From Pastor Kenny's Desk
May 27, 2018
After Jesus said this, he looked up to heaven and said, “Abba, the hour has come! Glorify your Only Begotten that I may glorify you, through the authority you’ve given me over all humankind, by bestowing eternal life on all those you gave me. And this is eternal life: to know you, the only true God, and the one you have sent, Jesus, the Messiah. I have given you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.
Now, Abba, glorify me with your own glory, the glory I had with you before the world began. I have manifested your Name to those you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me; and now they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you’ve entrusted to me does indeed come from you. I entrusted to them the message you entrusted to me, and they received it. They know that I really came from you; they believe it was you who sent me.
And it’s for them that I pray – not for the world, but for these you’ve given me – for they are really yours, just as all that belongs to me is yours, and all that belongs to you is mine. It is in them that I have been glorified. I am in the world no more, but while I am coming to you, they are still in the world. Abba, holy God, protect those whom you have given me with your Name – the Name that you gave me – that they may be one, even as we are one.” ~ John 17:1-11
While meeting together they asked, “Has the time come, Rabbi? Are you going to restore sovereignty to Israel?” Jesus replied, “It’s not for you to know times or dates that Abba God has decided, You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; then you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth.”
Having said this, Jesus was lifted up in a cloud before their eyes and taken from their sight. They were still gazing up into the heavens when two messengers dressed in white stood beside them. “You Galileans – why are you standing here looking up at the skies?” they asked, “Jesus, who has been taken from you – this same Jesus will return, in the same way you watched him go into heaven.”
The apostles returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, a mere sabbath’s walk away. Entering the city, they went to the upstairs room where they were staying – Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James ben-Alphaeus; Simon, a member of the Zealot sect; and Judah ben-Jacob. Also, in their company were some of the women who followed Jesus, his mother Mary, and some of Jesus’ sisters and brothers. With one mind, they devoted themselves to constant prayer. ~ Acts 1:6-14
As I begin my week it is not unusual for me to focus on one passage from the Bible. This is often the passage I will preach on the next Sunday. Rarely do I consider more than one passage at a time because I like diving a little deeper into a single story rather than worry about making associations between texts. But from time to time, the passages or context entice me to pull together themes from a couple of the readings, and this is one of those weeks. This time, it’s both the passages … John 17 and Acts 1 … and the context … Memorial Day weekend. Here’s what I’ve been thinking …
Both passages describe an interlude … a period of waiting and transition. In John, it’s the waiting between all Jesus has done up to now and what he is about to do. It is an interlude that is both intense and important describing the events of Thursday evening before Jesus’ crucifixion. The long discourse and prayer are all intended to prepare the disciples for their lives after Jesus’ ascension. And so, on the brink of crossing the threshold from being Jesus’ students to being Jesus’ messengers to the world, Jesus prays for them. And this prayer prepares them for the adventure ahead of them.
Now to Acts and the funny little story that launches Luke’s story of the spread of the early church. It’s funny because the disciples are just standing there, looking up at Jesus’ disappearing form, mesmerized … or is it paralyzed or shocked … by what they’ve just seen. Until two messengers in white clothes show up and ask them what in the world they’re staring at, and this seems to kick-start them on their way back down the mountain to Jerusalem where they will live, eat, pray and worship together until Pentecost and the gift of the Holy Spirit. This, as it turns out, is also an important interlude, as they are being prepared for life after Jesus’ ascension and their changed role from disciples … students and followers … to apostles … messengers and leaders.
These passages together remind me that in the Bible, folks don’t just get a “break” or a “vacation” or “time off” for their own sake, but rather these periods are always interludes, times of preparation, the pause for refreshment and renewal before the invitation to walk across another threshold, start a new adventure, or cross a boundary into unfamiliar but nevertheless God-beloved territory.
The disciples have absolutely no idea what is ahead of them. But they do know that Jesus is preparing them for whatever may come and he will accompany them via the Holy Spirit.
All of which got me thinking about this weekend and holiday celebrated in the United States. Memorial Day, officially declared a national holiday in 1971, but dating in practice back to shortly after the Civil War, is a time to remember and honor those who have died in service to their country. It is also an interlude, a time to allow the stories about the sacrifices of real people to keep us from making war an abstraction, to inspire us to honor their memory by dedicating ourselves to peace with the hope that someday others will not have to make the same sacrifice. In this sense, Memorial Day should not be merely a break, a time to get to the shore or lake, or a long weekend, but a time to renew our sense of gratitude for those who have served their country and for the freedoms we enjoy because of that service and sacrifice. And it can also renew our sense of commitment to working for a world that is more just, for justice and peace most often go together.
Might this weekend … and various moments of vacation across the summer … also be important interludes? That is, as we take time for rest and relaxation might we also use this tie to consider that God is preparing us for what may come next? Let me be clear, this is not a call for an anti-vacation time, rest, renewal and relaxation are all important. Rather, I’d like to invite us to imagine that during the rest and time away, God may also be at work preparing us for what is to come. We have no idea of what the remainder of 2018 will bring, let alone 2019. There will be accomplishments and setbacks, victories and defeats, joys and sorrows, triumphs and tragedies on a personal, communal, national, and global scale. The truth is in all these things, God is faithful and will be with us, comforting, celebrating with, strengthening, and accompanying us in whatever may come. And God will also be preparing us to be God’s messengers of good news, preparing us to comfort others, preparing us to work for peace, preparing us to live with less fear and more generosity, preparing us to look out for the rights of others, preparing us to strive for a more just community and world.
Interludes, for people of faith, are always times when God prepares us for the next adventure. As we take time for rest, renewal and relaxation may we allow ourselves to have eyes to see God at work, even … and perhaps especially … during these important interludes.