Seventh Sunday Of Easter

S. Easter 7 Acts 1:12-16, John 17:11-19

“But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.”

I recall a lovely, late summer day in September 1985, I think—my first day at a little community college in New Haven, CT that was part of the old ‘Collegiate School’, founded 1701.

They changed the name, later—an interesting story… In 1716, the school had moved from Saybrook to New Haven and “there was a rift forming among the clergy at a slightly older college called Harvard (the profs were all clergy there, too) between its sixth president, Increase Mather, and the rest of the Harvard clergy, whom Mather viewed as increasingly liberal, ecclesiastically lax, and overly broad in Church polity (the more things change…)

The feud caused the Mathers to champion the success of the Collegiate School in the hope that it would maintain religious orthodoxy in a way that Harvard had not—a mission that, in my day, the school was performing admirably. If people only knew the truth about the evil empire Harvard was and is, they would not, I think, wear t-shirts advertising the place. Looking at you, Steve Schammel…

Anyway, wars cost money, and so Cotton Mather got in touch with a rich Boston business man named Elihu Yale whose generous bequest had the slight catch of changing the Collegiate School’s name to… Yale. Money talks. Branding. I like the old name.

But, the Eli-financed building program went well. Many battles against the evil empire were won (it really is a moral question, which side you’re on, Steve 😉 but, it seems the war has been lost. Ah well, at least we tried; some of us are still battling and believe that victory will finally be snatched from the jaws of defeat.

Anyway, I mention it because battle damage was visible in the old ‘Collegiate School’ back then—‘a different time, you understand’. The place was beautiful but falling apart, delightfully dilapidated for budget reasons (the business men who’d replaced old Elihu were more into Law and [Thomas Dolby voice] ‘Science!’ than divinity, sadly). Towers were leaning. Masonry was falling. The paint on the walls of my room in Brainerd House was literally peeling off in sheets. I’d gone to the registrar to see what could be done and (grinning) he handed me a drop cloth, brush, a couple cans of paint, and told me to knock myself out. The good old days 😉

So, there I was, flailing away, when Tom Gable, peace be upon him, poked his head into my room and went, “Ah, yes. Welcome to Yale and the days of ‘deferred maintenance’. Stop, please. The Boys of Brainerd are here to help.” Tom’s summer job was house painting. He drove me to the hardware store, selected some lovely sky blue paint. When we returned, a small crew of the Boys of Brainerd was ready and my room and a couple others were transformed, beautifully, in a few hours…

We were relaxing after our painting over drinks in Tom and Dave’s suite overlooking the quad with the other Boys of Brainerd, getting acquainted. And the topic was: “Why are you here? What are you looking for? What is the purpose of theology?”

A couple answers had been tossed around. So I jumped in, aiming to get a laugh: “Theology is fun; the point is to enjoy yourself by enjoying God. So if you aren’t having fun, you aren’t really a Xn. I’m here for a Good Time.”

I smiled. But no one laughed. Dave Schull chimed in “By Jove, I think he’s got it.” Peter Ilgenfritz piled on, “it’s all in John’s Gospel, isn’t it?” And he quoted first our text from last week, John 15, where Jesus says, ‘These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full,’ then [our text from John 17 for this morning] ‘these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.’

Greg Harlow Snyder, fresh off a year studying with Alan Ginsburg at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics in Boulder took a drag on his cigarette and said “It’s all in Aquinas, isn’t it? The τελος of human life is in the adoration of, and finally, the absorption into the Divine Life of the Trinity by becoming one Body with Christ Jesus. Unspeakable, unimaginable joy. What else are we here for?”

So it was that I learned how light hearted banter can lead to the most profound theological insights. And that sharing a love for Christ Jesus is the deepest and most joyful bond we can ever experience. I had a very Good Time, those next 3 years…

Calvin… and the man in the Yellow, uhm, Big White Hat in Rome have done much to suck the fun and joy out of Xnity—turning it into a bunch of rules to follow, arduous labors you must perform to placate an angry, vengeful God. But Jesus promises… rest. Weirdly, it’s the increasingly liberal, ecclesiastically lax, overly broad theology of Harvard that goes all law on your aaa…donkey and sucks the fun out of life.

Paradoxically, it’s rigorous orthodoxy—slavish devotion to the old ways, worship, and apostolic preaching of Xt which frees us to enjoy God. Luther would’ve been right at home in the Yale School, 1960’s through the 80’s. I was. C.S. Lewis points out that Luther’s theology was dismissed by Romans like Thomas More and Calvin himself, not for being too strict and doctrinaire but for being too free and breezy, light and easy to be true. Some people just can’t take a joke or have a Good Time.

The Apostles were such people, sometimes. Especially in the tumultuous days of Holy Week. In the garden Jesus prays this prayer for their joy while Judas is on his way with the mob for the whole cross thing. They forsook Him, fled, figuring: “It’s all fun and games till Someone gets nailed to a cross.”

But then, it gets really fun! He rose. By His cross, LIGHT floods a dark world with life and joy. For 40 days they frolicked with Him. But then, last Thursday, Jesus ascended into heaven and they saw Him no more. You’d think that would end the Fun and the Game, but it was only just beginning

They cut the first words from our Gospel today, where Jesus says: “Now I am no longer in the world…” What? So He really is gone? Uh, nah. He’s present in an even more fun way! ‘World’ here is short for Harvard, for all that is not embodied in Christ, not fun. Jesus speaks in not of the world, to get us out of here and into Him.

In our first reading, first thing they do after Ascension is place Matthias in Xt’s office. Because it is here, where the word is preached, the sacraments administered in Jesus’ Name, that we’re adoringly absorbed into the Church, the Body of Christ.

Just have fun with IT, with Him, for Christ’s sake! ‘Cause here, in the worship of Jesus, He finds us, we find Him—His joy’s fulfilled in us, and Peace, surpassing all understanding, guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

About Pastor Martin

Pastor Kevin Martin has served six Lutheran congregations, beginning in 1986 as a field-worker in Trumbull, Connecticut, and vicarages in Arlington, Massachusetts and Belleville, Illinois. He has been pastor of congregations in Pembroke, Ontario and Akron, Ohio. Since 2000, he has served as pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh. Pastor Martin is a lifelong (confessional!) Lutheran (even though) he holds degrees from Valparaiso, Yale, and Concordia Seminary St. Louis. He and his wife Bonnie have been (happily) married since 1988, and have two (awesome!) adult children, Bethany and Christopher. Bonnie is an elementary school teacher. The Martin family enjoy music festivals, travel, golf, and swimming. They are also avid readers and movie-goers.

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