I'm Still Not Getting It...
[audio http://www.opcbrookhaven.org/worship/audio/sermons/06-05-11.MP3]The disciples do wonders for my self-esteem.
Jesus hand-picked the twelve as he wandered through the Galilee preaching and teaching. For three years they have followed him through thick and thin. About two months before our morning’s passage they went with him to Jerusalem, watched him arrested, tried, and executed. They betrayed, they denied, they fled. Then the miracle comes. He rises from the dead, and they spend the next forty days with him.
It’s like getting the DVD of your favorite movie so that you can listen to the director’s commentary. To me, that’s a feeble parallel with what’s going on here. You may have thought that, as a fan, you caught everything; but you’ll never see it the same way once the director explains to you what they were trying to get across.
Back to the disciples: you would think that, with all of this exposure that they would start getting it. They were “this close” to Jesus. Of course they could be forgiven for thinking that Jesus was merely a political king – that’s what everyone else thought the Messiah was supposed to be. And of course they should be forgiven for their fear around the crucifixion – the game changes when lives are on the line.
Then again, they get this second chance! The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed!
How many of us get such an opportunity? We all have those moments where we’d like another shot. Have you ever been lying in bed when suddenly you think of that perfect comeback to the conversation you had that morning? Or what about that loved one you miss: do you have a scrolling list in your head of the questions you’d ask them, if only given the chance?
The disciples had been handed a gift: forty days of intensive review with the Messiah. And as he stands on the Mount of Olives ready to ascend, that’s when they ask him: “OK, just to be sure we’ve got this: Are you going to take over Herod’s throne now?” They’re still not getting it…It’s almost absurd!
Or is it?
Author Rita Mae Brown once wrote that the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.” Are the disciples the only crazy ones? Or have we, too, been known to lose our mental mooring from time to time?
A few weeks ago, through a strange set of circumstances, I ended up meeting a street preacher who lives in Chamblee – you know: the perfect place for pedestrian traffic. In any case, he needed some help with the yard at the house he was renting so that the city wouldn’t fine him. I found myself at his place, bringing a lawn mower and a circular saw which I was using to chop up the tree that had fallen in front of the house (those of you who know something about saws have probably already diagnosed my insanity here).
Actually, things were going quite well, and I had finished about half of the tree. Until…(you saw that coming, didn’t you?)…after one cut, I put the saw down on the ground and heard a “POP”; when I looked down, the electrical cord had been cut in two. I stood there, dumbfounded – both by my own stupidity as well as my good fortune that I hadn’t electrocuted myself.
The street preacher came over and saw what happened, and said, “I’ve got the same kind of saw inside. I’ll be right back.” Ya’ll can write the rest of the story for me, can’t you? On the very next cut, I did the exact same thing. POP!
The next day I found myself at the hardware store asking about fixing the electrical cord. When they directed me to the guy who would do it, of course, the question came up: “How did this happen?” And I had to admit my stupidity. “That’s not very smart,” he said in about as understated a way as possible. And then, I had to swallow my pride and admit that there was not just one, but two saws in my trunk in need of repair.
It was one of those moments where I could practically see the hand of God: “If you’re going to be stupid enough to keep doing this, then I’ll make sure and stop you” – that was the grace of the first pop – “I said, ‘I’ll make sure and stop you’” – that was the grace of the second. Apparently, I still wasn’t getting it…But fortune/luck/grace wasn’t giving up, either…
Which brings us back to the lesson from Acts.
No sooner have the disciples demonstrated their ignorance yet again that Jesus ascends out of sight. There they stand, mouths agape, staring skyward. Angels appear, telling them to get going. They do, yet even then, they just head back to what they know, that upper room in Jerusalem where they had their last meal together and hid out after Jesus’ arrest, and they pray.
We know what happens next: Pentecost. God’s persistent grace continues to be at work, despite the overwhelming evidence of insanity. They pray and pray and pray until finally the Holy Spirit forces them out onto the streets, and Peter finds himself doing the very thing that Jesus said he would, witnessing to the power of God in Christ right there in Jerusalem, just around the corner from where he had denied ever knowing him.
But that’s a story for another day.
What about you? Where is your insanity? What is it that fortune/luck/grace keeps bringing to your attention over and over and over again, yet you insist that things ought to work the way that you want them to work? Is it a relationship that needs attention, that you think will just “work itself out” but really needs intervention, divine or otherwise, more than you’re willing to admit? Is it a habit which has become all-consuming, that hides itself in the shadows right now, but you know will ultimately, sooner or later, drag you into the shaming light?
Is it something we have to face as a community, as a nation, that we choose to ignore to our own detriment? Is it the way we treat those who are unlike us with un-Christlike contempt? Is it our continuing sense of entitlement to the consumption of resources or “stuff” or debt that is nothing short of irresponsible stewardship?
Is it an inward focus that borders on selfishness and denies the cross that is at the center of all we say we believe as Christians? Or is it a dogged stubbornness to our own way of doing things while God weeps for us to open our eyes and ears and hearts to what it is that God desires?
We may not like it, or we may choose benign neglect, but what our faith requires of us is unmitigated love, boundless generosity, sacrificial selflessness, willing humility. It was no less true for the disciples than it is for us.
And this same faith requires it of us whether we are talking about it as individuals or as a church. And the tough thing about this all is that it leads us not to answers, but to a question: what does it all mean?
But therein lies the good news: God knows! God knows. And it is that same God whose grace and generosity pursue us to the ends of the earth, pursue us relentlessly despite our shortcomings and all of the evidence that points to the fact that we are nuts. Even if we hole ourselves up in places of familiarity and comfort, the Holy Spirit knows where we are, knows how to find us, and knows how to get us moving again.
Will we recognize it when it comes? Will we be willing to let go of how we want things to work so that God can be at work in us? Can we open ourselves up so that God can shape and reshape, mold and remold us as witnesses to Christ to the ends of the earth?
May it be so…