Sunday, June 1, 2003

Seventh Sunday of Easter
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
Psalm 1
1 John 5:9-13
John 17:6-19 

These things have I written unto you, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, even unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God.

The final verse from today's Epistle lesson is quite a comfort to all who believe in Jesus Christ. "These things have I written unto you, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, even unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God." (1 John 5:13) Notice that this is written to believers - those who already know the story of Jesus, His ministry and death on the cross. It is written for those who already believe that Jesus rose from death into life. It is written for those who are already living in the life that He gives through faith. Why would we need to have these words written for us?

We need them as much as those who still need to hear the Gospel message, because we still live in the flesh and we have moments of doubt and uncertainty.

Imagine what the disciples were going through at the time of today's reading from Acts. Jesus had just spent 40 days living with them after He had risen from the dead. He was the same, but not the same. He was glorified and yet still ate with them and talked to them about the things of God. He was calling them to a greater purpose, even greater than when He was alive. They were to carry on His work, not simply follow Him wherever He went, but to go out on their own to do the work.

Yet, things didn't seem to be going very well to start. Jesus chose twelve to carry on the mission, a really wonderful number because it represents the tribes of Israel and was considered the number of divine government. But one of the twelve died at his own hand after falling into despair about his own role in the death of Jesus. Judas went to the Temple, to the priests of God, to find forgiveness for his sins against Jesus, but they laughed in his face and sent him away. He did not know what else to do, so he killed himself. Peter had also mourned over his role in the crucifixion of his Lord -- his fear and denial of Jesus in those last hours - but he did not despair, he waited prayerfully for what he did not know was to come. He found forgiveness when Jesus returned and he was restored in his relationships with God, Jesus and the other disciples. Judas was lost.

The disciples felt it necessary to replace Judas, so called a meeting to choose another. There were two possibilities - Barsabbas and Matthias. They prayed to God that the right choice would be revealed and then they cast lots. I am somewhat bothered by the idea that the disciples would use this method to choose the one who would fill the role of an apostle, but God seems to have blessed the act and Matthias was chosen. I do not think we should use this as an example of how to run our ministries; it is superstitious and dangerous.

Yet, I think we do at times take chances like this. Have we ever flipped a coin to make a decision, such as which Sunday school curriculum to use or who should be parish secretary? When all things are equal, what harm can it do? I don't know, I just wonder if there might have been a better way to make such an important decision. We know nothing else about Matthias except that he had been with the disciples all along and had witness the resurrection. We can only trust that God used him well, that he was blessed to be a blessing. We all come to understand our vocation in God's Kingdom differently, and no matter what foolish paths we end up taking, God can make it good, right and true for the sake of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

At this point in the story of the church, the disciples did not know what would happen yet. Even with all Jesus had said and done, they still were not prepared to go out into the world. They were the twelve and others, waiting for the promised Comforter. The words that Jesus spoke in those hours before His crucifixion must have been ringing in the ears of the disciples as they waited. "But now I come to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy made full in themselves." (John 17:13) Joy? What Joy? Jesus is gone, Judas is dead, they've had to cast lots to pick another guy, they have no idea what is next. They were waiting, perhaps not so patiently. Next Sunday it will all come together - the Holy Spirit will come upon them and their ministry will truly begin.

We have the Holy Spirit today because Jesus sent Him into our lives. Yet, don't we still have moments when we are patiently waiting for whatever is going to come next? Don't we wonder why we are in a specific place at a specific time, wonder what God would have us do? At times I think that I know and understand, then when something goes wrong I wonder. That's when I'm most likely to cast lots for my decisions, unsure if I can even hear God or discern what He's saying in my life.

So, these words in John's letter are comforting to me, particularly at those times. They've been written so that even when I don't have a clue what's going on with God's Kingdom in the world around me, I can know that have eternal life in Christ. Those who believe in His name are assured that God's testimony is true, and His testimony is found in His Son, through whom we have life.

This is why Jesus shared such an intimate moment with His Father in a way that the disciples could hear. He knew they'd be afraid and unsure in the time between His ascension and Pentecost. So, by His word He gave them the gift of assurance, that God is with them to guard and protect their lives and lead them in the right ways. "For the words which thou gavest me I have given unto them; and they received them, and knew of a truth that I came forth from thee, and they believed that thou didst send me."

It is hard for human beings to believe simply on words. We rely on all our senses, need to see, hear, feel, taste and touch to know something is real. Words can be deceiving; promises can be forgotten. Yet, there are times in our Christian journey of faith when all we have are words, the Word of God. Oh, sometimes we have wonderful reminders of God's love through His creation, through His people. We can all testify to those 'God-incidences' when something supernatural occurred to change our lives. God even commanded that we partake of the sacraments - baptism and Eucharist - so that we would have physical elements of water, wine and bread to see God's Word at work.

But we also suffer moments like Judas and Peter, on the verge of despair and not knowing what will come next. How do we respond? Do we take matters into our own hands like Judas, or do we wait patiently like Peter, knowing that God's Word is true and that He is faithful to His promises?

The disciples took things into their own hands by casting lots for a twelfth disciple. Were they right to do so? I don't know, but God continued to bless the ministry that Jesus began in and through their lives. They didn't know what to do but took their uncertainty to God and asked Him to bless their action. What we can learn from their experience is that if we come to such a time in our own lives and ministries, we should give it to God in prayer and trust that He will make good come out of even our foolishness.

We are not perfect today, nor will we be until the day we come face to face with our Lord Jesus. We still doubt and fear and make really bad decisions. Yet, it is at those very moments when we can turn to the words of John and rest assured that we have eternal life through the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

The writer of today's Psalm refers to two types of people - those who delight in God and those who are wicked. Aren't we both? Aren't we those who believe but doubt, who know but still wonder what will happen tomorrow? We are like the trees planted by the streams of water, yielding fruit in due season, but we also have chaff that needs to be blown away.

The chaff is the seed covering; the part that protects the seed while it grows, but when on the threshing room floor it is blown away. After harvest it is useless. So too are our doubts and fears and our wondering about tomorrow. That will all be blown away so that we will face our Lord covered in His righteousness rather than our wickedness. What a wonderful promise, a great hope in which we live. Eternal life is ours today and it will be ours tomorrow by His Grace and His Word. His testimony is true - all who believe in His name have eternal life. Thanks be to God. 

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