May 16th, 2010, 7th Sunday of Easter

While I was at Presbyterian College, one of the expressions we were very fond of “a-ha! Moment”. You know what that is. We have all had them. The first time I heard of such a thing, by a different name, was in seventh grade, when we studied a little bit about Archimedes, the Greek mathematician and scientist. His story, which I am sure most of us have heard at some point, goes like this: the local tyrant contracts the ancient Greek polymath Archimedes to detect fraud in the manufacture of a golden crown. The tyrant, who was named Hiero, suspects his goldsmith of leaving out some measure of gold and replacing it with silver in a wreath dedicated to the gods. Archimedes accepts the challenge and, during a subsequent trip to the public baths, realizes that the more his body sinks into the water, the more water is displaced–making the displaced water an exact measure of his volume. Because gold weighs more than silver, he reasons that a crown mixed with silver would have to be bulkier to reach the same weight as one composed only of gold; therefore it would displace more water than its pure gold counterpart. Realizing he has hit upon a solution, the young Greek math whiz leaps out of the bath and rushes home naked crying “Eureka! Eureka!” Or, translated: “I’ve found it! I’ve found it!” Whether this is true or not, doesn’t really matter. It makes for a great story, and anyone who has learned it, remembers it – at least partly because of the image of a Greek man running naked through the streets. Many other great discoveries have happened in just such an astounding way. The word “eureka” is still a part of today’s vocabulary, and this is what we meant by “a-ha moment” – the moment when something suddenly became clear. We can be struggling with a problem for hours, or even days, and all of a sudden the little lightbulb goes on, and we see the solution. For me, that used to happen a lot in math class. You remember those number problems – things like: Two trains leave from two different stations, heading towards each other. If the stations are so many miles apart, and each train is traveling at a different speed, (of course, the exact numbers were given in the problem!), how long will it take before the trains collide. For some reason, the teachers never seemed to like my answers, which usually involved averting the disaster by having someone send a telegraph first to make sure that the accident didn’t happen. Anyhow, I would work at the problem for what seemed like forever, without success. And when the teacher would explain it – or when my father would explain it – all of a sudden things seemed really clear, and I would rush to finish the rest of the problems before the light went off again. If this happened at home, it wasn’t too bad, but sometimes, it happened in school, while the teacher was working out the problem on the board, and people – including me – would sit looking blankly at the numbers marching all over the place. When we suddenly realized what she was saying, when we “got it”, someone would often say out loud, “Oh, now I see what you mean!” That often caused embarrassment, as the person really didn’t mean the words to be heard by everyone.
Of course, in seminary, we were not talking about mathematical or scientific discoveries, but they were eureka moments, nevertheless. We were talking about the time when we each realized that this God stuff, this Redeemer stuff, was true. We were talking about the moment when we realized that God was calling us to do his work. We were talking about the moment when we knew for sure that Jesus was the son of God, and that he had died to save us. Talk about a eureka experience, an a-ha moment! I don’t think that solving any math problem can top that.
And in today’s readings, the disciples had an “a-ha” moment, the moment when they were first called apostles. If you think about it, in the Gospels, the followers of Jesus were called “disciples”. It is not until the first chapter of Acts that we hear the word “apostle”. Listen again to what Luke wrote: In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. Many people use the words APOSTLE and DISCIPLE interchangeably, and if they think about them at all, they don’t spend a lot of time trying to figure out the difference. I used to think that DISCIPLE referred to anyone who followed Jesus, while APOSTLE referred specifically to the Twelve Jesus called by name. But that is not quite accurate.
I could give you an explanation of the difference, using Greek words, and going on for several pages, but instead, I’ll quote from a book I read a couple of years ago. The book is called: Lamb, and is subtitled The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal. It was written by Christopher Moore, and is not unlike some of the great Monty Python material. Anyhow, in this book, the whole apostle/disciple conundrum is explained quite clearly. Jesus is called Joshua, which may well have been what many people called him in those days, kind of the way we can call a woman Madge, when her name is actually Margaret. So Moore wrote: Then [Joshua] made the call: “Okay, who wants to be an apostle?” “I do, I do,” said Nathaniel. “What’s an apostle?” That’s a guy who makes drugs,” I said. “Me, me,” said Nathaniel. “I want to make drugs.” “I’ll try that,” said John. “That’s an apothecary,” said Matthew . . . “Apostle means ‘to send off.’” . . . “That’s right,” said Joshua, “messengers. You’ll be sent off to spread the message that the kingdom has come.” “Isn’t that what we’re doing now?” asked Peter. “No, now you’re disciples, but I want to appoint apostles who will take the Word into the land . . . I will give you power to heal, and power over devils. You’ll be like me, only in a different outfit. You’ll take nothing with you except your clothes. You’ll live only off the charity of those you preach to. You’ll be on your own, like sheep among wolves. People will persecute you and spit on you, and maybe beat you, and if that happens, well, it happens. Shake of the dust and move on. Now, who’s with me?” And there was a roaring silence among the disciples . . . Joshua stood up and just counted them off . . . You’re the apostles. Now get out there and apostilize.” And they all looked at each other. “Spread the good news, the son of man is here! The kingdom is coming. Go! Go! Go!” They got up and sort of milled around . . . Thus were the twelve appointed to their sacred mission.”
So, the difference between being a disciple and an apostle is that the apostles make more of a commitment. The disciples follow Jesus, and probably live a good life, but don’t really do much about spreading the good news. As apostles, they – and we – are called to do just that – to spread the good news. Now, you know that for most of the Gospels, the apostles were not the brightest followers Jesus could have had. Too many times, they didn’t understand what he was saying to them. And, even though they had seen him killed, and knew that he had risen from the dead, they still didn’t get it. Not until he made them apostles, not until the ascension, which we are celebrating today. That is when the apostles had their a-ha moment; that is when they knew what it was all about. In the Gospel reading for today, Luke wrote: Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. Finally, finally, as Jesus was about to return to the Father, they understood. They understood all of the references to the Old Testament, and how Jesus was the one who fulfilled the prophecies. They understood the parables, the stories Jesus told. They understood all the healings and miracles. They understood why Jesus had to be crucified. After spending three years with Jesus, they finally knew what it was all about, and there is no greater gift they could have been given. There is no greater a-ha moment than the one when Jesus Christ is accepted as the son of God, as the Redeemer who was sent to save us.
And, having gotten this gift, this gift of acceptance, the apostles are told that they have to share it. Jesus said to them: You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you: and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Note, they are not equipped to share the gift yet. They have to wait for the Holy Spirit to come upon them. In the church year, that will happen next week, on Pentecost Sunday, when the Holy Spirit will descend on the apostles as they are gathered together. Waiting is probably the hardest thing we have to do, but it is also one of the most important things we need to do when we are discerning God’s will for us. The prophet Isaiah wrote about waiting, when he said: Those who wait for the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint. Look at the way Isaiah said this. They WILL renew their strength; they WILL run and not grow weary; they WILL walk and not be faint. He didn’t say that they MIGHT renew their strength or MAYBE they will not grow weary or be faint. No, while waiting, these things WILL happen. This is all a part of God’s gifts to his apostles – to us, this time of waiting, which allows God to work in us so that we will be able to work in others.
This last scene of Jesus with the apostles is re-enacted every week during worship. Every Christian denomination ends worship in the same way, with a dismissal and a blessing. In the Book of Common Worship used by the Presbyterian Church in Canada, we are told: The dismissal is brief and direct, preparing the people to return to daily life. A charge, based on Scripture and challenging the people to Christian discipleship followed by a benediction or blessing sends them forth. This means that, every week, you are challenged to share the good news, just as the apostles were challenged on that first Ascension Day.
Luke tells us that, after Jesus blessed them, they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem, filled with great joy. Have you ever noticed that, when people are filled with great joy, they cannot stop smiling? They cannot stop sharing their joy. I saw it last weekend, when I performed a marriage. The groom was positively beaming, and his joy was so contagious that the assembly was filled with it, too. I have seen it when people are showing off a new baby. They just can’t stop smiling. This joy filled the disciples after Jesus blessed them and gave them the charge – after they were changed from being just disciples into true apostles.
Now, in this particular church, I have noticed that we are very good at being disciples. And there is nothing wrong with being disciples. As disciples we follow what Jesus taught us. We do what is expected of us. We are good about coming to church. Many of us are familiar with Scripture, and can quote verses appropriate to situations. We are welcoming. When new people arrive, whether they are visitors to Quebec, or people who are seeking a church family, we make them feel welcome. Fellowship is a big part of this church. During the past couple of weeks, members of this church have been giving their time to work on the church grounds. Already there is an improvement, and there is more to come. This is another part of discipleship – this working together for the betterment of our church. Each week, someone makes sure that coffee and tea are ready for the fellowship time which follows worship. Most of us don’t question it – we just head over to the Kirk Hall after we finish up in the church, and have a social time. And this is another part of discipleship.
As a congregation, we have taken part in several affirmations of faith. We have promised to walk with new members on their faith journeys. We have seen young people confirmed, and new elders ordained. Each time, the congregation has made vows, and this is part of discipleship.
As disciples, we are always students, we are always learning, and this is a good thing. We can never stop being disciples. But now, it is time to do more. Now, it is time to – as Joshua said in the Gospel according to Biff – apostolize. Now, it is time to spread the good news. Thanks be to God.


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