7th Sunday of Easter, year C (preached 5/8/16)
first reading: Acts 16:16-34
second reading: Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
gospel reading: John 17:20-26
Our readings for this seventh Sunday of Easter give us a theme of the power of God: the power of healing and authority, the power of eternity and the power of unity.
In the reading from Revelation we see God’s power over all time – “the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” of all things.
In the gospel we hear Jesus’ prayer to the Father that the believers be ONE, indeed ARE one, through the unity that exists between the Father and the Son. There is amazing power in this unity – because Jesus tells us that through this unity, WE also have unity with God – we are in God and God is in us – so that the world may know Jesus and his love. Wow.
And we see God’s power certainly in our first reading from Acts, where I’ve been spending most of my preaching time this Easter season. This story is filled to the brim with good stuff! It shows us the power of God to heal, to save and to put other gods to shame.
We start off with the slave-girl. Not only is she physically enslaved, but she’s also mentally held by a not-so-holy spirit. For days she pestered Paul and Silas, calling them “slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.”
Now, for us this might seem a high compliment, except “her proclamation, true as it was, proceeded not from faith but… constituted a provocation.”¹ The not-so-holy spirit was saying, “Come and get me, I DARE you.” After “many days” of this Paul took the bait, showed God’s power and sent the spirit packing.
But Paul’s act of healing and demonstrating God’s power over the spirit was not without consequences. The girl’s owners lost the income she brought them and they were furious. Paul and Silas were dragged in front of the authorities on trumped up charges, not give a chance to defend themselves, beaten and thrown in prison.
But that didn’t stop them from continuing to praise God. Even after the jailer had shackled their feet, they sang hymns and prayed. THEN God showed God’s power again. First, God drove out the not-so-holy spirit. Now God was going to show the Roman authorities who was boss.
About midnight the foundation of the prison shook and the doors and chains were undone. That act showed God’s brute power, but it wasn’t enough – the next act would be one of compassion and grace.
The jailer, who had shackled Paul and Silas, was going to commit suicide – the desperate act of a soldier who thought he lost all his prisoners. But Paul stops him. Paul saves the man who had him bound. The prisoner sets the JAILER free. There is no revenge here, only a profound act of grace.
Because the point of the earthquake wasn’t to let them run, it wasn’t to flee to freedom. It was for them to STAY and show who really had the power – and that was God – the One with true power, not the ones with little keys to the tiny locks in the cheap prison.
And the point of saving the jailer’s life wasn’t so that he could simply keep breathing, it was so that he could be truly saved by the power of Jesus’ life. Then, the one who once had bound them became their student and nurse – caring for their bodies and tending their wounds. It’s an amazing story that doesn’t actually end here. In the verses to come the authorities that put Paul and Silas in prison in the first place end up giving them a public apology!
From healing to beating to prison to freeing to saving to tending – it’s all about who really has the power.
There are demonstrations of power that the world understands, but also power that the world cannot comprehend on its own. The slave owners only knew the power of exploitation and the dollar. The authorities only knew the power of the crowd. The jailer only knew the power of chains.
It is the mission of God in Jesus, to use US – you and me – to show the world there is another way. Another kind of power. The power of God to heal and love.
I hope, as we read stories like this of so long ago, that we can see ourselves.
- WE are the slave-girl bound – physically and psychologically – that needs healing of our sicknesses.
- WE are the slave owners, who enjoy profit or a more comfortable life on the backs of others who are exploited in unfair labor practices around the world.
- WE are the authorities, who all too often judge others solely on their religion or country of origin or hearsay.
- WE are the jailer, who, just doing what he needs to survive, is driven to desperation and despair at the thought of failure.
- WE are Paul and Silas, condemned unjustly by those around us, who won’t even give us a chance to say our piece.
God’s power is the power to bring life from death – healing and saving through a CROSS. That’s greater than any power on earth I know of. More than any judge or police officer – more than any boss or politician – more than any president or king.
This God, OUR God, who has power over death itself, chooses to love you and me in ALL the roles – sinner and saint – in ALL the times of our lives.
The power of the cross, the power of love that overcomes death, is with us always. So may we be bold in our mission to show and share that power and love with all the other sinners and saints that “cross” our path.
¹Acts: Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament. Gerhard Krodel. Augsburg Publishing House, Minneapolis; 1986, p. 308.