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Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Opportunities for unexpected ministry arise when faith confronts powers that oppress. When can we not walk away from situations of pressing need? Where does God call us to bring freedom and compassion? To live in Christ challenges us to engage in mission. To dwell in the Spirit renews us with waters of life. We trust God’s power to deliver. Acts 16:16–34. The practice of holding property and sharing goods in common marked the early church’s identity, as reported in the early chapters of Acts. This “community of goods” was exercised for the common good of all (Acts 4:32–34). In today’s focus passage, the “owners” of a young woman misuse her for the sake of personal gain. A confrontation unfolds between powers that exploit human life and those that bring deliverance. In an occurrence similar to the exorcisms by Jesus, the “spirit” in the girl speaks the truth about those through whom God works. Enacting the gospel’s liberation can be costly. The owners of this girl do not bring Paul and Silas to court out of theological disagreement. Their source of income has been cut off. In reprisal, they charge the pair on two counts. They are Jews (true). They advocate anti-Roman customs (false). Flogging and imprisonment result. The details of “innermost cell” and feet fastened in stocks paint a scene where escape seems impossible. Yet even before the earthquake physically looses their bonds, Paul and Silas act in freedom. They sing. They pray. The mission the magistrates intended to stop keeps its focus and adapts to its new locale. Prisoners listen. The gospel is proclaimed. Release comes to the captives and to the captor. For what shakes as much as, or more than, the ground is the certainty of the jailer. His question of “what must I do” calls to mind the same question that crowds asked of John the Baptizer (Luke 3:10) and then Peter on Pentecost (2:37). Compassion takes form when Paul and Silas respond to the jailer, rather than flee from his custody. The text ends with a marvellous picture of mutual ministry. The jailer takes Paul and Silas into his home and washes their wounds. Paul and Silas baptize the jailer and his household. They welcome former adversaries into the community. The night ends with a meal. Table fellowship is a key mark of Christian community in Acts. Peter’s vision (Acts 10:9–16) had broken the boundaries of such fellowship. Paul, Silas, and the jailer enact its grace. The themes of life in Christ and reconciliation with God connect several of our passages. John 17:20–26 relates the prayer of Jesus for disciples of all time. What binds us together across time and place is the gift of unity with God in Christ. Revelation 22:12–14, 16–17, 20–21 asserts that life is a gift as dependable as the One who guarantees it. We are all invited to receive this gift. God’s power to deliver provides the assurance that we may trust in God’s promises. Psalm 97 joins the promise of “rescue” with the assurance of justice. We are delivered to newness of life, not more of the same. Revelation affirms that God will come to “repay” according to one’s works. Reversals like those experienced by the slave girl, as well as by Paul and Silas and the jailer, narrate how God’s “repayment” includes rescue and justice. Abuses and violations of human worth still occur and may catch us off guard. Opportunities to witness and serve still arise unscheduled. The Spirit beckons our ministry in all situations.

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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