Saturday, May 7, 2016

Now What? Reflections on John 17.20-26 (RCL Easter 7C, 8 May 2016)

Now What?
Reflections on John 17.20-26

RCL Easter 7C
8 May 2016

Saint Faith's Anglican Church

         During my first year in seminary I made the acquaintance of a final-year student from Montana.  Because his bishop planned to send him to a congregation in a small town far from any other congregation in the diocese, the bishop ordained him to the transitional diaconate during the Christmas break of 1978.  That way my acquaintance could be ordained to the priesthood immediately following his graduation from seminary.

         So the transitional deacon from Montana graduated from seminary at the end of May 1979 and was ordained to the priesthood one week later at the cathedral in Helena.

         Ordination, in my experience, especially in diocese that are far-flung, are wonderful celebrations.  Around the bishop the clergy and the laity of the diocese, who have had few opportunities to be together, gather.  Choral and congregational singing fills the cathedral.  Often a guest preacher will be invited who offers insights that are new to the community.

         In the space of a week my seminar acquaintance went from the joy and satisfaction of his graduation from seminary to the mystery and wonder of his ordination to the priesthood.  The bishop had invited him to preach at the cathedral on the Sunday following his ordination.  Then, his car filled with his belongings and with a set of keys given to him by one of the wardens after the ordination, he drove for several hours to his new congregation.

         On Monday morning he went to the parish for the first time.  Since the secretary did not come in on Mondays, he had the whole place to himself.  He found the kitchen and made himself a cup of coffee.  From there, cup in hand, he went into his office and sat down at his desk.  'Now what,' he said to himself.

         The highs of graduation and ordination now brought him to the reality of his new role as the ordained leader of the pastoral, liturgical and educational ministry of this congregation.  His nearest colleague was an hour and a half away by car.  The bishop was three hours away and his seminary professors were two days' drive away.  Now came the hard part:  bearing witness to Christ in this new place.

         My acquaintance shared the experience of the disciples.  In John's gospel some of the last chapters are devoted to Jesus' final words to the community his ministry had created.  He speaks to his friends and prepares them for the challenges they will soon face --- his departure and their empowerment for ministry.  Forty days after his resurrection we are told that Jesus ascended into heaven, leaving his disciples behind to become witnesses to what they had seen and what they had heard.

         I imagine that they felt a bit bewildered and not a little bit afraid.  Like my seminary classmate, the highs of the preceding weeks gave way to the reality of their current situation.  They were friends of a man accused of blasphemy by the Jewish authorities and executed for sedition by the Roman governor.  They had an unbelievable story to tell of his resurrection and continuing presence among them.  But Jesus had said his good-byes and entrusted them with an on-going ministry of justice, of compassion and of service to the world God created for which Jesus lived and died.

         Jesus had called them friends and now gave them a new task.  They were to witness to what Jesus had done while he was among them and what he continued to do through them now that he had ascended.  They were to share the words he had spoken to them and which he continued to speak through them to Jews and Gentiles, men and women, rich and poor.  Jesus expected them to continue to live in relationship to God through him and, more importantly, bring others into this life-giving, life-affirming relationship in the here and now.

         You and I are the product of their witness and the witness of the many generations who followed the first disciples.  In our own here and now we are called to move from the joy of Easter into the hard work of 'ordinary' time.   God believes in us and God trusts us to do this.

         Let me say this again.  God believes in us and God trusts us to be faithful witnesses.  Jesus' final words to his disciples are not 'I know you're going to make a mess of this!'  His last message is one of encouragement and friendship.  'You are my friends,' he says, 'and I know you will continue to be my friends and make more friends for God.'

         Back to my seminary friend for a moment.  That first Monday he decided to get up from his desk and walk downtown --- not too far given the size of the town.  He met the mayor in the coffee shop and several of his parishioners in the supermarket.  He checked in at the police and fire stations.  He made an initial visit to the hospital.  He even met the only funeral director in town and had a good conversation about funeral expectations --- both those of the town and his own as an Anglican priest.  By the time he went home on Monday evening he had three invitations for lunch, two for dinner and an offer of free breakfasts at the coffee shop on Sunday mornings.

         My friend chose to be a witness to the good news of God in Christ rather than remain behind the desk in his office hoping that someone would come to him.  By the end of his first day the word began to spread throughout the town that the newly-ordained leader of the Anglican community was making sure he knew the townspeople and that they knew him.

         Today you and I have an opportunity to offer our witness to the people among whom we live and work.  We can share what God has done for us and through us.  We can speak the words that God has spoken to us, whether through Scripture, through other Christians or through other voices in the world.  We can invite others to share the life that we have found in this place with the people who are sitting to our right and to our left, in front of us and behind us.

         God believes in us and trusts us to be witnesses.  And today God asks us, ‘Now what?’

No comments: