We don’t have a footstool in our house. That’s okay because most of our furniture is “motion furniture” anyway. It doesn’t matter where you sit, a footstool pops up whenever you push a lever. So, in truth, we have footstools everywhere, thanks to LA-Z-Boy.
In our generation, we think of footstools as a symbol of relaxation, but in ancient times they were symbols of power, and were often associated with the throne of a king or queen. Rulers used footstools to ascend thrones high off the ground, and to rest their feet while they were seated.
Footstools were also associated in the ancient near east with military victory. We see this in the book of Joshua after God hails down huge boulders on Israel’s enemies and then stops the sun and moon in the midday sky so Israel’s warriors could finish their attack. When the battle is over, Joshua says to his warriors, “Come near, put your feet on the necks of these kings” (Joshua 10:24).
As violent as this moment is in Israel’s history, the image itself was well known in the ancient near east and found at least thirteen times in scriptures. It signifies not only a modest victory over one’s enemies, as if a conqueror squeaked by with a win, but complete domination over them.
The image of a footstool has been bouncing around in my head this Pentecost season as I’ve reflected on Acts 2. You know the story. The disciples are gathered in a house in Jerusalem and “2there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages” (Acts 2:2-4).
The noise of all the disciples speaking at once was so loud, in fact, that it caught the attention of the crowd outside the house. When Peter sees an opening to explain what was taking place, he says, “32This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. 33Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. 34For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, ‘The Lord (God) said to my Lord (Jesus), “Sit at my right hand,35until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ 36Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
So here, and elsewhere in Acts, we find the “apostles’ teaching” as clearly as it can be proclaimed. God raises Jesus from the dead and makes Jesus’ enemies his “footstool.”
The Spirit poured out on Pentecost anoints the followers of Jesus to give a powerful, visceral, and understandable witness to the One who conquers the enemies of God, namely sin, death and the devil.
Whether it is the ability to speak in foreign languages or the boldness to profess their faith to the religious and political rulers of their day or the compassion to heal those who were sick and lonely, the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus’ followers and anoints the whole community with the presence, power, and purpose of our conquering Lord.
At Pentecost, we are reminded that the ministry of the Risen Christ is transferred to the anointed community. It doesn’t matter if you are young or old, male or female, slave or free. You are enlivened by the Holy Spirit if you call on the name of the Lord. Nothing can disqualify you. Everyone is prophesying. Everyone is speaking in tongues (2:16-21).
The vision that we see at Pentecost is a community bathed in the Holy Spirit and divinely empowered to conquer the enemies of God. The Spirit may not have soaked into us all the way yet, but the Spirit is what marks this community.
You can make your own list of enemies—religious extremism, terrorism, economic inequality, ethnic strife, gun violence, addiction, cancer, loneliness, family breakdown—there are enough to make one despondent if you don’t also believe that God has given us the power to destroy them. Pentecost encourages us that ultimately Christ wins the battle against all of these, and gives us a grand purpose to pour out our lives for the sake of God’s reign over evil.
That’s what we are doing in every corner of our presbytery, by the power of God’s Spirit. We can see God’s victory in the lives of our chaplains who sit by the bedsides of dying patients. We can see it in our Habitat Coalition that is building five homes for the working poor in Santa Ana. And we can see it in the teaching of our pastors, like Kirk Winslow, who are reaching tens of thousands of listeners all over the world through their podcasts. The Spirit is indeed at work through our anointed community, so therefore, with David, “my tongue will rejoice” and “my flesh will live in hope” (2:26).
Who knows, I might even buy a footstool.
With you on the journey,