May 28, 2017: Easter 7A (sermon)

Posted by on Sun, May 28, 2017 in Easter, Sermons

The Seventh Sunday of Easter:
The Sunday after Ascension Day

May 28, 2017

We tend to think of our lives as ‘cradle to grave,’ in perhaps a bow-shaped arc, with a beginning and an end. Christ offers us an alternate perspective and a vastly different trajectory—on both ends of that arc. Created and born into this world as children of God, we are those whom God formed and knew before we were born, and then in this life we live and grow, explore our faith and seek to know God.  Finding our way in Christ lets us see how limiting our vision of beginnings and endings has been, and are reminded today that eternal life is life in Christ, in this life and the life to come. In the prayer to God the Father that Jesus offers for his disciples he says, “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” So instead of that bow, imagine instead a font-shaped arc, ends disappearing beyond our sight!

Ah – we don’t end at the grave, and eternal life starts well before the end of this earthly life Jesus is saying. And while this sounds a stretch to extrapolate or even to imagine, we are reminded that this pattern is shown to us in the life of Christ already; Again, from his prayer for them he says, “So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.”  Before the world existed… Then, “now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” Our seeking and knowing God through Christian faith gives us a spiritual template, a pattern, and a share in claiming the shape of his life. I don’t think we want the limits of a ‘cradle to grave’ life, nor do we want a flat-line or even a shallow arc of earth-bound life! I want it to be characterized by living and loving fully, by movements towards God and among those I love, by reaching for what God shows me as holy and seeking to draw the world closer to that image. Like anything important to us, we don’t give up trying to build the kingdom of heaven just because we haven’t got it right yet, we get to keep learning and trying again, teaching those who come after us to seek God and learn how better to love each other in God’s ways.

This pattern of life is not limiting in its presence, rather it is creative and filled with our own passions and choices. An active faith life prepares us and guides us in this creative work, it helps launch us again and again past the limits of our shortsighted presumptions of finitude. In both our readings today Jesus is in the middle of crossing such an edge; in John’s gospel, he is with the disciples for the last time before his arrest. Praying for them in their presence he commends them to God as he knows himself to be one with God. In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles we hear his final post-resurrection words to them, and in response to their asking if this is the time he will restore the kingdom to Israel, he points them past the here and now because such things are in God’s hands. His words to them prepare them to receive the Holy Spirit (which we’ll honor next Sunday on Pentecost). He also moves them over their present edge; from being his disciples, followers, students, to being apostles, messengers, leaders. Not they will be those who receive the power from God to spread the good news in “Jerusalem, all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Those are his last words to them, helping to point them past the limits of their own fears to the eternal life he’s shown them.

In her book “Upstream” Mary Oliver wrote that she had at least three selves (Penguin, NY, 2016). First, she is the child she was and is no longer—yet “distantly, or sometimes not so distantly, I can hear that child’s voice” she writes. She is the attentive social self too. The one who heeds lists and doorbells, appointments and buying mustard, and who lives by the clock, sorting the day into “twelve little bins in which to order disorderly life, and even more disorderly thought.” This is a good thing to be she considers, if one is piloting a plane of passengers—you don’t want your pilot to be lost in daydreams or “interesting meander of thought. You want this flight to be ordinary, not extraordinary.” Most important I think, is the last one; her third self is involved in creative work altogether different from the ordinary (different from it, not refuting, devaluing or eschewing it). “Within each of us is a self that is neither a child, nor a servant of the hours. It is a third self, occasional in some of us, tyrant in others. This self is out of love with the ordinary; it is out of love with time. It has a hunger for eternity.” Yes! A hunger for eternity—this is what Jesus was trying to kindle that last night before his arrest, what he was pointing to moments before he ascended out of sight leaving them gaping at the sky; for us to have a hunger for eternity.

Oliver says, rightly so, that spiritual work is like this, with “forces that must travel beyond the realm of the hour and restraint of habit.” I’m here to say it doesn’t matter if you’re a left or right brain person, linear or circular thinker, introvert or extrovert, artist or engineer, we all have a spiritual path and a way of traveling it that includes this hunger for eternity! We all can live this Christ-patterned arc from before we were, to beyond here and now, with all of the uniquely ‘you’ ways of traveling that path beyond the edges we think it has. Jesus’ message in both readings today is about equipping and preparing us for doing just that. The disciples had no idea what lay ahead after that night of the last supper, foot washing, and his prayers with them. They had no idea what to do in the wake of his ascension, and so they prayed. Together. As they looked over that scary edge from where they were to where they could not imagine, prayer was what they needed, until as he promised, they would know God with them in the Holy Spirit.

In addition to honoring Ascension today, this is also the eve of Memorial Day, when we honor those who died in the service to our country. We used to think of wars as having a beginning and an end. Declaration of war, the fighting itself, then the winning or losing in the end. It doesn’t have such finitude any longer.  Men and women used to speak of which war they served in, the Civil War, WWI, WWII. Now we use place names to describe how many tours of duty in an ongoing conflict; two tours in Iraq, three tours in Afghanistan, and so on. It feels so endless now as we count how long someone serves, no end to war in sight. This Memorial Day I find myself thinking how thankful I am that those I know personally in the service are alive and well; some have gone to fight and returned, others are serving in the US, or awaiting a future deployment. I can’t help but see the tragic side of their service following the arc-like pattern I used to describe Christian life; one that extends beyond the beginning and end that we can see. I feel a genuine debt of gratitude for what they are committed to do in service to myself and others, and to those who have died doing so. Our faith asks that we work and pray for an end to injustice, violence, cruelty and the horrors that drive us to war, and I hope it allows us to see that those who died in service to our country looked beyond their own lives to protect others and those yet to come. I pray we can still find it within ourselves to imagine bringing about a world that sees past hatred to love, past our limited view of ‘me and mine come first and get the best’ to all children of God knowing the kingdom of heaven. To do this calls us to find our third self, that creative spiritual self that ‘has a hunger for eternity.’

We come to spiritual ‘edges’ all the time, and often we think they’re merely inconsequential transitions of the ordinary everyday-life, attentive to managing changes in calendars, schedules, and tasks. I’d like you to look at them more fully to see what else might be there. The end of Easter season means Pentecost is next Sunday, we will wear red or flame-like colors, dress the church in them, and some among you will prepare for reading scripture, others for hosting coffee hour, to acolyte, lead adult forum, etc.—all those things on schedules and certain hours, but what else do they do? How is Christ preparing us for crossing over the Easter to Pentecost edge, and what might that mean? One among you has been called to baptism—at the 8 AM service no less! Justin Wood has been listening to God in his life and prayers, and preparing for adoption into Christ’s life, into the very Body of Christ. You share in it by praying for him, and praying that when we promise to support him in his Christian life we do so wholeheartedly, unreservedly and with intention.

What edges are before you in the days ahead? In three weeks we begin Solstice Sundays, praying with a liturgy from another Anglican culture, taking a picnic hike to Twin Falls after our shortened 10am service. School lets out soon, graduation, new outdoor pleasures. What preparations is God up to in you as these things come to an end and we cross the threshold into something new? God promises to be with us in the Spirit, that edges are scary, but not the end. Take pause to pray as he did, as the apostles did, and to share Christ’s message from the Jerusalem home we know to the unexpected places and undreamt of ways you are sent to be a witness to his love. Amen.

© 2017 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

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