Third Sunday in Easter
April 15, 2018
Trinity and St. Jacob’s Lutheran Churches
Rev. Kirk Shipley, Interim Pastor
Sitting in the pew at the naval station chapel at Mayport Naval Station outside Jacksonville, Florida, around 1969 or 1970 I had just listened to us sing, what for me was one of slowest, dreariest, this side of a funeral dirge, hymn. I thought, “I hope we never have to sing that song again.”
Then Chaplain Turner, full head of wavy gray and black hair, nicely setting off his black academic robe, took the pulpit. During the sermon he told us of this famed composer of the 1920’s and thirties. He had a stroke and could speak a few words with great effort. Friends had taken him to a concert featuring his works. On the ride home they commented how wonderful it must be to look back on a life of such marvelous accomplishment. The composer struggled, straining to speak. He finally got out, “There is more!” One of the ‘mores’ was that hymn I had found so awful ten to fifteen minutes earlier.
Needless to say my attitude toward the hymn changed immediately. While it would probably not one I would select to sing, a few months later I was wishing I could recall the composer and the hymn. Every once in awhile when I am in the mood to wish I could call it a life I picture a man who had done much sitting in the back seat of ninety thirties touring cart working to blurt out “There is more!”
In essence those are the words Jesus concludes this post resurrection discourse to his disciples before he led them near Bethany and ascended to Heaven when he closes, “And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
I’m fairly positive the lectionary stops after verse 48 for a liturgical calendar reason. There are five more weeks before Pentecost. At that point in his message to them the disciples have been given much. It is a great ending. “Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.’” The disciples are given the task to tell the Good News.
The Good News they have been instructed to share is life changing. For whatever reasons, I have watched a few movies that told stories true and dramatic of the complete reorienting that comes from forgiving and being forgiven. A few weeks ago I shared a bit from End of the Spear about how a real relationship developed between an Ecuadoran tribal leader and the son of the missionary he had slain. I viewed a Japanese movie Eternal Love which showed the importance of forgiving in a different marital triangle story where peace came after decades with forgiving. Most recently Linda and I saw I Can Only Imagine that related the reconciliation and transformed life of the Christian music group Mercy Me’s lead singer and writer Bart Millard and his alcoholic and abusive father. He left home and his father slowly let Jesus Word transform his life. Bart learned he needed to let go of the past and validate his father’s changes. The disciples have been given a great mission and most important purpose.
As great as that charge to them is, it is also rather overwhelming. Given some reflective time I can see them voicing the thoughts, ‘Okay where do we begin? How do we share this understanding of Jesus fulfilling scripture and the need to turn and accept and live the forgiveness Jesus brings? Given enough time it might even be possible to respond like Moses did at the burning bush and come with all the reasons that they are inadequate for the task. They might go forth and be discouraged if they receive some of the responses Jesus received from some of the temple and synagogue leaders, and civil authorities.
In the discourse concluding verse Jesus addresses such possible, even probable concerns. He is not sending them like small boats into deep and vast seas. He will provide assistance which God has promised. They will be clothed with power from on high. They will go out as accompanied and prepared witnesses. They go out with more security than I would feel if I had to address a stadium size gathering at age 12 knowing that the great Christian orators Billy Graham and Dr. Martin Luther King had gone over and approved the message, prayed with me before, and were seated on either side. Jesus assurance to the disciples bolsters them. They will remain in Jerusalem pray, practice, encourage, and encounter people but await the promised powerful aid that will push them beyond, when and however it manifests itself.
Jesus promise that there is more to help us being messengers with his message of repentance and forgiveness was Good News for the disciples then and is Good News for today’s Christians. We live in a society that is placing us on the margin.
For example I caught a segment of a network show where the crime team has uncovered one of those cabals of military officers that have never existed in the history of this country, dedicated to putting those who favor their views in control. One of the outrages was ‘they intend to eliminate Islam in this country.” A few months earlier on a news network I caught one person listing outrages that are taking place in Central Asia and included Christians being persecuted to the point of death. The other person responded with “They’re only Christians.” Hitting any faith but Christianity is reprehensible, while hitting Christians is tolerable.
The more Jesus provides to help living and sharing his message it present. It is there in more intimate encounters that enabled an introvert like me to speak with a person who seemed to be troubled on a rapid transit station platform as I’m leaving a city I was only in for a few days of professional training and having that several minute encounter end in prayer. Reaching broader groups it is having a recognized actor Dennis Quaid star in a movie like I Can Only Imagine and share his writing a song in honor of his own mother because of what the role did for him and also sharing that he finds the key for living in Jesus’ words recorded in the Bible.
We can give thanks that with Jesus we are more than heirs of an almost 2,000 year old history. We have an ongoing companionship and power present with each generation to share what he has done, is doing, and will continue to do. The Good News is with Jesus there is always ‘More’ forgiveness, repentance and the power to help us pass it along. Amen.