Acts 1:15-17, 21-26 narrates the choice – by the casting of lots – of Matthias to fill out the twelve, Judas having turned out to be… Judas. Jesus clearly didn’t have precisely 12 – count ‘em! – disciples at every moment in time. It’s a symbolic number. And yet the simple existence of 12, even if we fudge and 3 others have tagged along, embodies Jesus’ mission to redeem the people of Israel. I like things like this: the church, simply by being the church, fulfills God’s vision for redemption. What if we chose our leaders for our congregations this way? How boring is it to put bankers and accountants on Finance? What if you put the person no good with numbers but with a passion for the poor on Finance? The kingdom might just dawn.
Our two Johannine texts leave me a little cold. It’s as if Jesus, and then John, tried to be philosophically reflective, offering high-minded but rambling explications of intimate relationships within God and with us. Confounding, possessive pronouns abounding.
There are little tidbits pregnant with preaching possibility. 1 John 5:9-13 is fixated on “testimony.” The Greek is the same as “martyr.” And, the testimony in question is that “God gave us eternal life, in his Son.” That’s worth unpacking. Most Christians think of eternal life as quite distinguished from the Son, or at most that it was the Son’s death and resurrection that opened up the path to heaven. But this eternal life is in God’s Son, not me living on forever playing golf or enjoying my family. It’s finding myself in him, in his Body, so it’s all about the Son, nothing else – and it will be way more than enough.
John 17:6-19 intrigues. Jesus says of the followers God gave him, “I have been glorified in them.” Really? You’d think he’d be embarrassed all the time. This text explores the “in but not of the world” notion. Most of my people, me included, are very much in the world and most assuredly of the world too! Or they are of the world and so therefore not much in the world as Jesus’ witnesses. I love to picture John writing all this. “I protected them; not one was lost!” – at which point the secretary interjected, “Uh, what about Judas?” “Oh, right, he lost one. But that was God’s plan.” Problems abound.
Preaching the Psalms, is still in print, and not bad! Psalm 1 is the exception among the Psalms, being a blessing more than a prayer. It mirrors what we read in Proverbs and the life of wisdom, the choice between two ways. Wisdom is so worthwhile to explore in preaching. If I ask rhetorically, Can you name smart people? Or good looking people? Or successful people? my listeners nod. Then I’ll say But can you name someone who is wise? They look befuddled. Most, if pressed, resort to somebody who’s dead: my grandmother was wise!
Our Psalm speaks of the one who is “happy” or “blessed.” The Hebrew, ashre, is echoed in Jesus’ Beatitudes, which aren’t directives on how to be happy or blessed. Jesus looks at those who are poor in spirit or merciful, and he blesses them. The Psalm looks at the wise life, and pronounces God’s blessing. It’s not a still life entirely. It’s a way (the Hebrew is derek) – a road, a moving forward. I love Pasolini’s great Italian film The Gospel according to St. Matthew, where Jesus is always walking briskly, teaching over his shoulders to breathless disciples trying to keep up. And yet this moving way is also a sigh. It involves meditating, the Hebrew hagah meaning to breathe, to sigh.