From Disciples To Apostles

I’ve often wondered how the disciples must have felt on the Sunday we are commemorating today! They must have been pretty confused.  First, Jesus had called them to leave everything and follow him on his very difficult three-year journey and ministry. Their hopes had been so high in those days!

But then, it had all come crashing down! He’d been arrested, beaten up, convicted of crimes he never committed, and executed like a common criminal!  They were devastated, So, they huddled together for safety and for support, and then some women of their company brought the wonderful news that he was not dead after all…or rather, he was not dead anymore!

At first, of course, the disciples didn’t believe it, but then they too began to experience his risen Presence in a variety of ways and circumstances and they were overjoyed that it wasn’t over after all! Yet, after only forty days, Jesus’ presence was withdrawn from them again. Something about having to return to the Father…described by our Collect today as “being exalted with great triumph to God’s kingdom in heaven.”

But Jesus’ Ascension must not have seemed like “triumph” to them at first. It must have seemed like another defeat…another desertion!  Where was Jesus now? They remembered him saying something about “going where they could not go.” They remembered something about being told that it was to their “advantage” for him to go way; for if he did not, the “Counselor…(their Advocate) would not come to them. (John 17:7)

Well, they had no clue what that meant!  All they knew was that Jesus was gone again. So, they did what they had done before – they made their way back to Jerusalem, worshipped with their fellow Jews in the Temple, and met together once again for safety and for support…and to try and figure out what to do next!

Undoubtedly, they would have pored back over his teaching to try and figure out if there were hints about what to expect. Perhaps they would have focused particularly on things Jesus said to them on that last night…at the Supper. They would have especially remembered what he prayed for…what he prayed for them!

“I ask not only on behalf of these,” Jesus had prayed, “but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they all may be one.”  So clearly he wanted them to remain together – to be one Body, one community, not to fragment and splinter apart.

“As you, Father are in me and I am in you, “he continued, “may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” So Jesus obviously wanted them to remain connected to him and to his God so that people would believe that Jesus came from God and that he was speaking for God.

And finally, they remembered him praying for something they thought very odd, “Righteous Father, “ he said, “I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:26)

Somehow Jesus was saying that he wanted them to be filled not only with God’s love, but that they would actually be filled with him!  With his very life!  Well, on the one hand, we don’t want to get too far ahead of the story here! Next week is when we will celebrate just how that “indwelling” happened – by the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit on those same disciples on the Day of Pentecost.

On the other hand, we already know “the rest of the story,” don’t we? We live on this side of Pentecost, and we know that it was the pouring out of God’s mighty Spirit on Pentecost that changed those frightened “disciples” (learners) into confident “apostles” (those who were sent)!

Today (at the 10:30 service) we have the opportunity to continue that process. Two members of our parish, Andrew Petersen and Carly Savareid, will be changed from “disciples” (learners) into “apostles” (ones who are sent). Like the other 20 members of our Wednesday night Catechism class, they have spent the last six months learning something about the Christian faith (and about The Episcopal Church). Today, they are prepared to begin putting that faith into action in new ways.

I don’t know exactly what form that action will take, and maybe they don’t either yet. But Andrew will be baptized and confirmed in one action, making his adult decision to follow Christ. And Carly will renew the promises which were made on her behalf by her parents and godparents when she was just a little one – and she will take those vows on herself today, becoming an “adult Christian” in the eyes of this Church.

I hope both of them, and all of you, will continue to be “disciples” because learning is a lifelong experience, and we will never exhaust all there is to know about God and about God’s will for our lives. But I do hope that they, and all of you, will also take their responsibility as “apostles” seriously from this day forward. To know that they (and we) are “sent out” from this place, Sunday by Sunday, to be God’s people in the world!

In the family, in school, at the workplace, in our neighborhoods: we are to do exactly what Jesus prayed for those first apostles to do – to remain united to him through worship and prayer and study…to remain united to us here by faithful attendance at worship and by engaging in some ministry either here or in the community…and to know that (because of the prayers we will say for them today…and by the laying on of hands) Jesus no longer has to be “out there” somewhere, some distant Presence or Power to be obeyed and followed.

But that they (and we) can always rely on Jesus’ promise in today’s Gospel: that the love of God we see so clearly in Jesus may actually be “in here”, in our hearts. And, more than that, Jesus himself will be in us…by his spirit!  What a gift!

What a God we have!

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