The Rev. Dr. Austin Leininger
Sermon of the 7th Sunday of Easter
28 May 2017
Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36
1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
Today is the last Sunday in our journey through the Easter mystery. Including today, we’ve spent seven Sunday’s together contemplating the magnitude of Christ’s resurrection life, culminating in today’s celebration of the Ascension and the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit, which coming we’ll celebrate next Sunday on Pentecost.
Last week we explored the meaning of having a place made for us to carry on in Christ’s work, as the many dwelling places of God and as the living stones from which God’s kingdom is built up into a spiritual house for all those around us.
This week we enter into the liminal space between the end of Christ’s walk with us on earth, and the beginning of our own time as ambassadors of God’s reign, carrying on through the Spirit in the work Christ began with us and in us, and continues through us in the here and now of our own lives and world.
The stories we’ve heard throughout these past seven weeks have been a reminder of the unexpectedness of our encounters with the divine. Christ has appeared, both recognized and unrecognized, he has shattered the boundary we supposed was between us and God, offered to meet us where we are to satisfy our doubts, has promised to accompany us on the journey of our faith, has invited us to become Good Shepherds of God’s love, has called us to become dwelling places of God and living stones in the building of God’s kingdom, and has commissioned us to carry out his commandments in the ongoing work of revealing God’s love in the world.
Here, today, we stand with the disciples in the liminal space of becoming—from invitation and call to commissioning and sending out. It is a time of change; of transition; of new beginning… and if the disciples’ response is any indication, change was received about as readily and gladly two thousand some years ago as it is today. Left in that liminal space, and without the direct leadership of the One they’d been following for three years, as we hear in our story from Acts, they returned to Jerusalem and holed up in a room to pray.
In today’s gospel, Christ prays for his disciples, as also for us in our ongoing mission, that we may be one as he is one with God—that we may be drawn together in our common mission and made one body working together to bring God’s kingdom to life in the world—essentially that we may support one another and be one another’s strength during these times of constant change and new beginnings in our own time in ministry.
Over the past several months, change has been and continues to be a big topic in our family. This past Friday, I flew to Fort Collins to load my family up and finally make the move to Santa Cruz. Luke’s response has been a reversion to a state of chewing on everything—a bit like a puppy, and to being very whiney and clingy; an appropriate response from a seven year old who doesn’t remember living anywhere other than Fort Collins. Anthony has been fixated on his prize for holding himself together over these past months. With no major meltdowns for the last two whole months of school, he has more than earned the large Lego set we finally were able to take him to get at Target yesterday. His main outlets for his anxiety has been eating, asking a million questions, and quite literally holing up in small dark places such as the closets at the various hotels we’ve stayed in since Monday night. For Marie, our very outgoing and social ten- year-old, this has been the most obviously difficult transition. She started Kindergarden the year we moved to Fort Collins, and all of her friends from these past five years have been growing and learning with her as they prepare to enter fifth grade this fall—finally as the big kids of their school. None of this is lost on Marie, for whom this transition has been marked by mood swings and frustration.
However. All this having been said, each of them has also stepped up their game and made these past months of preparation possible. They have worked with Jane and I to plan, to pack, to move, and to unpack. They have supported one another—and, more surprisingly, they have sought to help support Jane and I, offering back rubs, hugs, and compassionate responses to our own shorter than usual tempers during this big transition.
Change is hard! It was hard two thousand years ago, and it is hard today!
This Calvary family has had it’s own difficult periods of transition and change—more than its fair share, in fact!
And as we prepare for the coming of the Holy Spirit next week, we are included in this week’s commendation to oneness and support as we seek to live into the calling to carry on Christ’s ministry in the world.
This is big.
It is scary to be told that the work of ministry is now in our own hands. That all of the leadership, passion, and resources have all been given into our own hands to command, and that the time has come for us to carry on with the work we’ve been given to do.
Our Epistler refers to it as a fiery ordeal, and despite our Psalmist’s exultation in God’s providence, accompaniment, and support amidst these times of Change, Christ’s own final words are words of encouragement, prayer for solidarity and support, and of seeking God’s protection over those he is leaving to continue the work he began in the world.
And, so too, this day, we are called. Here at the end of our Easter journey, as the risen Christ ascends out of this physical world, we are called with the rest of Christ’s disciples to carry on in the work of bringing God’s reign to life around us in our own world. It is a big calling. It is a big change from following to leading, from being ministered to, to ministering to others. But Christ’s prayer for us is that we’ll do it together. That we too will meet each other where we are; Satisfy each others doubts; accompany one another, accept the invitation to become Good Shepherds of God’s love, live into the calling to be dwelling places of God and answer the call to carry out Christ’s commandments in the ongoing work of revealing God’s love in the world—as one community in mutual support and care.
In the months ahead, we’ll be engaging in some important conversations about our future together as a community… where are you called? What is your vision, and how can you become a part of making this a thriving and vibrant place where God’s love is both felt, shared, and spread to the world beyond our doors?
But for today, as we stand together in this liminal space, let us echo Christ’s own prayer as we pray for one another and for this community—that we all may be one.
8:00: In the words we’ll repeat at the end our Eucharist in just a few minutes: “We humbly beseech thee, O heavenly Father, so to assist us with thy grace, that we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in.”
10:30: In the words we’ll repeat at the end our Eucharist in just a few minutes: “And now, Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do—to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord”