The Glory of the Story, Seventh Sunday of Easter at Christ Lutheran Church, El Cerrito, CA
Seventh Sunday of Easter
May 16th 12010
Acts 16:16-34 Psalm 97 Revelations 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21 John 17:20-26
– The Story full of Glory –
Oh Lord, let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, Oh Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Pastor Sharon’s call asking me to serve you with the Word this morning and to preside over our communion with Christ and one another, has taken me out of some doldrums and made me get down on my knees and beg God to put some words in my mouth that can get down into my heart as well as yours and bring hope, joy, and light upon our way.
It’s the seventh Sunday of Easter, meaning that Ascension Day was last Thursday, where Christ ascends to his place at the right hand of God and promises us, to be our right hand strength – or left hand, if you are a lefty, a southpaw. When we witness to Christ and live a life of mission, then Christ is right there with us, present in the glory of the story of God’s salvation of this world.
If that is not enough, then next Sunday is Pentecost, the 50th Day after Easter and the Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples, transforming them into apostles by giving them fiery tongues to proclaim the crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. They are given fiery tongues to witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news, the in-breaking story, the breaking story of the good news about God’ salvation of this world.
Don’t forget that there is a difference between the church calendar and the events it celebrates and how these events engulf us and come over us. We do not have to wait for Pentecost to be filled by the Holy Spirit. It’s Christmas when Jesus is born in your heart and you share the same one holy birth of all Christians and can pray: “Our Father, who art in heaven.” And when your old self is drowned in baptism and when Christ rises up in your heart, like the morning star or even more glorious still, in that color-flooded Son-rise in God’s heaven of grace, then it’s Easter time for you.
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
We don’t have to see Easter seven Sundays back, nor Pentecost as next Sunday, nor do we have to wait for Christmas to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Come, Lord Jesus! The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”
Let everyone who hears say, “Come.” Let everyone who is thirsty come; anyone who wishes to take the water of life as a gift. Come.
The Aramaic expression was Maranatha! “Come, Lord Jesus!”
That the glorious Son-rise in our heaven full of grace – take place, we say,
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
As Christians, you see, we have entered a new time and a new set of selves who are all one with Jesus, just like Jesus is one with the Father. That witness lifts the world up into a new day. It is the lever with which Archimedes wanted to be able to move the world. The whole world is lifted up into a new time, one that rescues us from death and spreads the abundant life given us by Christ.
Ah, the mission of God is such an adventure! Look at Paul and Silas. They have just baptized Lydia and her whole household. Now a slave-girl with a Python Spirit, it says in the Greek confronts them. Our translation merely states that she had a spirit of divination, but in Greek it says, πνεūμα πύθωνα (pneuma pythona). For the Greeks, the python guarded the center of the earth and the sun-god Apollo, the god of light, tracked her down into the cave under the earth, like a snake hole, and killed her there and left the Delphic Oracle there to make prophesies. This slave-girl, also like a python coiled in its hole under the earth, shouts out the identities of Paul and Silas in order to prevent their witness. Paul finally loses his patience and sends the evil spirit out of her.
Doing that gets him into a heap of trouble. In Philippi, a very Roman city, they are accused of being anti-Roman and they are flogged with rods, shut into an inmost prison, their feet locked into stocks.
Now me, I would have moaned and groaned. Talk about having something to complain about! I would have counted each one of my sores and wondered which welts could also be counted, and then lamented and complained to God for such an inhumane abusive treatment.
But Paul and Silas sing hymns and all the prisoners are listening to them enraptured by these incredible people, who are rejoicing in their suffering.
Suddenly an earthquake takes place, the doors of the prison fling open, the stocks break, and all the prisoners are free. But they had just experienced a larger more wondrous freedom inside the Gospel even before the earthquake and no one wants to leave, even though they are in a jail! That must have been a powerfully attractive experience of freedom they felt, let me tell you. It did not occur to them to make a get-a-way.
A Roman guard is executed, if he allows a prisoner in his charge to escape. So the warden was about to kill himself, when he saw all the doors to the prison flung open. Paul and Silas shout to him, “Do yourself no harm. We are all here.” What had happened to human nature? The warden could hardly believe his eyes. Then he took Paul and Silas into his family. They had communion over a meal, washed out the disciples wounds tenderly, lovingly and they wanted to know what they must do in order to be saved – to become part of this new life, this new time. “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved along with your whole household.”
Lydia was into purple dies and cloth, that is, textiles – and brought Christianity into her industry. Now Paul and Silas brought around a whole Roman prison in Philippi.
Christ is praying for our church, Christ Lutheran, for our congregation to be part of this adventure in mission. Christ wants us to be lifted up in the glory of the Gospel story.
Now it is an incredible adventure, the way God the Father sent Jesus, his Son, and Jesus sent his disciples, and we too are being sent – to participate in the greatest story ever told – just imagine what it’s like to live it! Jesus is praying even for us to engage and go do mission that changes our human nature more than an earthquake can change the earth. It is a quaking in the Holy Spirit that knows itself stronger than death, depression, destruction, and evil spirits.
Paul and Silas’ sense of mission surely gets them into trouble: flogging, arrest, jail time. That is the strong sense of mission that they had. And our society is as much in need of our witness and our mission as that old Roman colony, Philippi.
We are disciples of Christ. By the Holy Spirit we are transformed into apostles, meaning those who are sent. The word “mission” means sending. Our sending, our mission, gives us a brand new language, because we get these brand new Gospel experiences – and all the suffering entailed merely adds to the music of our witness.
Don’t you wonder how these Gospel stories could come true here in El Cerrito – all around our little Albany Hill? Only because Jesus is praying for us. We are not only made one with Paul and Silas, but also with Jesus and we start living the same holy death and depression-overcoming relationships that the Father has with the Son and the Holy Spirit. Creation, salvation, and a holy wholeness, make us one in knowing God, the way the world does not, and being sent by God to be part of the story of the continuation of the Gospel in this place. What will the Book of Acts of Christ Lutheran Church’s members be? Will your discipleship become transformed into apostleship? Will the whole heart and soul of Christ Lutheran become one in mission – in God’s sending us out as new selves into a new day, a new time, into a new community, that begins renewing all its institutions for the new people inside them. New wine has to be poured into new wineskins, as Jesus said.
How can this oil spill in our gulf not be overcome, how can climate change not be overcome, how can prejudice and bigotry stand? Do you know that year after year for every 100,000 Black men, there are 140 homicides and for Whites it is only one or two and all that killing hardly makes the news? We respond to protect women and children, but why don’t we care about Black men? In face of our oneness and unity that Jesus is praying for, how can our old human nature stand? We were asking some folks, whether our ignorance or apathy hurt us more. They answered, “I don’t know and I don’t care.”
How can our cold and hardened hearts not become strangely warmed, when we know we are being sent out right from inside the workings of the most Holy Trinity, a furnace burning with love, with the power of creation, salvation and the Holy Spirit’s oneness – in the glory of the story of the Gospel of Jesus Christ our Lord?
You may say, Pastor Peter, you have a problem with grandiosity. We are small and up against the problems you describe, we are quite helpless. No, that’s not the case when Jesus is praying for us. He’s helping us. Do you remember the comic strip Peanuts? Well, Charlie Brown looked at Woodstock, his little bird and said, “You’re afraid of worms and too scared to fly, but you’re my little bird!” We are little birds sent to fly and although we are powerless and can do nothing, God just up and does everything through us. In our weakness the strength of God becomes manifest. “But we are sinners,” you protest. Of course, we are, but “God writes straight on crooked lines.”
In order, however, to have God’s grace work through us, together we have to become one in answer to Jesus’ prayer. Where two or three are gathered together in Jesus’ name, Christ is really present. We can’t do the work of the Lord alone.
In his online commentary, Brian Stoffregen quoted an ironic song from Avery and Marsh called “I Can Be a Christian By Myself.” Avery and Marsh must be humorists. The first verse goes:
I can be a Christian by myself.
Leave my dusty Bible on the shelf.
I’ll sing a hymn and pray a bit.
God can do the rest of it.
My heart’s the church, my head’s the steeple.
Shut the door and I’m the people.
I can be a Christian by myself.
Some of the other verses include these lines:
I’ll break some bread and drink some wine.
Have myself a holy time.
I’ll take the off’ring then I’ll know
Where that money’s gonna go.
So please remember, Lord, when I die,
Give me my own cloud in the sky.
After this life with its labors
Don’t bug me with needy neighbors.
“One cannot be a Christian by oneself. Neither can a congregation exist by itself. We are dependent upon each other and we are all dependent upon God. It is God who gives us to Jesus. It is God who is creating and perfecting our unity so that we might be effective witnesses to the world.”
Just like Paul and Silas, we can do nothing unless we are one and Christ works through us. It is not we who live, but Christ, who lives in us. So like Christ has all of us in his heart, loving and praying for us, in the oneness of the Father and Holy Spirit, so we all are invited to be one heart and soul together sent into the marvelous adventure of God’s mission, proclaiming and living the glory of the Gospel story. Amen.
 Brian Stoffregen, CrossMarks: http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/john17x20.htm.