(Psalm 47, Acts 1:6-14)
One of my all time favorite movies is the classic Footloose. Part of me identifies with the rebel Ariel as a fellow pastor’s kid, but most of me just loves the dancing. I hear the words to Kenny Loggins’ Footloose or Deniece Williams’ Lets Hear it for the Boy and my foot starts tapping, my shoulders shaking and soon enough I’m all the way ready to hit the dance floor, hands clapping having a great time.
In Footloose a young Sarah Jessica Parker plays the role of Rusty, the best friend of Ariel, the rebel daughter. Their small town of Bomont has banned dancing and music so the kids set off across state lines for a night of dancing. When Rusty gets to the dance club excited to finally let loose with a night of dancing across state lines, she learns that her boyfriend, Willard can’t dance so she sits sheepishly on the side watching Ariel and her date Ren tearing it up on the dancefloor. She sits there for a few songs until Kenny Loggins’ Footloose comes on, then, then—she jumps onto the rails and starts wagging her feet, chapping her hands before she jumps off the rails dancing onto the dancefloor and looks to Willard saying “I just can’t help myself, Willard!”
That moment, that moment Rusty jumps off the rails so overcome with the urge to dance, so overcome that she literally can’t help herself, her feet are tapping to the rhythm without her even knowing, her shoulders bouncing and feet clapping. That “I can’t help myself moment.” The moment you are so overcome by something, moving by the music, moving from the rhythm or the something that totally comes over you. That moment. That is the moment I want to talk about.
When Rusty jumps off that banister and dances her way onto the floor, she just can’t do anything but dance, she can’t sit there anymore with her non-dancing boyfriend, she’s had enough of tapping her foot on the sidelines and she is ready to go. So she jumps off the banister, and she goes.
In the passage from Acts we just read, that is the feeling of the Holy Spirit that is propelling the disciples forward. When Jesus says to the disciples “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” This is the power he’s talking about. The power of the Holy Spirit which will propel and guide and encourage and enable and overcome the disciples to go into the world, to go to the places they don’t know, to go to the world and boldly witness to the good news of Jesus, to get uncomfortable, to participate in the restoration of the world.
In the passage, when Jesus tells the disciples that they will be Jesus’ disciples he does so not leaving it all up to them, not leaving the restoration of the world solely in their hands. Rather, he leaves it on the shoulders of the Holy Spirit—to call into action the disciples, the propel them off the sidelines, to keep them from just standing there and rather, calling on them to go, to get out into the world, to be so moved and encouraged that they just can’t help themselves.
Jesus calls us to be the church that simply can’t help itself, that simply can’t wait any longer to get out there. When the two men descend upon the disciples they pretty boldly reprimand them for standing there, looking into heaven, waiting for Jesus to return—they call on them to get out there, to stop standing by. Jesus calls on us as the church to get out there, to be overcome and inspired and to go. To go into the world—jumping boldly and excitedly forward.
Rev Bernice King, the youngest daughter of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King wrote of this moment—“ The Holy Spirit cannot be controlled by us; instead, the Holy Spirit controls us. When something controls us, something possesses us, and when something possesses us, it means something has gotten deep inside of us. That’s why all throughout the book of Acts, it says that the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit, not that they had the Holy Spirit. When you’re filled with the Holy Spirit, no problem is too difficult to handle, no burden too difficult to bear. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we have a power that can take on the world.”
When Jesus tells the disciples before his ascension that they will receive the Holy Spirit in his absence, that is good news, that is really really good news. It is not a final goodbye, its not a “hope you’ll be ok without me” moment. Rather, its Jesus letting them know that they will be overcome with the totally awesome, holy, moving power of the Holy Spirit.
And when this happens, when Jesus tells the disciples that they will receive the power of the Holy Spirit, he also calls on them. Because just like with any good news it is both that—good news—and it is also a call. A call to respond fully to that good news which we hear. The call that Jesus places on the lives of the disciples is to be so moved by the power of the Holy Spirit that they are thrust into the world as witnesses, witnessing and proclaiming the good news so that being hearers of the good news is not enough, but we must also be doers, be participants in the great mission Jesus sent us on, enabled and empowered and called by the Holy Spirit.
In the story Jesus assures the disciples of the power of the Holy Spirit, the power of the Holy Spirit that pulls us off the sidelines and into action. He assures them of this in response to their question, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Their very honest question of when will these things be done? When will the restoration we have waited for come? As they stand there, they stand waiting expectantly for Jesus to immediately restore things to the way they had been waiting for, to great triumph. But Jesus responds telling them that is not for them to know, and rather than knowing when Jesus will restore the kingdom, it is them, the disciples, who are to get to work. It is time for the disciples and it is time for us to stop standing by and to start dong what Jesus called us to do—witness to the good news all the way to the ends of the earth. Friends, let us not be the people that Jesus comes to ask “why are you standing there?” but rather let us be the people jumping off the banister excited and empowered to get to the good work Jesus called us to do.
Last summer I worked at an organization in Baltimore that paired visiting congregations with local congregations who were doing something new and exciting in their mission programs. This gave me the awesome opportunity to visit with many different congregations and people. One of the people I met was a man named Bill. Bill was probably in his late 60s or early 70s, a retired administrator for the church. Bill had been a longtime member of his church in Baltimore, a church that was experiencing some changes, a lot of influence from their surrounding neighborhood, a lot of changes that they still hadn’t quite figured out. In the last year one of the members dynamic and friendly grandchildren had recruited some of his 7 or 8 middle school friends to start coming to church. Now, it had been a while since this church had any youth in the church so they didn’t quite know what to do with them when they came. They were African-American middle school boys who started coming to church at an aging mostly white congregation with no youth group. Soon, the congregation started to figure it out—having them sing in worship when they were interested, sitting with the boys in church and helping to open the hymnal to the right page. Things started going well until the boys lost their ride to church. And that’s where Bill came in, this retired church administrator started picking the kids up for church and dropping them back off at the end of church. This was several years ago and the boys and Bill have all grown quite close, they go to Bill’s house for lunch and Bill’s wife watches over them. And when you ask Bill how he ended up with these kids in the backseat of his new minivan he’ll tell you—“I figure someones got to take ‘em, might as well be me.”
How right Bill was, that someone ought to be him—those car trips have turned into a wonderful and loving relationship. Those youth have a home in the church community, Bill has wonderful new people in his life, this all came from his realization that someone had to do it and that someone was him.
Let me close with the words of a beloved children’s author, Dr. Seuss. In the closing pages of The Lorax, after the story of how the beautiful truffala tree forests have been destroyed, the old man telling the story drops into a bucket a seed, one last truffala seed down into the cup of the listener and proclaims to him:
Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.
Friends—we are the someone that God is calling—the someone God is stirring up through the Holy Spirit to get to work, let’s stop standing by because we are indeed the people God is calling to participate in this great and holy mission.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.