Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; 1 John 5:9-13; John 17:6-19
What happens next? The seventh Sunday of Easter is all about what happens after resurrection and after Jesus’ ascension. The whirlwind of fear, grief, more fear, confusion, joy and nascent understanding gives way to a new normal. Judas (that one destined to be lost or the one allotted his share in this ministry depending how one wants to understand the betrayer’s role) has gone on to what? Glory? Judgment? Both? Now he fully knows and is fully known and I am hoping that with God’s great mercy even Judas is surprised by grace. The 11 feel compelled to be 12 again and the lot falls on Matthias. We hear nothing more of Joseph called Barabbas known as Justus. I suspect he is like so many other disciples through the ages: He keeps doing the work, doing his best to follow Jesus, trying to make his Christianity matter in his life and in the life of the world until he, too, meets God face to face.
The 12, then 11, now 12 again must get on with the business of following Christ now that the earthly, resurrected Jesus has returned to his Father. They, like us, must live into a new, uncharted normal of being faithful to the One who calls and sends, promises the Holy Spirit and grants us peace, even when we are not so sure of all of those things.
The season of testimony begins — for the 11, for Matthias and for us. The time to testify to what we have seen and know has come. Are we ready to tell the truth, the whole truth, no matter the cost, circumstance or reception?
That is what is at stake for disciples of Jesus Christ and that is why Jesus prays fervently that we will stay the course. Protect them, God, he prays. Sanctify them, God. Send them, God. This chapter in John’s Gospel is like overhearing a private and intimate conversation between Jesus and Abba. Reading the pleading of Jesus on behalf of his friends makes one want to both lean in and turn away. Should we be privy to such raw emotion and heart-felt requests? Jesus fulfilled his mission and now they must fulfill theirs. Like him, the world will reject and persecute them. Grace and mercy are hard sells in a world that glorifies greed and celebrates retribution. Protect them, God. Sanctify them in the truth that is increasingly rejected, God.
That’s the new normal, for the 12 and for disciples ever since. Testify to the truth no matter the cost, knowing that Jesus prays for us and God protects us. Such stalwart testimony even in the face of the world’s skepticism, rejection and persecution somehow completes the joy of those who keep at it.
The reality that joy does not necessarily come with the affirmation and accolades of culture but instead through a commitment to Christ’s truth, no matter how often experienced, still sounds suspect. Why else do we keep chasing after that which does not satisfy instead of following Jesus Christ?
Why do we believers so often capitulate to the world rather than live the words received from our Lord?
Well, if living in the way, the truth and the life was easy, Jesus would not have prayed so fervently for us on the cusp of the end of his earthly life. We forget that the door is narrow and that while Jesus’ burden is light and his yoke is easy, bearing his cross means losing our lives.
But what does such a sanctified life look like? If we are not caring for the poor in Calcutta or part of the Confessing Church in Nazi Germany, how do we testify to the truth? Live the disciples’ new normal in our own daily life? If we aren’t being rejected and persecuted, are we being faithful?
James Cone spoke to a group gathered at Saint Mark Presbyterian Church in North Bethesda, Maryland, last year. The Outlookpartnered with National Capital Presbytery and Saint Mark Church to bring Cone to speak about his book, “The Cross and the Lynching Tree.” He lectured with power and passion. He didn’t pull any punches. He said at one point something along the lines that it was a miracle African-Americans didn’t hate white people. Even while people like me were eager to hear his prophetic word, we squirmed a little at the truth he spoke plainly. During the question-and-answer period a white woman shared sincerely her agreement with his points and then said, “But what do we do?” Again, honest, heart-felt, but somehow communicating that perhaps the task was too hard, big and intractable. Cone paused and then said something that will not leave me: “You know what you need to do. The question is, are you willing to do it?” He went on to ask if she, and others, were willing to pay the price that it will require to bring about justice long denied.
Cone shared his testimony, testified to the truth and then asked us: Will you do the same, no matter the cost? Will you do the good you know or capitulate to the evil that comes so easily?
Having heard the truth and believed, will we do what the truth requires?
Too often we imagine that doing what we know needs to be done is too hard, impossible. Hence, Jesus’ fervent and continuous prayer: Sanctify them in the truth. Protect them. Send them.
Our new normal of discipleship requires that we testify to the truth no matter the cost, whatever our context. We are called to pay attention to the nudges and shouts that say: You know what to do, now do it.
Testifying to the truth means going out into the world, being aware of our neighbors, engaging in what impacts our communities for good or for ill, speaking up, standing beside and answering “yes” to paying the price for doing what we know God is calling us to do.
What does that look like? For some it is caring for the poorest of the poor in the streets of Calcutta. For others it is sheltering a Jewish family in their attic. For others it is making sure all their local schools are safe and resourced with supplies and trained, fairly-paid teachers. For some it could be studying the history of the place where they live, looking at the zoning laws and showing up at the planning commission meeting. For others it is taking in a foster child or working on prison reform or fighting against gerrymandering.
For each and every disciple of Jesus Christ, Matthias and the one known as Justus, for Peter, Martha, Mary and the countless ones whose names were never recorded but whose testimony to the truth spoken and lived made an impact, it means being sent, going out, loving the world God so loves, doing what we know Jesus calls us to do, no matter the price.
Jesus, pray for us.
- When you look around your community, what needs to be done? Are you willing to pay the price to do it?
- Have you ever shared your testimony? How do we share our testimony to our belief in Jesus Christ in words and in deeds?
- What does it mean to be sanctified? Sanctified in the truth?
- When Jesus prays that his followers be protected, what do we need protection from?
- When have you experienced joy as result of your life of faith? Do we connect joy with our daily discipleship?
- Use the verses from John 17 as you daily prayer this week. Pay attention to the verbs and be conscious of them as you go about your day.
Want to receive Looking into the Lectionary content in your inbox on Mondays? Click here to join our email list!