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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion February 5, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
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Easter 7C  June 2, 2019

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

Paul, Silas, and presumably Luke, the writer of the Book of Acts, are still in Philippi. They are going to the place of prayer, we may assume the same place where they had met Lydia and her community. Now they meet a slave girl who “has a spirit of divination.” Merriam-Webster defines divination as “The art or practice that seeks to  foresee or foretell future events or discover hidden knowledge, usually by the interpretation of omens or by the use of supernatural powers.”

This young lady is a fortune teller. She has supernatural gifts. She is controlled by some owners who are making a great deal of money from her gifts. Herbert O’Driscoll calls these owners “pimps.” Today, we might call them human traffickers.

Right away, we know that this young lady is able to see through to the truth. She realizes that Paul and his team are, as she shouts out very loudly, “Slaves of the most high God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” The young woman follows Paul and his team for many days, shouting after them.

Paul finally becomes deeply annoyed, turns to her, and orders the spirit to come out of her in the name of Christ. The healing happens immediately. But now there is a big problem. The human traffickers who have been making a fortune from this young woman’s gift have suddenly lost their lucrative income.

The traffickers take hold of Paul and his team and drag them to the authorities. But they do not state their true feelings or thoughts. Instead of saying, “This man and his team just blew our whole financial scheme out of the water!” they present a high-minded argument, pretending to  be concerned about the safety of the city. Furthermore, they identify Paul and his team as Jews. In New Testament times, as now, there was a great deal of anti-semitism. Paul and Silas and Luke always tried to work quietly. They would move about unnoticed, encounter people, spread the good news, and move on. But these human traffickers have made Paul and his team Public Enemy Number One. Paul and his team are now in real danger.

The crowd attacks them; the authorities have them stripped of their clothing, and they are beaten. The jailer puts them in the innermost cell, the most secure place that is available. Then he fastens their feet in stocks.

Herbert O Driscoll reminds us of the great danger that people like Paul were in as they went out to spread the Good News. If they upset someone, false accusations could  be brought and they could be killed. (O’Driscoll, The Word Among Us, Year C, vol. 2, pp. 91-93.)

This is why it is so moving and inspiring to read that Paul and Silas break into hymns and prayers around midnight. They are not afraid. They know that God is with them. The text also notes that the prisoners are listening to them. They are paying attention. They are being inspired by the love of God and the good news expressed in song and prayer.

Then an earthquake hits. The doors are opened and the chains drop from the prisoners. Paul and his team have freed the young woman from her bondage, and now God frees them from their chains.

The jailer wakes up and sees what has happened. If these prisoners have escaped, he can be killed. Paul and Silas know this. They have not fled. They care about the jailer. They know what could happen to him. So Paul calls out to him, “Don’t hurt yourself; we’re all right here.”

The jailer calls for lights, and people come running with torches. The jailer sees that the prisoners are all present. He is stunned. He falls to his knees and asks,”Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Paul and his team share the good news with him. He takes them into his house and washes their wounds just as Jesus washed the feet of the apostles, just as the Good Samaritan washed the wounds of the man who had fallen among thieves. He has just heard about Jesus, and now he shows Paul and his team the love and compassion of Jesus. His entire household is baptized on the spot, and everyone shares in a feast.

This encounter is a powerful example of what our Lord is talking about in our gospel for today. This gospel reading is a part of what is known as our Lord’s Last Discourse, during which Jesus tries to communicate with the apostles the power of God’s love and the joy and energy of living together in community based on that love.

He asks that we all may be one. He asks, “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.” Jesus, God, and the Spirit are one, bound together in living love, and Jesus is asking that we may be enfolded in that love together with them. He is asking that we may abide with them and they with us.

In other words, Jesus is including us in the closeness of the life and love that is experienced among the Persons of the Trinity. It is a living, active love, the kind of love that enables Paul and Silas to sing and pray in chains and stocks in a prison cell. It is the kind of love that frees those enslaved in human trafficking. It is the kind of courageous love that  empowers ministries like Thistle Farms, which frees women from all kinds of slavery, including addiction and human trafficking.

Because of the love of Christ, you and I are as close as the members of the Trinity are. They are the first community created by God. We are part of the loving community created by God. We have only to reach out and touch God, Jesus, and the Spirit. They are here with us now, They have called us together.

Thanks be to God for the gift of this love. We will never be able to understand it or fathom its depths. All we are asked to do is to share it. 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.