Easter 7

 May 13, 2018

READINGS: Acts 1: 15-17, 21-28 ~ Psalm 1 ~ John 17: 6-19

A philosophy professor stood before his class and wordlessly picked up a large empty mayonnaise jar.  He then proceeded to fill it with rock. Is the jar full?, he asked his students.  They agreed that it was.

Then the professor picked up a container of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open areas between the rocks. The students laughed. The professor picked up a container of sand and poured it into the jar.  Of course, the sand filled everything else.

Now, said the professor, I want you to recognize that this is your life. The rocks are the important things – God, your family, your partner, your health; anything that is so important to you that if were lost, you would be nearly destroyed.  The pebbles are the other things that matter like your education, your job, and your car. The sand is everything else. The small stuff.  If you put the sand into the jar first, there is no room for the pebbles, and the rocks.  The same goes for your life.  If you spend all your energy and time on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. 

Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness and wellbeing.   Take care of the rocks first. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.

As followers of Christ, Jesus is the rock on and around which we build our lives.

On the night before his death, Jesus prays for his community of disciples. And once we navigate the unlikely language, we find the three things that he thinks will be important and which continue to touch our lives today.

First, Jesus asks God to protect the disciples from evil. He knows that things will get rough and they might be tempted to give up the faith.  But notice that he does not ask that they be taken out of the world and released from life’s problems.  Rather, he asks for strength to get through them the challenges.

And we know that life was indeed hard for those first disciples.  And we know that things did not much easier for the second generation.  Now, at the end of his days, John is concerned for his community – how they will manage without him. It is during this time of great anxiety that John’s gospel is written. And the author recalls the prayer that Jesus prayed for his disciples just before he dies, using the words of Jesus to give strength and courage to his community.

Sometimes people think that being a Christian is a sort of good luck charm …that faith guarantees a pain-free life.  This is not so and such an idea can lead to a really unhealthy theology. If we think that God is like superman who, as soon as we call for help, swoops down to pull us out of harm’s way, we are going to be very disappointed.

As human beings we are not immune to the difficulties of life.  And being followers of the way of Christ almost guarantees struggle, for it is a path that is often at odds with the world around us.  Yet, we know that, in spite of their struggle, the disciples never gave up their faith and were able to fulfil their part of the mission.

That was their victory.  The good news for us is that our risen and ascended Lord continues to pray for his disciples today, that we might be strengthened in the faith and find joy in our ministry.  So, when the going gets tough for us, either as individuals or as a faith community, it is good to remind ourselves that Jesus is actively praying this prayer for us and we can still draw strength and courage from his words.

A second thing that Jesus prays for is that his disciples be sanctified in the truth. The word ‘sanctify’ means to consecrate or make holy.   Being sanctified does not mean that we get to go around feeling holier than the people around us.  Jesus is asking that his disciples might be consecrated in order to become living reminders of the love and presence of God in the world; and that our faith might touch those with whom we come in contact as a blessing. It’s a way of spreading the gospel.

In our first reading, the Jesus community is getting to do just that but before they move forward they decide to select someone to replace Judas….and Matthias is chosen by lot.  This is their way of sanctifying Matthias.

Now we may wonder why they even bother replacing Judas. Why not just stick with the eleven remaining apostles?  After all, there is no shortage of disciples! Today’s reading speaks of 120 of them.

Well, in Jewish thought, the number 12 represents wholeness or completeness.  That is why there are 12 tribes of Israel and 12 disciples. So, it is necessary to restore that sense of wholeness before moving on. And the 120? That is the number of Jewish males required by law to form a synagogue.  So they are in effect establishing themselves as a new synagogue – the new Israel – one that follows the way of Rabbi Jesus.

As Christians in the 21 century, it is important for us to remind ourselves that Jesus did not set out to establish a new religion.  Jesus set out to teach a group of people a way of life –  a way of life that involves living in communion with God and with each other, united in a circular relationship of love.

And this is a really important point as we come to the third petition in Jesus’ prayer for his disciples: that we be one with God, with him, and with each other.  Now being one – being united –  does not mean that Jesus expects us all to be exactly the same, always agreeing with very detail.  It wasn’t that way in the early community and it isn’t that way today.  And that’s a good thing, for life would be pretty boring and we would never grow without some sort of creative tension in our midst.

Recognizing that the way of Jesus is all about relationship means that we do not have to spend out time defending and protecting a particular form of institutionalized religion. Rather, being united in love allows us to value and respect the dignity and gifts of the other, recognizing each person as brother or sister –  and a beloved child of God.   It also allows us to respect and learn from other forms of faith relationships.

May we all be given strength to face hardship without loosing faith, the grace to live in unity and Godly love with one another, and the will to become visible signs of God’s invisible, loving and healing presence in the world.

Pat Martin +