Year C — The Seventh Sunday of Easter

Commentary for May 12, 2013
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Click here for today’s readings
Click HERE for the Lectionary Lab Live podcast with the Rev. Herb Wounded Head

Acts 16:16-34
Are there no bounds to the interesting situations that Paul and his companions can find themselves in?

It’s actually pretty telling as to the leadership of the Spirit to examine just how much control the early church had as they were “driven” — in the best sense of the word — to share the gospel to and beyond ever-burgeoning boundaries.

We last saw Paul meeting serenely by the river with Lydia and the girls; a lovely soirée and baptism were the result. Now, we have a fortune-telling slave girl possessed by a spirit, who just won’t leave the fellows alone. 

Paul — perhaps more moved by his own spirit of annoyance than by the Spirit who had thus far directed him in his travels — casts the spirit out of the girl. And, to say the least, all hell breaks loose.

Of course, that’s where Christ often does his best work, and the end result (after a beating and some jail time) is a hymn-sing by Paul and Silas, an earthquake that “sets the captives free,” and a life-saving conversion for the Philippian jailer.

Hmmm… all in a day’s work for those who would serve this untamed and unvanquished Christ.

Psalm 97
We have another evocative psalm text for worship — this one which, perhaps, presages the soon-to-be-upon-us celebration of the coming of the Spirit. There is fire here; there is light. There are mountains melting like wax!

That’ll wake up anybody’s service, I’d dare say!

Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
It’s hard to imagine a more fitting conclusion to the last word of sacred scripture than we have here at the close of Revelation.

“The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints.”

John’s prayer for God’s people — then and now — summarizes the message Revelation has so apocalyptically proclaimed. Whatever situation we may find ourselves in, Christ has promised never to leave us or forsake us. 

The grace of the Lord is with us, now and always. What else is there to say, but “Amen?”

John 17:20-26
When I read John 17, I am always reminded of just how powerful it is that Jesus prayed for us. For each of us and for all of us. 

We are, sadly, a very long way from fulfilling the desire of his prayer. We are not “one.” But, then that may be why we continue to pray — as faithfully as we can — “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Rev. 22:17 – “The Spirit and the bride say “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.”
I once heard writer Phillip Yancey tell the story of a woman from his church in Chicago who had a conversation with a prostitute on a bus. As the woman of the street told her sad tale of running away from home, of sex and drug addiction, of being beaten up and pimped out by her man; the church lady listened quietly and then suggested gently that she go to church. The prostitute sputtered, “Good God, why would I want to do that? I already feel bad enough.”
The message of the church is supposed to be “Come,” Anyone, everyone, here is the water of life. Come. Receive it as a gift. Unearned. Undeserved. Free.
But somehow the prostitute on the bus heard a different message. “I already feel bad enough.”
She apparently believes that if she goes to the church who will hear bad news, not good. That she will find rejection, not acceptance. She will receive a sentence of death; not the water of life.
This hurting woman on the bus is not alone in thinking this is what the church is about. She is not the only one who believes the message of the church is bad news, not good news.
In the book “UnChristian,” Barna Group researchers found that most young non-Christians perceive the church as hypocritical, insensitive and judgmental. One respondent put it like this:
“Most people I meet assume that Christian means very conservative, entrenched in their thinking, antigay, antichoice, angry, violent, illogical, empire builders; they want to convert everyone, and they generally cannot live peaceably with anyone who doesn’t believe what they believe.” (Unchristian, p. 26)
Before we get defensive, or start pointing fingers at other “brands” of Christianity as being the culprits here; it will be best if we took a good look in the mirror and asked ourselves a few questions first. Communications is a tricky business. Perhaps we are saying one thing and people are hearing something else. Though we may all be speaking English and in many cases with similar accents; it is entirely possible that we are, nonetheless, speaking different languages.
Church speak is often more difficult to decipher than we on the inside think it is.
For example, in John’s Gospel, we read a part of Jesus’ prayer for one-ness, for unity. To us in the church it seems pretty simple and somewhat redundant on the surface. God and Jesus are one, Jesus and the disciples are one; therefore we are one with each other and one with God; a great celebration of one-ness. Sounds good to us.
But to many others it is just gobbledygook. And also, it can be heard as a pretty serious and scary call for conformity;
a message that one should lose one’s individuality in service of the community. People can hear these words as a condemnation of their ethnicity and their gender and their right to think for themselves.
What are we in the church to do? It seems pretty obvious that we have to find a way to translate our message of hope and love and acceptance into language people unacquainted with church speak will be able to hear with understanding. This is difficult but not impossible.
The key is to stop thinking of God and Jesus and faith as somehow separate and “holy” parts of our lives and to think of them rather as being as natural as breathing and having dinner. If we can do this, we can then begin talking about them with the same simplicity as we talk about the dinner we had last night or the movie we’re going to see tomorrow.
And then we must remember to talk about these things with the people in our lives who aren’t a part of the faith just as we would talk to our friends and neighbors and coworkers and relatives about where to go on vacation and about how our favorite sports teams are doing.
The thing the church lady forgot in her encounter on the bus was that the prostitute did not need to go to church. In that moment, in that conversation, the church had come to the prostitute.
It is not important that we get the world to come to the church. We are the church and our calling is to bring the thirsty and the water of life together.
Amen and amen.

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