Seventh Sunday of Easter 28 May 2017
(Acts 1:6-14 Psalm 68 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11 John 17:1-11)
“Being a Healing Church!”
[This sermon was preached on a weekend following the unexpected and unanticipated death of the spouse of our Associate Pastor. This sermon was intended to bring the Good News of the Gospel that when we, as a community of faith, stand united in the midst of suffering and loss, we most truly become a healing church]
[The first part of the sermon used images from the 2009 film Pixar “Up!”]
On this final Sunday of Easter we are sandwiched between the bittersweet departure of Jesus on Ascension Day (this past Thursday) and the sacred bedlam of Pentecost (next Sunday).
Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles bridges these two events. Verses 6-11 describe the Ascension episode. Verses 12-14 give us a snapshot of the early church.
Let’s look at both events and how they might come together in our lives today, with a special emphasis on how to be a healing church in times of grief and loss.
I begin with the Ascension event by using the 2009 Pixar classic film entitled, “Up.” We hear the story of Carl Fredricksen, a balloon salesman in his late 70’s who lives alone, after the death of his wife, Ellie. The film begins describing the lives of this wide-eyed couple in love, dreaming to explore imaginary worlds, always wearing their aviator goggles. They grow up, get married, build a house together, but then Ellie, on her deathbed, hands her husband their Book of Adventures telling him not to get stuck in his past experiences, but to live the adventures of his life.
Many things get in the way, but eventually we see, with hundreds of helium balloons, his home as it floats up over the clouds to a place he had always dreamed of visiting–Paradise Falls.
As a nerdy pastor loving animated films but who cannot help looking for symbols and deeper meaning, here are two things that caught my attention in this “UP” film.
First, there is a lovable, but pretty useless kid, named Russell, who ends up as an unexpected stowaway on this journey to Paradise. Secondly, this boy has a GPS tracker, which he thinks will be useful in finding their way; but almost immediately, Russell drops it and it floats down, through the clouds. So we have an elderly man and a young kid heading off to Paradise, with no clear idea how to get there, and no idea what is in store for them.
There’s an awful lot in this film about how muddled and out of control life can be.
But in the midst of the messiness of life, we also find love and compassion, and making sure every day counts, realizing more often than not that this means expanding our vision of how things can be. This leads to the next three verses–[vs. 12-14]–a snapshot of the early church.
We are told that “…they go back to Jerusalem, go to the room upstairs together and are constantly in prayer.”
The awkwardness we recognize is that the disciples are still stuck in their old vision of life. The very last thing they ask Jesus before He ascends is: “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the Kingdom of Israel? [vs. 6]. The apostle are still trapped in their past! They are still looking for a warrior Messiah! Even Ellie in the film, urges Carl not to stay fixed in their old adventures.
But Jesus doesn’t go there. Instead, Jesus promises that we will share in a different power, the power of the Kingdom—a power that makes enemies friends and propels us beyond any narrow-minded vision of church. We are called to be the “church,” called to be devoted to each other and devoted to prayer; and by the grace of God, called not to allow the hope from which we live, ever to be too parochial, too intolerant or too small.
In the reading from First Peter, we are given a deeper insight into “being church.” We stand on the promise that in the midst of fretful times, we have a God who cares. We are assured that even though suffering will always be part of our lives, Christ is always with us in the suffering to “restore, support and strengthen us.”[5:13]
We also are told that the devil “like a roaring lion. . . prowls around, looking for someone to devour” [vs 8]. I suppose there are many ways to interpret this verse. I will strongly suggest that the greatest form of violence the devil can ever render upon a community of faith is to separate people one from another—for people to forget or to abandon this notion of our connectability, of being united as the Body of Christ with all Christians. To forget or abandon is to sever the most important tie that binds people of faith together: the commitment to love one another as Christ loved.
This kind of loving is possible only as we remain united to the abiding love of Jesus Christ! This unity that Jesus prays for with his disciples is the foundation that makes us most “church” today.
On this Seventh Sunday of Easter we are reminded yet one more time how messy and chaotic the church can sometimes be. Yet, in the very midst of chaos, we are called as Easter people to embrace that after death there is life with all the saints. If there is such a thing as a GPS to guide us through this disarray toward Paradise, it is the Power of the Holy Spirit promised by Jesus before He was taken up into the clouds.
We are most deeply and most authentically “church” when we are bound together by the Power of that Holy Spirit, becoming mirrors of love and hope, holding each other in prayer and affection. May the tie that binds us today be, in its deepest way, the love that unites us with Pastor Andrew, his family, each other, and all those who suffer both near and far, all who are in need of Jesus’ healing love. May we, certainly, be such a church! Amen.