We can relate to the disciples’ question from last week’s lectionary reading in Acts (1:6-14), “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom of Israel?” It is similar to the questions we all have and hear, “Lord, is this the time when things will get back to normal?” For the disciples, they want to return to the “good old days,” when a Davidic monarch reigned over a Jewish nation. (A quick reading through the biblical narrative of that time reminds us the “good old days” weren’t all that great, but that’s another story for another time.) For us, there’s a longing for the church of January 2020.
What we discover in this week’s readings is that God had a better plan. Rather than returning to a familiar past, God launched the world on a new trajectory. Pentecost opened a new and divinely-empowered future as the Holy Spirit was released upon faithful disciples waiting for the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise. With the gift of the Spirit, the once-fearful followers of Jesus become bold proclaimers of the good news of Jesus Christ. With the presence of the Spirit, people heard the gospel’s promise in the language of their context. Both in speaking and in hearing, the Spirit assisted the proclamation of God’s love fully offered in Jesus Christ.
Post-Pentecost, the church emerged from hiding behind locked doors into rapidly growing communities of faith. People encounter a power in the preaching and a presence in the gathering. Remember, at this time the church was not a building where people went but a lifestyle of loving God and loving neighbors. It is both interesting and instructive that in Acts, the path of faith was called “The Way.” Christianity wasn’t an institution, but a way of being in the world. Following Jesus wasn’t a part of life, but the entirety of life.
For us, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, we may be tempted to ask, “When will God restore the church to a pre-COVID-19 time? Perhaps a better question is, “How will God lead us through this crisis and into a new way of being in the world?” The gathering of believers has always been central to the practice of the Christian faith. However, we have emphasized this to the extent that church became a noun, rather than a verb. Thus, we can seem lost without being together. However, there is much more to church than assembling together.
Though gathering is a central Christian virtue, so also is living. By this I mean putting our faith in action. How we encounter others, extend compassion and fight for justice is also part of “The Way.” The church exists both inside the sanctuary and beyond. For now, how we live beyond our gathering is a greater witness than when we are together. Whether it is in simple acts of connection, acts of mercy caring for the vulnerable or striving for justice for those who are left behind.
May God’s grace and guidance be with you all as you seek to lead the church into a new future. Even as you make plans to renew face-to-face gathering, may you find new ways of being in the world as ambassadors of the Kingdom of God.
If you would like to print this message, you are encouraged to do so with this pdf: WORD of ENCOURAGEMENT