We Have Arrived at the End..., Easter 7 (B) - 2009

May 24, 2009

We have arrived at the end of the Easter season in the church calendar. Throughout the season we heard the stories once again recounting the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and we read about how the apostles, disciples, and followers of Jesus adjusted to the idea of Scripture fulfilled.

Like the apostles, we have been given time, through the stories, to understand how this journey and especially how the resurrection helps us to be what we have been called to be. This has been a period of discernment as we redefine what Easter means and how it changes who we are and our lives.

Today’s gospel takes it to the next level. This is the point in our journey where we ask ourselves how God is calling us and what God is calling us to be and to do.

Discernment is no easy task. When each of the disciples was called by Jesus to follow him, we remember that most of them dropped what they were doing with hardly a second thought. We were amazed by their clarity and direction, and we certainly had to acknowledge the obvious charisma of Jesus. But now, when the disciples needed to fill the spot vacated by Judas, it becomes clear that discernment is not an easy process. Jesus has not called the next apostle; it is up to the community to act, using the model he left them.

Why isn’t it easy then to recognize a call, or to affirm a call, or to act on a call? There are the lucky few who seem to know, with great confidence, what they are called to do. For others it is not so obvious, but with any luck – or grace – they listen and act.

This reading from Acts seems all too familiar in the church. Whether it is calling a priest to a congregation, a bishop to a diocese, or any of the various other call processes, discernment is essential.

The apostles seem either to be overwhelmed by the process or just unable to grasp the need for discernment, because they end up making their choice by drawing lots. We might not want to admit it, but sometimes I think we do exactly the same thing personally and in community when we are trying to discern God’s will for us and our call. Discernment cannot come from the flip of a coin. Discernment is a difficult but necessary process. Without it, how could we even imagine following the path that has been set before us or using the gifts God gave us to do what we have been called to do?

How can we know what the process of discernment should look like? Some guidelines for us to consider are found in the gospel reading today. This reading describes what Jesus prays for us. Jesus prays that the community be protected from evil; that the community be unified; that the community fulfill Jesus’ joy; and that the life of the church be distinct from the life of the world.

His prayer brings to mind the particular outcomes we seek in a discernment process, especially when taken in the context of this post-Easter period: new life coming out of death. As the world seemed to crack open, allowing the new light of Christ to be seen, we begin to understand this new light as the warmth of security, the comfort of safety, and the hope found in love.

Jesus prayed that the community be protected from evil. Some Native people would say this is to walk the Red Road, or in a Christian sense, to walk the path of righteousness.

In many Native cultures, decisions are made by consensus. As you can imagine, this process takes some time, and the overall affect is a bonding of the community, drawing it together in a closely woven, interdependent life.

Fulfilling Jesus’ joy might be best understood as modeling our lives after Jesus’ life and living the gospel imperative to love our neighbors as ourselves. That is why God gave his only begotten son to be fully human, so that he might bring the world back onto the path.

For the life of the church to be set apart or distinct from the rest of the world, Christians must first see themselves as sanctified, holy, and sacred beings. Knowing that God made us whole and holy from the very beginning, uniquely blessed with all the gifts we need to be God’s reflection in the world, sets us apart. Living in this way also makes it possible for others to see our gifts and to see God in us.

And as Christians, for what will we be known? Will we be known for damaging our mother earth out of greed to the point where we end life as we know it? Will we use our voice for justice and peace rather than to further violence and conflict? Will we invite prayerful contemplation in every decision, knowing that the answer is there, we only need to be still so we might hear God’s call?

Jesus’ simple but profound prayer in today’s gospel has the potential to be life-changing and life-giving. Imagine putting his prayer at the center of your own discernment process. Seeking to be on the right path, coming to understand this path after considering every angle, seeking to understand it through the lens of resurrection and God’s love will most certainly set us apart.

As we approach Pentecost, let us be open to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Let us move from the joy of Easter as a re-creation of new life with the hope that guides us all to be God’s love in the world.


Christopher Sikkema

Editor, Sermons That Work