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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Sunday, June 01, 2003


Acts 1:15-26
John 17:11-19

Today is a day for recognizing endings around here, isn't it? It's the last day of Christian Ed classes for the summer-- which means it's also almost the end of the school year. Carolyn's a freshman in high school, so this has been a significant annual event in our household for many years. And now that I'm back in school myself, I'm really reminded of why that is such a big deal. As much as there is to love about my classes, and my classmates, and the whole experience of seminary life, I am way ready to be done for a while. Anybody else ever feel like that?

But what we heard in the reading from Acts this morning reminds us that endings are not just endings. At first, it sure does look that way; an ending is certainly where we come into this story. Jesus' earthly ministry has just ended. In the language of the creed that we'll say in a little bit, "He has ascended into heaven, and is seated on the right hand of the father." In other words, he's gone; and the apostles (what's left of them, after Judas' death) are suddenly left feeling very much on their own. Can't you just picture this? The whole motley crew, standing there, staring bewildered at the place where Jesus was only a moment ago. Then turning to one another and saying, "OK, Now what?"

Fortunately, after three years of formation, they have a fallback position: gather and pray together, which is what they're doing when we come upon the scene. We arrive just in time to hear Peter stand up and propose a plan for answering the "now what?" question. Now Peter, as you'll recall, is not always "the sharpest knife in the drawer;" but this time he's right on the money. You have to start somewhere, and the way to begin, is to begin.

And so they do. They select Matthias to fill the empty place that Judas left-- in the vernacular of the business world, they round out the leadership team---- and prepare to fulfill the roles for which they have been selected and trained: called witnesses, "to the ends of the earth," to the truth in Jesus Christ. Suddenly the ending is no longer an ending; it is transformed-- into a beginning.

That's the way it works, isn't it? The end of one day is the beginning of another. The end of the school year is the beginning of summer. Jesus had to end His earthly ministry, so that His followers could begin theirs. Often we have to be willing to let go of one thing, one idea, in order to be able to grasp another.

I had this lesson brought home to me again just recently. A few weeks ago, I attended the "In-House Conversation" that our diocese sponsored, to discuss the resolution regarding the blessing of same-sex unions that will be set before our General Convention delegates this summer. I went to this conference for two reasons: first, I was interested in hearing the viewpoints that would be presented. Secondly, Ben and Carolyn were both presenters, and I wanted to support them. Ben, especially-- not only was he struggling to deal faithfully with the subject, but he was having to do it in less than 20 minutes!

At the same time, I was reluctant; I was leery of what I feared would be another of those polarized "I'm right and you're wrong" discussions that so often happen around controversial topics like this.

You know what? That didn't happen. Among the 80+ people who gathered at St. Anne's that Friday night (from about half the parishes in our diocese), there were, indeed, dramatically different views-- the whole range of them. Those differences were expressed, eloquently, by the panelists in their presentations. We had some lively small group discussions, and pointed questions asked in the Q & A portion of the program.

What we didn't have was the "take no prisoners" attitude that I had feared-- no ranting and raving, no accusations of intolerance or sinfulness.

Instead, we prayed together. And we spoke with one another-- gently, and reasonably, and from the heart. We listened to one another, and I believe the Holy Spirit was present in a way that most of us heard more clearly the struggles and tensions that make this such a difficult issue. Do I suppose that anyone there came away having changed their minds? Maybe... Ok, maybe not. But, for just a brief moment, we ended-- we let go of a little bit of human certainty, of some of our self-righteousness-- and waited, as the Bishop says, in holy expectation for the Spirit to speak. And that, my brothers and sisters, is also a beginning.

Ideally, that's the way every Sunday morning works, too. We all of us finish worshipping and walk out of here, prepared (we hope) for a new beginning. "Sanctified by the truth," as John's gospel says: the truth about God’s love for us in Jesus. The truth we hear in scripture and song. The truth we taste in the bread and the wine. The truth we see in the lives of one another.

Have you thought about the last words we hear at the end of the service? "Let us go forth, in the name of Christ. Alleluia; Alleluia!" And we respond... "Thanks be to God; Alleluia, alleluia!" Just like the apostles, we are sent out to begin, once again, living our call as disciples, to witness to the Truth.

Now, sometimes it's hard to remember that. We live in a world that's filled with distractions, and alternatives to a Christian life that can seem mighty attractive. And even when without external pressures, we still have to deal with that part inside each of us that would much rather be self-centered than Christ-centered. Even with little things-- I spend a lot of time driving back and forth from Evanston, and when I'm in a hurry and get stuck in traffic, I will admit that I am not feeling particularly sanctified.

Fortunately, we've got an answer to that. It's what we promise in our baptismal covenant - that whenever we fall into sin, that we will "repent and return to the Lord." We're forgiven, and we start over. We end, and we begin. This is radically amazing good news that Jesus promises, and it works-- every time.

So, as we recognize endings today, we also remember and celebrate beginnings. The school year is over, which means it's also commencement season-- that time when students move up, and move on. In a few days, Katie Croyle and Matt Corbin graduate high school-- and I am so proud of, and grateful for, the godly adults they are beginning to be. Some folks I have learned to love a lot this last year at Seabury will also be graduating, and beginning again-- leaving "the block," and moving out into the ministries into which God is calling them.

As we all do, from here, this morning.

Thanks be to God.


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