Well, here we are on the last Sunday of Eastertide. For me, the time since Easter Sunday has passed quickly―these last weeks have been eventful, both in my personal and professional lives, especially with just finishing up the semester at Hawkeye; I had 20-some portfolios to read. I imagine you all may be feeling some amazement, too, that only a week separates us from Memorial Day weekend, and more importantly, Pentecost. The world, too, has been eventful, of course―a new president in France, the financial woes in Europe, violence and oppression still ongoing in Syria―I know that we can add more to the list. During this last week I’ve wondered whether the disciples were amazed at how quickly their time in the world went by―both their time with Christ, and afterward. Did they ever stop to notice how fast it went while they were wrapped up in the events in which they were involved?
In these last, fast-flowing weeks, the lessons have shown us some of those events in the disciples’ lives, both in readings from Acts and in John’s Gospel. The readings from Acts, especially, intrigue me as a student of narrative, because in the weeks leading up to Pentecost, we’re actually hearing of the events that take place after Pentecost, after the disciples have received the Holy Spirit and been sent out into the world. It makes me consider how we tell, and re-tell, our stories. But that, I think, is a sermon, or a paper, for another time.
What has struck me this week is Christ’s prayer concerning his disciples, which we’ve heard this morning. Twice Jesus says “they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.” I’ve thought about this phrase most of the week. What did Christ mean? Part of me was thinking of being totally otherworldly, thinking in terms of the metaphysical, at least regarding Christ and his part in the Trinity. Although, in looking at some of the medieval art that I am using for my track at the upcoming ministry retreat—I have to put in a plug for that--that many, then and now, have been accustomed to looking at the disciples in this way, too. The illuminations of St. Peter, St. James, St. Matthew, and the other disciples--except for Judas--and of course, Christ, certainly exhibit human qualities, but also have that otherworldly aspect, too, most obviously seen in the halos with which they are depicted.
But part of me felt this was problematic―which amazed me, because I tend to be drawn to mysticism; or at least I felt that there was more to what John was reporting as Christ’s words to God. I knew that I was looking at the words too literally―thinking of the physical world, thinking of the planet. I was working how to reconcile those words with the actions of the disciples, with the idea of taking action in the world. After all, Christ does also say in today’s reading that he is sending his disciples into the world.
And then, yesterday at the Food Bank, I saw things more clearly folks from Trinity, St. Tim’s Lutheran in Hudson, and CenturyLink worked together to pack boxes of food for the elderly, taking time out of busy lives. We were in the world and yet not belonging to it. In the world because we were doing a physical job, and helping those in very real, physical need—facing hunger and lacking means to buy much food. It finally occurred to me that Christ was talking about the disciples in terms of the culture that made up their world, not simply their physical, general surroundings, but the social, economic, and political aspects of the Roman world. They weren’t of that world―they were counter to that culture. Because of Christ, and their belief and faith in his words, Peter, James, John, Thomas, and the others acted in ways that took them out of that large world, and also their own individual worlds―away from fishing, tax collecting, and more.
At one point this week, I wondered what would have happened if one of them had refused Christ, but that is not part of this narrative and speculation for another time. In any case, each disciple no longer belonged to the world; Christ was sending them out. I would say this is the reading in which Christ transforms his disciples into “apostles”--which in Greek means, “envoy” or “sent out.” Christ, via the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, the Companion, will send them out to share God’s words, God’s testimony, with the rest of the world.
And so, let us remember that we, as followers of Christ, are not totally of this world, either. I don’t mean that we walk around with halos or an otherworldly glow, though I do think we see that glow every once in a while. I simply mean that if we follow the commandment that Christ gave us, which we heard again in last week’s lesson, we set ourselves apart, to some degree at least, from those in our world who perpetuate violence against others, who are caught up in making money only for the sake of making money, from those in the mainstream, fast-paced, secular culture. We are in the world, too, for by loving each other, we need to act and spread the word of God’s love, just as the apostles did.
My prayer is that as we approach the end of Eastertide and the beginning of ordinary time after Pentecost next week, that we take some time this summer to take ourselves out of the world to listen to God’s testimony in our hearts. Maybe take a moment for prayer at Disney World or Adventureland or while fishing or camping or before seeing the latest blockbuster movie (I plan on seeing a few this summer) and remember that we belong to Christ and to God and Act accordingly. Amen.
--given at Trinity Episcopal Parish, Waterloo, Iowa
Today's readings from the Revised Common Lectionary: