Saturday, April 14, 2007

80% of Success: Thoughts for the Second Sunday of Easter (RCL)

We’ve all heard the saying, “80% of success is just showing up.” It’s a quote from Woody Allen, the actor and director. I did some diligent web surfing, but couldn’t find the context in which he said or wrote or published it. But we all know it, don’t we? It’s been used in motivational speeches public and private. It’s been used by corporate coaches and sports coaches, and by a lot of different folks offering encouragement to others.

Interestingly enough, it’s what came to me in reflecting on the lessons for Low Sunday, the Second Sunday of Easter. There’s a sense that the theme running through the lessons for today is about “showing up.”

The centerpiece of the lessons today is the Gospel. We know the story: the disciples were hiding at the end of that first Easter Sunday, hiding from the world that seemed to have collapsed around and on them. And Jesus just showed up. The doors were locked. The room was probably quiet: these were folks who didn’t want to be found. And Jesus just showed up – suddenly, shockingly, Jesus was there, calm and smiling as big as life. Big as life: that was the most shocking part. They had seen him dead and buried. They had seen the tomb empty. They had heard from Mary Magdalene that he was really raised - but she was a woman; what did she know? Now here he was, standing in front of them, greeting them in peace! He blessed them, he breathed on them, he empowered them with the Holy Spirit, and they rejoiced at seeing him.

Unfortunately, Thomas wasn’t there. In a very real way, he experienced sadness and failure because he hadn’t shown up. He heard the joy, he heard the excitement, when his brother and sister disciples said to him, “He was here! He was really here!’ But he couldn’t join in. Thomas the Twin, Thomas the realist, Thomas, the first post-Enlightenment Christian, if you will: Thomas just couldn’t join in. Can’t you just imagine his disappointment? Can’t you just imagine his frustration, his anger at himself at not being there? So, perhaps it was as much defensive as it was pragmatic when he said, “Unless I see: unless I see nail holes, unless I see the spear wound, I can’t join in the celebration.”

And so the next week, the Second Sunday of the original Eastertide, Thomas did show up. And being there himself, he was there when Jesus showed up again, still as surprising and as calm and as big as life. “Here, Thomas,” he said. “look and touch. See and believe.” And Thomas was able to respond with all his heart and soul, “My Lord and my God!” Such a great change for Thomas just because the second time he had just showed up.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised after that that the disciples started showing up. The biggest story of them showing up will come to us at Pentecost. But today’s Acts lesson is a consequence of them showing up. That’s why they were being interrogated by the Sanhedrin, the Council of religious leaders in Jerusalem. The disciples kept showing up in the Temple, teaching about Jesus and proclaiming the coming of God’s Kingdom. Indeed, the verses just before this lesson we learn that they had been imprisoned for it. But during the night an angel came to the prison, freed them, and told them to do it again. And so when they showed up again, the Sanhedrin had them arrested and brought for interrogation. “We told you not to do this,” the leaders said. “We told you not to put this on us.” But Peter said, “We have to do what God called us to. We are witnesses that God has showed up, and has therefore called us to show up.”

And the theme is topped off by the lesson from Revelation. Today’s lesson is from the first chapter, the introduction; and John the Elder makes right off the bat the point he will emphasize and reemphasize throughout the text: “Look! He is coming. Every eye will see him, including those who pierced him.” No one will miss it this time when Jesus shows up again.

Now, wonderful and powerful things happen when Jesus shows up. The disciples received the gift of the Holy Spirit, and were empowered to take the message out into a world that didn’t want them. And when, empowered by the Holy Spirit, they showed up, teaching about Jesus and proclaiming the Kingdom, the community grew. Remember all those reports in Acts that all of Jerusalem was listening, and that day by day thousands were joining? That was all the result of the disciples showing up and showing up.

Now, I know that last phrase seemed a bit odd and repetitious. I said that because their showing up, in the sense of being physically present, was only part of what moved the crowds. It was also important what – or in this case whom – they were showing. They were showing up, and then showing the presence of Christ. In teaching and healing in the Temple, and in caring for one another, they were demonstrating the presence of Christ in their midst. In a very real sense, when they were showing up, really showing up, Christ was showing up; for the people could see and know the presence of the risen Christ in the tangible, active presence of the disciples.

And that, of course, is our call even now, we who would continue to be disciples of Jesus. We are the successors of Thomas and of all the others for whom Jesus has showed up. We gather for Eucharist because we believe he continues to show up, present in Body and Blood in the elements of bread and wine. We trust that in receiving bread and wine we receive again the Holy Spirit as surely as if we had felt ourselves the breath of the risen Christ.

And so we are called to show up – to show up and to show up. We are called to be present in the Church and the world. Certainly, we are called to show up in church on Sunday; but we’re also called to show up in the world, present to friends and neighbors, present to our communities. And when we show up, we’re called to show up – that is, we’re called first to be present ourselves, and then to show by how we are present the presence of the risen Christ. Now, that may be a frightening thought. Like the first disciples, it might seem easier to gather alone, by ourselves, in quiet rooms. But we are indeed the successors of Thomas and the others, and we know that the risen Christ showed up then, and shows up now. Indeed, we have taken that wonderful image of Paul’s, and claimed that we are the continuing Body of Christ, called to make him present in our lives and in our world. We can no more hide ourselves away than could the first disciples once Christ had come back to them from beyond the tomb.

And when we will do that, when we will show in our lives the presence of the risen Christ, amazing things can happen. Just as those first disciples brought Christ to many, and so brought many to Christ, so we can also present Christ in our world. Even if it seems sometimes the world doesn’t want us, still the presence of Christ is compelling. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we can proclaim the Kingdom. And as Jesus told Thomas, how blessed are those – how blessed are we – who have not seen and yet believe.

Among us and through us the risen Christ can still do great things. Empowered by the Spirit, we can be a part of them. All we have to do is proclaim that God has raised Christ from death, and has promised life for all who believe. Conquering death was the hard part, and God did that in Christ. All we have to do is continue to make that real and present in our world. And for that, the greatest part of success is just showing up


Anonymous said...

I like an online search challenge so I did some searching on the Woody Allen cite myself.

I searched under his name and "just showing up" and found many "Woody Allen is supposed to have said(s)..." before hitting pay dirt, the man himself stating the context of the quote (the link.)
You will note that the saying is "80% of life is just showing up"

Marshall Scott said...

a macarthur:

Thanks very much for this. I appreciate the effort, and the time I'm sure it took you.

So, "80% if life" rather than "80% of success:" I stand corrected. Still, I think "success" works better with Easter 2's lessons. I think "life" might well preach - "I am the way, the truth, and the life," or "In him was life, and the life was the light of men" - but it would be a different sermon.

Again, thanks.