Witness the Wonder in the World
Scripture: Acts 1:1-14
“Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” -Acts 1:6
What is God up to in the world?
When I turn on CNN, peruse my social media news feed, and converse with others at a coffee shop, I find we are all wondering this in one way or another.
Conversations about our careers, lifelong learning pursuits, and formal education or training are different ways of expressing, exploring, and elucidating our sense of vocation and calling. When we discuss marriage, kids, friends, family, and community members, we are trying to create and sustain life-giving relationships. At the same time, any of these other questions can lead us to wonder about our truest identity, inner emotional and intellectual world, and the deepest spiritual terrain of our lives.
Henri Nouwen, a well known spiritual teacher and writer acknowledged that questions like, “Who am I?” “How does God speak to me?” and “Where do I belong?” don’t have easy, go-to answers. Instead, Nouwen suggests “What needs to be said is: ‘Yes, yes indeed, these are the questions. Don’t hesitate to raise them. Don’t be afraid to enter them. Don’t turn away from living them. Don’t worry if you don’t have a final answer on the tip of your tongue.’”
Many times I believe we’d rather have a clear answer. Jesus’ apprentices asked him if this is the climactic time for which they and the people of Israel had been longing. His reply was, “It is not for you to know…” Like a judo master, Jesus has a way of redirecting the full force of our questions in a different direction.
“You will be my witnesses.” The disciples may be lacking authority, but they will receive power. Power from outside of themselves. Power in a way that keeps them from controlling the movement of God. Power connected to the expression and expansion of God’s Reality alive and active in the world. These heralds would live tweet, periscope, Story, and make instaFamous the inbreaking reality of Jesus Reign and Jesus’ Way in the world. Okay, mostly they’d be traveling, relating, helping the poor, forming new communities, and proclaiming the alternative reality of Jesus’ Kingdom. But I imagine our 21st century way of witnessing might be seen on social media. But not because of posts antagonizing people of other or no faiths. As if a compelling witness is made by insulting the intelligence or morality of other beliefs. Instead, the Jesus Way is chronicled and made evident through our words, actions, and communal embodiment.
For much of my life so far, I have underestimated and underemphasized the importance of the communal witness. Yet, as I talk to young adults all over San Antonio who have left the church, they speak not primarily of a failure in our individual words or actions, but of our communal embodiment of the Way of Jesus. They say things like, “My friend groups who aren’t Christian seem more loving, hopeful, and authentic than my church friends.”
Many people know the truth claims of the Christian faith. Many people know churches are involved in acts of charity and social justice. It is not that they do not find Jesus compelling or acting on his behalf as noble. But they see how divided, angry, insecure, anxious, ego-driven, and faith-posturing we are as communities of faith. They question if Jesus is really seen in our communities. I believe on some real level they are saying to us that we aren’t places where it is safe to explore, and live out the most pressing questions of identity, purpose, relationships, and meaning.
Jesus left his first followers questions unanswered. Instead, Jesus gave them the assurance of God’s power working in and through them as they actively witnessed to the wonder of God on the move in the world. What might this first century example say to our twenty-first century context?