Texts: Acts 1.15-17, 21-26; Psalm 1; 1 John 5.9-13; John 17.6-9
Next week is Pentecost, when we remember the dramatic entrance of the Holy Spirit into the lives of those first disciples. It marks their transition from gathering, praying and waiting, to decisive apostle-ship. The book of Acts, which tells the stories of those first days of life after Jesus are filled with inspiring sermons, joyous baptisms, healings and ministry in the name of Jesus Christ. And as much as those stories of action may make for a better movie, our stories from the Bible this week point us to a most important part of life after Jesus, but one that is often overlooked.
We are reminded, this week, to stop and listen. For how can we know the needs of the world or hear a call to action without first hearing the world’s stories and God’s instructions for us. And so, as the disciples are introduced and we are re-introduced to life after Jesus, we hear about a life of listening that drives us to service.
In today’s first reading from the book of Acts, we encounter the disciples in the earliest days after Jesus had departed. They are, in a way, incomplete. There are now 11 instead of 12. While the details of how this 12th person is chosen can seem somewhat ambiguous and arbitrary, the importance here is that number twelve. 12 reminds us of the 12 tribes of Israel. 12 is a number that represents completion and wholeness. Evoking this idea of reconstituting and completing the 12 reminds us that we are invited to listen to the old, old promises made to Abraham and Sarah, David and all the Israelites. Those ancient promises have not been ignored, rejected or forgotten; those old promises are being kept in new and unexpected ways. When we listen to this story, we are taught that life after Jesus does not mean that the old stories and promises are left behind.
We shared today in singing Psalm 1, the introduction to the psalms, a collection of songs that praise God, celebrate the joys of life, but most often lament life’s pain. When we listen to the story of the Psalms we are taught that life after Jesus means that life’s circumstances will look much the same as they did before - life after Jesus does NOT mean magical blessings of prosperity and health.
But in returning to the psalms, we are reminded that there is something about life after Jesus that is exactly the same as it was before, and that is that God is ALWAYS listening. No matter our words, they will not fall on deaf ears.
And finally, the last story we heard today, in the Gospel of John was actually a prayer. Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, the night before he died...after the footwashing and very first communion, fervently prays to his Father on behalf of his disciples, on our behalf. The disciples around the table and we too, are able to listen in on this conversation between father and son. There is no action to be taken, we can only in this most holy moment...listen. And what do we hear in this prayer?
We hear that listening will be an important part of our lives after Jesus. Yes, as Christians, we are often different from the world around us, set apart in the way we live our lives. For when our lives are framed around God and not ourselves, that will look and feel different from those who frame their lives around the things not of God. And yet Jesus asks for us to not be taken out of this different world, this secular world. What we hear in this prayer is that we should not avoid those who are different or have chosen to live their lives differently, but instead we are called to be among them, ears wide open, hands and feet at the ready.
Because life after Jesus, otherwise known as doing God’s work in the world, is a lot like making good music. To make good music, one must play and listen at the same time. Whether it’s a large ensemble or small group of musicians, listening to those you are making music with is just as important as the work your are doing with your own instrument.
My different experiences with congregations and the church as a whole has led me to believe that we are much better at serving than we are at listening. It has caused me to wonder how practicing listening could help our service become richer, deeper, and far more effective. And listening is not just a path to figuring out what kinds of projects or service we are to do, it is even more than that - listening itself does incredibly important things. It creates relationships, it changes us, just in the act of listening itself.
So when we return to the question of “what does life after Jesus look like?”, yes it looks like we, the church, being the hands and feet of Christ in our acts of service and work in the world. But perhaps it is just as important for us to ask a slightly different question: “what does life after Jesus SOUND like?” What do we hear when we listen to God, to neighbor, to community, to each other?
We hear pain and sorrow, yes. But, knowing this story of incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension, knowing we are always heard by God, means that life after Jesus sounds like hope in the midst of that pain and sorrow.
The hope and love and joy that comes from God in life after Jesus is the most beautiful music, and the more we slow down and listen: to each other and to God, the more it becomes the soundtrack to our lives.
This is the picture put before us in Psalm 1. Happy are we who go about our lives with the Word of God on our lips, murmuring it, singing it to ourselves no matter where we go or what we do. And this word of God which we hear in Scripture and in Jesus Christ, it will not only sustain us, but grow us in a way that we will yield fruit that will nourish, feed and delight the world! Life after Jesus is not only a delight for us, but it is a life where we can be delight to others. And sometimes all that takes is what St. Benedict referred to as ‘listening with the ear of our hearts.’
Let us go forth and listen.