Preparing for what’s to Come

The Rev. Robert P. Travis

Sunday Sermon  – 8am online and 10:00am Chapel of St. John the Divine, Saunderstown RI 7th Sunday of Easter RCL Year B 5/16/2021 Scripture Text: Acts 1:15-17,21-26, Psalm 1, 1 John 5:9-13, John 17:6-19

Find the Video on Facebook ( https://fb.watch/5zAa14ukLR/ ) includes Sermon from 26.30min-42.06

Sermon Text:

This is the in-between time.

In between Jesus’ Ascension

and the promised coming of the Holy Spirit.

Just before Jesus ascended, he told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Waiting is not something that we’re very good at doing. When we’re forced to wait, as we saw during this last year, as we waited for it to be safe to gather again, we learned that waiting can exacerbate disunity, it can aggravate discord between people.

 

So Jesus telling his disciples to wait, was like a challenge to their wisdom.

 

And what did the disciples decide to do while they were waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit? Now Jesus didn’t tell them, of course, that the Holy Spirit was coming in 10 days. He just said wait in Jerusalem, until you’re clothed with power from on high. They didn’t know that was going to be 10 days later. It could have been a month, or a year or more! So what did they do? They said let’s have the first ever annual meeting of the church. Yes, that’s right. The annual meeting or the diocesan convention, predated the actual birthday of the church on the day of Pentecost. They said let’s get together and vote, for who will be the next Apostle to replace Judas.

 

Now, in all seriousness. It was very important for them to do this. Because they knew that there needed to be 12 apostles. It was as if the bylaws of the church that was yet to be founded said that the vestry would have 12 members. And in this case, of course, the bylaws of the church was the Old Testament. Which describe the 12 Tribes of Israel as the original division of the people of God. They knew that they were the people of God, and that it wasn’t an accident that Jesus chose twelve of them. So these 12 apostles represented the new leaders of the 12 tribes.

 

The group that was to become the church didn’t just sit around and wait for someone to organize them.

They wisely set to preparations and couched those preparations in prayer.

 

Why was this necessary? In the gospel reading today we heard Jesus’ high priestly prayer.

This was the summation of his prayers for his followers,

For his future church.

And what did he pray for us?

“Holy Father, protect them in your name

that you have given me,

so that they may be one,

as we are one.”

 

He recognized that we needed protection.

Protection from disunity,

protection from ourselves.

From the way that we as humans tend to fall into divisions so easily.

And the apostles recognized that organization is necessary to help bring unity in the church.

Because disunity can hinder any good works,

And when we’re united we can do great things together.

Organization is critical to make it possible to effectively accomplish the mission Jesus has left us with.

 

So how did they set about to organize this meeting and to make a good decision. First they set criteria.

Based on what was needed.

 

It was clear here that the criteria needed to be that the person to replace Judas needed to be found from the group of people who had been with Jesus, while he was alive, at least from the time of his baptism until his crucifixion, so that they could be effective witnesses to everything that he said and did. And when they came up with two of those people who were nominated for this role. The first thing that they did was they prayed! They prayed about what God wanted for this board of apostles, who God would choose. But they didn’t, just make the decision willy nilly. And they didn’t just shrug off all their responsibility on God, but actively took part in the decision making process.

 

They did it carefully and based on their own thoughts of what was needed. So while they did pray, and asked God for what God wanted, they did so after deciding what was important to them first. They worked as teammates if you will. As collaborators with God. And they ended up choosing Matthias as the Apostle to succeed Judas.

 

We don’t often like to think about the procedural things, the organizational things, that are necessary for our common life. In fact, when we have our annual meetings, we try to schedule them in such a way that people are already there when we start. Because we know from past experience that organizational stuff is not something that everybody wants to do. And sometimes it can be difficult to get people to show up for the meetings or answer the surveys or respond to the questionnaires that are needed for making these decisions. And yet they are important, and they are especially important in a season of waiting in an in-between time. That is what we’ve been in this year. This whole last year has been an in- between time. And yet while of course we were continuing to put much effort into continuing our worship. And in figuring out ways that we could continue to be the church even when we were kept away from gathering in-person. That wasn’t all that we accomplished.

 

We also continued to make plans and to organize in such a way that when we can get back together we were able to. Most effectively accomplish the mission of our churches.

 

One particular spect of our work in these past few months that I’d like to highlight so that you can understand what we’ve been doing and what I see as a true positive thing for our church, is the example of the Chapel of Saint John the Divine and its new committee structure.

If you go to that church, you might remember that years ago, under Katharine Mcduffie’s leadership as Senior warden, We organized a parish survey to get a sense from all the parishioners that the Chapel of Saint John the Divine of what they felt was important for our church to be doing in the next few years. Where we needed to focus our efforts.

Of course, this was before Covid.

But we did accomplish that survey and after the survey, Catherine led a strategic planning process, which allowed us to distill the results of that survey into some tasks that we wanted to accomplish as a church.

 

And how to accomplish those tasks? That Question led to the development of 5 small committees which would lead the work to carry out the desires of the congregation. I had first thought that maybe it wasn’t necessary in a small group of people to have even more discrete groups that each had a different focus. But what I’ve seen just in the past few months as the: Inreach Committee, The Building Visibility committee, The Community Engagement committee, The Stewardship committee, and the Christian Education committee, have been meeting, is that having a discrete task to work on and the people who are assigned to those particular tasks. Does help us to effectively carry out the mission. These different groups, while there’s some overlap between them work together better because they each know what they need to do. And I’m seeing we’re seeing the results of this work in programs that we’re planning for this summer. So as we emerge from this time of waiting, this in-between time of the pandemic. And we weren’t able to gather as we were used to. Spending time and effort to organize ourselves to be prepared for the reemergence of church life again. This has given us a head start.

 

I believe the Chapel of Saint John the Divine is poised to reengage the community in Saunderstown this summer in a way they weren’t even able to do before Covid. And that was due to the members of the church taking serious the challenge to prepare the organization that we needed. I hope that much fruit will result from this effort. And I’m grateful to Katharine, Nancy and all of the people who were willing to step up when asked to take on these specific roles.

As Matthias was willing to step up into the role of Apostle, when the need was presented to him.

 

While I have emphasized the efforts at the Chapel, it is important to say that Ascension has also been working to prepare for the reemergence. When we get together in person there will be the results of the completion of capital campaign projects among other reorganization of our common life there.

 

I bet you never thought of yourself as an apostle before, but you can see that when we faithfully engage in the important organizational aspects of our common life in the Church we are participating in the same work that the original apostles accomplished, even before the Holy Spirit had been poured out on them. While we look forward to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on our congregations, we likewise lay the groundwork for the growth that will result. The Holy Spirit is who grows the church as God gives growth to the plants in our gardens, but we have to build the garden structures on which the church can grow and thrive. I anticipate that we will see new growth in both our churches, when we emerge from this pandemic, as people seeking loving community, and spiritual life find our congregations, as we invite them to join us in-person. I invite you to continue to do the good work you have been doing, and make the preparations we need to grow and thrive in a new post-Covid reality.

Amen.

SCRIPTURE:

The Rev. Robert P. Travis

Father Rob goes by Father so that he remembers his duty to the people of God whom he serves. He’s been ordained since 2006, serving in Florida and Tennessee and before that served as a youth minister in Long Island, NY. More details