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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Lectionary Scriptures: Acts 16:16-34, Psalm 97:1-12, Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21, John 17:20-26

If I were preaching on this week’s Psalm, I might pick up on the theme of “righteousness and justice.” (Psalm 97:2) God is always on the side of what is right and justice, because it is part of God’s very nature and being. “The heavens proclaim his righteousness . . .” (vs. 6) We are to become vehicles of that same righteousness. “The Lord loves those who hate evil . . . Light dawns for the righteous, and joy for the upright of heart.” (vs. 11) “Righteous” is not a description of those who run around polishing their haloes or spouting platitudes. It’s applied to those who get into the work of making this a better world in which all people are treated with dignity and share in the riches of God’s creation.

The core of the reading from the book of Revelation lifts up the promise that Jesus will come again—the doctrine sometimes called “The Second Coming.” (See. vs. 12) Various reinterpretations of this doctrine have been attempted, including the belief by some that Jesus has already come again through the presence of his Holy Spirit. It’s also possible to think of Jesus coming again and again as he touches our hearts anew and brings new life. It may be another way of expressing the fact that God spans all time, past, present, and future,—“the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (vs. 13) The message of Revelation is that the work is not done yet. Don’t give up. I have not abandoned you. I will be there in the future as well as in the past, even if you have a hard time seeing it in any given moment.

The passage ends with the repeated prayer for Jesus to “Come.” (vss. 17 & 20) It is clear that the fullness of righteousness and justice has not yet been achieved. It is a time in which we need to pray fervently that Jesus’ vision of the peaceable kingdom may be realized—and to act on those prayers.

In the Gospel According to John we have a portion of Jesus’ prayer for his disciples in all ages. A mystical tone can easily be seen in this prayer. It is a prayer that we will experience a “spiritual” unity, a merging of spirits. The phrases are heaped upon one another so that one can hardly miss the point—“that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us . . . The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one. I in them, and you in me, that they may be completely one . . . I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:21-23) Our faith always involves a mystical element, an element that is “known” in one’s deep inner being beyond words, an element that gives rise to a sense of unity with all that is, including the loving heart which beats of the very center of life itself. And the purpose, in Jesus’ prayer, is that all may know that they are surrounded by and part of that love. (See vs. 23)

At first, the story from Acts 16:16-34 seems to be another healing story, and, in part, it is. Of note, however, is who is healed and the consequences. It is a story about the economic impact of the ministry of Paul and his companions. The one healed (of possession by a spirit) was a slave who made money for her owners by telling people’s fortunes. (vss. 16-18) After she is healed, they’ve lost their source of income. It is their disruption of the economics of slavery that gets them arrested and thrown into prison (vss. 19-24) Later there is a similar response when they are a threat to the economic system in Ephesus. (See Acts 19:21 & following) On another occasion people respond to Paul and his companions by shouting, “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also . . .” (Acts 17:6) Taking the Gospel seriously is a challenge to the systems of domination that don’t want to be disturbed.

There’s more to the story, though. Remember Paul and Silas back there in prison? Know what they’re doing? Praying and singing. (vs. 25) Tuesday morning at breakfast, Pastor Rick wondered what they were singing. We didn’t decide. Maybe they were singing something like the old camp song, “Kumbaya”—Come by here, Lord.

Whatever they were singing, an earthquake struck, the doors fell open, and their chains dropped off. (vs. 26) What would you do? I’d probably get out of there as soon as possible, thinking it was an “act of God.” Why overlook such an opportunity?

That’s what made sense to the jailer, who’d been sleeping on the job. The earthquake awakened him and he assumed they were gone. He was about to kill himself when Paul loudly told him, “Stop! We’re all here.” (vs. 27-28) The jailer, as well as Paul and his party, knew that the punishment for allowing them to escape would have been death. The most significant part of the story may be the compassion these early missionaries showed. Their staying saved the jailer’s life. Preaching the Gospel in a way that shakes the powerful up is part of the story. The other is loving one’s enemy, including the one who is keeping you in chains—and recognizing that even the jailer is but a cog in a larger system.

As a result of their compassion, the jailer, and his family, became followers of The Way. The reach of compassion, of God’s Love, goes beyond a single person to touch whole families and communities. Whatever the guiding power in our lives, others are affected by it, most immediately those in our households.

And new relationships of intimacy are built. As happened with Lydia in an earlier story, Paul and his friends are invited home by the jailer to share a meal—breaking bread around the table often symbolizing the community brought into being by Jesus’ love—even the community of love that we call Kairos-Milwaukie United Church of Christ.


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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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