This Easter season, the fifty days between the Resurrection and Pentecost might be called our time of reassurance. Jesus has completed his mission. He has become man, born of the Virgin Mary, nurtured in the carpenter's shop, launched in his ministry by turning water into wine at a wedding. He has become a teacher and successfully achieved the true mark of a rabbi of his time, in that he has attracted student - disciples. With the twelve and the rest of the entourage who accompanied them, he has traveled in the region, not only teaching but also performing miracles of healing and feeding thousands. His teachings about the nature of God in general and his own claim to be a son of God have so annoyed the established church of his day that its leaders have seen fit to have him killed. He has suffered under Pontius Pilate, been crucified, died, and been buried. He has descended to the dead and, on the third day following his crucifixion, he has risen. The Lord is risen indeed. And thus we say alleluia, alleluia.
So, now, what remains to be done? It is time to prepare for departure. Since the euphoria of Easter, we have seen Jesus. He has appeared to his disciples in a variety of times and places. He has walked with them to Emmaus, given fishing advice from the shores of the Sea of Tiberias, and cooked breakfast for the fishermen. He has shown his scars to Doubting Thomas and been known to his disciples in the breaking of the bread.
His behavior is that of someone wrapping up the loose ends of a major project. He is as one going on a journey, packing the suitcases, running through a mental list of details, which needs attention before the departure.
For us, that list would include things like turning off the stove, unplugging the iron, stopping the newspaper, arranging for the mail to be held, asking the neighbors to keep an eye on our home, and in other ways trying to assure ourselves that no harm would come in our absence. Jesus is doing much the same thing. This season might be considered a time of confirmation, admonition, assurance, and comfort.
The past few weeks have brought us stories, which confirmed that Jesus is indeed alive. He has reminded us that we will be known as his disciples through our love for one another.
Today's readings are of assurance, comfort, and a glimpse of the hazards and temptations that may come to those who go forth to proclaim this good news. Let us consider first those risks and temptations by looking at the story of Paul and Barnabas.
As he is speaking, Paul catches sight of a man who has been crippled since birth. We can only imagine what Paul might have been saying that caused the man to believe. We have only a suggestion of what shape this fledgling faith was taking though its strength is certain. We can only imagine what Paul saw in that man's face that caused Paul to call in a loud voice, "Stand upright on your feet." And some of us can only imagine what it might have been that caused that man to do exactly what Paul told him to do! A man who had never walked stood up. And the crowd was amazed.
They were so amazed that they decided Paul and Barnabas must be gods. Remember, this was in a time and place where there were plenty of gods to go around. The Roman emperors had not yet gotten into the habit of assuming their own godliness. They were just beginning to do that. Even without the emperors, there were lots of stories about gods walking the earth, mixing with mortals, performing a few miracles, but mostly causing trouble.
Perhaps, the crowd's response was not so surprising as it would be today. Nevertheless, Paul and Barnabas must have been appalled at the response to their ministry. There they were, one moment teaching and then, only a short time later, frantically trying to restrain a crowd from offering sacrifices to them.
While I doubt few of us have ever been declared gods by those who see evidence of our ministry, aren't we sometimes astonished at the response? What happens as a result of God's work is usually not what we expect. If they thought about it at all, Paul and Barnabas probably expected the crowd to view the healing as confirmation of the truth of what they had been teaching. Perhaps a few converts would be the result of the afternoon's work. Instead, the priest of Zeus' temple is gathering up oxen, garlands, and a crowd to offer them sacrifices!
Why are we hesitant to go forth boldly in God's name? Perhaps it is not the possibility of failure. Rather, it may be the very real possibility of success! The whole story of Paul tells us plainly that success in God's work may result in long, tiring journeys, temple riots, jail terms, and hasty departures from towns just a few steps ahead of persons who seek to do us harm.
The simple truth is that when are faithful and obedient to God's command, the world changes and that can be frightening.
This brings us to the assurance part of this morning's teaching as Jesus introduces the third part of the Trinity. Jesus tells his disciples of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send to us. Though the Jesus who is with us in this period is planning to depart, he does not leave us unattended. His instructions are clear. The Holy Spirit will teach us all that we need to know and remind us of all that Jesus has said.
These, then, are our tasks, to learn and remember all that he teaches us. As Christians, we are called to study, to that process that in "church talk" we call "formation." Unless we are intentional about forming ourselves as Christians, learning Christ's teaching by living them, how can we possibly expect to remember all that he asks us to remember, all that he asks us to do. Unless we reflect on the love God had for us in sending his son, the love Jesus showed for us in his death, his teachings about that love, how can we dare face the prospect of success in our ministry? The truth is simple in the telling. When we learnâ¦ when we rememberâ¦ when we live what we have learned and what we remember, the world changes.
The blind have sight.
The deaf hear.
The hungry eat.
The naked no longer shiver in their nakedness.
The homeless sleep beneath a roof and on a proper bed.
The widows and orphans are cared for and protected.
And all have the dignity that belongs to every child of God.
Today, Jesus calls us to remember that he gives to us not as the world gives. Let not our hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. He is indeed preparing for a journey. Soon, he will return to the Father. But he leaves behind the Holy Spirit.
It is time for us to prepare for our own journeyâ¦into the worldâ¦in faithâ¦in the hope, expectation and fear of successâ¦ knowing the results may not be what we expect but that God is with us, forever and ever. Amen.