First Congregational Church
May 13, 2017
7th Sunday after Easter, Mothers Day
John 17:6-19, Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
“My Grandmother Gave That Lightbulb!”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
It said, on the internets, that the question was based on a true story. The question was “How many independent wives does it take it take to change a light bulb. The answer, again, supposedly based on a true story, was “Only one. However, it will take her several hours because while she has the ladder up, she will have to wash the glass cover in the light fixture and then dust the cupboard tops because they can be seen from there, and if there is time, also paint the ceiling.
Not everyone appreciates how difficult it is to find jokes that are 1. not (hopefully) offensive to a certain person or group of people, 2. tasteful enough to offer in a sermon, and 3. contain at least a little bit of truth or relevance. That being said, “How many politicians does it take to change a lightbulb? Two. One to change it, and another one to change it back again.
And then, there is THE classic, most famous lightbulb joke: How many Congregationalists does it take to change a lightbulb? Change? My grandmother gave that lightbulb!
This past week, I attended the Ministerial Association meeting, and a book that I didn’t know was used for our devotional time. It’s “A Door Set Open” by Peter L. Steinke, and it’s subtitle is “Grounding Change In Mission and Hope.” There’s just nothing like the word “change” to strike terror or at least angst in the heart of the listener or reader. But since I was trying to be polite, rather than bolt out of the room, I sat and listened as Rick Stieve read the following anecdote.
Marius von Senden’s book Space and Sight is about the dramatic change in the lives of people who underwent the first successful cataract surgeries. Blind from birth, they receive the sudden and wondrous gifts of sight, but their experiences are not all positive. Von Senden collected accounts of their post surgery experiences. He discovered that the patients had no sense of space. They had no idea of form, size, and distance. When a doctor asked one of the patients to show him how big her mother was, she held her two index fingers only a few inches apart. A second patient, looking at photographs and paintings, asked why someone had put dark marks all over them. “Those aren’t dark marks,” the mother of the nearsighted girl explained, “those are shadows. It is one of the ways the eye knows that things have shape. If it were not for shadows, many things would look flat.” The daughter responded: “well, that’s how things do look. Everything looks flat with dark patches.”
The effort to see in a new way proved overwhelming for other patients. They found tremendous size to be disturbing in comparison to what they previously conceived of as something manageable by touch. Realizing for the first time they were visible to others, they felt uncomfortable. Seeing themselves in a mirror was a bewildering experience. The father of a young adult who had hoped for so much from this operation expressed perplexity, noting that his daughter would shut her eyes to go about the house, especially when she approached a staircase. He wrote that “She is never happier or more at ease than when, by closing her eyelids, she relapses into her former state of total blindness. Tormented by his experience of new sight a teenage boy blurted out, “If things aren’t altered, I’ll tear my eyes out.” Still, some learned to see in a new way. One patient exclaimed repeatedly, “Oh, God, how beautiful.”
Tear out their eye? Go blind at a staircase? Imprisoned in darkness, liberated by light, surrounded by the wonder of color in depth - and yet, many newly sighted people wanted to return to what was known and familiar. Even in the face of this marvelous sensory improvement, the forces of sameness were potent.” (p. 49)
Our scripture passages for this morning, naturally, deal with change. Change, in the gospel passage may not be so obvious, but it may help if we remember that the prayer took place on his last night with the disciples, after he had washed their feet and before Jesus’ arrest. The passages from Acts are a little clearer, in regards to change, as they deal with the replacement for Judas.
John 17:6-19 (NIV)
Jesus Prays for His Disciples
6 “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. 8 For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. 9 I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.
13 “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
Acts 1:15-17 (NIV)
15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) 16 and said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. 17 He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.”
Acts 1:21-26 (NIV)
21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”
23 So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen 25 to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” 26 Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.
Thank you, Naomi and Al. It’s been said that the only things you can count on are death and taxes. I think “change” should be added to that list. Sometimes we like a little change, sometimes it terrifies us. Sometimes it’s a little thing, like switching out mayonnaise for salad dressing, and other times, change can shake the foundations of our lives in ways we never anticipated, like learning how to live without your beloved or one you trusted for so long. Sometimes change happens slowly - and quickly at the same time - like the time between the birth of a child and their graduation from high school. Other times, change can happen so quickly and it takes a long slow time to learn to live with it, like rehabbing after a terrible accident or those words we heard or read, that can never be taken back.
Jesus knew change was coming; he’d been saying it since the beginning of his ministry. He tried, every which way but Monday, to prepare the disciples - and us - of how different life would be like after he went home. And in a way many of us probably haven’t given much thought, the passage from John 17 gives us a picture of one of the things Jesus “did” to prepare us for that change: he prayed for us.
So, when was the last time you prayed for the ability to change - whatever kind of change that is likely to come down your path? Before anyone gets all worried, this is not a sermon prelude to any grand announcement or plan - at least on my part. But it is a reminder - for all of us - that we are not helpless in this thing called life - most especially in the area of when “life happens.” So why wait and be solely reactive when we can be proactive - praying for wisdom and compassion and guidance and groundedness?
One of my highly correct observations is that there are a good many people that go around sad or even depressed, because change has been forced on them, and all they really want is to go back to the way things were when they were a kid. So much energy is spent in that sadness and anger and depression and fear, when it seems to this small brain, that prayer to embolden us and help us embrace the changes, that will come on us, would be so much more helpful.
The passages from Acts are good reminders that when we are doing our best, even when life throws us a curve ball, like being asked to do some big thing, that God will guide the process. I don’t think the disciples use of casting lots is necessarily the best way of making decisions, but counting on God to take our best efforts is honorable and satisfying in ways that a Milky Way bar or a good cup of coffee just can’t do.
Jesus’ prayer, also called his ‘high priestly prayer,’ reminds us, too, that when change happens, we not forget that our reactions need not be solely based on emotions, but on knowledge. We belong to God, and no matter what, that’s not going to change. And even though Jesus ascended back to God, Jesus continues to intercede for us, praying for us, lifting each of us up to God with the joy and delight of a child offering up the perfect dandelion.
There’s that line in the second of the Acts passages, the one we may gloss over. “Lord, you know everyone’s heart.” One of the things of which we were lamenting at the Ministerial Association is the sad picture of what a fractured church (big, universal church) looks like to those who are not a part of it. If we are not intentional, i.e., decision over emotion, about being Christ’s ambassadors and followers, then why even bother going through the effort to say we are Christians? Why not stay home on Sunday mornings, do a crossword puzzle and watch a good movie?
Because, when change happens, and it will, there are times when we will need to know we are not alone in that process. There are times when you could watch a hundred movies, but not one of them will take the place of the hand on your shoulder or the hug from someone you know has first-hand understanding of your struggle. There are times, when each of us has need to be comforted and other times when we need to be the comforters and those times will continue throughout our lives and all those who follow us.
Seeds may not like the idea of going into the dark ground, but when they come to full fruition, there is nothing like a proud sunflower or a stately maple tree to appreciate the pain of what may seem like death and new growth - change in all it’s gory glory. All too often, pain and struggle happen in our moments of life “growth.” But having someone, having each other, having God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, makes change and life and everything else in this world, so much richer and fuller and right. So let us pray.
God of Life and Love, we thank you this day for nurturing and teaching and enfolding us as we live and love and bloom. Forgive us when we short-change ourselves in your call on our lives, most especially when we resist change that could bless us and enter into your world in a deeper and even more meaningful way. Help us to be less concerned about our abilities or inabilities and be able to rest more in your power and love and grace in us and through us. Help us Gracious God, to truly desire your will in this world, and even in the world to come. For your presence and promises, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.