I have a wrist watch that is 68+ years old. It is a winder—unless I wind it it stops. There is no battery to be replaced. The watch keeps excellent, dependable time if I wind it. It was manufactured in Illinois but was a graduation gift to me from my parents when I was graduated from high school in Mansfield Louisiana. It is an Elgin. The Elgin clockworks has long since ceased operation and my wrist watch is now a sought-after collectors item. Did I have any idea that it would be “collected,” when I first saw it in Stott's Jewelry Store in my home town in Louisiana? Not at all. Its value to me is mostly sentimental. It represents the love and pride my parents expressed for my achievement in graduating from Mansfield High School.
As a timepiece, the value of my Elgin wrist watch depends upon my taking care of it and winding it daily. Then it keeps time accurately if I wind it. In the liturgical year the time is the second Sunday of Easter. Easter lasts for fifty days until Pentecost. After the celebration of Easter Sunday and the various disciplines we followed during Lent, we may feel that it's time to coast until the excitement of Pentecost. (Dig out your red clothing to be ready!) What do our Lessons tell us of the challenges of this Season?
In the lesson from The Acts of the Apostles, we see our first challenge: be aware of the needy around us and respond to those needs sacrificially. I wonder what it would demonstrate if we could run totals of all Emmanuel has given to the needy in the 100 years of our worshiping in the space. We are not responsible for the past but we would be remiss in our ongoing ministry if we didn't strive to put a dollar sign before our emotional awareness of need. We should dry our tears and look at the needs of humankind in Champaign, in Illinois, and throughout the world.
When Jesus gave the Great Commission, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel,” he challenged his followers to go, to preach, to heal, to love even the unlovely, to reach out as witnesses to all that Jesus has done for us as individuals and for Emmanuel in our first 100 years. Then we are to roll up our sleeves to continue the work he has given us to do. When Jesus declared to his followers, “You are my witnesses!” his challenge to the Apostles applies to us today. We may not begin to make excuses or add conditions we may devise to get us off the hook. After all, we may explain, Jesus wouldn't expect us in light of what we face in our time to overcome hesitancy and rise to the challenge to be his witnesses. But with great challenges come unexpected capabilities we may not even be aware of until we look about us through Jesus' eyes and with his help find strength to meet those challenges. Recall the assurance Jesus gave his followers when they were to witness even though they faced hostile forces that sought to force them to cease their witness. “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” Luke 12:11. When the apostles accepted the challenge, we read, “With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and great grace was upon them all.”
It has been my experience that the Holy Spirit does not dictate those words we are to say, but instead the Spirit teaches us what to say tapping our knowledge gained through years of reading the Bible and listening to those who have taught us and encouraged us through the sermons we have listened to Sunday after Sunday. Ask any clergy about where certain ideas came from—ideas included in her or his sermons—and if they are honest they may say something like “I can’t cite a particular source but I understand this part of my sermon to reflect what I have come to know and understand about the Gospel.” We are not in every case able to site the source of our perception of the truth but that doesn’t make it less truthful.
I reflect often upon the error of the young vicar in one of the many television programs based on the fictional Miss Marple when at a dinner he was asked (as frequently is the case, by the way) to ask the blessing. He probably expected the request, and prayed “Lord, help us to be needful of the minds of others.” It was a slip. He meant of course to say “mindful of the needs of others.” But each of us if we are honest are needful of the minds of others. We may strive to be original when we need to rely upon the Holy Spirit who teaches us as a part of the ongoing presence and guidance the Spirit provides for us.
We are grateful for the testimony of those who wrote words that under the Spirit’s guidance were incorporated into the text of Scripture to guide our thinking and our witness. In our Epistle today in the First Letter of John we read, “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life-- this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us-- we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”
Perhaps the writer has in his mind the experience of Thomas who had stated his condition for believing that Jesus had risen and had appeared to the other disciples. He declared that he must see the Risen Lord, examine the mark of the nails in his hands, place his hand in his side, then I will believe.” Isn’t that our experience when we come to the altar to receive the body and blood of our Lord in the consecrated bread and wine? We observe the outward and visible signs that in these holy gifts Jesus is present, we see Him, we touch him and we are nourished through his gift of himself anew in the Holy Eucharist.” In our hearts we join Thomas in saying, “My Lord and my God.”
Think again about my Elgin wrist watch and the condition: “If I wind it.” God is ready to bless us with the faith we require for our living in light of what we believe and have come to know: God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself. The great “If” is that if I will be open to the Spirit’s leading and guiding my thoughts and actions every day. Then we can declare with the Apostle Paul, “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Amen