Some of my favorite television shows to watch are the ones where you see something put together right in front of you. Cooking shows where a written recipe becomes a steaming, savory dish; woodworking shows where a drawing becomes a handsome side board; even Orange County Choppers – from a few years ago – where drawaings on paper get hammered and welded into a roaring motorcycle so beautiful it brings tears to the eyes of the salty, muscle-bound shop owner.
What I love is seeing it put together. I love seeing an idea, a vision becomes real.
Of course, the folks we see on television are experts at what they’re doing. They’re experts because they have skill and talents and above all determination to learn their craft. None of them got good at their craft overnight. My guess is that Bobby Flay has ruined more mole sauces than most of us will ever attempt.
It takes practice and hard work and failure to turn theory into practice. I think the hardest part is to keep believing you can really build a table that won’t wobble because one leg is an eighth of an inch too short. Especially if it’s about the tenth time you’ve made the same mistake. The hardest part is not giving up on an idea in the face of repeated failure.
They say anything worth doing is worth doing right. But none of us gets it right the first over even the fiftieth time. It takes practice.
If there were Bibles in our pew racks, I’d start by asking you to take out your Bible and turn to chapter 9, verse 51 of the gospel according to Luke, which is where our gospel reading for this morning begins. And I’d do that to point out, not what’s written there, but so that you could see the blank space on the page that comes between verses 50 and 51. In lots of versions of the Bible I’ve seen, there are extra spaces before verse 51. It’s there to give us a heads up that we’ve come to the significant conclusion of one section and the significant beginning of the next.
So after the blank space, verse 51 reads: “When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” The time has come for Jesus to turn his face towards Jerusalem and the cross that is waiting for him there. The larger than usual blank space is there to let us know that we’ve come to a turning point. The early days of Jesus’ ministry with his disciples is over. We’re leaving that behind and crossing over to a more perilous time.
To be clear, it’s not that this big turning point happens because Jesus sees that his disciples and those closest to him are now somehow now ‘ready’ for this more perilous time because they have successfully completed their initial training as disciples. It’s not like he has observed that they have mastered the introductory courses and can now move on to the more advanced level. In fact, recent events make it look like sort of the opposite has happened.
I’d like to begin this morning with a little confession. From time to time, when I’m flipping through tv channels, I’ve found myself pausing to look in on a certain kind of religious tv programming. You’ve probably caught sight of them too. They’re those programs with the incredibly glitzy, gaudy sets with the gold gilt pastor’s chairs. I don’t understand all that glitz. And I don’t understand the hairdo’s and the strange glittering clothes some of these preachers and religious personalities wear. Most of the music I hear on those programs makes me cringe. Check that: all of it makes me cringe. I don’t really like the Christian faith all pompadoured up and hair-sprayed and whipped into some kind of a tacky spiritual meringue. But I do find myself pausing to look in.
Because, along with the tacky sets and costumes, I also often see hundreds, of people in those tv studios or rented Ramada Inn banquet halls, fervently, passionately waiting for the miracle of God’s mighty presence and the manifestation of his power. And I often see a collection of people – black folks, white folks, Hispanics and Asians that most of us mainline denominations will never see in our churches.
I do pause my channel flipping and watch, because like all of those folks, I want to see a miracle too. I want to see God move to sanctify life through healing or mighty displays of the power of God’s holy love. I want to be fed with bread baked in heaven and drink Living Water bubbling up from the source of all life.
Biblical commentators on the book of the Acts of the Apostles always point out how one of the great themes of this book about the birth of the Church is that God the Holy Spirit is the main actor in what we read there. It isn’t Peter or Paul. It isn’t the sprawling cast of characters with names like Cornelius and Lydia and Dorcus and Titus. The Holy Spirit of God is the headliner, the star, the one who’s responsible for setting peoples’ feet moving down the road, and blowing ships on just the right course, stirring up dreams and visions, building bridges, opening doors, and generally stirring the whole pot. The Holy Spirit is God’s gift of himself “that we might live no longer for ourselves, but for him who died and rose for us, [as his own first gift] to complete his work in the world, and to bring to fulfillment the sanctification of all”. As I read these stories of the church’s first beginnings – including this story of a tense meeting between Peter and the other apostles – I can’t seem to shake the image of God the Holy Spirit as a divine but clearly meddling and persistent matchmaker who won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. The lead up to the confrontation between Peter and his brothers back in Jerusalem is a series of visions and the appearance of an angel and words from above that say ‘you really should meet so-and-so, they’re just perfect for you. I know you don’t get out much but it’s time you did. I tell you what, don’t you worry about a thing, I’ll arrange everything’.
And everyone involved is more than a little reluctant for the match to be made. There are lots of protests, like, That’s really not my thing. I’m not really ready. I like my life the way it is. I’m fine on my own. But there is the divine matchmaker, the Spirit insisting: ‘Trust me. You’re perfect for each other. You just show up where I tell you to and I’ll take care of all the rest. You absolutely belong together.’
The passage from Acts we just heard is the climax to a whole series of events. So let me just recap how we got here.