How many of you are surfers?
Now I know that Ottawa isn’t exactly the surfing capital of the world. We’re a long way from the nearest ocean. But surely there are a few of us who have tried surfing, or have at least watched surfers while on holidays, Or maybe we even watched some surfing on TV during the Olympics last year in Tokyo.
So I’m going to assume that we know at least a little bit about surfing, ok? Let me ask you then, what is the most important thing about surfing? If you want to surf, what’s the first thing you have to do?
You might be thinking that you need to have good balance, or take some lessons, and those things are important. But the first thing a surfer has to do, by far the most important part of surfing is this: You have to go to where the waves are.
I mean, have you ever seen anyone surfing on the Rideau River? Probably not. But when I went on vacation to Hawaii a few years ago, there were thousands of people surfing. Why? Because that’s where the waves are. Surfers go to where the waves are. So when I was in Hawaii, I tried surfing too. I wasn’t particularly good, I spent a lot more time swimming than I did surfing. But there’s one thing even based on my limited experience that I can tell you about surfing. And it’s this: when you catch a wave, it’s a powerful thing.
The book of Acts is all about catching a wave. And that wave is the Holy Spirit.
I said it two weeks ago, and I’ll say it again. The main character, the driving force, the energy in the book of Acts and in the life of the early church, is the Spirit. The main task of the apostles is to go to where the Spirit is and to catch the wave.
Today we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus. It’s a hinge moment, a turning point in the movement that Jesus started. Up until this moment, the main task of Jesus’ followers had been to be disciples, that is learners, people who learnt from Jesus, who listened to his teaching, who followed him and watched what Jesus was doing. In the gospel we heard today, the disciples expected that to continue with the risen Jesus. “Jesus, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” What are you going to do next Jesus?
And Jesus says “Over to you, folks” and suddenly he disappears, lifted up, out of sight. But not before making them a promise:
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.”
There’s another thing about surfing that I forgot to mention, and that is that it involves a lot of waiting. Even when you’re in the right place to catch the wave, you sometimes have to wait there a long time, watching, waiting, getting ready. So that when that wave does come upon you, you’re ready for it and you can catch it and ride it for all your worth.
The Holy Spirit is coming, Jesus tells his followers. Stay here in the city and wait. Get ready. Because you’re going to have the ride of your lives.
In the moment that Jesus ascends, his followers are confused. They just stand there looking up towards heaven. What do we do now?
But then they remember his promise. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. Stay in the city, and wait.”
Waiting is hard. One of the reasons I never really took up surfing after I tried it that first time in Hawaii is that I’m not very good at waiting. That, and of course the fact that I live in Ottawa is also a bit of a disincentive. But going to where the wave is going to be and then waiting for it is something I don’t really have the patience for. But to their credit, that’s what Jesus’ followers did. They went back to that upper room in Jerusalem, and they waited. They spent their time in prayer and preparation. And then about ten days later, they caught the wave of their life. When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place, and suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and tongues of fire came upon them. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and rushed out into the streets of the city speaking of God’s deeds of power in languages they themselves didn’t even understand.
Now that’s catching a wave. Next week we’re going to celebrate Pentecost together, and we’ll talk more about this. But what I want to stress today is the following:
To be the church that we are called to be, we need to be in synch with the Spirit. We are the surfers, and the Holy Spirit is the wave. We need to go to where the wave is, catch that wave and ride it for all we’re worth. That’s what it looks like to be a Spirit-led church. The church’s agenda is not ours to make. The Spirit sets the agenda, and we try to catch the wave. We scramble to catch up. We see this over and over again with the apostles in the book of Acts.
Right off the top, Jesus says to them “Stay in Jerusalem and wait” and the Spirit hits them on the day of Pentecost.
In Chapter 8, an angel tells Philip to go south on the road to Gaza, and the Spirit is there ahead of him, and Philip goes over to the chariot, meets an Ethiopian eunuch, proclaims to him the good news of Jesus and the church is extended to Ethiopia.
In Chapter 10, Peter has a vision, and so he goes with the soldiers to see Cornelius, and that’s where the wave is, the Spirit falls upon Cornelius and all his household as Peter is telling them the good news of Jesus, and it’s Pentecost all over again.
In Chapter 16, Paul has a vision of man in Macedonia pleading with him to come and help and so he goes there, goes to where the Spirit is already at work, proclaims the good news to Lydia and the church of Philippi is born.
Over and over again, the same dynamic plays out. We are the surfers, and so we need to go to where the waves are. And when we catch the wave that is the Holy Spirit, it is a powerful thing.
And it is a particular sort of power. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,” says Jesus; “and you will be my witnesses.” The power that we receive is the power to be a witness, to witness to all that God has done, in our world and in our lives. There is nothing more empowering, to ourselves and to those around us, than when we can discern where the Spirit’s energy is, go there, catch the wave, and then tell people about what the Spirit is doing in our midst.
As the church, we need to be in synch with what the Spirit is already doing in our world. Sometimes that means that we need to take the time, to wait and pray, to discern and figure out where the Spirit is. Then we need to go there and catch that wave. And when we’re on that wave, we will experience the fulfillment of the promise that Jesus made on the day of his Ascension:
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses.”
Homily Ascension Sunday, May 29 2022, Trinity
Readings: Acts 1.1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1.15-23; Luke 24.44-53