On this last Sunday of the Easter season, our lessons take a look back just before Jesus’ crucifixion and forward at what lies ahead as we glimpse the coming of Pentecost. In our reading from Acts, we’re left like the disciples at the Ascension – with our heads tilted back looking up at the sky. But, it’s Jesus who reigns us in, bringing us back to earth in the prayer that he shares in the Gospel. In the prayer he speaks not only from the perspective of the risen and ascended one, but as the Word of God, now made flesh. He speaks as the one who has lived among us. As we overhear Jesus, we learn that God’s character and purpose are identical to those of Jesus. Jesus who has fully and completely, made God’s name known. No longer do we have to wonder about the nature of God – God’s purpose and love have been made known in Jesus. At the same time, the reading teaches us a bit about ourselves, about God’s people. Jesus’ prayer frequently mentions the “world”—the world at once hostile to God and God’s anointed; and yet also the world that is truly beloved by God. Central to Jesus is not just that we know about his work, but that we know God through his life and his ministry.
One of the key things I recall one of my Seminary professors asking us to do each week was to look for the ‘lived experience’ in each of the books that we were reading. Whether it was the history of Lutherans from this century – the last century – or centuries ago – we were to try and find ways that an individual or group of people was able to ‘live their faith’, in whatever their particular context happened to be. Sometimes it was obvious – teens and young adults who were early advocates for women’s suffrage and civil rights. Sometimes less so – trying to eke out a ‘glimmer’ of lived experience where there was barely a glimpse of the Gospel being proclaimed or witnessed by God’s people.
Like our lessons, Jesus wants us to realize that his life and ministry reflect God’s love and salvation for us. God’s saving grace. He prays that people will have the experience of knowing God through him – by continuing to serve and to care for others. The new reality that lies ahead for Jesus’ followers is formed by God’s vision of justice and care for one another and for community. Knowing God through Christ’s work strengthens relationships, just as it did with the disciples. And it creates understanding between us and others, binding us together in unity with God. And how we do that is different for each of us – for some it’s prayer… others worship… or teaching… it’s education, conversation and dialogue… dedication to a particular ministry or cause – advocating for justice… Whatever our commitment; whatever we are called to do, our response to ministry is what transforms us as God’s servant people. Regardless of the path we follow that brings us to this oneness with God, the Holy Spirit draws us closer revealing God’s presence in our lives. The more we take part in the life of the church, the more we’re able to see God.
Back in my Seminary class – we read stories about individuals, about immigrant groups, diverse communities – sometimes so different from one another – racially, ethnically, and socially – people from opposite ends of the political spectrum. All of them coming together to be the church of Christ in the world. And there’s the reality, that it’s not always without challenges.
Our lessons remind us that there is plenty to be done in building and strengthening God’s kingdom, here and now in this time, in the present. Healing, unity among God’s people to repair and sustain relationships; understanding that we’re bound by God’s love with responsibility to care for, to mutually support one another. With the reminder that what unites us is stronger than what divides us, in this, our own lived experience.
Whether we’re looking back for the lived experience of others or looking ahead as we expand our own experiences of faith sharing God’s love and grace, we are called to be God’s servant people and to do Christ’s work in the world. We’re called to learn – to live – and to come to greater understanding of one another – as we share the gift of Christ in the world. As people of faith and as this community of Faith, we will continue to find new ways to proclaim God’s Word together; with opportunities to help transform God’s world. Each day provides a new beginning to be the church in the world. It’s up to us to use each day, to give thanks for each new beginning, and to share that gift. For God’s sake, for the sake of Christ, and for the sake of the world. Amen.