Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you–that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”
Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
Ten years ago I my life was about to take a dramatic shift. I was graduating with a degree in Religious Studies and a few credits shy of another degree in Ceramic Arts. Earlier that year I had traveled to Louisville to interview for a spot to become a missionary. I had not traveled outside of California; say for the time I lived as a toddler in Washington State and the few occasions I went to Tijuana. I was now traveling Southern California to raise support for my impending trip to Kenya.
I lived a sheltered life, one of fervent pursuit of identity and purpose. I had traveled the extremes of faith and religion. I was a militant Evolutionist. I fought faith with reason. I exposed the lies of pulpit sheep and sought to tame the false power of a risen Christ I saw as a charlatan.
I was a charismatic extremist. I ditched reason for absolute faith. I climbed the faithful ladder towards the prize of eternal life, hoping to take as many damned souls as I could along the way. I submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and desperately preached his salvation on weekends at Venice Beach.
I abused and consumed Scripture as a drug addict consumes drugs. I was faithful and offensive. I was earnest and misguided. I was cocksure and uncertain. I was confused and confessed. I was a hot mess.
There I was traveling to raise financial support for this mission to discover my purpose. In all honesty I was seeking to escape the life I was bound in. I had no direction, little hope, and fear was my currency. I spent Lent, Passiontide, Eastertide, and on towards Pentecost rallying support. I would go to churches, in rented cars because my truck had been stolen, and share with folks what I was doing and pass around a plate. In most circumstances I barley covered the costs of the rental car and gas. I often felt out of place giving my spiel and passing that plate. I was surrounded with guilt and losing affection for this impending journey. As I was driving home after some spiel and plate action I wasted away in traffic and wondered, “Why am I doing this? “This is all I know,” was my reply. This is what the National Mission Office of the Presbyterian Church told us to do. We were to grind, meet, and connect. Build up our network to share our story and acquire the necessary financial support to go and do Christ’s work.
Then why was I not feeling part of community? Where was the financial support that I needed to answer the call? My network was shrinking as I sought to follow the traditional path. I was terribly unhappy. So, I stopped the spiel and plate act and sold my art.
I remained connected with my church friends and the friends that would never darken the door of a church that saw their love as sin. I held art shows in bars and my home church offered space for my art to be sold at the annual talent show. I loved this process. I saw my communities merge and support me. I rediscovered why I was doing this. And within 2 months I had raised $18,000. I only needed to raise $8,000.
I arrived in Kenya on a Holy Spirit contact high. I was as extreme as ever. I was ready and willing to get in to this missionary thing. I was part of a group of young adults from the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the PCUSA. We all checked in to a local convent to begin our language and cultural training. We were there for a month.
Life here was far slower than at home. I was forced to slow down and found lots of time to contemplate the road that got me to Kenya. I was never good at being still. I talk too much. I never meet a stranger. I am about as extroverted as they come. But there in that Kenyan convent, surrounded by a language and culture that I was obviously a stranger too, I waited. I waited. I waited.
I’d love to share with you all of the exciting things we did there in that first month. We stayed in that convent for a month. We never left the grounds. 24/7 those broken glass covered walls surrounded us. We waited. God forced us in to ourselves and we could not escape that life altering power of the Holy Spirit. Where we could not go, she could.
I realized that the same Spirit of peace, comfort, affliction, and love that covered my in the US was the same Spirit that was poking and prodding my heart there in Kenya. I realized that God was indeed the God that fashioned the world. The Word of God opened up to me. I was flooded with emotions and experiences of the road that brought me there. Behind those walls God made me wait so that I could find myself. No matter what I felt God was in control. The space around me was chock-full of God.
It was then that I realized that the best kind of faithfulness is when you dwell in that space that God has fashioned for you. It is in that space where heaven, hell, and everything in between lay, that you are nearest to God. That Divine geography that awakens your heart and mind to the call upon your life. It is there that your mind is opened and The Word of God may be understood. That suffering and overcoming that suffering is part of the process. We exist as witnesses to the glory of God, praising all of God’s grand Creation. Is this not the Chief End of Humankind?
That witness is not homogenous. That witness is as dynamic and individual as it is complex and communal. We are constantly stirring. We are the ebb and flow of God’s “Good Deeds.” In being faithful are we required to travel the same path? Does faithfulness require stagnation in tradition and rites that cement us in a path of “this is how it has always been”?
Are we not called to a living dynamic faith that builds up community and it connects us to the divine presence in each other? We are indeed called to stay in Jerusalem until we have been clothed with power from on high. The problem with this is that we often confuse adversity and suffering as signs that we have not been clothed with divine power.
Is it not the very fact that we endure suffering in the Name of Christ and that we experience adversity living into the call of the Gospel that signifies that we are no longer naked but have donned the power of that Holy, Holy Spirit?
It’s important to understand that God never demands or doles out suffering, nor is suffering ever a path to righteousness. One of the sins of the church is using suffering to justify slavery, violence, and crimes against humanity. But the reality is that our faith is tested every day. Sometimes, waiting in Jerusalem is all we got. And waiting there in the city for that divine power is the Holiest act of all.
Thanks Be To God, Amen.