Power to the people
Prayer, relationship essential to working together in God, speaker tells multicultural conference
April 27, 2012
In the biblical story and liturgical calendar, the time between Easter and Pentecost is an anxious one, reflecting the struggle of the apostles as they await the Holy Spirit.
“I want to get to Pentecost,” said the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Office of Public Witness. He was preaching April 26 to open the National Multicultural Conference here.
Pentecost isn’t here yet ― it’s May 27 ― but Nelson got close, preaching on Acts 1:1-10, also the basis of the conference’s theme: “God’s Door is Open: Who Are We to Stand in the Way?”
Each apostle came to the Upper Room with a different personality and perspective, Nelson said, but all were trying to come to terms with what Jesus was doing. The church today is in a similar situation, he noted. We’re in a place to receive the power of the Holy Spirit, but we must wait.
Waiting does not mean being idle, though; we must work on building the kingdom. “Have we come here open to the possibility of being transformed?” Nelson asked.
The apostles were bound by prayer and supplication for 40 days, all working for the same goal in different ways. “Truly, that is the starting point — the willingness to pray together and be in relationship together,” Nelson said.
Some people might be in their own Upper Rooms now, trying to discern their next steps and needing God’s power. “We must be willing to ask for it and be humbled in the nature of our asking,” Nelson said.
The power of the Holy Spirit is available to those willing to submit themselves to God, he said. The word “power” has negative connotations from being overused and abused. But “power” is used differently by Jesus Christ — it’s a miraculous power attributed only to God. That kind of power doesn’t come from us, but we can use it to do miraculous things—especially if we come together — Nelson said.
“God has set the stage for us to do miraculous work,” he said. “The question is — do we see it?”
Some say that by 2030 or 2040, the United States will be made up of mostly people of color. Are we prepared for that? Nelson asked. The PC(USA) hasn’t yet come to the realization that the world is changing and is still building pockets of white power within the church and building white new church developments, he said.
The denomination is waiting for a fight between white Presbyterians — liberals and conservatives — to stop. But we’re more than that, and we can’t stake our claim in divisive words, Nelson said.
We must find common ground and declare that we have work to do. “That’s really the challenge before us — to not get trapped and caught up in the games of power that humans have erected,” he said. “We have to be focused.
“Are we willing to invest in the work?” he said. “Are we in or are we out?”
The work is hard, but it’s time to look forward and tell the truth, not be mired in standing still or playing games. God’s door is open — are we standing in our own way? Nelson asked.
God’s door is open to us all, and we can see ourselves not as victims but as victors, not as powerful but as sojourners. We can see ourselves anew, Nelson said. We must pass through the door in the right spirit, willing to serve Jesus Christ to the fullest, in prayer and supplication with each other.