BIBLE READINGS: Acts 1:6-14 John 17:1-11
In our texts today from John and Acts Jesus is speaking “concluding words.” However, they are not so much texts about endings as they are about beginnings. Yes, the earthly ministry of Jesus of Nazareth was wrapping up, but the ministry of Christ’s body in the earth, empowered by the Holy Spirit, was just emerging from the womb of God’s imagination.
In both of these readings, the church is encountering the call of Christ. Christ calls the church into being, to be one in Christ, and to act together as the body of Christ. Christ calls the church to witness to the events in the life of Jesus Christ, but more importantly, to continue Christ’s ministry.
What that means is that the church’s reason for being is our mission. We have a mission that requires all of us to answer the call of Christ. We have a mission that requires all of us, working together, using our individual and unique gifts and talents to proclaim the gospel, so that it might transform our lives and the lives of those around us.
You, know, Jesus never said, “They will know you’re my disciples because your attendance and your offering will increase.” Honestly, the only real measurement of a church’s effectiveness that has any meaning is whether or not people’s lives are being changed. Do they go out the same way they came in, or have they experienced something transformative – something that touches them so deeply they will never be the same?
The Italian composer Giacomo Puccini gave us many beautiful pieces of music. In 1922, at the age of 64, he was diagnosed with cancer. In spite of his illness, he continued to work at the opera Turandot, which many people consider his best. Many people tried to convince him not to use all his remaining days on a piece he would not complete, but he persisted.
Close to his death, Puccini wrote to his students, “If I don’t finish Turandot, I want you to finish it for me.” He didn’t complete the opera, but immediately following his death in 1924 his students gathered together all the scores, studied them with care and completed the opera.
The opening performance occurred in 1926. Conducted by one of Puccini’s students, Arturo Toscanini, the orchestra began its performance. Reaching the place where Puccini had stopped writing, Toscanini put down his baton, turned to the audience and said to them, “Thus far the master wrote, and then he died.” No one moved or spoke for several minutes. Then Toscanini picked up his baton, turned to the audience, smiled through his tears and spoke again. “But his disciples have finished his work.”
We, too, are called to finish the work Jesus did not have time to complete. We, too, have the resources to be Christ-like in who we are.
Various Missiologists – that is - people who think about mission. The question that occupies them is - why are we, by and large, focused on people who are already a part of the church, rather than having a focus in the community, to reach others with the transformation of the gospel?
One reason, they suggest, is there are two different forms that change can take. There is ‘Technical Change’ – that’s when you go to the dentist and get a cavity filled. It fixes an immediate problem, but it doesn’t prevent future cavities. For that, you need ‘Adaptive Change.” You need to learn to brush and floss regularly, and watch what you put in your mouth. Adaptive change involves changing our personal or church culture.
The question is, are we willing to pay the price Jesus of Nazareth paid in order to confront the powers that be in love on behalf of the powerless – those on the outside looking in. In Bible-speak, that would be the alien, the stranger, the friendless, the orphan, and the widow. These were the focus of Christ’s ministry then. They remain the focus of Christ’s ministry now. How do we minister to a hurting world outside the walls of the church. This is our challenge - to work to transform lives of despair with hope. As we do this we will embody Christ’s mission to the world.
Acknowledgement: Michael Phillips