Well, I took the bait. In early February I started watching the new television series, “Smash.” I am not typically one to jump on the bandwagon of a new television show. I tend to be skeptical and un-persuaded by the advertisement. But I think my desire to watch something that was not about violence, crime, hospitals, or some bad reality, caught my attention. I hoped for a good program that offered entertainment and interesting characters.
If you haven’t seen Smash it is a fictionalized story about the creation of a Broadway musical, based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. The plot has the musical being written by the fictionalized successful songwriting duo of Tom and Julia. Julia recently began the process of adopting a child with her husband Frank of many years, but her focus is torn when she has the opportunity to write another Broadway hit. A rivalry soon forms for the lead role between a youthful, inexperienced Midwestern beauty Karen - who is trying to find fame in the big city against all odds - and stage veteran Ivy Bell, who's determined to leave the chorus line and finally get her big break. A tenacious producer Eileen discovers the "Marilyn" project and jumps on board with a brilliant director, Derek - whose talent is matched by his cunning and egocentric amorality. (from the Smash website)
The actors are well known – Debra Messing who starred in Will and Grace, Anjelica Huston, Academy award winner for Prizzis Honor in 1985, and Katharine McPhee who was in the top ten for American Idol in 2002 – to name a few. From the first episode it has held my attention. While I have some issues with the direction of the character development, I have for the most part enjoyed and appreciated how the plot has thickened and the characters have grown. It takes a few episodes of a new show for the characters to become multi-dimensional, for us to see their strengths and their weaknesses, their gifts and their challenges as characters in the story. Overall I’m enjoying the show and hope it continues to develop in an interesting and engaging way.
During the Season of Easter we will hear readings from the Book of Acts. In a similar way that the plot of Smash has grown and the characters have developed, so does the early church grow and develop. The climax of the story of what God is doing in the life of Jesus occurs in Holy Week – the crucifixion seems to be the ultimate dramatic ending. But true to God’s unexpected ways, the end is not the end. The story continues in the resurrection on Easter Day.
The Book of Acts and the Gospel of Luke are companion books, written by the same community. Luke describes the story of Jesus’ life, from his birth to his resurrection. Acts describes the formation of the early church in its life after the crucifixion and resurrection. The story is told by a disciple named Luke who, as best we can understand, travelled with Paul. It appears that the author of Luke/Acts was a Gentile, possibly from Syrian who converted to Judaism and then to Christianity
According to Raymond Brown, a foremost authority on the New Testament: The Luke/Acts series was written between 80 and 100 CE. Like most books of the era, Luke/Acts is not a clear chronological historical account of the events. However they tell a fairly accurate story of what transpired through the life of Jesus and the communities of faith that grew up in response. The purpose of the Book of Acts seems to be one of telling the story of how Jesus was crucified by Roman officials and yet - that was not the end of the story. Amazingly, the teachings of Jesus moved through the region, even into Rome, where churches were established and lives were transformed.
Bruce Epperly, a noted Spiritual Director and author, says this about our reading this morning (it) “describes a community of prophetic hospitality in which justice and compassion characterize social relatedness”…thus forming relationships focused on radical hospitality, justice, and compassion.
The Book of Acts is filled with stories and characters who struggle to live into the reality of Jesus’ teachings – to love God, love self, and love others. They struggled with how expansive this hospitality, love, justice, and compassion was intended to be. In particular the struggle was to determine who could be a member of the community, of the church, and who could not. This struggle manifested in the relationship of a dominant Jewish community and its Gentile sisters and brothers. These Gentiles were raised in radically different ways than the Jewish followers of Jesus, they did not practice or follow the teaching of the Jewish faith. They did not look right, they did not eat the right things prepared in the correct manner. These Gentiles had much to learn about Jesus and Jewish prayer and practice. The early church fought over the details of what was important and what was not important in order to become a faithful follower of Jesus. One of the earliest arguments, one that nearly fractured the church in Jerusalem, was about circumcision. Circumcision was a requirement for Jews, unheard of for Gentiles. In chapter 15 of Acts James addresses this argument and settles it with gracious hospitality. James calls for a radical inclusion of all Gentiles, without the need for the Gentiles to be just like the Jews. James provides a model for moderating all conflicts in the church. He provides a model for us to navigate the issues we face today – when in debate over the ordination of women or partnered gays and lesbians, over the full inclusion of all gender identities, over the full inclusion of all-bodiedness, over the full inclusion of all people, James calls for radical hospitality – all truly are welcome in the body of Christ.
And the, in the end two primary practices prevailed – baptism and Holy Communion.
The season of Easter is a season focused on Baptism. Baptism is the rite that makes us Christian and defines, in the baptismal covenant, how we are to live as Christians by sharing, teaching, and treating others with dignity and respect. Easter is also a season when, in the ancient church, those newly baptized receive Holy Communion for the first time. Now, full members of the community, the newly baptize enter completely the Christian story by sharing the sacred meal of bread and wine. Baptism and Communion define us as Christians, and are lifted up in the Season of Easter. Thus the baptismal font is filled with water, and blessed, as a reminder of our baptism and the promises we have made. The Paschal Candle is lit and reminds us of the light of Christ shining in the world, shining in and through us. The communion bread and wine are light and sweet, a celebration of the love God made known in the person of Jesus. And the confession is eliminated for the season of Easter, reminding us that we spent the season of Lent considering the ways we are broken, the ways we contribute to the brokenness in the world, and what we can do to mend the brokenness. Now in the season of Easter our focus is on being made whole and our efforts, by the grace of God, to bring wholeness into the world.
This is our story as a people of God - who through the grace of God - are called to bring wholeness into the world through radical hospitality, gracious love, and acts of justice and compassion.