“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore…” and baptize in the name of the Holy Trinity. I hadn’t noticed before how utterly Christ-centered this image is. Jesus receives authority from God – Jesus gives it away. That’s who Jesus is. And even for the short time he has it, he uses it to heal and teach, to establish egalitarian banqueting meals of salvation and to go purposefully to the cross. The church has not always been good at fulfilling this Christ-centered model. More often the church has received the authority of God from Jesus, and used it to build up beautiful but imposingly high walls, and to hang on to the power it received, to enrich its own. Many of us have been steeped in this dominant cultural tradition, I know I have. When we hear Jesus’ command to go and make disciples of, or among, all peoples, all nations, we have too often heard the call to conquer, without the need to really be among others – as Jesus says he will be among us always. We have heard the call to win over, without the slightest doubt that we know all the answers.
But what if the image is, that Jesus receives authority from God, only to hand it off to us, asking us to do the same. Making disciples then, means being among all people to give them power to become disciples in their own right. We would be giving away the life sustaining gifts we have received, to give and receive and share, so that the gift given, is from God, more than from us. Professor of Biblical Studies, John Pilch believes that Jesus simply “directs his disciples [then,] to go beyond the region of the original mission to the Israelite émigrés living beyond Palestine,” and so translates this passage: “Go therefore and make disciples of the lost sheep of the house of Israel living among all the nations.”
To live-out this Christ-centered life-style of giving away what we first receive from God, requires a certain level of trust, that is otherwise unknown among most of us in this culture we live in today. It would seem to invite and challenge us at a very deep and spiritual level. The source of life we receive from Jesus, we are called to then, give away.
What comes to mind for me is the image of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet on the night he was betrayed. Jesus, their Messiah, gets down on his hands and knees and does the work of a servant. Normally a teacher is considered above their student, Jesus reminds them, but I have come to you as the servant instead. I give away what I have received – not because it makes me empty, but because in giving away the power God has given me, I am also renewed and fulfilled. All this, even as he knows he’s about to be betrayed and crucified! A certain level of trust is required!
A clue to this trust, I think, can be found in the rather odd construction of how the disciples react to Jesus in this story. “When they saw him they worshipped him; and they doubted.” Not “doubt” in the sense of ‘dis-believing’, but a kind of ‘wavering between two strong possibilities.’ Do you ever feel like that – wavering between two strong possibilities? About someone new you met? About someone you’ve known a long time that suddenly does something out of character? About temptation to do something you once thought was dangerous but now have an unexplained courage for? About committing to church, or to something fun on Sundays? About where to invest your money, or your time? About listening to a friend, or your conscience; the world, or some crazy gospel story? Our journey of faith is accompanied by this partner called doubt.
The only other time the disciples are said to worship Jesus in Matthew’s gospel is when Jesus walks on water and then calms the storm. Jesus walks on the water and Peter is emboldened to join him, and in great faith he does it too, for a couple of steps, before he has ‘second thoughts,’ and he begins to sink, and Jesus comes over to give him a hand, and says, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they get back in the boat, the wind ceases, and Matthew concludes, “And those in the boat worshiped Jesus, saying, ‘truly you are the Son of God.” And so in Matthew’s gospel, the two times the disciples doubt Jesus, they also worship him!
Peter is the proto-typical disciple, he is all of us: wavering between two strong possibilities – trust in Jesus, and sinking down into his old life, worshiping and doubting at the same time.
Like Peter, it is in the waters of our baptism that we can learn this trust, where we receive from Jesus that deep spiritual knowledge and practice of our baptisms, so we can learn how to give it away, out in the world.
Jesus chose mostly fishers to be his named disciples. They were common folk, people like you and I, who I dare say, can be honest about their doubts. When Jesus called the disciples he said, “I will make you fish for people.” And so the early church celebrated this vocation. Even before the cross became our symbol, it was a fish that represented the followers of Jesus. The word fish in Greek is ICHTHUS, which became an acronym for Jesus, each letter spelling, “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior.” And so Jesus himself was thought of as a fish – like the fish who swallowed Jonah, because it was a large fish that swallowed Jonah and protected him in his belly, and on the third day ‘spit him out’ on the shore, saved. Jesus is the big fish, saving us, and giving himself away, so that others can become fishers of people.
And of course, in the story of feeding the 5,000, when Jesus offered to multiply the fishes along with the loaves, to feed the multitudes, the disciples once again doubted Jesus could do it.
And so, it is only when we are truly honest with ourselves, when we have doubts right along side our faith, that we can learn to trust one another. Certitude, on the other hand, breeds over-confidence. Jesus criticized the leaders of his time, remarking that, “when they worship, they worship God with their lips while their hearts are far from God.” They had no doubts at all. It never occurs to them that they might have overlooked something, or missed an angle that reveals another side to the story, and the working of the Spirit. Consequently, as Mark Allan Powell says, they are often wrong, but they are never in doubt! The disciples worship, and doubt Jesus, at the same time.
Just like Martin Luther used to say, we are saints, and sinners, at the same time. So, with this open, multi-layered, multi-colored world view, with the woundedness that we experience on the way and in pursuit of faithfulness, we are able to discover the possibility of deep trust, which leads to deep joy. We are able to receive the greatest gifts of love and grace from our God, and to give them away again, for the sake of the world. Our certitude comes through a deep trust – trusting the mystery of our triune God, the one we receive at the table of the Eucharist, where we not only receive the bread of life, but where Jesus swallows us up, and promises to carry us through all our rough waters, to deliver us on the shores of salvation.
Flash Mobs, as they were misnamed last week, made headlines as fast as they appeared out of no where, and as quickly as they vanished from sight. Instead of bursting into song and dance, these so called Flash Mobs of 15-20 young adults, appeared suddenly out of plain day-light, to attack innocent Chicagoans, enjoying a summer day by the lake and on the Mag Mile. They seemed to be after I-Pods and petty cash, and preferred fisticuffs to dialog. Organized by social media, they struck with precision, quickly, and brashly. Victims later faced reporters’ cameras with black eyes, and shocked, dejected, and defiant, looks. At least 29 perpetrators have since been arrested.
Social media geeks, however, are naturally sensitive to this mislabeling. Flash Mobs have been around in the U.S. since at least 2003, when Bill Wasik of Harper’s Magazine first organized seemingly spontaneous gatherings to poke fun at those who were obsessed with being part of every new trend. Some say the concept has backfired, instead, giving conformity
a vehicle, that allowed it to appear non-conforming. In any case, Flash Mobs originally had nothing to do with violence or theft. Wikipedia defines a flash mob as, “a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place
, perform an unusual and sometimes seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment and/or satire.”
The first Flash Mob I can remember was earlier this year when a social activist group against the war in Afghanistan appeared out of no where in Millennium Park to do a dance while singing anti-war lyrics accompanied by Michael Jackson on a boom box, in front of the Bean, and just as suddenly, disappeared again.
Pentecost Day in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago, was perhaps the original Flash Mob, except they didn’t disperse quickly! It was quite a gathering, as about 3,000 were baptized that day! They had no social media, no blackberry’s to send or receive the go message to gather. Instead it was the tongues of fire and the tornado-like sound of the wind that announced the Flash Mob. Or was it the babble of voices in every foreign language, which the disciples suddenly spoke? Every nation under heaven, Luke noted, had a representative in Jerusalem for the early summer festival. Many had a hard time believing that the peasant fishers from Galilee could speak their language! But they can and do
believe that, at this festival, they would be filled with new wine at 9a.m.
The disciples, just as Jesus instructed them on the day of his Ascension, were all together in the house waiting for the coming Holy Spirit to form them into the church. They kept praying and singing, reading scripture and breaking the bread of Christ’s meal. And so: “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place,” as Luke says. And, they became the Body of Christ, the church, all those touched by the unpredictable power of the Spirit, but not until, and because, they were drawn outside “of the house where the disciples had met,” and into the neighborhoods of Jerusalem where the 3,000 plus gathered to listen. The gathering, or Flash Mob, if you will, became the new church.
It’s then that we finally hear from Peter. His tongue, being tied since he denied Jesus in his darkest hour on Good Friday, is loosed. And he’s empowered to speak, like John the Baptist’s father Zechariah, who for 9 months was struck mute because of his faithlessness, but then, when the Holy Spirit comes, is given back his voice at John’s birth, and with this new life he immediately sings a wondrous song of praise to God. Now too, Peter “sings!” He speaks the word of God, that this Pentecost commotion, this whirlwind of a holy encounter, is just what the prophet Joel prophesied. This is God’s new day, he says. “Our old men are dreaming dreams, and our young women and men are seeing visions,” for whoever “calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
And, it was like the first day of creation all over again, when the Spirit of God first blew like a wind over the chaos of our un-made world, and God spoke and brought the cosmos into being, and it was very good. The winds of Pentecost also blew a whole new world into the lives of the gathered, changing the chaos and corruption of their world, by empowering them to speak about this new day!
It wasn’t easy, and not as neat and well organized as this one story in Acts, if you go on and finish the whole book. The conflict of, Jews and Christian Jews, will continue to play out, as the community grows and splits apart, as brothers and sisters and families are empowered and divided, in following the one called Messiah, or not. Not all were baptized that day. Not all embraced change. But those who did continued to support one another in prayer and praise, with word and the breaking of the bread, and works of love in the world.
We see that in our church today too. Not all can see the vision or endure change. Some will split off, and go a different way. And we all
go through the stages of grief: anger, denial, depression and acceptance, and maybe a few more! In our church nearly two years ago, when the policy changes and Human Sexuality Social Statement were ratified in the ELCA, there was anger by those who could not abide change, there was denial that change was coming, by others, and a mix of anger, denial and depression when congregations began voting to leave the ELCA. And now, we are working our way towards acceptance and the work of transformation. Some of us are ready to grow into the new church God is calling us to. And there are 1,000’s outside the ELCA who are, and will be, receptive to the prophetic word of God we share. We who stay, continue to listen for, and follow our vision, and we grieve the loss of even one sheep from the fold. But the church continues under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and She sharpens our vision and our dreams for tomorrow.
Jesus was a kind of Flash Mob action too, when he appeared to the disciples “when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where they had met were locked,” for they were afraid. “But Jesus came,” to them out of no where “and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you’.” And he breathed on them and gave them the Holy Spirit and her power to forgive and reconcile and be church, and disappeared just as quickly.
Pentecost Day in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago, was perhaps the original Flash Mob, except they didn’t disperse quickly! We, the church, the people of God, are still here, putting our lives on the line. We intentionally don’t disperse, but remain, to be filled with the Holy Spirit, receive the breath of Jesus, and be empowered for our service out there in the world, and in our lives everyday.
This is one of those playful, fun, times in the church year calendar. Playful because we mark these seven weeks of Easter based solely on Luke’s understanding of time, exclusively in the 2nd of 2 books he wrote, The Acts of the Apostles. Playful because, we pretend like we know the exact dates, when none of the other gospels back up Luke’s understanding of this chronology: that on the 40th day of Easter, that is, the 40th day after Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus ascended to heaven. Then on the 50th day, on the Jewish Festival of Weeks (the grain harvest) Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to empower the church, a day we now call Pentecost – the Greek word for Weeks, meaning 50. Thus today, this 7th Sunday of Easter, is always an in-between time, with Ascension Day, three days past, and Pentecost, 7 days ahead. Even in Luke’s first book, the Gospel of Luke, he tells the chronology differently: Jesus ascends on the day of his resurrection after appearing to the women disciples, to Peter, then to Cleopas and partner in the breaking of the bread on the road to Emmaus, and finally all the disciples together – not 40 days later.
The other gospels and Paul’s letters also have their own variations on this time-line. It was not seen as a contradiction, however, when these various books were written, like we sometimes worry about today – not a proof it didn’t happen, but, much the opposite. They each told the truth, to local communities, in the experience their communities needed to hear them. Harmonizing the chronology was not an issue. So they too were playful with the stories, even as their lives were deeply being transformed, in all seriousness.
“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” the two men in white robes say to the disciples. “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” In the 3 storied world of the disciples, heaven was above their flat earth, the evil spirits below, but all three were interconnected, one cosmos created by God. Thus the ascension is not about Jesus’ absence but about his presence in the world, in a new way. When the messengers reorient the disciples gaze back to the world, then they remembered Jesus’ instruction, that “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…” And so “they return to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet,” and make ready, in this in between time, in the upper room.
40 days. 50 days. A week of weeks. If you’re not the kind to remember dates, but are still interested in the meaning of history, know this, that though Jesus doesn’t send us a church year calendar to follow, Jesus sends us the Holy Spirit to empower us. Jesus tells us to wait for it, whenever we have that upward gaze, that blank stare of confusion. There are times for waiting and discerning in prayerfulness, and there are times for action, when we are empowered by God and one another. In either case, now, after the resurrection, Jesus is present with us in the world in a new way.
The best illustration I can think of is the movie, “Dead Poet’s Society.” It takes place in the early 50’s at a New England prep school for boys, which is the perfect device to epitomize the conformity of the time that the boys are under. Their English Lit teacher, played by Robin Williams, is a breath of fresh air for these young students. He captures the boys’ imaginations by teaching them in parables, using vivid images, and even has them act out some of their lessons. He makes language come alive for them with great power. That’s when they form a club they call the “Dead Poet’s Society.” In their own dark and secret upper room outside of class, they share poems, and amongst themselves, they find power and meaning in their lives.
But one day, when one of the boys uses his newly awakened gift of acting, and takes a part in the school production of Shakespeare, against the express wishes of his father, the story takes a tragic turn. Of course the father finds out, and not only does he yank the son from performing in the play, but also informs him he plans to take him out of the prep school altogether and enroll him in a military academy. When the boy protests to his father that he never listens to his feelings, the father says, okay, tell me. This is Neil’s moment, but after a long pause, he mutters that he doesn’t feel anything. Later that night, Neil sneaks out, not to the Dead Poet’s Society secret room, but to his fathers study, there to use his dad’s gun on himself.
Adding insult to injury, the headmaster of the school makes a scapegoat out of John Keating, the unorthodox English lit teacher. One by one, he brings the boys into his office and makes them sign a confession to the effect that it was all Mr. Keating’s fault. The movie ends with the boys raising a protest in their new class, but it’s a day late and a dollar short. When they had the power to stand up for their hero, and refuse to sign the false confession, they let can’t find their tongues. Their Pentecost moment was missed.
This waiting time between Ascension Day and Pentecost, is a moment we get to remember where the power comes from to stand up to the powers of evil and oppression in our world, and to seize the moment. God is calling us to enact the Easter-Pentecost drama, with a youthful playfulness. We belong to a, “Risen Lord Society,” and are empowered to tell the truth about this abundant life we share – the presence of Christ with us in ever new and fruitful ways.
Bishop Tom Wright has said that, “The [disciples] believed that ‘heaven’ and ‘earth’ are the two interlocking spheres of God’s reality, and that the risen body of Jesus is the first (and so far the only) object which is fully at home in both (‘heaven’ and ‘earth’), and hence in either, anticipating the time when everything will be renewed and joined together.”
The ascension is not about Jesus’ absence but about his presence in the world in a new way. We are given times of waiting and discerning in our lives. And we are given times of empowerment. We pray that we may have the wisdom to know the difference, and that we may have the playfulness to try on our power, the power of Christ’s life that has conquered death, in a forgiving love and unity with one another.
So I see it’s May 22, and you’re all still here! How many were hoping they would be gone by today? Raptured! 6pm came and went through 24 time zones yesterday, and no earthquakes of significance were reported. No one reportedly flew up to meet the Lord in the sky, as it says in 1st Thessalonians. No one was raptured! The word rapture
, by the way, is not in the bible, unless you translate that passage in a very convoluted way, through the circuitous route from the original Greek, to the Latin Vulgate, and then into English. At any rate, Harold Camping, surprise, surprise, was wrong. There was no rapture yesterday on May 21, 2011, exactly 7,000 years after Noah and the flood, by his calculations. Harold Camping was not available for comment yesterday. Perhaps he alone was raptured, or I’m thinking, maybe he’s down in the Cayman Islands with the $100 million he’s earned promoting this false prophecy on his Family Radio Network.
Coverage of the Rapture have run the gamut. I like this one from the NY Post: Some in NYC have made …preparations. "People are selling their possessions. It's crazy, said Sasha Jackson, of Manhattan. The fanatics are creating pandemonium. Does the church have a plan for when this all falls through?"
The reporter continued: The massive citywide ad campaign claiming that today was the end of the world prompted opportunists to take to Craigslist to try to score real estate
from those anticipating they'd be in heaven by tonight. One listing read: "If you're someone who will be saved and you live in a higher end apartment in one of the more desirable neighborhoods in Brooklyn, I'd be interested in subletting until your return," concluding, "Please, no studios."
Not so funny, however, is the consequence for those followers of Harold Camping who took him seriously, and did sell all they had. Many timed the give away or spending sprees to the positively-for-sure-date of May 21st. “The Bible Guarantees it,” is says on Camping’s website. People gave up jobs. Some left spouses destitute, who themselves didn’t believe in it. People dropped out of college in anticipation of the end. “There’s no Plan B,” Camping said! But while his followers are left deluged with bills to pay, he sits high and dry, no pun intended.
“Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk,” says Peter, “so that by it you may grow into salvation…” And so our second reading today describes a much longer view of the Christian faith. We all start out as newborn infants in Christ, and as we become followers, growing spiritually, we enter into salvation, that comes from God alone.
Every biblical scholar who was asked about Harold Camping’s prediction quoted the words of Jesus from Matthew 24:36: “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only." They might also have read from Peter’s 2nd Letter, which addresses anxieties about the 2nd coming: “do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.” Turns out Camping used this in his, now faulty, calculations, claiming one day equals
1,000 years. Of course Peter employs a simile, not a mathematical equation. Peter said it’s “like” that, comparing how differently we think and experience life, to God’s experience. But Camping, who admittedly is very interested in numerology, takes it as literal. Or as one blogger said: “While Camping [who is a civil engineer by training] might be good with numerical calculations regarding zoning grids or traffic algorithms, his ability to read and understand the Bible is sorely lacking.”
On Friday, I caught a part of a cable TV show devoted to the whole phenomenon, and suddenly there was my N.T. professor from seminary, Barbara Rossing, being interviewed. She of course, wrote a book called “The Rapture Exposed,” which has become the standard in debunking this peculiarly American past-time of fixing dates for the end of the world. Harold Camping already apologized for his first prediction of the Rapture on September 6, 1994. In her book, Professor Rossing helps us understand in two ways. First she takes us through the flawed rapture theology of John Nelson Darby, who in the 1800’s created this warrantless theory that Camping follows. But secondly, Rossing beautifully illuminates the books of Revelation and Daniel, as texts of hopefulness for believers in very trying times. When believers were under threat from political powers of the times, they used this Apocalyptic language to describe the embattled position they found themselves in. And in the end it turns out God’s promise is not to rapture us up and destroy the earth, but to come down and redeem the whole of God’s creation.
This is the faith and belief that grounds us in the hope of a better day, a better future, one in which we are invited to participate as “”God’s chosen [ones], a royal priesthood, [and] holy nation,” to use Peter’s words again. We are called to be “living stones,” emulating Jesus the “living stone,” so that we ourselves are “built into a spiritual house.” The people are the church, who are the Body of Christ! We are living stones, a metaphor that is unique to Peter in the New Testament. Yes Christ is the corner stone, many others say, but only Peter goes this step further to describe us, like Christ, as “living stones.” We have a calling to embody Christ in the world, as a people already saved in the hope of Christ’s resurrection.
I think, one of the things, that makes the Rapture and the desire for God to come so American, is our voracious appetite for more. For something better. The desire for a more satisfying end to all this
. When that is combined with Harold Camping’s exclusivism, and his literal mindset that numbers don’t lie, you have a home grown false prophet. But – and here’s the catch – we all have a bit of the voracious appetite for more, or for something better. You don’t have to be an End Times true believer to get caught up in the American dream of “more” and “better.” You just have to be an American. That’s what instant gratification is all about, what our commercial television, radio, and internet, saturate us in. Our unparalleled technological advances make it, oh so desirable, and our service industry is trained to always, politely, offer more of it. So whether or not we look to the Rapture to get our fix of “more” and “better,” we too are caught up, no pun intended, in the frenzy of what the world promises to save us with.
But “like newborn infants,” as Peter says, “long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation – if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” And we have, here at the table, tasted that the Jesus is good, who in the bread and wine nourishes and sustains us. This is how we are filled up, and where we are made ready for the day of Christ’s coming. No one knows when it will be, but we are ready to the extent that we are becoming the “living stones.” Like the large stone rolled away from Jesus’ tomb. Like the stones that Jesus said would shout out and testify that he was king. We are living stones, a part of the resurrection. For nothing is impossible with Christ. We are the living stones of the church, “being built up into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood.” Come, taste and see that the Lord is good!