(Acts 1: 1-9, 2: 1-6)
Back in the early 1980s when I was a Houston Police officer, I was assigned to the Vice Division where I worked undercover for over three years. Most folks won’t break the law if they know the police are around so they commit their acts assuming no one is watching and that they won’t get caught. That’s where I came in. My job was not to look like a police officer and to blend in. My lieutenant used to tell us that we were only limited by our imaginations when he would assign us a difficult task. He would also say that if we couldn’t figure out a way in then he would find someone with more imagination. As Teresa can attest, my partner and I were quite imaginative. You could even say we were a bit unconventional. One day we might be hanging around the Houston Ship Channel bars mingling with some very rough characters and the next day you might see us in an upscale hotel bar looking like a couple of high-rollers on the prowl for some pricey action. We not only had to look the part but we had to act the part so we could not only talk our way in but also talk our way out. We couldn’t take our badges or guns because we were subjected to some very thorough searches by overcautious criminal types. Some of these places would even lock the door behind you once you were in. Two of the three times I came close to being shot were by uniformed police officers. Even they couldn’t tell. Imagine that.
Whether you are making difficult cases in an undercover capacity or trying to spread the Word of God, you have to use your imagination from time to time. You know the assignment or the mission and you may have even had some training or direction but to really get the job done sometimes thinking outside the box gets results.
In our scripture readings for today we learned that Jesus told the disciples the Holy Spirit was coming and about what happened when the Spirit arrived in Jerusalem. After Jesus had arisen from the dead, he told the eleven disciples that “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 16-20) When he gives them the Great Commission Jesus doesn’t tell them exactly how to do it. He left the how up to them. They did have his many examples that they had witnessed to go by, essentially sizing up the situation and being creative in witnessing to the person or persons you are talking with.
In the first part of the Book of Acts Luke tells us of Peter’s ministry. Luke references what he had previously written in the Gospel of Luke about all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. He recounts that on one occasion, during the forty days Jesus was with them, that Jesus told them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit as promised by God as he had spoken about. Jesus told them that John the Baptist baptized with water but that they would baptize with the Holy Spirit. They were naturally curious and asked Jesus when he was going to restore the kingdom to Israel. It was at this point that he told them it was not for them to know the time or the dates but that they would receive power from the Holy Spirit and that they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. After saying this Jesus was taken up to heaven before their very eyes. You can just imagine the conversation that followed. Jesus just up and left without telling them how they were going to accomplish such a huge undertaking. Who is in charge of this operation? Who goes where with who? How are we going to pay for this venture? This has never been done before. There is no business model for spreading God’s word.
The Holy Spirit came at Pentecost which was fifty days after Passover during the Feast of Weeks which was a festival of thanksgiving for the harvested crops. Jews from all over had gathered in Jerusalem for the festival. The coming of the Holy Spirit marked the beginning of the harvest, God’s harvest. Peter addressed the very diverse crowd who had come from many lands and spoke many different languages. He explained what the prophet Joel said that in the last days the Lord would pour out his Spirit on all people and that their sons and daughters would prophesize, their young men would see visions and their old men will dream dreams. He told them that the promise of eternal life was for them and their children and for all who were far off, for all whom the Lord will call. He was telling them what the arrival of the Holy Spirit meant and that it signified the beginning of the movement to bring the word of God to the entire world. The Spirit would be poured out on all.
The Spirit has been poured out on us. We too have been given the Great Commission. We all have a job or jobs to do or roles to play in preparing the way for Christ’s return. The jobs and roles change and come and go as needed. This is why we gather together to conduct the business of the church, to have our Charge Conference. According to our Book of Discipline the primary responsibilities of the charge conference in the annual meeting shall be to review and evaluate the total mission and ministry of the church, receive reports, and adopt objectives and goals recommended by the church council that are in keeping with the objectives of the United Methodist Church. (BOD 247 (3)) In short, we engage in this exercise to determine the best way forward and to decide the best use of what we have at our disposal to facilitate the spreading of the Word. It’s why we have committees to help us plan and implement programs, projects and missions. It’s why we are United Methodists. We have a common goal that extends to the ends of the earth. We recognize that there are many different ways of accomplishing this goal and that one size does not fit all. God allows us to be creative and wants us to use our imaginations to reach the people who seem unreachable. If something doesn’t work, stop what you’re doing, stop beating the dead horse. Make adjustments and adapt. Do not be afraid to take a risk. Do not be afraid of failure. The only failure is the failure to try and then try again. Be the big rock in the little pond. Make a splash, make waves and watch the ripple effect.
Community United Methodist Church has a long and rich history of advancing the Great Commission with the past accomplishments of the South Seven Senior Housing, the formation of the Food Bank and creation of the Homeless Shelter to name a few. But the job is not finished. There is more work to be done. People come and go and pastors come and go, but the mission remains the same. The harvest is great but the workers are few. Be a part of the International Harvest, an international harvester, work local but think global.
Please pray with me.
Most gracious and loving God, we are your people in a world that is in so much disarray and turmoil. Everywhere we look we see nothing but hatred, strife and tension. We know that your way is the way of peace and love. We readily receive your Great Commission to go out into the world and to make disciples of your son, Jesus Christ, for the transformation of the world. We are so grateful for your gift of the Holy Spirit that moves us to action and urges us to be creative and imaginative in the ways we endeavor to reach the hard to reach. Free us of our inhibitions and hang-ups so that we can meet the lost where they are and lovingly lead them to you so that they too can experience the peace that passes all understanding. How grateful we are for the opportunities to work for you in the places where you send us. We pray that we will act in a manner that pleases you and brings you praise. In the name of your son who sacrificed so very much for us, we pray, amen.