Readings – Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; Psalm 1; I John 5: 9 – 13; John 17: 6-19
During this season of Easter our first readings each Sunday have been from the Book of Acts, the Acts of the Apostles. The selections have been out of sequence which can be a little confusing. Today we return to the beginning of Acts where St. Luke, the author, starts with the Ascension, forty days after the Resurrection. Following the Ascension on the Mount of Olives, the remaining eleven disciples – Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, Simon the Zealot, James (son of Alphaeus), and Judas (son of James) joined Mary, “certain [unnamed] women”, and the brothers of Jesus and walked back to the upper room, site of the Last Supper. The text does not state where Peter addressed this gathering of 120, but we can safely assume that it was somewhere outdoors. St. Peter was a traditionalist at heart, so in order to have twelve disciples, a replacement need to be selected for Judas Iscariot. The requirement was that he had to be a follower of Jesus during his approximate three years of public ministry, and a witness to the resurrected Jesus and the Ascension. By casting lots, a very traditional practice, Matthias was chosen. Very traditional, twelve tribes of Israel, 120 gathered (twelve times ten), and twelve disciples.
Next Sunday, these twelve disciples, followers of the discipline of Jesus, will become apostles, the sent-out ones, sent out to change the world by the Holy Spirit. And change the world they did. Two weeks ago, we heard of the baptizing of the Ethiopian official. Last week we heard of the baptizing of a gathering of Jews and Gentiles.
It is into this same community, into this same church, that we have been baptized. It was a radical group in the time of St. Peter, and we are called upon to continue in their footsteps. Let’s turn again to the Baptismal Covenant which we have been affirming every Sunday during this Easter season. (BCP, p. 292 – 294)
The Apostles’ Creed is in question-and-answer format, then the following questions.
Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers?
Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
The first two affirmations are focused on how we follow the disciplines of Jesus, the teaching of Holy Scripture, the gathering for worship, the saying of our prayers, the receiving of the Holy Eucharist, the resistance of evil, and when we fall short, the seeking of the forgiveness of God.
The third affirmation expands our expression of faith. Most of us are much more comfortable setting a good example of Christian living rather than speaking of our faith to others.
The fourth affirmation moves us into the neighborhood, moves us into the world. We are to stretch ourselves to see Jesus is all persons – in all- even in those very different from our experience, even those who act violently toward others, and even toward ourselves. This is tough duty. We are to love them; we are to act lovingly toward them, to treat them as we wish to be treated.
Affirmation #5 is front and center in our current life – to strive, to stretch ourselves, to work for justice and peace for all. Black lives matter, and Blue lives matter. Israelis and Palestinian lives matter. Iraqis and Iranian lives matter. Chinese and Russian lives matter. All are to be respected as people of “Our Father” to whom we pray. To strive to live fully as baptized people, to live into these five affirmations, is to be change agents, to spend ourselves to change our neighborhood and our world. We, like those earliest disciples, are part of a movement that acts to change our neighborhood and to change our world.
Feel inadequate, feel not up to the task, of course, we all do. And that’s why next Sunday, the Pentecost, is so important for us, as it was for the earliest followers of Jesus. Pentecost is when the power of God strengthened them to transition from disciples to apostles, to transition from leading disciplined lives into being active in the arena of life alongside the resurrected Jesus. The Resurrected One is still active in the arena of twenty-first-century America. Jesus knew that life was not as black and white as some of his contemporaries made it out to be. Even some of the authors of Holy Scripture sometimes made it appear so easy to identify good and evil. Yet, we know it is not always so easy to distinguish one from the other. However, we are called to enter into the arena as followers of Jesus, as apostles, sent out to change our neighborhood and to change the world.
Teddy Roosevelt, the twenty-sixth President of the United States from 1901-1909, fully understood entering the tumultuous arena of public life. He described the challenge in an address at the Sorbonne, Paris, France in 1910.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust, sweat, and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again; because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory or defeat.
To follow in the footsteps of Jesus is to enter the arena; it is to act with the conviction to change our neighborhood and to change our world.
The faith we affirm, the baptismal covenant we confess, is the way of eternal life, the way to live here and now among the saints past and present. We can choose no better way to spend our days!