We are prepared indeed
SERMON: 7 Easter B 5 13 18
These are heady times. Imagine such shocking changes. Values are being challenged. Historic alliances and relationships are being blown up. Charges and accusations are flying every which way. It's hard to know whether to take cover or just give up. Or fight. Things are changing faster than anyone could ever have imagined. The old order is falling away. Some celebrate that. Others are dismayed. It's hard for people to keep their minds on the higher things, not the mundane or the self-centered. And in case you're wondering, I'm only talking about what's going in our Bible readings this week.
That's right. The confusion and the disorientation that are reflected every single day in the news --this is not new! This is old hat. Consider two thousand years ago. The followers of Jesus had been faithful if a little dull as they followed their Lord around the countryside. He preached and healed and performed other miracles and showed his disciples how it's done. The Christian Bible is full of reports of his wondrous works.
But it was unsettling, we can be sure. In the course of the past week we read of his followers witnessing the Ascension of Jesus into heaven, to be with God. This had all kinds of import for the disciples. First and foremost was: He is Risen, which we celebrate, also means He is gone. Yikes.
Irrespective of the joy they may and probably did feel at the confirmation of what Jesus had been teaching them, they were now going to be doing their business without his bodily presence.
In the past weeks we have been listening as Jesus again and again assured his disciples that they were equipped for the work ahead. He even goes so far as to insure them his reinforcement, the Holy Spirit, will be along shortly. While both notions --we've got the training and we'll have reinforcement from the Holy Spirit--are comforting, still...
There they were after the Ascension, after being asked, "Men of Jerusalem, why are you looking heavenward?" wondering themselves just how this was going to work out. We know what's coming. We've been here before. But they don't know. So they're pondering their situation. We know they're going to discover that they do have the training, they possess the confidence in faith and the resources to continue Jesus' ministry.
We know that Pentecost is coming, but two thousand years ago is was probably a slim reed of hope for the people who had followed and believed Jesus, and believed in him.
Isn't that the way it is for us today? Many of us and our friends and neighbors were so relieved to have eight years of calm and thoughtful leadership of our country after the two terms of the prior president. For eight years we felt values which deserved being upheld were again taking hold in America": we were seeing concern shown for the people after eight years of government by and for the military industrial complex. We looked up to the leader whose administration recognized and followed humanitarian and -- dare I say Christian? -- values.
We believed with this type of leadership the nation was changed for the better, that the proper agenda was being followed, that there was hope in America like we hadn't seen for quite a while. We had turned a corner.
Then that leader left us. Not to ascend to heaven; just to submit to term limits.
But isn't that how the disciples must have felt? Like the hope and change and vision of a more generous common life which had been developed was all of a sudden lost? I think we know that feeling. I surely do.
As you know, Molly and I have four grandchildren. The younger grandchildren, one now four, one now two, get unbearably frustrated sometimes. Maybe their older sibling can do something they can't--read or ride a bike-- or maybe they've just had it with all the demands of being a youngster. What they do is squat cross-legged on the floor, cross their arms over their chests and pout mightily. They might make humph-ing noises, I'm not sure.
But they clearly have had it, all they can handle.
I can relate. I feel that way sometimes. Maybe I'll try it their response next time Molly and I have a difference of opinion. Maybe it will work!
Except it won't. Because not liking things the way they are, however unsatisfying, however disturbing, and needless to say, however unfair, doesn't change a thing. Except if I try it I'll get laughed at.
It's a good thing the disciples didn't try that. Instead they continued to gather information which indicated that they had in fact been trained and led sufficiently that they could continue after Jesus' Ascension.
In our collect we acknowledged their uncertainty, however, when we prayed that God would not leave us comfortless, a reference to the Holy Comforter, the Holy Spirit, which the disciples were waiting for and which we rely upon.
It is also clear from our readings that the disciples didn't give up after Jesus ent to heaven. Instead they filled their ranks by calling Matthias after drawing lots. This intriguing way of discerning God's will really amounts in trusting God, even without the leadership of their leader and friend, Jesus. It meant they were prepared to forge on.
Since we are examining the behavior of the disciples between the Ascension and Pentecost it is worth noting that our psalm, certainly recognized by the disciples, observes that God "knows the way of the righteous." This verse offers reassurance to the disciples that even in the absence of Jesus, God is with them, God knows their path. Emmanuel.
In John's Gospel selection for today we hear Jesus reinforce what he has taught his disciples in prayer to God. I suspect he prayed this prayer with a loud voice so his disciples could hear it and reflect on it and find it easier to believe and easier to imagine getting along without Jesus at their side all day every in human form.
Jesus assured God--and if they could hear him, assured the disciples--that they were properly oriented with Jesus' information and that that information was from God. They knew that Jesus was asking for their protection, "so that they might be as one." And then he said "as we are one."
For the disciples to imagine their relationships with each other to be like the relationship between God and Jesus, must have given them bold and new hope because Jesus prayed for that and that was how things were seeming at the time.
Finally Jesus asked God to sanctify the disciples in the truth. Then he asserted that God's word is truth. For us, of course, God's word is Jesus the Word.
Today's Gospel ties the disciples not only to Jesus more tightly but also to God. For those still trying to reconcile their relationship with Jesus, being directly tied to God was terrific glue. If Jesus was proclaiming their godliness and seeking heir godly protection, what could it be but true?
You and I can claim those same assurances that were being generated by and for the disciples just after the Ascension. God is with us on our path to do the will of God as we live our earthly lives. We are called to reach out to others in the full confidence that God wants us to help people in the name of Jesus. And we can trust what Jesus told the disciples because we do believe we are one, working as one with all who seek to love God and love their neighbor. Amen
A sermon preached April 13 2018 at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Poughkeepsie NY by The Rev. Tyler Jones, Rector