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Seventh Sunday after Easter, Year B

Acts 1:15-26 - link to NRSV text
    OR Exodus 28:1-4, 9-10, 29-30 - link to NRSV text
1 John 5:19-15 - link to NRSV text
    OR Acts 1:15-26
John 17:11b-19 - link to NRSV text

"If we receive human tesitmony, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has testified to his Son." That's what the selection from 1 John for this Sunday says. And thanks be to God that the testimony of God is greater -- we have some pretty odd ways of discerning and trying to testify God's will.

Our passages from the Hebrew bible and the book of Acts make an excellent case in point. The role of the Twelve is on one hand so very, very important that it just can't be left to eleven or thirteen, and on the other hand, the person to fill the seat left vacant by Judas Iscariot is chosen by lot. The judgment of Israel is left to a couple of rocks. Sometimes, reading things like this, one has to say to oneself what just might be the ultimate question in life:

"Just what is God thinking??!"

It's a question I've asked myself more than once in my life, and I'm glad to say that it's a question that God fears just about as much as I have the capacity to answer it for myself. I believe that God is calling us to abundant life in a world that welcomes, facilitates, and spreads abundant life, and yet I pick up a newspaper that tells me about deaths in battle, in traffic accidents, in inexplicable illnesses. It's all well and good for John Lennon to encourage us to imagine a world of peace, compassion, and responsibility to further both of those qualities, but imagining it will only get us so far, "so" being a synonim for "not." Imagine all the dreamers, yes -- but imagine what would have happened to their movement had they stuck with what seemed realistic. And if we're really going to take all this stuff Jesus seriously, we might ask what's realistic anyway.

Church unity is a highly desirable goal. Actually, it's more than a goal; it's a description, a word we say when we see people living as God intends, as sisters and brothers with any who will break bread and share resources with them. It's an appealing goal, and so a lot of people get on board with it without pausing to think about how they want to actually build a world, a network of people and resources, to help the Church move toward being truly what God intends for it to be.

And this might sound like something of a "get back to work" speech, but it isn't. The reason lies in Jesus' prayer: that we all might be one as he is one with God. The unity of the church isn't a goal toward which we strive; it is a reality that we live into more deeply as we explore with others in community just what it might mean that we are children of God.

That's not just a fancy theological way of saying "Get back to work" either. What might it mean to us -- to you and me -- if we really took Jesus' prayer in, really believed that God's children are one because God is one, that the unity of Christ's Body is a consequence of Christ, rather than the end goal toward which we strive, but most often fail?

One of the chief consequences of taking that leap of faith, I think, would be that it would demolish a lot of our excuses. Without it, we might full well think that we can treat those around us as we like until such a time as they toe the line and thereby effect the unity for which Jesus prays in this Sunday's gospel. I'll treat that person as a brother or sister the moment s/he behaves!

That way lies madness, as they say. As long as we're waiting for everyone but us to meet some standard before we'll declare ourselves to be of the same Body as they, we're choosing the thankless and joyless task of monitoring those around us, and perhaps the world itself, for signs of dysfunction and misery.

It's a destructive way to live.  I've written before about how our mind's "background processes" work. We are constantly on the lookout, making judgments and reevaluating them. The "search requests" we make on our brain most frequently become 'wired' into the brain and the life of our psyche. If we call upon our brains several times a week or a day to figure out what's wrong with those around us and the world in which they work, it's natural for our minds to start performing these tasts in the "background," constantly creating categories and placing people in them. A theology based on that is going to dwell on what's wrong with the world in ways that occupy energy we could devote to participating in God's work of making things -- all things -- right.

In other words, we don't have to struggle to become a member of the Body of Christ; it is a free gift Christ offers, and what we do in response to that gift is up to us. The hard part of that oftentimes is that it places us in the company of people who aren't much like us, and the more differences arise, the more we stress about whether the relationship(s) will fracture. And the more we stress about whether the relationship will fracture, the more likely we are to avoid a sense of loss both of relationship and of control by coming up with reasons that fracture and decay are inevitable. It gets in the way of becoming close with one another and with God.

So what if we took as our starting point that we are members of the Body of Christ, not because we achieved a goal but because of who Christ is and what Christ has done?

It just might give us courage to be honest about our differences, since our connectedness with others is based not on what we think or what we do, but on who and whose we are.

It just might challenge us to search for avenues of compassion toward others; if we are by action of the Creator of the universe one with our sisters and brothers around us, we ought to get used to it, since our fellow members of the Body of Christ will depart from us only when Christ departs (i.e., sometime between "never" and "later than never"), and our central task shifts from trying to find ways to figure out who should matter to us to one of learning to live as joyfully and lovingly with those with whom we are, one way or another, journeying.

And it just might give us what we need to change the world, bring healing to the sick, sufficiency to the destitute, freedom to the captives, because as members of one Body we are called to witness to Christ's presence everywhere it is, and that's throughout a world being made new by grace, and called to respond in extending grace.

Thanks be to God!

May 25, 2006 in 1 John, Acts, Community, John, Year B | Permalink

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Dylan's lectionary blog: Seventh Sunday after Easter, Year B

« Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B | Main | Day of Pentecost, Year B »

Seventh Sunday after Easter, Year B

Acts 1:15-26 - link to NRSV text
    OR Exodus 28:1-4, 9-10, 29-30 - link to NRSV text
1 John 5:19-15 - link to NRSV text
    OR Acts 1:15-26
John 17:11b-19 - link to NRSV text

"If we receive human tesitmony, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has testified to his Son." That's what the selection from 1 John for this Sunday says. And thanks be to God that the testimony of God is greater -- we have some pretty odd ways of discerning and trying to testify God's will.

Our passages from the Hebrew bible and the book of Acts make an excellent case in point. The role of the Twelve is on one hand so very, very important that it just can't be left to eleven or thirteen, and on the other hand, the person to fill the seat left vacant by Judas Iscariot is chosen by lot. The judgment of Israel is left to a couple of rocks. Sometimes, reading things like this, one has to say to oneself what just might be the ultimate question in life:

"Just what is God thinking??!"

It's a question I've asked myself more than once in my life, and I'm glad to say that it's a question that God fears just about as much as I have the capacity to answer it for myself. I believe that God is calling us to abundant life in a world that welcomes, facilitates, and spreads abundant life, and yet I pick up a newspaper that tells me about deaths in battle, in traffic accidents, in inexplicable illnesses. It's all well and good for John Lennon to encourage us to imagine a world of peace, compassion, and responsibility to further both of those qualities, but imagining it will only get us so far, "so" being a synonim for "not." Imagine all the dreamers, yes -- but imagine what would have happened to their movement had they stuck with what seemed realistic. And if we're really going to take all this stuff Jesus seriously, we might ask what's realistic anyway.

Church unity is a highly desirable goal. Actually, it's more than a goal; it's a description, a word we say when we see people living as God intends, as sisters and brothers with any who will break bread and share resources with them. It's an appealing goal, and so a lot of people get on board with it without pausing to think about how they want to actually build a world, a network of people and resources, to help the Church move toward being truly what God intends for it to be.

And this might sound like something of a "get back to work" speech, but it isn't. The reason lies in Jesus' prayer: that we all might be one as he is one with God. The unity of the church isn't a goal toward which we strive; it is a reality that we live into more deeply as we explore with others in community just what it might mean that we are children of God.

That's not just a fancy theological way of saying "Get back to work" either. What might it mean to us -- to you and me -- if we really took Jesus' prayer in, really believed that God's children are one because God is one, that the unity of Christ's Body is a consequence of Christ, rather than the end goal toward which we strive, but most often fail?

One of the chief consequences of taking that leap of faith, I think, would be that it would demolish a lot of our excuses. Without it, we might full well think that we can treat those around us as we like until such a time as they toe the line and thereby effect the unity for which Jesus prays in this Sunday's gospel. I'll treat that person as a brother or sister the moment s/he behaves!

That way lies madness, as they say. As long as we're waiting for everyone but us to meet some standard before we'll declare ourselves to be of the same Body as they, we're choosing the thankless and joyless task of monitoring those around us, and perhaps the world itself, for signs of dysfunction and misery.

It's a destructive way to live.  I've written before about how our mind's "background processes" work. We are constantly on the lookout, making judgments and reevaluating them. The "search requests" we make on our brain most frequently become 'wired' into the brain and the life of our psyche. If we call upon our brains several times a week or a day to figure out what's wrong with those around us and the world in which they work, it's natural for our minds to start performing these tasts in the "background," constantly creating categories and placing people in them. A theology based on that is going to dwell on what's wrong with the world in ways that occupy energy we could devote to participating in God's work of making things -- all things -- right.

In other words, we don't have to struggle to become a member of the Body of Christ; it is a free gift Christ offers, and what we do in response to that gift is up to us. The hard part of that oftentimes is that it places us in the company of people who aren't much like us, and the more differences arise, the more we stress about whether the relationship(s) will fracture. And the more we stress about whether the relationship will fracture, the more likely we are to avoid a sense of loss both of relationship and of control by coming up with reasons that fracture and decay are inevitable. It gets in the way of becoming close with one another and with God.

So what if we took as our starting point that we are members of the Body of Christ, not because we achieved a goal but because of who Christ is and what Christ has done?

It just might give us courage to be honest about our differences, since our connectedness with others is based not on what we think or what we do, but on who and whose we are.

It just might challenge us to search for avenues of compassion toward others; if we are by action of the Creator of the universe one with our sisters and brothers around us, we ought to get used to it, since our fellow members of the Body of Christ will depart from us only when Christ departs (i.e., sometime between "never" and "later than never"), and our central task shifts from trying to find ways to figure out who should matter to us to one of learning to live as joyfully and lovingly with those with whom we are, one way or another, journeying.

And it just might give us what we need to change the world, bring healing to the sick, sufficiency to the destitute, freedom to the captives, because as members of one Body we are called to witness to Christ's presence everywhere it is, and that's throughout a world being made new by grace, and called to respond in extending grace.

Thanks be to God!

May 25, 2006 in 1 John, Acts, Community, John, Year B | Permalink

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