Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
June 2, 2019 –Seventh Sunday of Easter
Paul and Silas have good news to share with the people of Philippi and they do it with enough persuasiveness that they draw attention from those who feel threatened by it. Every attempt to spread the Word meets with worldly opposition.
We proclaim on the face of our bulletins that we are both ‘into the Word’ and ‘into the world.’ We live on a frontier between that which is mortal and that which is eternal.
If we can see something with eyes, hear something with ears, taste it with lips and touch it with our fingers, it is passing away already. If we can ‘see’ it with the wisdom passed down by the Word, though, if we can only see it with our mind’s eye in our hearts, it is eternal.
Now, it is hard to see beyond what the eye beholds. It is risky to hear a voice that calls you to step out in faith when another voice is daring you to get out of line. But we will live a subhuman existence when we fail to create hope where there is despair…when we do not seek to sow love where there is only hate.
The more good you do, the more they will come after you. When I was in the Army, one of the jobs I had was as a conflicts of interests counselor in Alabama.
When someone was nominated to serve in some advisory capacity to the command, I went to our contracts office to see if their company had any contracts with the command. If they did, it was a conflict of interest.
With one nomination, it took me less than 20 minutes to find $30M in contracts his firm had with BMDSCOM. I reported it to the major I was working with. He got the lieutenant colonel.
They asked me…a captain…what to do. I said I would write up a memo and we could very discretely point it out to the Contracting Officer and it could be taken care of quietly.
We walked down the hall to Mr. Turney’s office and I handed him the original of the memo.
He read it, and tore it up right in front of the three of us…and told me to do the same with the copy in my hand…which I rolled up and held behind my back.
The major and LTC were very upset and asked me, once again, as we walked back, what to do now. I told them I would take care of it.
My boss was gone so I did up another memo saying what had happened and I sent it to one of my old law professors and my boss from the cloakroom, when I worked on the Senate floor…and a couple of others.
I called them all first and asked them to not open it unless something happened or I told them to. My law professor congratulated me on doing the right thing…but then he told me to be careful.
“You must turn square corners now.” You have accused a powerful person and they will come down hard on you if they catch you doing anything. And they will be looking. Be careful.
The account we read in Acts today shows that the disciples are always getting into trouble by doing good. It also shows that they enjoy divine protection at every turn. In fact, when the powers lined up against them are the greatest, their rescue is the most astounding…and the benefit to the Gospel is greatest.
They have landed in Philippi. They have established a place to live. Now they are walking the streets proclaiming that the year of the Lord has come in Jesus Christ.
Philippi is a pagan city and there is a woman who can divine the future. Her owners make a lot of money from people who come to her to find out what their stars have in store for them. Paul brings a different message.
She begins to scoff at them…with the truth. She follows them around the city chanting, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation … These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.”
Day after day she does this and finally Paul turns around and commands the spirit to come out of her “in the name of Jesus Christ.” The spirit comes out of her and she can no longer tell anyone what their future is…Her owners lose money.
They complain to the magistrate that these missionaries that are stirring everyone up for Jesus Christ are not just politically incorrect… they are also anti-business.
They stir up the crowd against Paul and Silas and they are flogged and beaten and thrown into prison. The jailer is told to watch these guys especially closely…so he puts them in the inner part of the prison. They would have to break out several times to get to an outside wall.
This is unfair. It is unjust. In our society today, we would see harsh placards and hear angry speeches saying, “They can’t treat a Roman citizen this way and get away with it!”
But that is not what our heroes do. They take advantage of the opportunity to meet new people and make new friends. They are free…in prison…with the Spirit.
It is the jailer who is prisoner. He knows if they get out any way, the only thing he can do to save his family is to kill himself…he will be dead enough soon enough anyway.
But the prisoners are singing hymns and praying loudly. He knows they are there, in the deepest corner of his prison. What could go wrong?
An earthquake strikes and the prison doors are thrown open. Everyone can escape, and it happens on a night when one of the highest profile prisoners in town is being kept under close guard.
The jailer pulls out his sword and is about to kill himself. Paul and Silas don’t escape though. There they are, doing the right thing again. “Don’t harm yourself,” they tell him, “for we are all still here.”
The jailer is so amazed that he asks Paul what he must do to be saved? He doesn’t know what makes these guys tick, but (a) he is grateful to them, and (b) he wants what they’ve got. …Always do the right thing… they say…It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.
Back there in the Army, my second little memo really stirred things up. But the command did the right thing: the Contracting Officer’s actions were put under a microscope, and I never had to tell anyone to open their package.
They never caught me doing anything wrong and they hardly ever asked me to do anything again… which was why I asked for a transfer to Korea…and it went through without a hitch.
And they gave me a medal when I left!...an MSM. I was never really sure whether it was because of what I had done while I was there or because I left. But we were all friends at the end.
The jailer gives Paul a medal of sorts, too. He asked to be baptized, and his whole household with him! Doing the right thing…believing in the goodness of the world…or that there is goodness in the world…and that goodness is powerful…and it pays off.
Sometimes it takes longer than other times, but it turns out in the end that way. Paul and Silas, it turns out, were the free men in our story, and the man who confined everyone else was the prisoner.
It is one of the sweetest messages that The Message brought to us. It is the prisoners who must set the jailers free. Only they have that power.
That requires us to look where our eyes can’t see and hear what our ears can’t hear. God did not ask Jesus to do the easy thing…to sit by while people were hungry…to stay home with the 99 when there was a single lost sheep to find.
And Jesus prays his calling into the future this morning. The calling was not only for him, not only for his disciples…but for all of God’s children…and he asked that God would protect them when they stepped out into the world with the courage that only faith can hear …the future that only hope can see …the kingdom of God that only love can conceive.
“My prayer is not for the disciples alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”
This is a hard prayer that Jesus breathes over us and onto us. He asks us not just to take the high ground away from those who see us only as a source of revenue, but to enter into a life of hope and love with those who live in the trenches of poverty and despair.
I am thankful to you, this church… this faith community of people who give their hearts to one who lived and died and rose again.
Again and again these days…most recently with the scouting volunteers that are organizing the first BSA Troop for Girls in our area…I hear a big thank you to you because this is a church that engages with the community… enters into the community…
and stands with the community, not only in its state championships and its Academy Award producing playhouse and in its wealth and beauty…
but also with those who are hungry…those who are lost… those who have little reason to believe that goodness will overcome evil…a church that still believes that that triumph is inevitable…simply because we are God’s children and that is God’s plan. You have given that gift to this community.
We sit in a sanctuary that has been changed this day. The choir is in a new place…the piano is in a new place…may our understanding of our call to Christ be in a new place. Those who labored that a new day might break on this old earth did it sacrificially, not asking for help but only for strength…in the face of opposition.
This may not be the last change in our church. I pray that a much deeper change is already in progress in our hearts, in our minds and in our community.
But we do not just seek our own way. We seek the way of the Lord, who prayed for us that hard, hard prayer…not just for the disciples but also for “for those who will believe in me through their message.”
“May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity.”
We prepare for a new year at COMMUNITY United Methodist Church. We give thanks for the fruits of the year we have just finished.
Now we stand on the frontier of hope. Our debts are paid. Our sins are forgiven. May we be in him as he is in God…so that we, too, may be brought to complete unity?
O Lord, what is it that you want to do in the world…in our COMMUNITY…through us… through me…this day? Amen.