Friday, May 14, 2010

Ascension Day Reflections

I am writing this on the Day of Our Lord’s Ascension. It is not easy to say good-bye. This year the ten days between Ascension Day and Pentecost Sunday will have a lot more power for me and some of our congregations in transition. I just recently had to say good-bye to my mother. Several of our congregations have said good-bye to their pastors. Can you imagine saying good-bye to the Lord like the first disciples had to do? Wow! Our mission remains the same, but to fulfill it alone without that pillar of strength by our side? How does one do that? The first believers, who had to say good-bye to the shepherd of shepherds against their wishes, responded by gathering together in one place as companions, worshiped and waited. Then the Holy Spirit came and empowered them to move forward in their mission. Such is the beginning of the book, the Acts of the Apostles. In my mind, the Book of Acts never really ends but continues to this day, as God calls and sends and empowers believers for that same mission.

Based on the witness of the Hebrew Scriptures, this was not the first coming of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit was always present, and always will be. But in the Pentecost story told in Acts 2, the Spirit came in a convincing way. What convinced the first disciples of the Spirit’s presence was their surprising and miraculous understanding of those different from themselves. The Holy Spirit united what was divided. I believe the Spirit continues to do so.

Every deacon, elder and minister of the word and sacrament is asked the constitutional question at ordination. “Will you be a friend among your colleagues in ministry...?” (Book of Order W-4.4003e). Every person with a voice and vote at a Session or Presbytery meeting, and Synod or General Assembly has answered, “I will.” Yet, we don’t all see eye to eye on every matter. Evidently the first apostles didn’t either. A little further into the story in Acts, there was a big to do when Peter came back from baptizing Cornelius and his family, who were gentiles (Acts 10-11). “Why did you go the the uncircumcised and eat with them?” Peter was asked (Acts 11:3). He explained how the Holy Spirit had led him not only to eat with them but to baptize this family. In Chapter 15, Paul and Barnabas argue over whether or not to take John, called Mark on their second missionary journey. Knowing the sacred story, should we panic when mentors are not around when needed we need them, and we must act ourselves relying on God’s help? Or should we be surprised when colleagues disagree and argue an issue.

Our convictions sometimes do tug to divide us and they probably always will, as people of faith care deeply about their convictions. In our polity, we govern ourselves by vote and majority rules, knowing full well that councils sometimes err. It is always a bitter pill for those in the minority to swallow. We are especially mindful of our differences of opinion leading up to and after General Assemblies. The 219th General Assembly is coming up on July 3-10. Yet, surprisingly commissioners often return from such assemblies looking like Moses, who came down from the mountain with his face shining. They are moved by the unexpected unity they experience there amidst the diversity of a larger group, the Pentecostal evidence of the Spirit’s presence. It is evidence because it is so surprising and unexpected.

This June 18-28, Reformed Christians from around the world will gather in Grand Rapids for the World Communion of Reformed Churches Uniting Council. THIS IS A BIG DEAL! Don’t miss this opportunity to visit, volunteer, welcome an international delegate to worship at your congregation, AND to be surprised and convinced of the Holy Spirit’s presence uniting us in Christ across so many cultural barriers.