Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
1 John 5:9-13
I might use the first reading from acts to discuss how the church selects leaders. I’d probably diminish using a lottery system (is this a proof text for gambling?), and look for a metaphor that describes how people get selected by God for leadership. The lottery dimension might open up other metaphors using games that require luck, but I’d probably allude to the Hegelian world-spirit idea. I would also emphasize that sometimes we just get chosen. Might be useful to find modern Matthias stories. I imagine Matthias being on the bench, and then being asked to pinch hit. Does he hit a homerun? Who knows? He’s in the lineup.
The Psalmist says “1:3 They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.”
Using the idea of leadership, this is one way of describing who leaders are supposed to be. Granted trees do sway; but the continue to grow and bear fruit. What is wicked will not last.
The Letter this week is a useful proof-text for those who believe that only a verbal, intellectual agreement with the proposition that Jesus is the Son of God is the way to eternal life. “5:11-12 And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” I think that “God gave us eternal life and this life is in his son” is a very important phrase that is worth memorizing. It does encapsulate the Gospel precisely.
It is also a truism. It doesn’t give us wisdom in itself. It feels much more like a chant. The hard work for the preacher is defining what eternal life is, and what it means that eternal life is in the Son. I usually interpret “eternal” as “fullness,” so we are looking for a fullness, a completion of our task. We have a life, and we are asked to do work. God will give us what we need to do the work, if we know his Son. But what did the son offer us? Peace. For those who find the language of “life in his son” opaque, I would begin with the promise of peace and wholeness. Once we know our mission in life and have the space to fulfill that mission, we are promised a life worth living: an “eternal life.” Jesus Christ, by offering his faith that destroyed the embarrassment of a failed God, actually returns the power to us. To have faith in his Son, is to accept the gift that our work matters, and that we can do the work. Jesus did not take the power back into himself. He gave it to us.
The sermon in John continues. As I said last week, it has the feel of a hymn, a chant, a series of words designed to be etched into the hearts of the cult. They are like glue, or stitches, to heal a broken people. They tend to speak for themselves liturgically.
However, I might use this as an opportunity to explore “sanctification.” Is it something that happens when we bless? What happens to us when we are sanctified? Is it like washing our hands? Or are we set aside? How so, when Jesus then sends us back into the world. Sanctification is about setting some boundaries, at the very least, so that we can learn to see and discern more clarity. Sanctification, perhaps, allows us to understand the “truth.”
Now “truth” is pretty complex, so I am dissatisfied with leaving such a thick, powerful word become simply a song for the community. Obviously, as a philosopher, such a word requires some exploration. I’m always tempted to move quickly to Augustine’s sentence “all truth is one” (I believe he said this in his commentary on Genesis, but it might also be in On the Trinity, but I forget), and defend how science has examined truth. But I might explore how wrong platitudes are sometimes, and that truth tends to dismantle the convenient beliefs we have. I might explore how truth in Christ destabilizes other “truths” especially those that revolve around social stability, wealth and violence.
Last week my core metaphor was sky-diving and rock climbing. If I go the sanctification route, I might use metaphors that have to do with containers, clutter, and organization – for sanctification is, in some sense, a description of how we organize the soul.