June 6, 2011

Waiting for Power

                Jesus has ascended and the disciples are left to wonder what is coming next.  Jesus had deflected their questions about restoring the kingdom to Israel; that is God's business, not theirs, he contended.  There was something much more urgent for them to do: they were to wait in Jerusalem for the promised outpouring of God's Spirit who would empower witness in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  The expanse of this mission is stunning, particularly since the heavenly messengers addressed them as "Men of Galilee" (Acts 1:11), acknowledging their provincial upbringing.

                Can you imagine their conversations as they return to the upper room after trying to comprehend the ascension?  Was it really necessary for Jesus to be absent for the Spirit to come? What will the baptism of the Spirit be like?  Unlike John's baptism with water, to be baptized in Spirit will be catalytic to the evangelization of the Roman Empire, a reality they could not fathom at this point.  How long must they wait?  Gathered for prayer, the women and men anticipated that Pentecost would surely take on new meaning in light of the Risen Christ's instruction.

                We often think of waiting as a passive, inert activity.  The beloved text from Isaiah assures that those who "wait upon the Lord" shall renew their strength (40: 31).  Actually the word "wait"  (qawah) in Hebrew means  to "braid a rope" or "stretch a cord tight."  This suggests that the one waiting attaches a life-line to God and works toward what the waiting will bring. [Truthfully, I do not remember much Hebrew, thus I was in touch with my personal "Hebrew Help Desk," Dr. Timothy Ashley of CBTS/Wisconsin for this insight.]  The words "wait" and "hope" are closely related here, and surely these early believers sought to put themselves in a "posture of receptivity," to use the words of Richard Foster.  Waiting for power, they did all they could to prepare for this new manifestation of God's indwelling.

            Scholars have suggested that one of Luke's concerns in writing Luke-Acts was to assure the church that the power they needed to be faithful in witness had been given to them.  Whereas the Pauline literature often addressed proper stewardship of the Spirit's gifts, Luke wanted his epoch to know that God had entrusted the empowering Spirit to the whole people of God for the work of ministry.  We need to reclaim this assurance in a time when the culturally established place of the church is waning and the challenge of faithful witness grows daily.  We will receive power necessary for the mission to which we are called; it is the promise of the Risen Christ.

            Molly T. Marshall

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