7th Sunday of Easter

June 4, 2000
See Also: 
Reading 2: 
Psalm 1
Reading 3: 
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26 or 1 John 5:9-13
Reading 4: 
John 17:6-19
By Patricia Farmer

Transitions are part of life. June 4 happens to be my birthday, number 44, which marks my transition into mid-life (and mid-life crisis!). June 4 also marks the auspicious day that haunts our Chinese friends as they remember the tragic oppression of democratic expression in Tiananmen Square. Transitions, whether personal or social, can leave behind a trail of tears or memories of joy and bittersweet loves. These lectionary passages focus on the idea of transition and preparation for Pentecost. It is good time to remind our listeners that change is part of life, and as process thinkers we see change as part of God as well. In the process world, life is in constant transition! Change can be good, sometimes very painful, and always full of possibility.

At first glance, I can't imagine preaching on this text because it seems so terribly uninteresting to me on the surface. Organizational changes: Judas is out (way out) and Matthias is in. But as a process theologian, I must rethink this reorganization of the Twelve in ways that can help me through my mid-life crises birthday. The people in the pews who are like me could care less about Luke's view of the "divine necessity" of the fulfillment of Scripture because they are dealing with heartbreaks, grief, crisis in faith, so let's explore what this passage might mean for those of us in transition.

The twelve were, indeed, important because they were the witnesses of the faith and guarantors of the apostolic tradition. Tradition in the face of change is important. If you saw the movie, Keeping the Faith you saw both Jewish and Catholic traditions in a delightful tension between tradition and change. The young rabbi was constantly in trouble over his progressive and "new age" approach to tradition, not to mention his romantic involvement with a Gentile, yet by the end of the movie, the congregation embraced his insistence on tradition mixed with transformation and novel possibilities that even included a Catholic Gospel Choir in the temple! As our Christian faith continues to be creatively transformed, we need to remind ourselves that rootedness in the traditions of our faith is an important element during times of change, not to be discarded, but to be transformed. The twelve represented that traditional foundation, that rootedness, that would bring forth a new era of change and novelty that they couldn't even imagine. Rootedness is important as this passage shows, but only when it is open to the possibilities of change and transformation which is exactly what was about to happen in the life of the church. As John Cobb states, "The past is more resource for new and creative response to opportunities and challenges than patterned to be reiterated or preserved." ("Trajectories and Historic Routes," p. 95 in Semeia 24, 1982)

After recently viewing Steven Spielberg's award winning documentary on the Holocaust, The Last Days, I am reminded that evil is very real. My "New Age" friends who discount all evil in favor of the cliché, "God has a reason for everything," have to be silent when watching pictures of the Holocaust. Evil is real, and it not part of God's plan. If I thought it were part of some mysterious plan, I would choose to be on the side of that revered existentialist, Camus, who said, "If there is a God, then he must be the devil." But being a process theologian, my view is quite different. When reading Psalm 1 I am reminded that God is not the source of wickedness and that evil will be pushed to the outskirts of God's eternal realm, like chaff dried up and blown away.

I John
The fundamentalists will rally around this text, especially verse 12, "Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life." This sounds too much like "Jesus is the only way." But, as process thinkers, we know that such intolerance toward other faiths is the foundation of prejudice, inhumanity, and war. Perhaps if we see the "Son of God" not simply as the man Jesus, but as the Logos of God, God incarnate in the world, then we could avoid such troubling outcomes. Jesus would be the first one to say that he came not to be worshipped for himself, but to point beyond himself to God, his abba/(imma). Jesus was a picture of God. He was compassion incarnate, love incarnate, hospitality incarnate. These qualities make up the Son of God and make inclusiveness rather than exclusiveness divine; so it is true, without these things, without this vision of God in the world, we are lost.

Talk about transition! Here is the ultimate transition in Scripture, the prayer of Jesus in preparation for his death. Prayer is what we do or need to do when we enter into the transitions of life and particularly as we prepare for death. This "High Priestly Prayer" is part of his farewell discourse before he begins his passion. But unlike the content of the Gethsemane prayers in the Synoptic Gospels, the prayer of John's Jesus is wholly on behalf of the disciples. This is the most beautiful intercessory prayer recorded in Scripture. For a study in the process understanding of intercessory prayer, Marjorie Suchocki's readable and insightful book, In God's Presence (Chalice Press), is suggested. Suchocki says, "Since God works with the world as it is in order to bring it to what it can be, intercessory praying changes what that world is relative to that one for whom we pray, and that change is for the good. It therefore adds to what God can then offer that one, releasing more of the divine resources toward the good that God can then use." (p.46).