone accomplish. Pentecost can happen only if God makes it happen. To underscore this, the Spirit’s outpouring is accompanied by markers the disciples could never produce – a violent wind, tongues of fire, communicating in languages they never learned.
Stick together. “They were all together in one place.” (Acts 2:1) Not some of them, but all. The story has them waiting like this for ten days. That may seem like nothing to us, but try doing it. When you have no agenda but to wait and pray, ten days is an eternity. Yet they stick with it because they stick together.
Staying together keeps us on course. Divided, we lose our way.
Pentecost arrives unannounced. Sure, it was a festival day. But the disciples had no clue that this would be their day of transformation. God’s work gets done in God’s time and in God’s way. We cannot predict or control it through project management. All we can do is wait for God to act. Together.
“Hope in the Spirit. Trust in the Word. Wait for the Lord.” These are the lyrics penned by my friend David Gambrell for the General Assembly hymn that we sang in Pittsburgh in 2012. It was my privilege to set the words to music and hear thousands sing it when our church gathered at the David Lawrence Convention Center. It was based on the theme text of the Assembly, Isaiah 40:31. But it now is clear to me that this is in fact a Pentecost hymn. The power of waiting is its inherent powerlessness. Only in our powerlessness can God’s power be fully revealed for all it truly is. It comes from God and belongs to God. Entirely.
Please feel free to download this hymn and use it in worship.
Waiting with you,
The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister
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