Are we there yet? Are we ever? Being opened to the life of interpretation.

by Lowell Chilton

A Sermon for the Gathered Students of the Spring 205 Homiletics Class at the Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry, where I am working on a Master of Divinity degree.

Photo by franckreporter/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by franckreporter/iStock / Getty Images

It’s already been 40 days since Easter. That means it’s already been 47 days since the quarter began. That also means we only have 22 days left in the quarter, not counting finals week. Twenty days from yesterday is the graduating student blessing.

Are you ready for it?

Are you ready to get out of here for the summer?

I know I’m antsy for it to be my turn to be blessed as a graduating student and to off into ministry. After all, this is the end of my fourth year. And I still have two years to go!

And some of you have been here longer than that. Some of you have longer to go.

Are y’all ready to graduate? To get out there and “do church”?

Aside from being 40 days since Easter, this is the day that the western church celebrates the ascension. When I was thinking about what message to bring you today I read the texts for the ascension and I was particularly struck by one of them.

I’m going to read a little bit for you from Luke’s account of Jesus’ ascension. This reading is from the very end of the Gospel according to Luke. It comes just after Jesus appears to the eleven disciples and their companions, having them touch him and eating with them.

And here begins our reading, from the Common English Bible. The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the 24th Chapter:

44 Jesus said to them,
“These are my words that I spoke to you
while I was still with you—
that everything written about me
in the Law from Moses, the Prophets,
and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”

45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures.
46 He said to them, “This is what is written:
the Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day,
47 and a change of heart and life for the forgiveness of sins
must be preached in his name to all nations,
beginning from Jerusalem.
48 You are witnesses of these things.

49 Look, I’m sending to you what my Father promised,
but you are to stay in the city
until you have been furnished with heavenly power.”

50 He led them out as far as Bethany,
where he lifted his hands and blessed them.

51 As he blessed them, he left them and was taken up to heaven.

52 They worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem
overwhelmed with joy.
53 And they were continuously in the temple praising God.

This starts off with a pretty gentle reminder of what Jesus had already told them. Indeed, in my Bible, on just the other column of the page the author says that Jesus interpreted all that was said about him to the two men on the road to Emmaus, while annoyingly not telling us what he actually said.

But then, Jesus goes beyond a gentle reminder and lays some learning on them. At least that’s how I hear the statement that “he opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” I hear “he cracked wide open their heads and implanted the complete correct interpretation of the scriptures into their brains.”

But what if this is more than that? What if the “to understand” is highly active? And what if we read the word for “mind” as “understanding” or “reasoning,” both of which would be appropriate? What if verse 45 could then become “he opened their understanding for the purpose of comprehending?”

Does this not then become an ongoing state of comprehending? An ongoing state of attempting to comprehend and then to live with that comprehension?

If so, then what is it they are comprehending? 

Jesus gives them the hermeneutical key: Jesus the Christ suffered at the hands of the world. At the hands of the people. Jesus the Christ died. And Jesus the Christ was reborn. In this act of suffering, dying, and rising, Jesus the Christ overcomes the power of evil and gives us hope for the future.

This hope for the future leads us to respond by turning away from that which takes us away from God. It calls us to turn away from ourselves and turn toward God.

This is the hermeneutical key that Jesus gives his disciples; they are to look for the promise of rebirth, the promise of forgiveness, the promise of grace and then to seek a response to that promise.

And they are to go out to all peoples preaching this promise and evoking this response. They are to carry the gospel to all nations.

But first they have to go wait in Jerusalem.

magine being one of those disciples. You’ve been following Jesus around for three years and you are finally starting to get it. He’s just given you that epiphany that allows you to process all the things you’ve been trying to figure out.

And he’s commissioned you to go preach that epiphany to all the nations and then - he says you have to go wait in the city.

I think I’d be pretty frustrated. I know that sometimes now I am pretty frustrated thinking about how long I’ve been here already. And I’ve still got a ways to go before my M.Div. is done, longer still for a call and ordination.

I bet many of you feel this way on occasion. Or more than on occasion.

I think this waiting is important. It is in the waiting that we become as cracked open to the act of comprhending as the disciples were.

For all the great learning that is pouring into our heads here at STM, what we are really learning is how to have a habitus of comprehending. This habitus of understanding, this practice of comprehending, this life of interpreting is not something that can be instilled in you in one sermon. Or which can be developed in a single class, no matter how much I may love David Tracy or Paul Tillich. It takes time, and deliberation, and waiting to come into this life of interpreting.

Nor is this life of interpreting limited to just those of us with some seminary education.

Our text today tells us that this life of interpreting, this life of seeking the promise of the gospel and our response to it, is something that is to be spread to all peoples.

So when the disciples were told to stay, they stayed. And they worshiped God in the temple continuously.

Maybe we also are to heed that command to stay and wait. To remain in the temple worshipping God.

Perhaps, just perhaps, we need to allow room in our lives to not only be ready to proclaim the good news, but also to spend more time in the temple, all at the same time.

For this is the life of living into having our minds opened for the purpose of comprehending.

This is the life of the preacher. Of holding the bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. This is the life of guiding those to whom we preach into this life as well.

I pray that this opening never closes and that we always find new understandings and new life in the suffering, death, and resurrection of our Brother Jesus Christ.