Power and Powerlessness

"Creative Commons Window painting for Pentecost Sunday 2008" by Robin is licensed under CC BY 2.0
“Creative Commons Window painting for Pentecost Sunday 2008” by Robin is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Pentecost Sunday (May 15, 2016)

There is a thread in the New Testament that depicts God’s being emptied of power into Yeshua’s life, ministry, and mission; that emptying then becomes completed in the abandonment of the cross (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Mark 15:34) The original ending of Mark’s gospel account picks up this thread. The followers of Yeshua were dispirited after his death. The prospect of returning to everyday living back in Galilee without Yeshua not only left them sad, but they were immobilized by their terror, dread, and fear.

The Pentecost story (Acts 2) is a mythic representation of a transformation that slowly came over that original band of followers. They had become energized. It was as if the power that had been emptied from God was now infused into their fledgling community. They talked about that infusion as the presence of the Spirit.

Yeshua’s inaugural sermon at Nazareth (Luke 4:16-21) is his “Nazareth Manifesto” (see Samuel Wells’ The Nazareth Manifesto, Wiley, 2015). It reflects the Hebrew concept of Jubilee – that is, “release from economic, legal, physical, and relational bondage.” (page 151) Yeshua’s announcement was to become the marching orders for the church, characterized by the image of the Commonwealth (Kingdom) of God’s peace and justice. What had been real in the mind and teachings and life of Yeshua would begin to well up in the life of his followers.

The image of the Commonwealth (Kingdom) creates in the church the tension between memory and promise… between the conditional and the unconditional… between what is and what might be. It is the impossibility possibility (Caputo).The image of the Commonwealth serves as a provocative proposition (a term from Appreciative Inquiry) for the church.

A provocative proposition is a statement that bridges the best of “what is” with your own speculation or intuition of “what might be”. It is provocative to the extent to which it stretches the realm of the status quo, challenges common assumptions or routines, and helps suggest real possibilities that represent desired possibilities for the organization and its people. – David Cooperrider 

When the disciples no longer had the immediacy of direct access to Yeshua, they found that the image of the Commonwealth that he had presented to them continued to beckon, captivate, and insist them beyond themselves. They wrestled with their gifts, their call, what they might become.

The Jubilee that Yeshua announced was now a reality in their lives – a new vision of life that moved them beyond Galilee out into the world. Pentecost was the signal that they had moved through and beyond their suffering and were now ready to live with a new-found energy.

The spectacular power which had been imagined as the sole property of God (omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence) was now re-imagined as quotidian (daily) power – the power of the ordinary to move toward the extraordinary, a power accessible to you and me… the power of presence and relational wisdom.

To celebrate Pentecost is to remind ourselves of the tension we experience, caught between power and powerlessness… between memory and a promise… between the quotidian now and the eternal now. That celebration is also a reminder that we have committed ourselves (covenanted) to pursue the promise, even in the face of its impossibility.



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