By Bishop Todd Townshend
The book of Acts is like the book of Genesis. “following Willi James Jennings’ commentary on Acts, WJK, 2017”
It announces a beginning. Without pomp and ceremony, without triumphant flag-waving about the resurrection, it shows us a God working, moving, creating the dawn that will break each day, putting into place a repeating, holy, story of the willingness of God to invade our every day and our every moment. There is only one central character in this story of Acts. It is God, the Holy Spirit.
As the narrative unfolds, and today we are hearing a part right near the beginning, it reveals the insurgency of the Spirit.
An insurgency—an uprising, a revolt, a loosely organized but powerful rebellion against the world’s death-dealing ways. The death-dealing ways – the kind that took Jesus down – have been broken by his resurrection, brought out into the light and shown for what they are: weak, pathetic, greed-soaked, spasms of violence, based on fear, hatred, and the sense of superiority, in the people who think they can and should rule over others.
These ways continue, but they are defeated. These ways will never work for long and they are shown to be evil in the end.
The ways of the colonizers, the ways of the segregators, the ways of the billionaires, the ways of the abusers, the ways of the Hollywood blockbusters, the ways of the value-free markets—the ways of the empire.
You know those ways. They are done for… because of the insurgency of the Holy Spirit that we see beginning in the book we call the Acts of the Apostles, the insurgency of the Spirit that continues today.
In Acts we see that the Holy Spirit of God moves, and there is a response to the Spirit. God moves, and the people respond. The people move, and God responds. But the Spirit of God always does the leading. And when you follow the Spirit’s lead, there is no going back. You don’t want to go back.
The Spirit of God, always moves first, always brings the power of the Creator of the Cosmos, and the love of Jesus within it. And we yield, not to the given order of things, but we yield to the Spirit that is being poured out onto all. We need people who will yield to the life of the Spirit in this present moment.
On the Day of Pentecost, and in our celebrations next Sunday, we see that God fills the world with God’s own life, God’s very self is poured into our world. God fills the disciples of Jesus and they speak the languages of others. God fills Gentiles as well, people who we not yet part of the community. God drives people into the lives of other people for the sake of Jesus, and expecting a crash, they find an explosion of new, surprising hope… Born of love.
We hear Peter talking in the passage this morning. Peter and the other apostles are looking for “the right man” for the job. They are looking for someone to take the place of Judas among the twelve. They had an idea of what kind of leadership they wanted but they could not anticipate what God was about to do.
A common thing, a selection process, was placed in an extraordinary setting—in the upper room before Pentecost, they prayed and said, ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship.” And they “cast lots”, they rolled the pebbles, rolled the dice, they had no idea what to do, so they left it to the Spirit! And the lot fell to Matthias. I’m sure Matthias was a surprised as anyone else.
Now, I don’t suggest rolling the dice to make all of our decisions in the church. We’ve grown a bit in our ability to discern—to see and hear and understand—the will of God. But what remains the same – is that we know that we are not in charge. God’s Holy Spirit will lead us. We won’t see it clearly but, like a wind that is powerful, the unseen will move that which can be seen. And we will go in that direction.
There is something about living in the Spirit that feels a little windblown. It feels a little like casting lots to decide. It feels less “strategic” that we might like. . . when what we really want is control. But the reality of Christian life—is that every common moment, every administrative act, every organizational gesture has ALWAYS been best taken in the posture of praying and waiting, asking for the power of the Spirit to come, waiting in expectation and readiness, standing in the shadow cast by the presence of the Holy Spirit. And then, when the time is right, the waiting-in-prayer moves forward in an action fully of God.
That’s how it works... See? Clear as day!
It’s like learning a new language. You have to submit to the ways, the structures, the cultures of the people who can speak it. All of the sounds, sayings, practices, habits of mind and body, and all of the hopes. We are learning, continually, the language and culture of Christ. And the Spirit is our teacher.
I pray that this will be our WAY in what I also pray will be a post-colonial period of life in this church. We have come to confess that the ways of our colonial past led to catastrophic outcomes. Our colonizing ways revealed our utter helplessness in the face of difference. We tried to conquer it.
Instead of this, repudiating these ways, we can learn to “join”… To join with one another, not to conquer one another. Join together with something or someone a bit different from us. To trust that our differences will create just the right distances between us. We join together but leave room for just the right distance. This is space in which we can relate to one another. Without trying to blur the other into our life. Without swallowing the differences that can create new relationship. We can work to create a new space together that works for more people. Thereby making it a better place for us, too.
Think back to that first experience of Pentecost. Those listening that day – after waiting long time for something to happen – those listening were amazed and perplexed. They asked, “what does mean?” What are we supposed to do? It was not obvious.
What was obvious was that God was doing something. The Holy Spirit of God was taking them into the lives of people they didn’t know yet. People who they didn’t understand yet. They were being joined together in love. The love that cannot be tamed, controlled, or fully planned.
It is the same Spirit unleashed on us – even though God knows that we’re sleepy, weary, anxious people. But God also knows, we are faithful, committed, loving people. Eager-to-know-the-Spirit people—that’s all we need to be.
Come, Holy Spirit, Come.