If we back up to the first chapter of Acts, we hear Jesus’ instructions to the gathered believers: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
“Wait for the gift . . . in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” What is all of this waiting for the Spirit about? Surely Jesus, God incarnate, could have empowered them right then to go forth and witness.
Sometimes in the mornings as the kids are getting ready for school I will see that one of them has put a waffle in the toaster oven and they are just standing there watching the thing toast. This drives me nuts. There are clothes to put on, lunches to make, backpacks to pack. “Don’t just sit there waiting for the waffle to toast. Do something while you wait!”
But Jesus says “wait.” His followers could have been preparing speeches or sending letters. But Jesus says wait. They could have been recruiting friends and family or designing a PR campaign. But Jesus says wait. They could have made some picket signs and headed over to the temple: “No more robbers in God’s house of prayer!” But Jesus says wait. They could have been out on the city streets tending to the sick, feeding the hungry. But Jesus says wait.
And so these believers wait for the Holy Spirit. There are about 120 believers. And they gather and they wait. Obviously, they did not have a strategic plan.
But sure enough, after about ten days of waiting . . . a waiting that involved prayer and preaching and singing . . . after about ten days of waiting the Holy Spirit did indeed come upon them.
They were all gathered together in one place, and suddenly there was a loud, violent noise, and those things that seemed to be tongues of fire came down on them. This is frightening and exciting. They now have the power. The power of the Holy Spirit for which they have been waiting.
Now each of the believers is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! . . .
Well, not quite. But, when they speak, those who are listening in the gathered crowd hear them in their own native tongues. And this really is quite impressive considering all of the different places these people are from.
The power of the Spirit is there, for sure. But again, this seems a highly inefficient use of Divine power.
Because really, if the disciples had just spoken Greek, everyone could have understood them. Greek was the lingua franca. Anyone in Jerusalem–residents and visitors alike–probably spoke it.
We pray each week for God to lead us not into temptation. And it seems that efficiency at any cost is one of the greatest temptations of our era.
I heard an interview on NPR a few years back. I don’t even remember which celebrity was being interviewed. I just remember him saying that he was so obsessed with efficiency that at one point he actually timed himself to see if it was faster to put on both socks and then both shoes, or to put the sock and shoe on one foot and then the other.
In the 1990′s, Russian orphanages were terribly efficient. Each nurse could care for 15-20 children. The children, of course, spent basically all of their time alone in a crib. Any family who has adopted a child from one of these orphanages could tell you about the troubling results of this efficient system.
We see, Paul says, as in a mirror darkly. But our God has a deep and abiding wisdom. A wisdom that often seems as foolishness to the world. A wisdom that often seems absurd and terribly inefficient.
It is precisely in the inefficiency of waiting that those first 120 believers become a community. It is in that inefficiency of waiting that they train their hearts towards God, thus preparing themselves to receive those things that seemed like tongues of fire–without getting burned.
And after that inefficient–after that ridiculously absurd–display of Holy Spirit power at Pentecost, about three thousand people are baptized and added to the number of believers.
As followers of Christ, the Holy Spirit leads us not into efficiency, but into faithfulness.
Thanks be to God.
(This post is excerpted from a sermon. The full text is here.)