On the Tension of Change

On the Tension of Change

On the Tension of Change
May 12, 2024
Traceymay Kalvaitis

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
In those days Peter stood up among the brothers and sisters (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, “Brothers and sisters, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus, for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” “So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was added to the eleven apostles.

John 17 selected verses
“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I have been glorified in them. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. Sanctify them in the truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”

Today’s sermon is titled On the Tension of Change.
Here in New England, spring is springing all at once, it seems. The dawn chorus of birdsong features more new voices each morning and if it weren’t for the black flies, I’m sure we could sit still and watch the leaves grow before our very eyes. I find myself wishing all the blooming and growing would slow down a little bit so I can experience it more fully. That is not the way of life, though, is it? Things are always changing.
The tension of change is the one commonality I could find in our scripture readings for today. In our reading from John, we are presented with one portion of a very long prayer that Jesus is offering for his disciples and his community of followers. It is known as “The Priestly Prayer” and it is part of a larger body of scriptures known as “The Farewell Discourse.” Things are changing, rapidly, for Jesus and for his followers. The tensions of change are rising. At this point in Jesus’s life, he has become a very public figure, known for his radical teachings and his healings. He has pulled two people back across the threshold of death, one a young girl, and the other, his friend Lazarus. Jesus has caused a stir that can no longer be calmed. People are desperate to see him, to get close to him, and those in positions of power are equally as desperate to silence him. The tensions of change are rising and we can hear it in the words of Jesus’s prayer; he says, “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” Then Jesus says something that caught my attention for the very first time. He says, “I speak these things… so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.” I speak these things so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. Jesus is speaking this prayer so that his followers may have his joy made complete in themselves. What could be Jesus’s joy? We find a clue in the translation.
Last week, a Friend and colleague shared what he had found and I would like to share it with you, too. In last week’s scripture, also from the Gospel of John, chapter 15, Jesus is quoted as saying, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” This week, in the Priestly Prayer, Jesus’s joy is again held out to us as what can best be described as an urgent offering. Jesus wants his joy to be made complete in his followers, but what is this joy? We turn now to the translation. Remember that all the Gospels were originally written in Greek. The Greek word for joy is Χαρά (pronounced chara) and its meaning is “source of joy.” * Listen now to how that changes the translation: From last week’s scriptures (John 15:9-10), “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. I have said these things to you so that my source of joy may be in you…” And from this week’s scripture, (John 17:13), in Jesus’s prayer for his followers, we read, “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. I speak these things… so that they may have the source of my joy made complete in themselves.” I don’t think I have to go too far out on the limb here to deduce that the source of Jesus’s joy is found in God. Even in his last days on earth, even as those in power were plotting to silence him, even as the rising tensions of change were stoking fears on all fronts, even as Judas was on his way to meet the Romans who would arrest Jesus, Jesus was urgently praying that the presence of God, the very source of his joy, would be made complete in the hearts and minds of his followers. Jesus knew that his followers would need that assurance because the winds of change were about to wreak havoc.
What can this mean for us here today in 2024? What can it mean for modern day followers of Christ? It is a reminder to us that in God, in love, we find a source of joy unlike any other and through that joy we are made complete. Our accomplishments, our possessions, our status in community can all make us feel better about ourselves, but the source of our joy is in love, in God.
Before we close, I want to touch on our other reading, from the book of Acts. In this season of Eastertide, we have been following the story of the events that unfolded after Jesus’s death and resurrection. In our reading today, it appears on the surface of things that the disciples are simply trying to fill the twelfth position left vacant by Judas. We have to read between the lines of this story and remember that this was a time of great change and high tension when Jesus’s followers were living in fear of their lives. One of their own, someone they had trusted, had done something unimaginable. Judas had received payment for leading the Romans to Jesus. He had purchased land with the money and then, the scriptures say, Judas died a mysterious and gruesome death on the land he had purchased. Here is what we should not miss in this passage: Judas never again returned to the community of followers. But Peter, Peter who three times denied even knowing Jesus, as Jesus predicted he would, Peter is still present in the community and appears to be a leader even though he did not fulfill his promise to remain by Jesus’s side. This speaks volumes to us about the power of a community that is founded on the love of God. This should speak volumes to us about the power of our own community. In this time of rising tension and rapid change in our modern culture, we are reminded of the strength of a community that is strong enough to hold us in all the seasons of our lives. This community we are sustaining can hold us in our flourishing, in our grief, in our health, in our illness, in our making mistakes, and in our making amends. This community that we are sustaining is strong enough to be able to help others, too, in their times of need, others we do not even know, and may never know.
In closing, may we remember that what Jesus prayed most fervently for is that we would be complete, full of love and the knowledge of God, the very source of Jesus’s joy. We are living in times of great change and great tension in the world, and we are also living in times of great beauty and great opportunity. So, Friends, get up early these days and listen to those birds because they won’t be singing like that for very many weeks. Take note of the green growing things all around us because soon they will not seem so miraculous. In this season of newness, take a fresh look at the relationships that make your life what it is and give those relationships a little extra love and attention while you still can. And lastly, remember there is an inexhaustible source of joy and love available to us, in every moment. We call this source God. Thanks be. Amen.

Pastoral Prayer

Holy One, I thank you this morning for this practice of prayer. Just how it works, we may never know, but we are grateful to be participants in something deeper, something wider, something far beyond who we are. We extend our prayers over all the world this morning and we call on the highest, purest form of mother love to aid us in the healing of our Selves, the healing of our relationships, and the healing of our planetary home. Give us the courage to pray about anything, about everything.

I leave you with these final words: For the many ways women share their love, their concern, their wisdom and their time, may they receive abundant strength and clarity from the very heart of God and may the most tender aspects of mothering be an expression of love that each and every one of us, both men and women, can embody, with the grace of God. Amen.