There are few that aim beyond themselves, therefor they remain entangled in themselves and cannot be elevated in spirit above themselves. - Thomas a’Kempis
Congratulations! You have been left behind. Jesus is going to the Father and you, you are in the world and there you are meant to be and there he leaves you — for now. You have, by definition, been left behind.
Good for you.
The great High Priestly Prayer of Jesus — a prayer of consecration, if you like — has many theological twists and turns in it that echo and advance the case that the Gospel as a whole has and will make, but there remains one overarching little fact that is echoed throughout the prayer: Jesus will leave these, his disciples and those who will come after them, here in this world where their presence will not always be welcomed.
What is consecration? A definition might be: The solemn dedication to a special purpose or service. The word "consecration" literally means "to associate with the sacred.” (looked up on the inter web, must be true) To use the logic of the Holy Eucharist and to paraphrase the wisdom of St. Katherine Drexel, what Jesus is doing here is to consecrate his followers much like the church consecrates the bread and wine to join the sacred to the elements and giving the elements wholly to the faithful to be their strength, peace, and salvation. None of the elements is left when all is said and done (as long as the altar guild is well trained and reverent).
Polycarp, I think, wrote to the Philippians that he saw his impending martyrdom — by lions — as a matter of being ground into fine flour like wheat is ground by the stones. One should not mourn such a fate, was his wisdom. No, his death was akin to the fate of the wheat that became the bread of the Eucharist. This loss, both to his congregations and himself, was a matter of being consecrated and given to advance God’s Holy purpose here in the world. Like the bread and the cup, once consecrated there is really no choice what should happen next.
But there is and we know it. We live in a world where our Faith is sometimes advertised as the way to spiritual prosperity and personal betterment. It is our job to get happy by becoming part of the church. We ask ourselves to be careful how we cast our nets in service lest we cast them past our own zone of happy. A net held back in mid toss tends to snap back at the thrower and, as Thomas observes, entangles the thrower. It will not catch or serve anything but rather keep the thrower busy dealing with a net and himself.
What if we served and gave beyond what makes us happy? Maybe all Christian action has the aim of martyrdom. Ok, ok,ok, I know you now think I am nuts. You would be right but that is not important right now. Truly: Martyrs are people who give it all to the point of total oblivion. Here was really nothing left of Polycarp. But look, I can still remember him. Why? Because he is one of the thousands and thousands who, in spectacular and totally unseen actions and events transformed this world, for which Jesus has consecrated us all, utterly all the way down to your and my faith.
We are all in some way sacrificed for the atonement of this world. In other words, there is something that we are meant to do spectacular or unseen in the God’s scheme to transform the world one more time. The disciples in our lesson from Acts this week know this. They gather to pray and in this way to catch a glimpse of what will be their work. (Acts 1:14) 1 Peter assures the church in small Asia that their work, even though it brings much trouble and travail, is holy work and therefore must be engaged in with integrity and faith. Their lives are a sacrifice for the hope of the world and so are ours. So, how far are we really throwing our nets these days?