Rev. Frank Logue
As many of you know, my wife, Victoria and I hiked the Appalachian Trail in a single six-month hike in 1988. During that hike, we spent most of our nights in a tent. However, we did spend roughly 70 nights in trail shelters.
Along the Appalachian Trail, there is a series of shelters available. Volunteers built the typically three-sided wood buildings designed for overnight use at intervals of about ten miles apart from Georgia to Maine. The shelters are convenient, as you dont have to put up and take down a tent and they are also close to a reliable water source. The trail shelters are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Though some are more accommodating, most of the shelters will comfortably hold eight hikers. However, trail etiquette says that there is always room for one more, particularly when the weather is bad. Following this trail etiquette did prove humorous at times. Victoria and I shared an unusually large trail shelter with an entire Boy Scout Troop during an April snowstorm in Tennessee. Fortunately, the shelter had been a barn before the park service bought the land for the trail. There was plenty of room for everyone.
On other occasions, we packed in to traditional eight-person shelters with more than the suggested limit. In Vermont, we were warm and dry in a shelter for eight when a group of a dozen soggy hikers arrived in the rain looking for a dry spot to camp. Ten joined us in the shelter, while the other two pitched a tent out front. Poor Victoria ended up pushing a rather large hiker off her all night as he kept rolling over in his sleeping bag.
I tell this story to let you picture how an overcrowded trail could be a problem for hikers. It is not just that you have to run into fellow hikers all day on the trail. You also compete with each other for shelter space and suitable campsites in the evening. With that in mind, it is easy to understand why not everyone loves guidebook authors.
A guidebook author is the sort of person who will tell everyone willing to buy his or her book the location of your favorite campsite. This is a bit of a confession, of course, as Victoria and I have written eight books together in addition to the three books she has written on her own. Several of our books are guidebooks, including The Best of the Appalachian Trail guides. In those two books, we told people about great day and overnight hike destinations all along the trail, including Little Rock Pond in Vermont, where we were packed in to a shelter with 10 other wet hikers.
Not only do we tell people where to hike, but also we suggest in several books how you might find solitude by hiking in off peak times. It is surely not due to us alone that use of the Appalachian Trail has increased during those previously off-peak times, but nonetheless, the trail can be overcrowded at times. While some hikers are glad to have found the trail through books like ours, not everyone on the A.T. has a fondness for guidebook authors. We take something known by a select few and share it with everybody willing to read what we write. What some hikers wish could be their secret, we proclaim to anyone wholl buy or borrow a book.
You must be wondering by now what any of this has to do with the Gospel. Yes, I do have a point hiding somewhere in my confession of a guidebook author. It will all tie together somehow with the readings for today. Our readings all fit with this as the first Sunday after the Ascension. Thursday was the fortieth day after Easterthe day Luke tells us Jesus left his earthly ministry behind to return to heaven.
Right at the point of his departure, Jesus tells his disciples to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Once they are empowered by God, they are to become witnesses to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
This is the point where Jesus earthly ministry ends and the ministry of the disciples begins. In fact, disciples is no longer the exact right word. For Jesus has just made them Apostles. Apostle means one who is sent and Jesus last words send the disciples out in ministry. They are now the Apostles. If those sent ones, the Apostles do nothing, then the Jesus movement ends. If the Apostles fail to tell others, then Jesus life, death, and resurrection will have accomplished nothing.
What the Apostles do is stand around looking up in the sky to see what is going to happen next. That is when God gives the Apostles a bit of a holy nudge. Two men in white robes, who we would call angels, stand by them and say, Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? In other words, Stop looking around. Get going! As the story continues, the Apostles go back to wait in prayer for the Holy Spirit as they were told to do. Next week the story will continue with Pentecost, the day they are empowered by the Holy Spirit for ministry.
This week we have a chance to look at what the Apostles are sent to do. They are told to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ by being Gods witnesses to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Jerusalem is where they are now. They are to start with the area where they are and to work outward. The apostles are to work their way to Judea and Samaria. Judea is the countryside surrounding Jerusalem, while Samaria is the dreaded area north of Judea. All those uncouth Samaritans live in Samaria, but Jesus expects his disciples to go there and love them too. Finally, Jesus told the Apostles to keep spreading the Good News up until they reach the ends of the earth. Thats a pretty big to-do list.
The best we can tell, the Apostles did a good job on this Great Commission. Ancient traditions and some bits of evidence suggest that within their lifetime, Jesus disciples had reached as far as what is now England to the west, India to the east.
There is a story told about what happened in heaven when Jesus returned from his earthly ministry. Its not biblical. Its just a story to make a point. It goes like this. Jesus returns in glory to heaven. All the angels gather round to give the Son of God a high five and a pat on the back. Everyone is pretty fired up at first. As the excitement dies down a bit, the archangel Gabriel, who was so involved in announcing Jesus birth, speaks up.
So what happens next? Gabriel asks. "What's the plan?"
Jesus explains, My disciples take over now. Theyll spread the Good News to the whole earth so that everyone will come to know that God loves them and wants a relationship with them.
You mean those fisherman, that tax collector and the like that youve been walking around with? Gabriel asked with more than a little concern creeping into his voice.
Yeah, those guys, Jesus answered. Theyll take over now. The Holy Spirit is with them. Theyll do great.
There was a long pause. Then Gabriel asked tentatively, Whats the backup plan?
Jesus looked Gabriel in the eye with great seriousness and said, Thats the only plan. There is no backup plan.
That still is the only plan. The only way God has to reach the world with the Good News of Jesus is through his disciples.
Had those first disciples hoarded their knowledge of Jesus, then there would have been no Christianity. Instead of treating their relationship with God as a personal matter, the Apostles began to act more like overzealous guidebook authors pointing the way to something that could have been a secret for them alone.
The Apostles knew that the Kingdom of God was not a place of limited resources. Instead of being like an Appalachian Trail shelter on a rainy night, which really does have a load limit. The Apostles knew that in the Kingdom of God there really is always room for one more. Always.
Jesus said that there are many rooms in his Fathers house (John 14). The disciples turned Apostles understood this to mean that there would be room enough for everyone in heaven and then went out to tell as many people as possible. They told the poor about salvation, they proclaim freedom to the prisoners, and joy to the sorrowful.
We too are charged with reaching our Jerusalem, which for us is Kingsland. We too are to reach our Judea and Samaria, which for us is Camden County and Coastal Georgia. Moreover, we too are to join other Christians in spreading the word to the ends of the earth.
We can hoard our relationship with God as a private treasure. We can keep silent, not wanting to intrude on someone elses private beliefs. Or, we can, use the occasional openings the Holy Spirit offers us to share the Easter Joy that is ours in Christ knowing heaven always has a vacancy sign out front. Its up to us now. If this generation of Christians does not spread the Good News to the next, then Christianity will die out within a generation.
Trusting us to share spread faith in Christ might seem like a tenuous plan at best. Gods whole great project to love all creation could fall flat with us. But God has confidence in you. God gives you the gift of the Holy Spirit to empower you to speak up when you feel you cant. God will give you the words to use when you have no words. You are Gods plan for spreading the Gospel. There is no back up plan.
King of Peace Episcopal Church + P.O. Box 2526 + Kingsland, Georgia 31548-2526