Zan Holmes on “Do We Look Like Our Picture?”

On Sunday February 20, 2005 the Sanford District of The United Methodist Church welcomed Dr. Zan Holmes to its Lay Rally.  He offered some challenging words around the question: “Do We Look Like Our Picture?” He recalled a moment in his life when he almost missed a ride at a strange airport because he “did not look like his picture.”  Let’s center on to several verses from the book of Acts:

After his suffering Jesus presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God; While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. "This," he said, "is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy
Spirit not many days from now"
(Acts 1:3-5, NRSV, also see Acts 2:1-12).

What does the picture of the early church look like? 

  • One, they were “unique but united.”  The earliest gathering of
    Christian included folks from all over Israel, city folks, country
    folks, persons of various colors, some who knew Jesus well and others
    who has just encountered the man from Galilee.  After the coming of the
    Holy Spirit they represented devout people of the all the know world.
    They were a diverse bunch to be sure, but they were united in prayer in
    the upper room … they were “unique but united.”
  • Secondly, they were “living for a God-given purpose.”  Notice that
    Jesus gathered the disciples together not to reminisce about the good
    old days when they healed the sick, turned water in wine, walked on
    water, or whatever.  No, Jesus spent forty days teaching the early
    church that they were to be about the kingdom of God business.  Jesus
    made it clear that he had come with a mission and that that mission was
    now laid before them.  They were to be his witnesses in Jerusalem,
    Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (see Acts 1:8).  There was
    no doubt in their minds that “they were living for a God-given
  • Third, “they were expecting something to happen” in that upper
    room.  Jesus commanded them to go to Jerusalem and wait for the Holy
    Spirit that was to come.  They trusted Jesus and they did as they were
    told.  They expected Jesus’ promise to be fulfilled and it was!  And
    when the Spirit descended they were ready to carry out the God-given
    mission they had been assigned.  The early church “expected something
    to happen” and it did!
  • Finally, and maybe most importantly, Jesus sent the disciples to
    “the place of their failure.”  Dr. Holmes suggested that Peter might
    have wanted to go back to Caesarea Philippi where he had proclaimed
    Jesus as Messiah and Jesus promised that the church would be built on
    his faith.  James and John remembered the glory days on the Mount of
    Transfiguration and might have wanted to return to that place.  But
    Jesus sent them to the place where their faith had faltered … to the
    place where they had denied and abandoned him.  Jesus told them God
    would meet them at “the place of their failure.”

Here are the questions for our church, or any other, in our time.
Do we look like our picture?  Do we reflect the diversity of the unique
community we live in and are we united in the midst of that diversity?
Are we individually and corporately living into our God-given
purpose?”  Do we “really expect something to happen” or are we just
going through the motions?  Finally, are we willing to allow God to
pick us up at the places of our failures and lift us to a higher level?