A Reading from the Acts of the Apostles (1:15-17, 21-26)
In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, “Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus—for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry. So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.
1 Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked, *
nor lingered in the way of sinners,
nor sat in the seats of the scornful!
2 Their delight is in the law of the Lord, *
and they meditate on his law day and night.
3 They are like trees planted by streams of water,
bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; *
everything they do shall prosper.
4 It is not so with the wicked; *
they are like chaff which the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes, *
nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.
6 For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, *
but the way of the wicked is doomed.
A Reading from First Letter of John (5:9-13)
If we receive human testimony, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has testified to his Son. Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts. Those who do not believe in God have made him a liar by not believing in the testimony that God has given concerning his Son. And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to John (17:6-19)
Jesus prayed for his disciples saying, “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
“Jesus looked up to heaven and said, Father …, I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me… I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.” Jesus’ apparent concern only for his closest followers in this morning gospel reading can seem a bit unsettling. After all, we pray for everybody, not just for ourselves. We proclaim God’s love for everyone, not just for us.
So why does John put these words, with such a narrow focus, into Jesus’ mouth here, toward the very end of his Last Supper narrative? What happened to God’s concern for the entire world, for all creation, that permeates the Bible? More pertinent to our situation, are we, as a church, supposed to be separate from the world around us – “in the world but not of the world” as the old saying puts it – or are we supposed to be immersed in the world, doing God’s work wherever we are? As often happens with situations like this, the scripture’s answer is “Yes.” Simplistically choosing one or the other is an abandonment of our call, of our vocation from God. To use an image, we need to have a foot in both worlds: the ideal world for which we are striving and the real world in which we live and in which we are called to make a difference. And that dual nature of our God-given responsibility inevitably leads us to make difficult decisions. Rarely are answers clear-cut and without valid concerns on both sides.
The Episcopal Church has an official publication called Holy Women, Holy Men. It is comprised of the readings, Collects, and background material for use in weekday worship, centering on hundreds of people whose lives provide us with positive examples of what it means to live as followers of Jesus.
This past Wednesday, the appointed feast honored Frances Perkins. When I began to prepare for the 9:15 Eucharist at St. Paul’s and the noon Eucharist here, I saw that hers was the feast for the day. That coincidence immediately caught my attention, because I had just begun reading David Brooks’ new book, The Road to Character (New York: Random House, 2015), and the first person whose life he highlights as an outstanding example of one who lived a life of genuine, positive character is Frances Perkins.
Frances Perkins was born in Boston in 1880. As a young adult, she found her spiritual home in the Episcopal Church. She began to dedicate her life to the struggle to overcome unjust labor laws and to alleviate the oppressive conditions that were prevalent for workers in the early 20th century. Eventually, she became the first woman to serve in a President’s Cabinet, having been appointed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933 to serve as Secretary of Labor. She worked to abolish child labor, to ensure support for the unemployed, to establish a minimum wage, to set standard working hours, and to create Social Security.
In playing a key role in bringing about these historic changes, she often had to compromise with her opponents, reluctantly accepting some situations that she clearly opposed in order to bring about what she judged to be a greater good. Each month, she left Washington to spend a few days in prayer and reflection in order to keep herself rooted in her core beliefs and values. She exemplified a life that was in the world but not of the world.
In order to maintain that balance, Frances Perkins established for herself two basic working principles. First, she asked herself “if a person gives a poor man a pair of shoes, should she do it for that person or should she do it for God?” She decided that she should do it for God. David Brooks puts her reasoning this way (p. 44): “The poor will often be ungrateful, and you will lose heart if you rely on immediate emotional rewards for your work. But if you do it for God, you will never grow discouraged. A person with a deep vocation is not dependent on constant positive reinforcement. The job doesn’t have to pay off every month, or every year. The person thus called is performing a task because it is intrinsically good, not for what [personal reward] it produces.”
Secondly, Frances Perkins did what she did, not in order to make herself feel good, not in some self-centered attempt to find self-fulfillment, but because she saw a genuine need in others, one that she could help address. Again, David Brooks’ summary of her thinking (p. 46): “Perkins didn’t so much choose her life. She responded to the call of a felt necessity. A person who embraces a calling doesn’t take a direct route to self-fulfillment. She is willing to surrender the things that are most dear, and by seeking to forget herself and submerge herself she finds a purpose that defines and fulfills herself.” Now that approach obviously was not one that she created. It is one that comes from a teacher who once declared, “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:24).
It is that same teacher who calls to us, as his followers, as a people embodying his continued presence in the world, to serve a critically important role in the world. The New Testament Greek word for “church” is “ecclesia,” which literally means “those who are called out.” We have been chosen by God, we have been called out from the world, not in order to keep ourselves distant from the rest of the world, not in order to be a people who think that we alone have received God’s love and the gift of God’s life, but to be a people through whom everybody else in the world can come to experience God’s presence, God’s love, and God’s life. We are to be a minority in service to the majority. We have been called by God to be a blessing to the rest of the world, both to our fellow believers and to those who do not believe, for all of us are God’s children.
This week, as we prepare to celebrate once again the great feast of Pentecost, we recall that Jesus left this world only so that he might be more completely, more fully present in this world through his Spirit living in us. We pray that we might live our own lives with one foot in each world: never forgetting God’s call to work for the coming in all its fullness of the world as God wants it to be, but also never forgetting God’s call to work in the world as it is. And we pray that, following the example of Jesus and of people like Frances Perkins, we might strive to forget ourselves and immerse ourselves in doing God’s work in the world.
It is only in losing ourselves that we find ourselves. It is only in giving generously of our life that we find life: life in all its fullness.