“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” Acts 1:8
Next week we wade into a graduation season of pomp and circumstance, caps and gowns. Huge, gushing, wild-eyed expectations will be articulated by tongues, loosed with alcohol. It will frighten the graduates much more than reassure them. Well-wishers will predict prosperous paths sometimes in a single word. “Plastics!”
Then there are the fawning speeches. Commencement speakers typically tell our young, “You’re amazing. You are awesome! You’ve got what it takes and much more! You’re the best and brightest of a new generation.” Better cue more drinks.
But how would the voice of truthful love speak if it surfaced at commencement? Maybe like this. “Listen, I won’t lie to you, but you don’t actually have what it takes. Neither do I. Nor do all of the professors arrayed in their finery before you. If you’re feeling a little anxious today, that’s probably a good thing…But I bring us hope. You and I aren’t left alone to our own devices and resources. An amazing power is afoot and at work in the world, if you’re willing to tap into it. A power that God will pour out upon those who invite and welcome it, those willing to trust God….So now, despite the ravings of this moment, you ain’t all that. But God is.”
Ascension Day, when Jesus departed the earth, is the Thursday before Memorial Day Weekend. Pentecost Sunday follows on its heels the first Sunday of June. Taken together, these two are a graduation of sorts. It was when the disciples finished their crash course with Jesus on the kingdom of God, and set out after it. It was when the disciples received earthy diplomas, graduating into 12 apostles.
Before Jesus bows out of the scene, he doesn’t say, “You’ve got what it takes.” Sort of the opposite, truly. “You need to wait…wait for the Holy Spirit to descend.”
How many times in your life have big moments presented themselves when we wonder if we are up to the challenge, if we’re really up to what awaits us ahead? Do we alone unto ourselves have what it takes to do the things the world needs? The tendency is to puff ourselves up, inject some adrenaline, rile up testosterone. We tell ourselves or await others to assert, “Don’t worry, we’ve got what it takes!”
From a Christian point of view? It would be truer, wiser, and more honest to say, “Let’s not get ridiculous, ok? You and I don’t have what it takes to meet all of the challenges of this trembling moment in history. But God does. God has the power you will need and God will not begrudge giving it to you. But you have to ask for it. You must want it. The God of love will not force this upon you. Ask for it and await its coming. It will come, I promise. And you will look back and say, how did I ever do that? It was far bigger than my powers and gifts, thanks be to God.”
In truth, no one would ever invite me to give such a speech. If they do, I’m ready!