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Easter 7C May 29

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

Our first reading today continues the story of Paul and his team. They are on the way to the place of prayer when they meet a young woman who is a slave. She is possessed by a spirit of divination, and her owners make a great deal of money by owning her and using this gift of hers.

This young woman follows Paul and his team crying out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” The text tells us that she did this for many days.

Paul becomes annoyed with this, and he orders the spirit to come out of her, It comes out. The healing is complete. The spirit is gone. The young woman no longer has the gift which produced a good income for her owners. Mary Donovan Turner notes that the young woman’s owners were what we would call human traffickers. (New Proclamation Year C 2013, p. 53.) 

In those days, the law said that people could own other people. The woman’s owners take hold of Paul and Silas and drag them to the authorities. The owners say that Paul and his team are “advocating customs that are not lawful for us Romans to adopt or observe.” The crowd agrees with the owners. Paul and Silas are stripped bare and beaten with rods. This passage certainly makes it clear that spreading the good news isn’t always easy!

Then Paul and Silas are given a severe flogging and put in prison. The jailer puts them in the innermost cell and fastens their feet in the stocks.

About midnight Paul and Silas are praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners are listening to them. Can we imagine this? Paul and Silas are as bare as the day they were born. They have been beaten at least twice. Their feet are fastened in the stocks and they are singing! And the other prisoners are listening!

Suddenly there is an earthquake. The foundations of the prison are shaking.The doors are open; the chains are unfastened. The jailer wakes up. He sees that the prison doors are open. He thinks that all of the prisoners have escaped, so he takes out his sword to kill himself because he is quite certain that his career, and his life are over.

But Paul cries out in a loud voice. “Don’t hurt yourself. We’re all right here.” The jailer calls for torches, and, sure enough, the prisoners are there. The jailer falls on his knees and asks, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” In addressing Paul and Silas as “sirs,” I think the jailer is concluding that these prisoners are closely associated with a higher power.

Paul and Silas tell him that he needs to believe in the Lord Jesus and they teach him and his household about what that means. And this jailer whose world has just been turned upside down follows the Way of Love, and washes their wounds. He and his family are baptized. He brings them up into his house and sets a meal before them. He extends the gift of hospitality to his new brothers in Christ.

What a beautiful and powerful story! Paul and Silas, prisoners for Christ, set a jailer free to live a new life.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is giving last instructions to his disciples. Much of his Last Discourse is a prayer. “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they (meaning the disciples and us, followers of Jesus) also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me….so that  they may be one as we are one. I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you loved me. And Jesus goes on to say that his whole purpose in his prayer is to ask that “…the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Jesus is in us and we are in him. He is the vine, we are the branches. We are so close with him and with each other that we are one.

This story about Paul and Silas is so inspiring! it lets us know that sometimes God calls us to do hard things, challenging things, things we think we cannot do. Paul and Silas have been beaten and stripped to the status of nothing. They are totally vulnerable. Yet, when God sends the miracles and everyone is free, they stay in their cells and wait to extend God’s love to the jailer and free him and his family from their bondage and lead them into newness of life.

The faith and love of Paul and Silas speaks so powerfully to the jailer that his life and the lives of his family members are transformed. The foundations of the jail are shaken, the doors are open, and Paul and Silas just sit there and wait.They save the jailer from being fired and probably executed. They save the jailer from suicide.

Jesus is in us. and we are in him, He is that close. We are that close to him and to each other, as close as the members of a body. As close and as strongly connected as the vine and the branch.

Paul and Silas taught that truth to the jailer through their actions. They invited the jailer into the closeness and safety of God’s love by showing God’s love to this poor jailer whose prisoners had been freed by an earthquake.

May we follow the example of Paul and Silas. May we share God’s love with others, even when it is difficult. If we are called to do something, and if it’s about love, God will give us the grace to do what ever ministry God is calling us to do, even if it is to sit there and wait for the jailer after the prison foundations have shaken and the doors are open and all the other prisoners have left. God will always remind us that the jailer is going to need the grace of Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Seventh Sunday of Easter Year C RCL, May 12, 2013

Acts 16:16-34

Psalm 97

Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21

John 17:20-26

In our opening reading, Paul, Silas, and presumably Luke, the writer of the Book of Acts, are in Philippi, a Roman city in Macedonia. Herbert O/Driscoll wisely advises us to remember how courageous the early proclaimers of the Good News were. O’Driscoll says that, “In all these cities, life is intense and volatile. Paul and Silas are strangers. To make things more dangerous, they are Jews, always in danger of becoming the focus of antagonism.”

They meet a young woman. She is held in slavery by owners who make a great deal of money by her fortune telling. She follows Paul and Silas, shouting and  thereby calling attention to them. Paul and Silas usually would go into a new area quietly, getting to know people and seeking out those who would be interested in following Jesus. The last thing they want is to have someone announcing their arrival and making a fuss. Paul becomes annoyed. There could be at least two reasons for this. First, she is drawing attention to them. Philippi is a Roman city, and the Roman authorities are quick to react to any disturbance or controversy. Paul does not want to tangle with the authorities. Secondly, this young   woman’s owners are exploiting her for their own financial gain.  O’Driscoll says that we would call these men pimps.  Mary Donovan Turner says that we would think of them as engaging in human trafficking or prostitution.

Paul frees this young woman from slavery. She is no longer useful to her owners. Their huge income is gone. They are furious. But they don’t address the real issue. We can just hear their insincere and unctuous tones as they bring their charges, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us Romans to adopt or observe.” Notice that they even sink to anti-Semitism, which was alive and thriving in the Roman Empire. The owners drag Paul and Silas into court, the crowd erupts in fury, they are stripped and severely beaten. Bruised and bloody, they are put in the most secure cell. What is their crime? Freeing a young woman from slavery.

But nothing can quench the Spirit. At midnight they are praying and singing and the other prisoners are listening to them. Then an earthquake comes. The doors of the prison are opened and the chains unfastened. But Paul and Silas know that, if they leave the prison, the jailer will be fired and possibly executed. Through their quiet natural authority, they persuade the other prisoners to stay out of compassion for the jailer.

When the jailer awakes, he thinks the worst has happened and prepares to take his life. Paul calls out to him, “Do not harm yourself, We are all here.”

The jailer is grateful beyond words, He feels that Paul and Silas have saved his life,  He asks Paul what he must do to be saved. Paul and Silas teach him the good news about Jesus. He accepts Jesus into his life. Then he takes Paul and Silas and washes their wounds, just as Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. His faith immediately becomes loving action.  His whole household is baptized.

When that earthquake came and the doors flew open and the chains dropped limp around their ankles,  I am quite sure that Paul and Silas felt a strong urge to get out of there. But they didn’t do that. They thought of the jailer. They looked at him through the eyes of Christ and with the heart of Christ. They stayed right there, rooted and grounded in compassion.

Think what that meant to that jailer. Their loving action and courage opened the door for him and his entire household to follow Jesus. Not only did they save his life. They offered him a new life in Christ.

What does this mean for us today? Probably we won’t find ourselves in jail and experiencing an earthquake. Herbert O’Driscoll writes, “A friend asks us for help or advice. We give it the best we can. But how often do we take a chance on mentioning in some simple acceptable way, how much Christian faith or the Christian community means in our lives, offering these things as a possibility in our friend’s life?” This is a good question for us to think about.

This story is so timely when we think of what is happening in our world in just the last week or so. The death toll in the textile factory in Bangladesh climbed to over 1,000 people. Three women who had been kidnapped a decade ago were freed from a condition of slavery and abuse.  So often we hear news of human trafficking and slavery and abuse of many kinds, especially involving children. Paul’s action in freeing the young woman in our lesson today reflects God’s will that all persons be free and able to live healthy and productive lives.

In our gospel for today, Jesus says, “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me, I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one,… so that the world may know that you have sent me, and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Think about what our Lord is saying. He is saying that God loves us just as much as God loves God’s son, Jesus.  God loves every human being as God’s own son or daughter.

Jesus prays that we all, the whole human family, might be one as he and the Father are one. Among many other things, this means that we treat each other with respect, that we don’t enslave each other or abuse each other.  Thanks be to God for the faith and courage which Paul showed in freeing this young woman. May we answer our Lord’s call to help free our brothers and sisters from all forms of bondage.  Amen.