John 17:1-11

Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

Sermon for 7 Easter

Acts 1:6-14

The Rev. Conor M Alexander

May 21, 2023


We've come to the seventh and final week of the Easter Season.  So if you have any colored eggs left in your refrigerator, nows the time to ... probably throw them away.  This year on Facebook I have been exploring the interplay between the seven weeks of Easter, seven days of the week, and the seven classic virtues of Theology.  It's given me a chance to do some daily postings on what I've called "The 49 Days of Easter," with each day being a combination of two of the virtues, and how they inform each other.


I bring this up today because of the message in Acts.  In this first chapter we have a recap of what happens in the end of Luke 24 - Jesus' Ascension.  That's because Luke and Acts forms a two volume set - written by the same author, and continuing the story from Jesus' life through the establishment of the early Church.  So Acts 1 is kind of like when you're watching a television program and the story continues across multiple episodes.  "Previously on the Gospel of Jesus Christ."  Of course these days I'm just binge watching these things so I don't miss a whole lot.


But back to our story.  Jesus is about to Ascend into Heaven, and He gives His Apostles some words of encouragement.  He tells them that they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon them.  That power will cause them to be Christ's witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  After all of this, they returned to Jerusalem, and devoted themselves to prayer.


When I was younger - actually no I had this belief just a week ago.  I thought that the power they received was a kind of boldness.  I thought it was like lighting a fire under their ... shoes ... so that they would tell the story and not be afraid.  Peter went on to preach, Stephen went on to witness and forgive, so on and so forth.  But lately I noticed something different.  I've taken up some Latin recently, and realized that in the New Testament, whenever power is described, the Latin translation is virtutem - or virtue.  You might say that Jesus promised His Apostles that they would receive virtue when the Holy Spirit descends on them.  Now that's something different entirely.


Thomas Aquinas described two types of virtues - the natural and the supernatural virtues.  You could also call them the cardinal and the theological virtues.  The idea is that the natural virtues are things that we have just by being human - wisdom, justice, strength, and restraint.  The supernatural virtues are gifts from God, and they elevate and perfect the natural virtues.  But what are they and how might they work?  How did they affect the Apostles when the Holy Spirit descended on them?


Aquinas took a page from St. Paul, and identified these virtues as faith, hope, and love.  I've come to understand these gifts, powers, or virtues as how you and I relate to goodness.  I would say that the gift of faith deals with what is good.  It is the knowledge of goodness.  If I were to open my refrigerator and pull out some fresh milk, that is well before it's expiration date, I know that it is good as far as milk is concerned.  I have faith that I can drink it.  Hope then is the expectation of goodness.  I can drink the milk that I know is good, and expect that it's going to nourish my body.  Then there’s love.  Love has to do with the desire for goodness.  Knowing what this milk does for me, and being convinced that it is good, I may desire to have a glass of it - especially if I've just eaten a chocolate chip cookie.  I don't have any wisdom as to why those two go so nicely together but there you have it.


Because the Apostles were so close to Jesus, they had an innate sense of what goodness is.  Then when the Holy Spirit came they were fully convinced of that truth.  They just knew what was good.  Because they saw how the Holy Spirit affected not only them, but other people as well, they developed an expectation of goodness - that God was reconciling the world to Himself, and redeeming people to new levels of goodness.  Then, seeing that goodness in action, they grew to desire it for others.


A few weeks ago we heard the story of St. Stephen being martyred.  He spoke of Jesus, and seeing Him at the right hand of the father.  Because of that some people immediately executed him by stoning.  The most touching part of that story though - at least for me - is that just before dying, Stephen prayed, "Lord do not hold this sin against them."  His desire for goodness was so strong that he wanted to see those people forgiven.  His expectation of goodness was so strong that he could imagine them being transformed even after committing a horrible act.  And his knowledge of goodness was so clear that he knew what these people ultimately needed.  Poetically, one of the people standing there taking part in the injustice was a young man named Saul.  He went on to become St. Paul, and be one of the biggest evangelists the Church has ever seen.


The real miracle is that this same goodness is still proclaimed today.  The Church is still here, people are baptized into its mysteries, and the message is still present - loud and clear.  It’s unchanged in its essence but adapted for its times.  That is so you and I can also experience the benefits of virtue - of faith, hope, and love.  It’s so you and I can also know what is good, expect what is good, and desire what is good.  In this hyper-individualistic age many people have lost sight of that.  So many people just look at what's good for them, rather than what is goodness itself.  And yet the Church still stands.  The message is still proclaimed, and lives are transformed.  Existing Christians continue to grow - just like the Apostles did.  As long as we are here goodness is still doing exactly what it needs to do.


So just like the Apostles we sometimes look up, wondering why Jesus has ascended into the clouds.  But there is more to come.  The Holy Spirit is coming upon us, infusing us with those great virtues of faith, hope, and love.  Because once those powers touch you, everything else is elevated and perfected.  Goodness is still continuing.  Amen.