Monday, April 28, 2008

Year A, Seventh Sunday of Easter / Ascension of the Lord

Before we begin, I just wanted to share a few words about the nature and purpose of this blog. Each week there will be a contributor, who will read the lectionary texts and then reflect and meditate upon them. Afterwards, they'll post a bit of a reflection for the purposes of starting discussion. The key to this blog is going to be DISCUSSION. We won't be posting research papers or highly thorough exegetical analyses. We'll simply be posting thoughts, stories, or questions in hopes to get discussion going. If you're here looking for pre-made sermons you're in the wrong place. If you're here looking for ideas and discussion, and are willing to share your own, then you're in the right place.

Year A, Seventh Sunday of Easter/Ascension of the Lord

Acts 1: 6-14
I am a movie junkie. I love the art of cinema. Consequently, I find that sometimes some of the greatest theological questions or lessons can be taught and asked through the metaphors that film provide us with. On the other hand, cinema can often fall very short of providing adequacy, or it can habituate us to an expectation of things that is quite the opposite of what we find we're dealing with in scripture.

Consider the ascension of the Lord. If Hollywood made this story it would be short and sweet and would end with a "To Be Continued." Jesus, the protagonist, would be the main and only emphasis. Hollywood would see Jesus ascend into heaven and then not know what else to do. There would be the promise of his return, but without the hero the movie can't go on. But in Acts this is not the case. Jesus ascends and leaves the scene, and yes his return is promised, but in the Lukan narrative he is no longer the only focus of the story. The story can continue on without the hero. The men in the clouds ask the disciples what they're looking at, what they're waiting for, in effort to redirect their focus to its appropriate place: life on earth, here, and now. And immediately they return to Jerusalem and refocus their attention and efforts on continuing Christ's ministry.

In Hollywood, the story is dependent upon the hero.
In Acts, the story is now dependent upon the disciples. And the same remains true today. The continued story of Jesus and his ministry is dependent upon his followers. We are promised the return of Christ. And until that time we are Christ in the world. How great an opportunity we have to carry out the ministry of Christ! And how great a responsibility!

Psalm 68: 1-10, 32-35
As I read this Psalm I am struck by its marvelous imagery. As I read this Psalm, I'm not really so cognizant of the military dynamics, historical references, or much else the commenatators focus on. I see this imagery, these semantic representations of God, their depictions of God's grandeur and stature, and I wonder if perhaps my own image and vision of God is a bit too small.

1 Peter 4: 12-14, 5: 6-11
How little we understand the "fiery ordeal" the early Christians suffered, and which the writer of 1 Peter addresses. Persecution for our faith is not something 21st Century American Christians are very familiar with. We may see a court decision go a certain way and feel as if we're persecuted. But when was the last time we saw someone burned or stoned or crucified for being a Christian?

The second section of this text serves as a reminder to us to stay vigilant in our faith and to not allow the Church to be destroyed because of our willingness to give in to external forces and pressures. This was originally a call to the believers not to renounce their faith under persecution, not to give in to the political powers which sought to destroy the Church. But in our context, with our lack of persecution by physical violence, how might we understand the implications of this text? What forces are at work that seek to turn us away from Christ? What forces are at work that seek to destroy the Church? What does it look like, or what does it mean, for us to resist those forces?

John 17: 1-11
We often think about praying to God. We think about the celebrations and the burdens in our lives and about bringing those things to God in prayer. We often pray for others and ask others to pray for us. But how often do we consider Jesus' own prayers and the ways he prayed for us? This text contains a major prayer of Jesus in which he prays for himself, for his disciples, for the world, and for his future believers.

What might we learn about Jesus' desires and motivations by examining his prayer? What might that say about our own desires and motivations? What might Jesus' prayer say about our own prayers? And what difference does it make that Jesus prayed for us?

Dan Mayes


Danny said...

This blog sounds like a great idea.... In regards to the post on Acts 1, I like the comparison to a "to be continued" movie. The disciples stand there, staring up into heaven, waiting for the next part. Then the angels ("Men in White") come and say, "What are you staring at? You ARE the next part!"

Brian said...

Dan, thanks for your thoughts, particularly on the Acts passage. I think the ascension story is a hard pill to swallow for those of us living on this side of the enlightenment and I think you are right on suggesting that the point is not to focus on the guy floating up into the heavens but on what we are called to do right here on the earth.

Danny, great line: "You ARE the next part!" May I steal it to use in my sermon this week? : )

Danny said...

go right ahead. BTW, I'm reminded of Peterson's MESSAGE translation of when Jesus sends out the 70: "You don't need any equipment; you are the equipment."