Are you waiting for the Spirit? In the Christian year, yesterday was Ascension Sunday, and this coming Sunday is Pentecost. In my experience, not many United Methodist churches acknowledge Ascension Sunday, yet the ascension of Jesus into heaven is foundational in our primary ecumenical Christian creeds: “He ascended into heaven and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” (Apostles’ Creed)
I went to church yesterday expecting to encounter the risen Christ. Not only did I meet Jesus who ascended to heaven to be enthroned at the right hand of God, but I also met the 2 men in white robes who reminded me, “Laurie of Grand Rapids, why do you stand looking up towards heaven?” (Acts 1:1-11)
The United Methodist Church I attended was in another state. It’s a church I’ve visited before and, to be honest, I have not always been impressed by the worship service. I still remember 9 years ago on Worldwide Communion Sunday when the worship service lasted 80 minutes and that was without a sermon! The pastor used an ancient communion liturgy which was barely understandable, the hymns were slow as molasses, and it took nearly 40 minutes to serve small groups of people at the rail. I was not eager to return, but the Spirit led me here again.
As I parked my car and approached the sanctuary, I was greeted warmly by 3 successive people, all wearing name tags. Inside the narthex I was given a bulletin and welcomed one more time. The bi-weekly church newsletter was in the pew rack in front of me, and I was amazed at the wide range of programs and ministries offered at this fairly large UMC. Prayer quilts; Galactic Blast VBS in June, which has already exceeded capacity in the younger ages; a vision for Small Group Ministry coming out of a strategic planning process; dementia support group; dedication of a new ramp for the church’s Celebration Center; a Stephen Ministry training class: all evidence of a vital, healthy church living out the morning Scripture, “You will be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
It’s inevitable. Whenever I worship in a United Methodist Church, I feel comfortable because I believe in the Connection. No matter where I am in the world – no matter the worship style – no matter who is sitting in the pews – I am home. The worship service yesterday was compelling, transformative, and filled with spiritual depth.
- The organist made me want to sing because of her lively, passionate playing.
- The handbell choir and women’s ensemble were joyful and enthusiastic.
- The sacrament of baptism was oh-so-sweet, with a 2 year old boy refusing to leave his mother’s arms as he was baptized.
- The prayer of confession touched my heart because it not only reminded me of what season we are in, but it convicted me of my own impatience.
Lord, we are “What’s next?” people. We want to know what we are supposed to do. We journeyed through the Lenten Season, stood at the foot of the cross, witnessed Jesus’ resurrection and his appearances to his disciples in an upper room and on the lakeshore. Now in this day we are called to wait. That’s hard for us to do. We want to jump into some kind of action. Calm our hearts and help us to wait for the Spirit. Forgive our impatience and our lack of faith. We place our trust in your redeeming love.”
- A lay woman wearing a baseball uniform engaged the children in dialogue about what kind of uniform a Christian should wear, which reminded me of Colossians 3:12, “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.”
- For a mission moment, the chair of the Scholarship Committee testified to the lives that have been changed because of the substantial scholarships the church provides to seminary students from around the country. A second career person graduated last week from a United Methodist seminary and witnessed to the impact of his scholarship, “You are a part of my graduation from a UM seminary. You were there every step of the way because of your kindness and generosity. I beg you to continue your support because of the ripple effect you generate. Thank you for being the hands and feet of Christ.” Wow!
- The lead pastor encouraged us in his sermon not to cling to the past when God pushes us forward. Rather fix our eyes solely on heaven, God calls us to wait to receive the power of the Holy Spirit, then turn outward and become a witness.
- After worship Stephen ministers were stationed in strategic places, indentifying visitors, thanking people for coming to worship, and sending us forth with a smile.
So much to savor, ponder, chew, and reflect upon. Yesterday’s worship service was a precious gift of God. Walking back to my car, I said to myself, “People genuinely care at this church, and that in itself is enough to persuade many people that this could be their church home, a place where they can live out their call to be disciples of Jesus Christ who transform the world.”
As I drove away, I saw an UMCOR disaster relief trailer sitting in the parking lot. I continued praising God and said, “Thank you, St. Andrew By-The-Sea United Methodist Church. You’re a different congregation than you were 9 years ago. You touched me deeply and gave me space to encounter God today. As a “What’s next?” person, you challenged me to calm my heart, be patient, and wait for the Spirit, but you also urged me not to fix my gaze solely heavenward. You are surely God’s witnesses to the ends of the earth.”
- Could this be your church, too?
- Could your congregation be such a witness?
- Could a visitor say of your church, “You’re a transformed congregation since the last time I visited — years ago. The Holy Spirit has surely come upon you.”
- Are you actively waiting to receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon your congregation again at Pentecost?
- How will you celebrate the birthday of the Church? Are you going to wear Holy Spirit red next Sunday as your uniform?
- Are you listening to the angels saying to you, “Jim, Judy …. of West Michigan, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has ascended to heaven, comes again whenever you become a vessel for Holy Spirit power, look around as well as up, and witness to the good news.”
- When the time is right, will your waiting turn to action?