Our identities aren’t forged in a vacuum. Each and every one of us has an origin story — a narrative that explains how and why we became the person we are today.
Not just for superheroes
Spiderman didn’t become a superhero overnight. The radioactive spider bite was sudden and unexpected, but Peter Parker didn’t instantly become a good guy, using his powers to fight evil. First, he used his new powers to pad his wallet by becoming an entertainer. It’s only once his uncle Ben was murdered by a burglar who Peter failed to stop that he becomes a hero. His motto “With great power comes great responsibility” is born out of his lived experience. He starts using his special abilities for the common good. His origin story is the driving force behind his identity, his actions, his motivation.
In a similar vein, Batman’s origin story is born from great tragedy and suffering. As a young boy, Bruce Wayne watched his parents’ murder, and from then on, he vowed to fight crime. No fancy superpowers, just a lifetime goal achieved through hard work (and some cash). Batman’s origin story fueled his passion and purpose.
The church, too, has an origin story. The book of Acts is the only book of history in the New Testament and it chronicles the story of how the early Christians came together to form the church.
It was a dramatic beginning that we celebrate every year on Pentecost Sunday. it started with the apostles all together in one room after Jesus had ascended into heaven. We can only guess about their collective mood but I imagine they were feeling lost without their leader. Perhaps they found comfort in each others’ presence, protected from the outside world, as they tried to figure out what to do next.
In times of sadness and confusion, it’s natural to turn inward, isn’t it? But then out of nowhere, the Holy Spirit came rushing out of heaven with a sound like a mighty wind, “And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2: 3-4)
And devout Jews from across the nation could hear these Galilean apostles speaking in their own language, “telling … the mighty works of God.” (v. 11) The early church started with a powerful bang, signaling that the good news of Jesus wasn’t just meant for one people in one nation, but that it was meant for everyone. The rest of the book of Acts is a pebble thrown into a pond, with ever widening circles rippling out from the center. The good news of Jesus is for everyone: even those Samaritans, even those foreigners (Acts 8), even – GASP – Gentiles (Acts 10), even people in faraway lands.
How to harness the power of your origin story
And just like superheroes draw purpose from their origin stories, so we too can remember our dramatic beginning to make clear our calling, to remind us of our individual and collective purpose as Christians.
We were not meant to be insular, huddled among ourselves in safe places. Jesus’ last words to his disciples were:
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria , and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8)
We, too, were meant to be witnesses of God’s good news in our own communities, in our own spheres of influence. And the task we’ve been called to doesn’t rely on our own strength or efforts, because the power of the Holy Spirit is with those who believe. Our witness is not only in the words we say, but it is in the things we do and in the choices we make. All of it can further God’s kingdom, especially when we are living with intention, with an eye on our ultimate purpose. Living this way infuses even the smallest actions done in love with holy significance.
So when we’re feeling unsure of ourselves, wondering about our particular calling and purpose in life, it’s helpful to remember where we fit in God’s ultimate story by going back to our origins. We weren’t with the disciples in that room on Pentecost Sunday. But their purpose is our purpose too: to live our lives as witnesses of God’s good news by the power of the Holy Spirit within us.
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