May 28, 2017, 7th Sunday of Easter YR A The Rev. Anne Abdy Acts 2:6-14; Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36; 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11; John 17:1-11
Today is the last Sunday of Easter. Forty-three days of the Easter Season have come and gone. I can only imagine the roller coaster of emotions the disciples have felt since Easter morning. Starting on the day of the resurrection with the awe and confusion of seeing Jesus in person when he reveals himself to the women. Then he shows himself in the breaking of bread after a long day’s walk to Emmaus, and in the Upper Room where Thomas is told to touch his wounds—and Thomas believes. In the past weeks, Jesus continues to talk to them about his plan to ascended to his Father in heaven. Ascension Day was last Thursday. Now what?
The last forty-three days must have been a real terrorizing time for the early Christians because they thought they would be next. The Romans didn’t accept Christianity as a religion until Emperor Constantine in the fourth century. Till then they were persecuted, and as we heard a couple of weeks ago, Saint Stephen was martyred three years after the death of Jesus. This was a dangerous time. As a Christian the likelihood of living your full lifespan was not a guarantee.
Personally, it feels as if I am living in the first century when I look at the world today. Global violence, numerous wars, and hatred. We are living in a time of self-destruction, distrust, and fear. I found this alarming statistic. In 2011, 122,000 Black and Latino teenage boys were stopped by the New York City Police Department. At that time, there were only 177,000 teenage boys of those ethnic backgrounds living in New York City. This means that these men were not just walking around wondering if they will be pulled over—they wondered when. When would they be stopped, frisked, possibly cuffed and hauled off to stand in front of a camera for a mug shot. That’s living in fear. That is the kind of fear that will keep you off the streets. I suspect that’s the kind of fear that the disciples felt.
All my extended family on my mother’s side have lived in Southern Africa at some point in their lives. This story is family lore but I am assured that it indeed did take place. In Northern Namibia there is a huge game reserve named Etosha. It is essentially a dried up lake and in the dry season it becomes a salt pan. Back in the early sixties, and pretty much the same today, there are very few paved roads that cross this parched land. Traffic was scarce and you had to register your car so that you could be identified if something happened. At the time, my parents were living at the Odibo Mission Station and my aunt and uncle together with their oldest daughter lived in Tsumeb. The only paved main road through the reserve connected the two towns.
On this particular day, the family was driving through the reserve when the station wagon blew a flat tire. Everyone piled out while Uncle Richard unloaded the trunk of the car to get to the jack and proceeded to change the damaged tire. No one was really paying much attention to my cousin, Judy. They were all focused on providing advice to my uncle. Judy was about three years old and, like any toddler, she was curious.
My cousin’s attention was drawn to the side of the road, and it was only after the family heard her say these words, “Here kitty, kitty! Here kitty, kitty!” that they looked up from what they are doing. Startled, my aunt walked over to her, followed her pointing arm and not more than twenty-five yards from the disabled car sat a pride of lions watching the scene unfold. Now there is a common saying in Africa that provides sound advice when you are on safari. It is: “Whatever you do, don’t run!” My aunt did exactly that. She calmly picked up my cousin, announced in a low voice to the family that they are being watched, at which time all the adults piled back into the car while they waited for my uncle to finish the job.
Whatever you do, don’t run! could be exactly what the disciples and early Christians are learning to do now that Jesus has ascended to the right hand of his Father. Their leader is gone. He will not return in human form again. They learn that they need to be very intentional in their actions so as to not draw the attention of the authorities. Huddled together in the Upper Room they are steadfast in their devotion to God in their prayer; for they are in community. It is from this fledgling community that they draw strength, support, and restoration knowing that they will be fine. They are a community of faith.
I experienced a wonderful example of this type of community this past Friday. I took the day off from work to be in the office to be accessible to any concerns Gay had as up to now we’ve only communicated via email. As I drove into the parking lot there were a half-dozen cars parked under the shade of the trees. My initial thought was “Wow, the contemplative prayer and the Morning Prayer group really has taken off. GREAT!” followed by a note to self, “Don’t enter the sanctuary, and if you do, be quiet!” I opened Fr. Brent’s office and unpacked my computer and set it up. A little while later I heard lots of laughter and a single voice louder than the others wafting up from downstairs. Realizing that the Contemplation Prayer folks are not a rowdy bunch, I was curious. I went downstairs to find out that the joyful noise was a group of about a dozen parishioners engaged in Tia Chi. This is community in action. Intentional full-body prayer gaining muscle strength and range of motion, and restoration with the support of others.
Throughout Jesus’s earthly ministry he prepared the disciples to live without him. They know that they are to support one another and they know that God, the Father will support them. We know this because in the tail end of this final discourse in John’s Gospel, we, the church, eavesdrop on the intimate conversation that Jesus has with his Father. Jesus knows his mission here on earth is ending and his death is immanent. In these final words, he turns this community over to his Father referencing the fledgling community in the third person. Jesus provides us with a model—we as a community need to not only support each other in love and care for one another, but we are to turn our worries, concerns, frustrations with worldly decisions over to God.
In a time when First Century Christianity seems oddly familiar to today with the meaningless murder of the Egyptian Coptic Christians on a pilgrimage on Friday and the reverse Robin Hood decision-making of Federal and State budgets, the needs of local communities are lost and overlooked. Christians today, and I think more so than ever before, are doing much of what government is unable to do. The Book of Acts of the Apostles calls Christians to be witnesses in the world. At Resurrection, I believe we are very good at this. Our Ministry Faire was an wonderful witness of our parish life. We minister and care for the souls of those who are down on their luck because we are called to be an active witness to the story of the risen Jesus. John’s Gospel reading today, however, also calls Christians to be a witnesses to the intimacy between Jesus and God. In our lives today we need to have a healthy balance between the tasks of Christian work and contemplating the Christian walk. We need both.
Like the First Century Christian community, we will be alright. We will make it through the weeks and months ahead as we move to Pentecost and the long season of Ordinary Time. We will survive the struggles and sufferings that we have to bare to continue to serve others. We will survive because our hearts will be filled with gratefulness and thanksgiving. We will listen to the Shepherd’s voice in the form of the Advocate that Jesus promises to send. We will lean on Him because we know God has not abandoned us. We will survive because we know God has called us to participate in his Kingdom here on earth. We will survive because we live in loving and caring community.