When Jesus ascends to heaven, he gives clear instructions: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” What the disciples did next is what we, as churches, do best: they committee-ed the commission to be witnesses.
Instead of finding ways to be witnesses of Christ in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria or the ends of the earth, they felt it was necessary to bring the number of 11 original disciples back up to 12.
We’re all familiar with the concept of taking a mission, a call, a vision, a plan, a purpose and committee-ing the heck out of it until everyone is either over it, confused, annoyed or a mixture of those things. We’ve all experienced talking an idea to death in forms of committees and meetings.
The chapter opened with Jesus instructing the disciples to wait a few days for the Holy Spirit. But the period of waiting was only supposed to be a few days. Our gestation periods often last longer than days. Sometimes, we wait for years to attempt to do something. Maybe we tell ourselves we’re refining skills or growing our ideas while we’re waiting. Sometimes that’s true. Other times, it’s an excuse. Even after Pentecost, if it weren’t for Paul and the persecution of the Christians, the gospel may never have reached anyone outside of Jerusalem.
We have a tendency to gather, secure, protect and hold. We make permanent landmarks in areas that were supposed to be temporary resting places. We build bigger buildings. We make clearer standards of belonging to the tribe, which leads to making bigger walls (both literal and figurative) creating more outsiders. We slowly start thinking that everything holy and good happens here, within our tribe, within our walls. And everything out there is hedonistic, dangerous, secular and can be avoided. Being witnesses of Christ, then, focuses on bringing in here the ones who are out there. Or wait for them to come to us.
At least the disciples were ordered to wait for a few days. What’s our excuse for waiting? We’ve already received the power of the Holy Spirt. We already are empowered and gifted and encouraged. Our call is to go and make disciples. Action verbs. But we wait and see who will come into our doors. Or we wait for the right idea and the right time to do something. And while we’re waiting, we watch the world pass us by.
The heartbeat of the Scriptures is the concept of being sent. Going into the world and reaching out to humanity with love and grace. “Where are you?” God asks Adam and Eve in Eden. From the beginning, God has been reaching out to humanity. God has been relentlessly looking for us and pursuing us.
Later in history, God’s question of “Where are you?” was asked in the form of Jesus Christ. Through Jesus, God searched for the lost, broken and downtrodden. Today, God’s question of “Where are you?” is asked through you and me. Jesus commissions us to continue the work of his ministry.
It’s nice to have the right plan of action and the right time and place to execute those plans. But that can lead to such a passive life of discipleship. There are plenty of things you can do now. The words of Paul echo in my heart: So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, you should do it all for God’s glory. (1 Corinthians 10:31).
You don’t have to have the cure for cancer to make a difference – you can show love and comfort for those affected by it. You don’t have to have the solution to eradicating poverty and homelessness – you can treat folks with dignity and remind them that despite their difficulties, they still carry the image of God and are worthy of love and respect. You don’t have to have the answer to ending racism and inequality – you can work to pursue justice and speak out when you witness injustice.
We’re all being invited to participate right now in the ongoing work of God. So what are we waiting for?
A Quote From Bishop John Shelby Spong:
Ultimately the resurrection is a call to universalism. Go to all the world, go beyond the boundaries of your fears. Go to those you have defined as unclean, unworthy, unsaved, uncircumcised and unbaptized. Go to those you have reduced to being the object of your prejudices. Go to those who are different. Go to the rejected of the world and teach them what I have taught you, namely that God is love and that love embraces all that God has made, that love has no boundaries, that love rejects no one and that love is the essence of the gospel. The Great Commission was never meant to be a charge to us to convert the heathen, as it has so often been interpreted to be. It was and is a call to see everyone as living inside the love of God.