Apostle: The Job You Didn’t Know You Had
“One of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.”
This is a line from our scripture from Acts today. The disciples are beginning to build the early church, to take up their mission and go forward in the spreading of the Good News, now that Jesus has ascended to heaven.
But Jesus began the leadership of the church with twelve apostles, and since Judas’s death, they are down to only eleven. They need someone to replace him, to be a witness as Peter says.
In the crushing tragedy of the crucifixion and the giddy uplift of the resurrection, the disciples have been broken down and remade.
They are actually no longer just disciples; they have become something else.
The word “disciple” means “one who is taught.”
When they followed Jesus on earth, listening to his preaching, seeing his miracles, receiving his instruction, they were disciples, ones who were taught.
But now they have crossed over.
Their personal, visceral experience of abandoning Jesus when they wanted to stay by his side, feeling their hearts break in two when he died on the Cross, and then suddenly knowing themselves to be healed and whole when he came to them, alive again, has changed them forever.
They are no longer disciples, ones who are taught. They are apostles.
The word “apostle” means “one who is sent.”
They have been sent by Jesus to go forward and spread the Good News, to preach liberation to the captives, bind up the brokenhearted, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
And what does it mean to be an apostle, one who is sent?
How does one qualify for it?
I think although we easily identify ourselves as “disciples,” followers of Jesus who seek to learn from him and imitate him, we think of the apostles as “others,” just the Twelve, big, important, historical people that we have little to do with.
They’re heroes and martyrs, leaders and prophets, bold preachers and architects of the early church.
There were only Twelve of them.
We’re not apostles.
We could never be that great.
And frankly, we don’t really want to.
We’d rather outsource work that hard and that grand to someone else, comfortably far away in a dusty old Bible story.
But I have challenging Good News today: we’re all called to be apostles as much as we are called to be disciples.
Being disciples, people who are called and formed and shaped by Jesus, is a lifelong core of our identity.
But that’s not enough.
Because there are so many people out there who do not know the life-changing, life-giving truth that God loves them.
We are not just disciples. We are apostles.
We are ones who are sent, ones entrusted with a message of joy that brings healing and freedom.
“But, I can’t possibly be qualified to be an apostle,” we might say. “I’m nothing like Peter, James, or John!”
Really? Go back and look at the text.
What does it take to be an apostle? What are the qualifications?
“So one of the [people] 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.”
To be an apostle, you must know the story, from Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan, through his ministry of healing and teaching, to the Cross, to the Tomb, and to the Resurrection.
Well, you know that story. We tell it and retell it and learn it anew every week in this very space. That’s qualification one.
And qualification two: you must be a witness to the resurrection.
That’s the trickier one.
For us, being a witness to the resurrection does not mean being alive in the year 33 CE, investigating the literal empty tomb, and seeing the actual bodily Jesus appear to us in the Upper Room. That’s obviously impossible.
So what does it mean for us?
Have you witnessed the resurrection?
Well, let me ask the question a different way.
Is your life different because you’ve welcomed Jesus to change and heal you?
Is there a before and after in your life, no matter how small, slow, and gradual?
Have you allowed God to reach into your heart and rearrange your priorities?
Do you make different choices because you seek to live out the life of discipleship?
Are you plugged into a source of Love greater than yourself?
Do you know you are not alone?
Do you know God longs for you, cherishes you, trusts and delights in you?
Has Jesus captured your heart and laid waste to it with radical love?
The answers to those questions will tell you whether or not you are a witness to the resurrection. And the answers to those questions will tell you whether you have answered the call to be an apostle.
There is a special urgency to the question of our apostleship today, as we celebrate our Christian Formation milestones.
Today we give thanks for the great work of Christian Formation in our congregation, all those who participated in it, and all those who made it possible.
You all know that Christian Formation is my great passion. Seeing people grow and change in their faith is what gets me up in the morning.
And I am so grateful to be part of a parish that shares my priority, that understands that the ways in which we form children and adults in faith is right up there with worship and serving those in need as our primary purposes for existence as a church.
Christian Formation is not just something we do because we’ve always done it.
In fact, we haven’t really always done it. When decline and anxiety creep in around the edges of a congregation, and old models of Christian education no longer bear fruit, there is a tendency to throw up our hands and enter a mentality of scarcity and bittersweet good-old-days fantasies.
Or, we think of Christian Formation, especially for our children and youth, as a competitive sport, trying to beat other churches with the sexiness and flashiness of our offerings.
That’s consumer religion, and quickly devolves into Christian Formation as fodder for the mommy wars.
We are not here to adhere to some rose-colored memory of Sunday School in 1955, and we are not here to put on a better show than the megachurches. Nor are we an equally valuable alternative to sports and other extracurricular activities.
What we do here in Christian Formation is so much more important than any of that.
We are the bearers of a message that people died to get into our hands.
We are the bearers of news that sets people free of bondage.
We are the trusted envoys of a community of discipleship, the front runners of an earth-shattering news that there is hope and love and joy for the taking in the life that God has made possible for us in the resurrection.
And how did we get this message?
We got this message because people took time to form us as Christians, and are taking time to do it right now.
And the people who formed us were formed by others. And the people who formed them were formed by the generation before, through seismic social changes and economic depressions and wars and upheavals of populations across continents.
People have held onto the gospel and passed it on to others at great personal cost through every tragedy and against all odds, all the way back to the apostles themselves, in the moment we read of in our lesson today, as they stood together trying to decide how to take their next steps.
As we move forward in the practical steps of our Christian Formation at St. Francis, of course we have to think about numbers and programming and schedules and events.
But that is only the outer trappings of what we do here.
We are forming our children and youth, and being formed as adult disciples, in the faith that is our sacred gift from those who went before us.
This is the faith that kept people alive when the world was crashing down around them.
This is the faith that taught people how to see injustice and act out against it.
This is the faith that gave people drowning in grief a safe place to rest their hearts.
And this is the faith that we seek to hand on to a world hungry for Good News.
We are not here to succeed, to be a big fancy church with big fancy programming.
We have a much, much higher calling than that.
We are here to change lives.
We are witnesses to the resurrection.
We are apostles.
And that means we are a people who are sent, to do work that no one else can do, for people that no one else is caring for.
If being brave enough to call myself an apostle is what it takes to do that work, to speak that faith, to live that love, than that’s what I’ll do.
I hope you’ll join me.
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