Sunnyside Reformed Church
A Christian Community Church Making Christ Known Through Word & Deed
The Seventh Sunday , Acts 1:6-14 & John 17:1-11
5/28/17, Neil A. Margetson
Today is the Seventh Sunday of Easter. I’d just draw your attention to the fact that it isn’t the Seventh Sunday After Easter. It’s the Seventh Sunday of Easter. In former times the fifty days following The Resurrection - beginning with Easter Sunday - were celebrated as one long, extended Lord’s Day Worship, called Eastertide or Paschaltide . It ends today - with The Ascension - of Christ the Son and Living Word - to Heaven where even now he rules beside the Father.
It seems to me that over the centuries the idea that time moves with spiritual purpose has been lost. That is to say, the conviction that present time runs parallel to or in sync with Biblical time. The Church Calendar isn’t random. It’s intended to remind us of that every day. One of the ways it accomplishes that goal is by telling us what was happening on this day in Palestine in 33 AD.
The Seventh Sunday is a great example of this. It is, or would have been, the day on which the Resurrected Lord was taken up to Heaven by a loving God. There is something special in the conjunction of the miraculous and the mundane - The Ascension of Christ, and way we mark the passing of our days, months and years.
The separation of church and state is something that today we take for granted - and I believe it is a good thing. Faith is a powerful and emotionally charged experience that enhances human life and opens the door to a larger Universe. But when it lands in the wrong hands, faith can all too easily be weaponized - turned against anyone who is on the other side of things.
Those people over there? Do you see them? They aren’t celebrating today like we’re celebrating. They mean us no good and we need to make sure they can’t attack us. In fact, better all round if we attack them first!
On the other hand, who can doubt that our spiritual lives should be - must be - constantly cultivated and crafted. Developed and enriched. Traditions that help us do that are priceless. I am convinced, that religion - these ideas and beliefs - addresses a fundamental human need. In that sense, we are all religious. All human beings - or anyway, most human beings - endeavor to be better people, to do right by others and live with purpose. I think the difference is that believers live within the framework of a faith tradition.
Since we are Christians it seems important for us to be mindful of what sets us apart from others, as well as what about our tradition is universal.
Eastertide (also called the Easter Season as well as Easter Time ) or Paschaltide (also called the Paschal Season as well as Paschal Time ) is a festal season in the liturgical year of Christianity that focuses on celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paschal Tide is a season of joy. The colour for the Office de tempore is white; the Te Deum and Gloria are recited every day...
The opening lines of our reading from The Book of Acts is quite revealing.
When the apostles had come together, they asked Jesus, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”
Imagine that even at this eleventh hour - after Jesus has been killed and buried and resurrected - long after they presumably had unpacked and re-examined all of their expectations about Jesus, and made peace with all of their unfulfilled ambitions having to do with a new Golden Age of Israel’s Glory - still they asked him - Is this the time? Will we rise up now and throw the Gentiles out of Israel?
It’s such an odd and incongruous thing to say and think at that moment. Sitting there with The Son of God - who is already half in the world and half in the next - they could not see for themselves that he would be leading no wars of liberation.
His concerns had moved beyond that. The only way it kind of makes sense is when one puts it into a historical context. The whole People of God had - for centuries - been waiting for The Messiah to arrive and lead them to greatness. As David had done. That hope was so deeply embedded within them, that it pushed aside their collective common sense.
What Jesus said to them in response, It isn’t for you to know such things. Only God knows the answer, wasn’t really an answer to their question. The disciples were asking about The Revolution but Jesus was talking about Judgement Day. I wonder when - or if - they realized the disconnect? The text says that from that day forward they dedicated themselves to prayer, which I take to mean spiritual practices in general. In those days those would have included prayer, fasting, meditation, study and disputation. I note that at the very end of the paragraph we are told that - oh yeah, by the way - some women were there too.
The text from The Gospel According to John may be the perfect supplement to the Ascension. For if we had wondered just what Jesus was talking about, we have only to turn to John and know instantly that - Yes! - this is what he was thinking!
Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
Do we notice the use of the third person pronoun? Glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people… For me this speaks to the transformation that Jesus experienced during his baptism. In that moment the man who had been born Jesus Joseph’s Son became Jesus The Messiah Son of God. That same feeling is evoked in this text from John. Which is to say, Jesus’ awareness of God within. In the end it always comes down to the transformative power of the knowledge of God. That knowing God and accepting God and surrendering to God is the way we fulfill our human destiny and achieve salvation, both for ourselves and for our world.
What can we say about salvation and surrender that advances human hopes? Of what does it consist and what is that we hope for? Certainly we hope for eternity. But what of the here and now? What does it mean to be transformed in Christ?
I am always reminded at such moments that on Communion Sunday we ask to Grow up in all things into Christ Our Lord. It does not say - Be allowed to worship Christ The Lord. Nor does it say - Become better Christians. What we pledge to is transformation. And what a transformation! The person we seek to become did himself walk that same path, and it was a hard and often painful journey. I wonder if we are truly mindful of what it is we ask God for?
This past week I attended the Annual Meeting of our Regional Synod. The Regional Synods are intermediate organizations consisting of all the Classes in a given geographic area. And for those of you who don't study these things, a classis is an organization of churches - in our case we belong to the Classis of Queens. The reason I mention it is that while there I was talking to one of my colleagues who said, I fear we are becoming like Pharisees instead of like Jesus. We are reading scripture literally rather than humanely. It stayed with me, not only because I agreed with him, but because of what it means in the larger context. Many Christians will tell you that The Bible is inerrant and must be taken - and followed - literally. I cannot agree. For while it sounds right and reasonable, closer study suggests that it is misguided piety. I believe that we are called by Christ to read The Bible - not literally - but compassionately and prophetically.
This same kind of disagreement is or was central to the case that was brought against Jesus. When he healed someone on the Sabbath, he was excoriated by the rabbis who witnessed it. And when his disciples ate raw grain while walking without first washing their hands - as instructed by Moses Law, again he was chastised but responded, It isn't what a person eats that will convict him or her come The Judgement, but what comes out of his or her mouth. What we think and what we say is of infinitely more account than what we eat or how we eat it. Likewise, in The Sermon on the Mount, he railed against those who made a big show of their good works and piety, yet are shallow in their actual beliefs. He said, Do your good works anonymously and pray in private. God knows what you do and what is in your heart.
... entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2 They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” 4 Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. Mark 3:1-6 | NRS
In these instances he was in effect saying, Yes, it’s true - scripture says to do thus and so - but that does not matter when we are called to do good - or common sense and conscience tells us that what scripture says cannot be right. Even now in 2017 this sounds radical, and yet when it comes from the mouth of Jesus we listen, and think - Yes, of course. That makes sense. We should not be slaves to what is written but ask ourselves what The Holy Spirit is saying to heart and mind.
I think this - thinking beyond The Bible - becomes an issue for two reasons and both are about fear - though different kinds of fear. First, is the basic fear of flying without a parachute. If we don't follow The Bible precisely we are afraid that we will lose our way and our salvation.
Second, I fear that without The Law and The Prophets to guide them, some of our churches could become cults with our congregations overwhelmed by unscrupulous leaders and their misguided followers.
It seems to me that in each instance the answer - the antidote - comes down to purity of heart.
We have already made the case that Jesus was guided by scripture at all times - yet he was not bound or limited by scripture. When he faced The Adversary in the desert he had a Bible text with which to answer every temptation. And yet, when there was someone who needed his help he did not allow Biblical injunctions to stand in the way of giving that help.
In just that same way we can use our God-given minds and hearts and consciences to decide what is the best way to interpret and apply The Bible in our lives. There is no pride or error in that. For while we do not claim parity with Christ - we can follow his example insofar as we are able.
It isn’t easy or simple. Indeed we will look forward to a lifetime of struggle. But if we truly believe Jesus of Nazareth is The Messiah of God, we really have no choice.
I want nothing less than for us to follow Jesus - literally. For each of us to build a relationship with The Father and experience the transformational arrival of The Holy Spirit and - in time - become worthy of an ascension of our own.
And all God’s People did say...
Sunnyside Reformed Church
48-03 Skillman Avenue
Sunnyside, N.Y. 11104
A Christian Community Church Making Christ Known Through Word & Deed