Reflection - Ascension Day at Synod

The theme for this time together is Being and Making Disciples in our Caribbean Context # Called Empowered and Sent.
- The Rev. Dr. Michael Clarke - Principal of Codrington College

We stand in the Novena of Ascension, with our eyes set on Pentecost.  The first Pentecost witnessed the complete empowering of the disciples as they were prepared to be sent out.  They had been told not to go anywhere but to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit. They had Jesus’ story; they had the experiences of the miracles and the healings, the casting out of demons, the giving of sight to the blind and more. 

They even had the Resurrection story.  All this was enough to have kept them going for a reasonably long time.  They had a Story.  However, their discipleship was about more than the story of a healer and a miracle worker.  The story was even about more than the Resurrection.

Their story was to be the story of God’s saving work in the world. 

Their story was the ushering in of a new time, a new dispensation. “No longer will anyone say to another know the Lord for they shall all know me, I shall write my word on each person’s heart.”

The material they had was nowhere near enough to bring about this new dispensation.  So the disciples were told to wait.  The Church, at times, arms itself with programmes and plans, and they often come to nought. We blame lack of commitment, lack of monitoring, evaluating and many other markers for the failure, but hardly do we explore whether we were working under the power of God’s Holy Spirit?  The latter is a term we often use in prayer, but outside of this, we are not well known for leaning or allowing for the guidance in our day to day work.  Could it be that we too need to hear the command - Wait!  Wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit. 

To be here at Provincial Synod number 40, to have just elected a new Archbishop, at the start of the Novena and to be planning a Way Forward for the province begs us to be aware of where we are.  To pause in our busyness; from our agenda. Today the feast of the Ascension marks the beginning of the waiting period. We finish our work today, and we head home this evening or tomorrow.  We enter into the Novena with the focus on “Thy Kingdom come.”  Could it be providential that we have lined ourselves up at this time?

Is it possible that every one of us here, having spent these days together,  having wrestled with the challenges we face as a Church and having heard each other share hopes and fears, is in a providential space? 

-we have heard of

Dioceses with few clergy to minister to the congregations.

Dioceses with elderly clergy who are no longer able, but refuse to nurture someone else.

Dioceses that are forced to accept primarily part-time clergy.

A College that in its 275 anniversary year is struggling to survive.

Dioceses with serious financial challenges.

A world knocking, relentlessly, at our doors demanding that we accept its values.

Leaders holding the tension between what has been and what must most certainly be.

Youth loving their Church but not feeling the sense of being a part of it or being taken seriously.

Stories from farther afield of Christians being persecuted.

All these aspects define who we are and what we face at this moment.

Is it possible that this is also a Kairos moment - the time for - the moment when?

Dare we each leave this place today and hold the nine days to come as a time of waiting, waiting to be empowered by the Holy Spirit- for holding all that we have visioned in our hearts awaiting the command to go forth, not from our selves but from the One who has called us?

The disciples went back to the Upper Room and waited in prayer for the moment of empowerment; the moment that changed their feeble efforts and caused them to have authority.

I offer no judgement on our past, but I invite us to do some different - to be more intentional in using that which we have received.  I believe each one of us here has a passion for this Church.  I recall persons sharing a few days ago that they wanted someone as Archbishop who loved the Lord Jesus, but the Lord Jesus said he must go away so that the Comforter may come.  Have we embraced the importance of that Comforter?  As we express our love for the Lord, and rightly so, are we mindful of his gift to us to move us beyond merely being disciples - followers, to become those who are sent? Those who walk forward to create a new dispensation?

The requirements for the follower are far different from those of the one sent.  Jesus says you shall one day do greater things than I have done - you will overtake me - you will no longer be just followers, but you will go forth in your work because of the power of the Holy Spirit working in you.  Have we heard that truth?

Empowered and Sent

Do these two terms change the dynamic? Empowered and Sent reside in a whole different category.  The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, recovering of sight to the blind, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.  That is empowerment.  That is revving the engines up to blast off into the world - TO MAKE disciples.  That is how disciples are made, through the power of the Holy Spirit guiding and working in the lives of those called, who received the outpouring and who were sent.

However, none of this is possible - even though we place it in our theme -  none of it is possible if we do not make the space for the empowerment to take place.  Novena - 9 days of prayer and fasting.  9 days of waiting for the promised Holy Spirit.  Is this what the Archbishop of Canterbury is seeking to raise? A time when the Anglican Communion ceases to draw on its strength and be empowered by the Holy Spirit.  A moment when we recover that missing piece of the work?

History has caused us to inherit a Church which, while steep in the knowledge of God, has in earlier times depended on the power it wielded as a part of the State machinery.  Since those times, we have struggled to find our way.  Others who did not have the privilege that we enjoyed have been faithful to the Way, as they have understood it. We must return to the Way as we have understood it to attain the Spiritual authority that is ours, as Church.

Lean away from the theological discourse, from our business methodologies for a moment and look and see with the eyes of faith -

Ascension Day - Novena - Pentecost                                 (Called - Empowered - Sent)

Is this by accident?  Even if we say it is, can we not allow it to be more - more than what we may call - pure coincidence?  Can we not see the providential nature of this timing.  Can we not claim it to be a Divinely aligned moment - a Kairos moment?

Can we step away from our agenda long enough to see something more?

Empowered - We don’t empower people in this work by educating them. We inform them by educating them.  If we want to empower them, we lead them into engagement with the Holy Spirit, that is the place from which we derive our real power.  Therefore we need to acknowledge that, in our churches, there are persons whom we have baptised, but they are at different stages in their journey - some are ready to take on discipleship.  Others have been on the path for a while and may be ready for the next step.  How do we assist them in coming to that place where they can receive the empowerment.

Paul goes down to Ephesus and discovers some disciples - he asks them

“Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptised?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptised with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying." Acts 19:2-6

And at Samaria

"… when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptised, men and women alike. Even Simon himself believed; and after being baptised, he continued on with Philip, and as he observed signs and great miracles taking place, he was constantly amazed.

      Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit."  Acts 8:12-17

Discipleship brings us into the arena, but the Holy Spirit causes the games to begin.  Not all are ready for this next part - Simon, the sorcerer, certainly was not.

We have worked very hard this week. We have prepared ourselves, and we know what is needed - now may we wait for the Holy Spirit to take us beyond our wildest dreams -

"And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance."  Acts 2:4

They were all empowered and went out to the crowd and proclaimed the Good News of God’s salvation.

How do we empower the disciples that are called and made?

 We first allow ourselves to be empowered.

We also acknowledge that there are persons in our congregations who are empowered and need to play a more significant role in the making of disciples.  From there, others, ready for the encounter with the Holy Spirit, are empowered and sent. This undertaking is a continuous work that ends when "Thy Kingdom comes" in its fullness.

DISCIPLES                                    BEING                                               MAKING

CALLED                                         EMPOWERED                                    SENT