Lessons designated by the Common Lectionary include: Acts 1:6-14, Psalm 68:1010, 32-35, I Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11 and John 17:1-11.
All of the lections assigned for this week “show the church at work, seeking to embrace, embody, and enact its convictions in the world. The new rule of God permits new human life in the world. Such new human life is not easy, but it is possible. That new life requires discipline, but it is also marked by a relentless buoyancy that refuses the despair of the world and the seduction of the world. The ground of such a bold refusal is God’s own powerful resolve, which permeates the character of the church. Because of Easter, this community is indeed an Easter-powered community!” (Texts for Preaching: Brueggemann et al., pg.319)
“…you will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (I Peter 4:12). “Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering” I Peter 5:8-9).
In an interview with Bill Moyers, Karen Armstrong, expositor of religious tolerance in her many books, concludes that religion “isn’t about believing things. It’s about what you do. It’s ethical alchemy. It’s about behaving in a way that changes you.” Certainly, Jesus’ resurrection changed the behavior of the disciples and shaped the life of the earliest of those assemblies that followed his way. In our lection from Acts, it is clear that the disciples were entering into a new time, a break from the past. But they weren’t at all sure about what that future held. Some wondered about the possibility of a restoration of the Davidic kingdom, a political possibility that continues even to this very day! But no, Jesus tells them that it isn’t for them “to know the times or periods” God intends. Instead, through the power of God’s spirit they are to be witnesses to the power and the truth of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. They are mandated to live their lives with compassion and courage in the love of neighbor.
Recently the people of Joplin, Missouri have had an extreme test of their faith and life. Susan Campbell, who holds a degree from Hartford Seminary and writes a regular column for the Hartford Courant, has family members in Joplin. She’s been visiting them and wrote her column this week as an eye-witness to the devastation of that city. She cites the obituaries in the Joplin Globe “full of stories of people who went to be with the Lord, went home to heaven…” She writes that rather than being defeated by the catastrophe of that brutal tornado, they “bow their heads out of respect for the dead and then roll up their sleeves to lift a case of bottled water.” And then she slips in a word about the church which, faithful to its message tells its people and the rest of us that “the record winds were not God’s handiwork but simply a weather event.” Rather, “God is found in the aftermath…” as when average persons beset by tragedy cling to the message of faith that they’ve heard and experienced through the Church.
Those who follow the lectionary learn this week that it recalls God’s mighty acts in Jesus, both his resurrection and his ascension. “Yet the eye of the people of God is on the future, for just ahead lies the challenge of bearing the truth of what God has done to a world that will respond to this good news sometimes in joy, sometimes in anger, but rarely in indifference. And so the people of God pause, in prayer, and gather their strength for the days shortly to come” (Texts for Preaching, Breuggemann et al., pg. 321).
We as human beings never know when or where the tornados of life will strike, but with the disciplines of faith and the witness of those who’ve gone before us, our lections this week give the assurance that we can resist the “roaring lion” of moral and natural evil, live with confidence and trust the future!