St. John's Episcopal Church

Sermon given Sunday, June 2, 2019

Seventh Sunday of Easter

The Rev. Carol Hancock


St. John's, Centreville
June 2, 2019
John 17:20-26; Acts 16:16-34
7 Easter C
     God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
     "The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as you and I are one." In our lesson from the gospel of John, Jesus continues to talk with and pray for his disciples before he arrested and crucified. Called the High Priestly Prayer, Jesus wants them, and all of us, to know that he has been sent by God, that Jesus and the Father are one. God abides in each one of us, as God abides in Jesus.
     Jesus is talking about unity. Jesus and the Father are one, just as we are one - one in Christ, one in being children of God. In the time of Jesus, there was as much disunity as there is today. Politicians were fighting for power. Those who were wealthy wanted more wealth. People were fighting over religion, and who was being called by God. Sounds like today, doesn't it?
     Jesus calls for unity and for all of us to be one. But I think that being one does not mean all being the same. Various Christian denominations emphasize different things and worship in different ways. And that is a good thing, as long as we keep the gospel of Jesus Christ at the center - to love one another as Christ loves us.
     We are not all the same. We each have different abilities and gifts to offer. How dull it would be if we were all the same, with the same likes and dislikes, the same personalities, the same strengths and weaknesses. Each of us is needed to build up the community of God, each of us offering what we have
     There are many different ways for us to proclaim the gospel. Some ways appeal to some - like loud music and arm waving - and other ways appeal to others - silent, meditative ways to be with God. As long as we are all going in the same direction, the ways we connect with God may be different. I don't think Jesus is saying that everyone must be the same. But we should be in community, in communion with one another to build up the body of Christ, to love one another.
     Unity is like a piano - many keys but one tune. Or like an orchestra, where different instruments are being played different ways, but all are playing the same song.
     In our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, not everyone is playing the same tune or going in the same direction. Paul and Silas are in Phillipi, having been called there by a vision. They run into a slave girl, who follows them around, saying, "These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation." After awhile, Paul becomes annoyed with her and orders the spirit of divination out of her. This spirit of telling one's future, something that made a lot of money for her owners, comes out of the girl and she is freed from it. Healing comes to this girl who has been exploited as property to satisfy the greed of her owners. Her slavery has turned to freedom.
     Of course, her owners are not happy that their stream of revenue has dried up. A mob forms to confront Paul and Silas and they are severely beaten with rods and thrown in prison. They are put in an inside cell and shackled in stocks. Even after all this, they have the energy and the passion to pray and sing hymns in the middle of the night, with the other prisoners listening in.
     Then, as only God could do, an earthquake erupts, opens the cell doors, and loosens their shackles. Most of us who were imprisoned like that would run for the hills as quickly as possible. But not Paul and Silas, and the rest of the prisoners. They stay put in their cells. The jailer is ready to kill himself, knowing that he will be held responsible for the escape of the prisoners. But Paul assures them that they are all still there.
     Then the jailer asks the most interesting question. "What must I do to be saved?" I think he sees in Paul and Silas' example of trusting in God, even in the midst of the most dire situations, the love and peace that he does not have. Paul tells the jailer that he only needs to believe in Jesus Christ in order to be saved. The jailer brings them to his house where he washes their wounds and feeds them. And he and his household are baptized.
     Like the slave girl, the jailer was freed from his bondage. His job as a jailer had so constrained him that he was ready to kill himself because he thought his prisoners had escaped and he had failed to do his job. He didn't want to face the shame and humiliation of failure to do his job, even though the prisoners escape would not have been his fault. Freedom is brought to the jailer and his household through the power of faith and baptism.
     Jesus wants healing and unity for all people. Through Paul, the slave girl is healed from her captivity by the spirit of divination, which only brought money to her owners, and no sense of health and well being to her. She is released from bondage to those who are exploiting her. The jailer is set free from having his job control his life, wanting to end his life because of a job related failure. Because of the witness of Paul and Silas, he not only found God, but was baptized with his household. The jailer then provides healing and hospitality to Paul and Silas..
     Many things can hold us captive - our jobs, our hobbies, our need for excitement or entertainment. What shackles us today? Is it our phones that we have to check constantly so we don't miss anything that is happening, either in the world or among our friends? Is it the insatiable need to constantly be connected to the TV or the computer or to have noise around us, making it harder to hear the voice of God calling us to something else? What holds us captive?
     The life-saving love of God in Christ Jesus set the slave girl and the jailer free to become followers. Through the power of Jesus Christ, they became witnesses to God's love and mercy and were no longer slaves.
     May we, too, be examples of Christ's love working in us and through us and setting us all free from the bondage that separates us from God. Amen.
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