The apostles wanted and needed safety. They asked Jesus whether this would not be a good time to restore David’s Kingdom, a moment in the history of Israel when the nation seemed in retrospect to be secure. Jesus’ reply must have increased their insecurity.
The women and men who met with Jesus before his Ascension had, to this point, never left the tiny land area that made up their own country. Now Jesus orders them to go to the ends of the earth and tell the Good News that the Kingdom of God has broken into human affairs by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Rather than assuring his disciples of a safe haven in political terms, he challenges them to take enormous risks for him.
We have a terrible time with the word “evangelism” and even more with the concept that we should leave the safety and security of our buildings to engage others with the Good News. More likely than not, our “outreach committees” plan meals for the poor and our church’s presence at community events, splendid things in themselves, but the very thought that we have a responsibility to speak about Jesus and his Kingdom scares us to death, or perhaps worse, offends our sensibilities. After all, religion should not be the subject of polite conversation!
In today’s gospel we find Jesus praying to the Father to give his disciples protection once Jesus was out of the picture. Note that Jesus doesn’t ask the Father to restore the kingdom of Israel. Divine protection was to be something other than security. The Spirit was to protect and energize. But what on earth was the Spirit? The disciples, as devout Jews, knew who God was, and they knew Jesus. Perhaps they remembered that in the Genesis account of Creation, the Spirit broods on the waters and cooperates in that new creation. The Church would come to believe that Jesus was present in Creation – “through him all things were made,” as the Nicene Creed puts it – but as yet these frightened followers of Jesus knew nothing of the power of the Spirit as the Spirit cooperates with Jesus in a “new creation,” the Kingdom of God on earth, of which we are now citizens through baptism.
Pentecost would change all that, but as yet in our narrative, we aren’t yet there. Instead we share the disciples’ insecurity and huddle in our little kingdoms we term “churches.” We hope and pray that others will join us, people who like the way we do things and will help pay for a new heating system. We hope they will access our website, read the rector’s blog, or the advertisement lost among so many others on the church page of the newspaper, or be attracted by the sign outside the church that tells them that the Episcopal Church is there for them. Nothing yet pushes us out through our red doors into the marketplace to tell the Good News that Jesus transforms and makes all things new.
Will this year’s Pentecost make any difference? Or will we still ask God to restore the kingdom, when the churches were full and rich people paid all our bills?
We must pray that our parishes will be renewed by God the Holy Spirit, who always shows us Jesus and through him brings us to the Father.
There’s one further step. We must pray that each of us in our own way will hear Jesus telling us to go out beyond our own comfort zone to tell out the glory of the Lord.
The disciples feared being killed. We fear ridicule. So perhaps our prayer should be that God will remove from us our fear of seeming ridiculous and replace that fear with courage to live out our baptismal promises. “Go into Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost part of the world” as today’s reading from Acts says.
Or shall we sit in our upper room and wait for a kingdom?