Year A — The Seventh Sunday of Easter

Commentary for June 5, 2011

Click here for today’s readings

Acts 1:6-14
So many things happening in this brief passage…so many possible directions for a sermon!


It was just two weeks ago that much of America (and at least portions of the rest of the world) was watching to see what would happen on the so-called date of “the Rapture” — an apocalyptic prediction by self-appointed prophet Edward Camping that just didn’t quite materialize.


A reminder of Jesus’ words here in vv. 6-7 could have provided a little balance to the harebrained mania that infected too many well-meaning people. 


The main point is never looking somewhere else for what it is we’re supposed to be doing as Christ’s followers — we have our “marching orders” already! To summarize the words of Jesus and the angels from Ascension Day:

  • The Holy Spirit will come
  • You’ll be witnesses
  • Don’t stand around cloud-gazing     (technically, practicing nephylococcygia)

There you have it!

Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35
Among the many “titles” given to God in the Psalms, here we have one apropos for the theme of the Ascension: “The One Who Rides Upon the Clouds.” 


All I can say about that is, “Cool!”


1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
The fact that Jesus was coming again was a very present hope, evidently, for the early church. They were hanging on –sometimes by the skin of their teeth– trusting that trouble would last only for a little while and that Jesus would make it all go away when he came back.


We may think them naive, and we may well scoff at the “rapture nuts” like Mr. Camping (see post above) who are dead-set sure they know the day and hour. But, the undeniable testimony of scripture is that there is coming a day when God will, indeed, bring this age to a close and will make everything new. Some day, it will be “the day.” 


Peter gives his followers a couple of key admonitions about how to live in the meantime, however long that turns out to be. They’re good words for us —

  1. Humble yourselves under God’s hand; God will exalt you in due time
  2. Cast your anxious cares on God; God cares for you
  3. Discipline yourselves, stay alert; evil can (and will) pounce on you and drag you down before you even know what’s happening
  4. Resist…you do have a choice, you know!

I did a little “Googling” to see what was out there in terms of information on lions attacking their prey — there are certainly some pretty disturbing images if you want to check them out. However, I did find this brief video which illustrates very well that it IS possible to resist. In other words, even the lion doesn’t always win!


Lion and Prey video here

John 17:1-11
Oh, how long until we can live into the prayer that Jesus prayed for us as he prepared to leave the world? A good question for preacher and parishioners hearing the gospel this week: what will you do to move a little closer to being “one” with another person or group who understands God differently than you do?

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Garrison Keillor once said, “The result of every Lutheran church fight is a new congregation named Peace.”  I thought that was funny until I became pastor at Friedens Lutheran in North Carolina.  Friedens means peace in German and when the church was founded in 1745 that’s the language the congregation spoke. 
There was another Lutheran church a few miles down Friedens Church road, also named Peace, and sure enough; it was the result of a church fight back in the 1890s.  These folks went Keillor one better and had a fight and ended up with two churches named Peace!
Jesus prays in John’s Gospel, “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
Luke, in Acts, writes that “All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer.”
The scriptures call us to be united as the community of faith, yet we look around and see much disunity in the church.
Most of us agree that we desire unity in the church; we want “oneness.”  We regret the divisions and debates that drive us apart.  We do not want to be divided; yet all too often, we are.
Why?  Why can’t we get our act together?  What pushes us apart in spite of our desire to be together?
Scripture is clear on two points here:
1) Our disunity springs from our seeking to do things our own way, and . . .
2) The key to unity and oneness is seeking to do things God’s way.
Whenever the people of God lose focus on god, trouble begins; not as a punishment for sin, but as a natural result of spiritual creatures forgetting to take care of spiritual things.
It is therefore in our unity with God that we find our unity with one another.
The translators of the New Testament into English were trying to find a word for the new relationship to be found with God in Christ.
They hit upon the Middle English word atone which came from the two words
at one.
It seems a slight difference, doesn’t it?  But in such small things, large and important things reside.
For we have made atone a chore a task, a thing we  must do to make up for, to pay for, for to  right the wrong that we ourselves have done.
Which is not what at one means at all.  AT ONE means that we are at peace with God, so that we can be at peace with one another. 
And that at-one-ness is an act and gift of God; not an act or gift of us.
In the midst of the difficult prose of John’s Gospel, we find the message that Christ makes us one with God and with each other.
Our calling is to remember that we are one with God and with one another and to act toward each other in ways consistent and reflective of that oneness.
God has made peace with us and God has made peace between us.
Dr. Paul Tournier once observed, “There are two things we cannot do alone; One is to be married; the other is to be a Christian.”
We need the church in order to be Christian; no matter how inconvenient and uncomfortable it might be to get along with the other Christians.
Just remember; whatever troubles we are having with them, some of them are having the same troubles with us.
We need the church in order to be Christian; if for no other reason than that we cannot learn to love and be loved in isolation.
It is within the daily bump and grind of living and working together as the people of God that we find out what it means to be forgiven for our failures, praised for our efforts, appreciated for our virtues, prayed for in our sorrows, helped in the midst of our troubles and loved in spite of ourselves.
It is within a community of faith that we learn to be genuinely loving and praising and forgiving and helping toward others.
We need each other in order to practice and learn to be Christian.
My mother recently told me a story she had heard about the housing shortage during World War II.
A woman recalled that when she was about ten, she and her family were forced to live in two rooms as a friend’s house because there was nothing else available.
One morning at church a very nice lady said to her five year old sister, “You’re such a lovely family.  It’s too bad you don’t have a home.”
The little girl thought a minute then blurted out, “Oh we have a home.  We just don’t have a house to put it in.”
Jesus prayed that we would find a home with one another, a place where our at one ness with God becomes a strong at one ness with each other.
May this church be both a house and a home; a place where we are truly one people, one family of God, one community in Christ, one body living and working together in pursuit of one thing; prayerfully seeking to know and do the will of God.
Amen and amen.

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