April 18, 2010
Commentary by Bruce G.Epperly
See also: [Year C Archive]
Today’s passages join mysticism with mission and resurrection with vocation. Encountering the living God present in the Risen Christ transforms our lives and sends us on a mission. Encountering God enables us to experience our vocations at this moment of our lives. (I use the plural “vocations” because I believe we have many callings and not just one.) Spiritual experiences are intended to inspire acts of service and healing that can transform the world.
A recent Pew Center Report on Religion noted that 50% of mainstream Protestants report having mystical experiences or moments of self-transcendence. The Pew Report suggests that half of the people in every congregation have had life-changing spiritual experiences, and that there may be a mystic sitting next to you in church! And, you may be that mystic! While every congregation, based on this study, should be a laboratory for spiritual experiences, few churches encourage the sharing of mystical experiences, despite the fact that our faith is grounded in experiences of the Holy. I believe that when people share their mystical, or God-moments, and make commitments to spiritual formation, congregations will thrive and become places of growth, transformation, and healing.
Acts 9 describes the Apostle Paul’s encounter with the Risen Jesus. Committed to the Jewish faith and tradition of his parents, Paul sees the growing Christian movement as a threat. He is motivated by love for his tradition and not disbelief in God. He wants to maintain the purity of his faith tradition from internal corruption. Although he has been persecuting Jesus’ followers, the scripture suggests that God is already working in his life, calling him to a new spiritual adventure.
Revelation is always variable and personal. God addresses all things, but also each thing in its uniqueness. While Paul’s call to leadership reflects God’s decisions in the context of Paul’s personal and religious history, it is neither predetermined nor exclusive of God’s choices for our own lives. While Paul’s experience of God’s call is special, it is not unique. Paul is “chosen” but so is everyone else in your congregation. Further, Paul, like spiritual leaders before him and in our time, must claim God’s presence in his life, saying “yes” to the new world that confronts him.
On the way to arrest a band of Jesus’ followers, Paul experiences the dazzling light of Christ and his life is forever transformed. His mystical experience sets him on mission to change the world and bring wholeness to lost persons. Yet, Paul’s mystical experience is not private. In an interdependent universe, Paul’s mysticism is synergistically joined with Ananias’ own visionary experience. Ananias’ vision gives him the courage and insight to welcome and mentor Paul on the first steps of a journey that ultimately shapes the future of Christianity.
Psalm 30 reflects the intimacy of the divine-human relationship. The Psalmist experiences God speaking through all the events of her or his life. Although we may challenge the Psalmist’s description of divine anger and absence in the passage, we can appreciate the Psalmist’s recognition that God can be experienced in every emotion, encounter, and event. This spiritual intimacy brings hope to the Psalmist in a time of mourning. Profoundly realistic about the pain of life, the Psalmist is also confident that God will “turn mourning into dancing.” Intimacy drives us beyond individualism; the Psalmist proclaims to the community through words of praise God’s faithfulness to all creation.
Revelation also describes God’s intimacy with creation. While Revelation is, at times, ambiguous about the scope of salvation, this passage opens the door to global praise – “every creature in heaven and on earth, and under the earth and in the sea” sings praise to the Risen One. Praise implies revelation and, by definition, salvation. In a world of negativity, acts of praise are themselves witnesses to God and missional activities. Praise takes us beyond scarcity thinking and roots us in divine abundance. In praise, we recognize that God is working in our world and now consciously aware of God’s movements of grace, we are called to be God’s partners in creating a world of beauty and wholeness.
In the passage from John, we discover revelation and mysticism in the ordinary acts of cooking and eating, what Kathleen Norris describes as the “quotidian mysteries.” In interpreting this passage, the preacher may choose to invite congregants to imagine what kind of fish Jesus is cooking, what favorite side dishes the Risen One might prepare for us, and what wine or other beverages might accompany our meal. Such an invitation will add both concreteness and levity to congregant’s encounter with the scripture. God is concerned with the everyday moments of eating and playing. The Risen One is known in the breaking of bread, the serving of fish, and any moment that turns our hearts toward God’s abundant life.
Again in this passage, intimacy, mysticism, and resurrection lead to vocation and mission. In the intimacy of loving words, Jesus calls Peter beyond his personal relationship with Jesus to lovingly embrace all of Jesus’ followers. Our mysticism inspires us to mission; discovering Christ as personal calls us to be global in our orientation. Faith joins the journey inward with the journey outward in partnership with God’s visions and God’s followers in healing the earth.
If we truly love God, we must feed God’s beloved children in body, mind, and spirit. Self-transcendent moments are precisely that - moments that call us to go beyond our own self-interest to care for the good earth and its inhabitants.
Bruce Epperly is Professor of Practical Theology and Director of Continuing Education and co-pastor of Disciples United Community Church in Lancaster, PA. He is the author of sixteen books, including Holy Adventure:41 Days of Audacious Living and Tending to the Holy:The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry (with Katherine Epperly). This book was just selected Book of the Year byt the Academy of Parish Clergy. He may be contacted for speaking engagements, retreats, and workshops.
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