Sermon: “Ad/Ministry” (Ascension) Acts 1:15-26 [5/13/18]

Next Sunday’s Scripture story is about Pentecost…and what a story it is!  The crowd!  Rushing wind!  A riot of languages.  And fire!  Lots of fire!  Filled with God’s Spirit, Peter preaches.  He quotes the prophet Joel, who quotes God:

I will pour out my Spirit on all humankind.  Your daughters and sons will prophesy, your young people will see visions, and your elders will dream dreams. 

That first Pentecost was so powerful, 3,000 people joined the church.  Man.  I hope that doesn’t happen next week.  We don’t have the parking!

Pentecost!  Birthday of the church, we call it.  Pentecost is where it all began!  Right?

Well…let’s think about it.  You’ve been following Jesus for a year or two.  Fifty-three days ago at the Passover celebration in Jerusalem, he was executed by the Romans….which devastated you and the rest of Jesus’ followers.  Now what were you going to do?

Then, three days later, Jesus appeared!  He hung around for 40 days, reassuring you and the rest of his followers, reminding you of everything he’d taught.  Then, just as you were getting used to his being around again, Jesus vanished.  Again.  Right into heaven.  This time, he stayed.

Image result for ascension artwork

So, how do you get from Jesus leaving the scene again—Ascension Day, we call it.  We celebrated it this past Thursday.  How do we get from Ascension to the day of Pentecost?  What happened in those 10 days?  Did the Spirit just chill for a week and a half, then jump out of a box and yell “Surprise!”?  Or did something happen to create space for Spirit’s arrival?

I’m completely open to the possibility that God’s Spirit can show up whenever and wherever she wants.  She can create her own soundtrack and special effects.  She can go as big as she wants whenever she wants.  God’s Spirit is God’s Spirit.  She can’t be pinned down.

I do suspect, though, that we become aware of God’s Spirit when we cultivate spaces for its arrival.  And—it just seems to work out this way—the more we prepare ourselves to welcome God’s Spirit, the more we actually experience God’s Spirit.

So, how do we do that?  How do we prepare ourselves to welcome God’s Spirit?  Let’s see what Jesus’ followers did after he left the scene for good.

Just before he departs, Jesus tells his followers to return to Jerusalem where they will receive the Holy Spirit.  So, that’s what they do.  They go back to Jerusalem…

…and hold a business meeting.  Judas, you’ll recall, overcome with shame at having betrayed Jesus, had taken his own life.  Peter reminds everyone of Judas…and of the need to fill his position on the Board, I mean, with the 12 apostles.

They nominate two people, then pray, “‘God, you know the hearts of people.  Show us which of these two you have chosen for this apostolic ministry.’  Then they draw lots and Matthias” becomes one of the 12.  The next thing Luke reports is the day of Pentecost.

So, the book of Acts begins with Jesus dramatically flying off to heaven.  Then a few verses later, in even more dramatic fashion, Pentecost happens—with its mighty wind, raucous linguistics, fire, and 3,000 converts.  And sandwiched between these two fantastic events is….a business meeting.  The Nominating Committee proposes two names to fill the vacancy created by Judas’ death, the group prays, draws lots, then welcomes Matthias to the group of 12.

Seems like a mundane thing to include in such an energized, powerful narrative.  Jesus disappears–again!  The Holy Spirit swoops in and 3,000 people join the church!  And in between–the Board quietly fills a vacancy.

Is the inclusion of this tiny administrative detail superfluous?  Should the editor of Acts have made one more trip through the text with her blue pencil?  Or is the placement of this quiet administrative task intentional?

A couple of years ago, the Council of my last church created a set of norms.  The first norm begins:  We will remember that our work is a part of our spiritual leadership of our congregation.  A little thrill still goes through me every time I hear that line.  It’s a reminder that ministry and administration aren’t mutually exclusive categories.  Effective ministry happens when we attend well to administrative details.

I learned this lesson well at the church I attended during seminary.  That congregation gathered Wednesday nights for a community meal and Bible study.  To make sure there was enough food, they asked that people make reservations.  I eagerly signed up.

When I got to the door to pay for supper that first Wednesday, my name wasn’t on the list.  Having an overactive superego, I couldn’t bring myself to go in and eat anyway.  My name wasn’t on the list, I wasn’t going to eat.  I didn’t want to take someone else’s food.

The next week, I called again to sign up.  When I arrived with my $5 bill in hand, the cashier again couldn’t find my name on the list.  I gave the church one more try.  You guessed it—again, my name wasn’t on the list.  I’m sure I would have been welcome to eat anyway…but being forgotten by my church three times in a row?  I never signed up for another dinner.

Now, administrative slip-ups happen from time to time.  They’re inevitable.  Sometimes things just fall through cracks.  My experience at my seminary church, though, taught me just how closely linked administration and ministry are.  Indeed, both words come from the same roots in Latin and Greek.  In Latin, the word is ministerium; in Greek, it’s diakonia.  Both words translate as “service.”

It’s easy to live as if administration and ministry are separate categories, to see ministry as fun, touchy-feely, and holy and administration as dull, but necessary.

But the story between Jesus’ ascension and the day of Pentecost, this report of the 11’s quiet meeting to replace Judas, suggests that ministry and administration are two sides of the same coin.  One informs the other; each needs the other.  Ministry without administration isn’t effective.  Deacons couldn’t do the ministry they do so well without being organized.

By the same token, administrative processes that are imbued with prayer create spaces for people to meet God.  This past Thursday evening, your Board met, not for a meeting, but to pray and dream and share and tune in to where we imagine God might be leading our congregation.  We’ll have our regular meeting to do the business of the church next week…but it was energizing to step out of all the decision-making to remind ourselves why decisions being made by the Board are important.  Everything the Board does, everything any of us does in an administrative vein, every list created, every process outlined, every note taken, every decision made—every single administrative task we attend to is an opportunity to create space for all of us to meet God.  Every detail we see to creates space for God’s Spirit to rush in.

So, from our own vantage point between Ascension and Pentecost, how might we create space for God’s Spirit to rush in?  I don’t know that we have any vacancies that need to be filled, but are there other details needing attention?  Is there someone who needs to be called?  Is there some task that needs to be completed?  Is there something that needs to be let go?  Might we need to search for 3,000 more parking spaces?

As we anticipate celebrating the coming of God’s Spirit next week, how will we create space for God’s Spirit to rush in?  How will we prepare for the re-birth of this church?

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan  ©2018

About reallifepastor

I'm a pastor who's working out her faith...just like everyone else.
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