Easter 7 June 2, 2019

The Rev. Janet Campbell

EASTER 7  Year C

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

John 17:20-26

 

Christ Church

Tacoma Washington

Sunday, June 2, 2019

The Rev. Janet Campbell

 

 

 

Easter’s Great 50 Days

are drawing to a close

and we are preparing

to celebrate Pentecost next Sunday.

 

Still, our lectionary,

the church’s schedule of readings,

looks back in John’s Gospel,

to the last meal

Jesus shared with his disciples

before his crucifixion.

 

A meal marking an ending . . .

of his earthly life.

 

And a beginning,

although his disciples didn’t yet know it,

of his life lived in and through them.

 

Jesus prayed for these followers

he had chosen, and taught, and loved . . .

these disciples who had spent three years

trying to keep up with him

and figure him out.

 

He prayed that God

would hold them together

after he was gone

and strengthen their faith,

that his life and his work might indeed

continue,

in and through them.

 

He prayed not just for those first disciples,

but for every disciple there would ever be,

everyone who would come to believe in him

“through their word.”

 

He prayed that we all may be one –

completely one –

united in him with each other and with God

in a vibrant dynamic of grace and love,

a living web of faithful, holy relationship

so unique, so attractive,

(so unlike our individualistic, competitive,

contentious, fractured world)

 

a faithful, holy relationship

so unique, so attractive,

that all might see

in who we are

and what we do

the Kingdom of God

coming into being,

even now,

even in this world . . .

might see,

and seeing,

might believe.

 

Among those first twelve disciples

there was disagreement,

competition,

jealousy,

dispute . . .

 

and so it always is . . .

 

but

Jesus prayed for a unity

spacious enough,

flexible enough,

resilient enough

to survive

our self-centered

resistance to it.

 

Jesus prayed

that this mystical communion of God’s beloved

would continue

for all time and beyond all time,

be passed along

from generation to generation to generation

through the word of his disciples.

 

And what did he mean

by “their word?”

 

Certainly their preaching

and teaching.

But more than that.

 

“In the beginning,”

says John,

in the beginning of his Gospel,

“was the Word,

and the Word was with God

and the Word was God. . . . (John 1:1)

 

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us,

and we have seen his glory . . .”  (John 1:14)

 

Jesus came into the world

the living, active, creating Word of God:

telling and showing,

proclaiming and enacting;

in word and deed

revealing God’s Kingdom . . .

 

and we have seen his glory,

not just heard about it.

 

We have seen his glory:

his grace and truth manifest

in family, friends,

mentors, spiritual guides,

an unexpected stranger,

in saints with a capital S and a small s,

in a faith community at its best . . .

in acts of forgiveness, reconciliation,

compassion, peace and justice-making . . .

 

through the word of their lives,

we have come to believe.

 

And now it’s our turn

to be words-of-God-made-flesh,

to incarnate, to walk, our talk –

 

to be the living and active revelation

of the good news about Jesus,

that through us

others may come to believe.

 

 

Through our baptism,

we have been woven into

this living body of Jesus’ followers,

this mystical communion of service and joy,

all the baptized across the ages,

past, present and yet to come.

 

As we live our baptismal vows,

God nurtures and strengthens this unity:

 

With God’s help,

we continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship,

in the breaking of bread and in the prayers;

 

With God’s help,

we persevere in resisting evil,

and whenever we fall into sin,

repent and return to the Lord;

 

With God’s help,

we proclaim by word and example

the good news of God in Christ;

 

 

With God’s help,

we seek and serve Christ in all persons,

loving our neighbor as ourselves;

 

With God’s help,

we strive for justice and peace among all people,

respecting the dignity of every human being.

 

With God’s help,

we cherish the wondrous works of God,

and protect the beauty and integrity

of all God’s creation.

 

With God’s help,

we are becoming what we proclaim,

a living word of God,

the body of the Risen Christ,

alive and active in the world

for the world,

so that others may come to believe.

 

 

“Blessed are those who wash their robes,”

exclaims the Risen Christ,

“so that they may have the right to the tree of life

and may enter the city by the gates . . .

 

 

 

Those baptismal robes . . .

way too big for us

when we first put them on.

 

The sleeves droop into our soup;

the hem drags the ground as we walk,

collecting the dust of our failures.

 

Keeping our baptismal robes clean

is a lifelong endeavor . . .

 

they get dirty,

we wash them . . .

 

they get dirty again,

we wash them again . . .

 

and we keep on,

now signs of God’s Kingdom,

now signs of our own brokenness,

our own internal disunity

that creates disunity with others.

 

 

The story we heard today

from the Acts of the Apostles

might be entitled:

 

The Worst and the Best

of Saint Paul.

 

 

The Worst of St. Paul:

sign of brokenness and disunity –

 

the preoccupied Paul

responding to the slave girl

who had a spirit of divination

 

with irritation

and perhaps fear of too much notice

in that Roman colony.

 

Why must she attach herself so fiercely

to Paul and his companions?

 

In her proclamation,

“These men are slaves of the Most High God,

who proclaim to you a way of salvation.”

she was not far from the truth.

 

She herself was a slave,

but not to God –

 

to human beings.

 

She was

the property of others,

the lowest of the low . . .

a woman AND a slave . . .

 

Her singular gift

of fortune-telling

made her owners rich,

and perhaps gave her some status

among their slaves.

What did she want

from Paul and companions?

 

For what did she hunger and thirst . . .

 

perhaps for escape from

the disunity of a culture

where one human being

could be the property of another,

could be exploited by another . . .

 

perhaps for an invitation into

the way of salvation Paul proclaimed.

 

In his annoyance or fear,

Paul couldn’t be bothered to find out.

 

He got rid of the spirit

in order to get rid of the girl,

 

taking from her

that one thing that made her

of special value to her owners,

that one thing that lifted her

just a little above the life

of an ordinary slave.

 

 

The focus of the story

is not really the slave girl,

but

the loss incurred by her owners

and their reaction

and the subsequent imprisonment

of Paul.

 

But we might see in the story

the fundamental brokenness

of a society

where inequality is the acceptable norm

and oppression a way of life.

 

And we might see

Paul’s own brokenness

in his failure to engage with the slave girl

as a fellow human being,

to enter into relationship with her,

to ask,

as Jesus so often did,

“What do you want?”

 

 

 

The Best of Paul:

sign of unity and God’s kingdom.

 

As a result of their encounter

with the slave girl,

Paul and companions were mercilessly beaten

and thrown into jail.

 

I wonder if,

during their singing and praying,

Paul thought back

to the slave girl

with regret at a lost opportunity?

 

Then

an earthquake rattled

the prison and broke open the doors.

 

Jolted awake,

fearing his prisoners

had escaped,

the panicked jailer

drew his sword to kill himself . . .

 

This was more than the prisoners

could possibly have hoped for.

 

Chains off, doors open,

only one man

standing between them and freedom . . .

and he was about to

get out of the way

by killing himself.

 

But Paul stopped him,

shouting out,

“Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!”

 

Paul growing into his baptismal robe,

being who he was meant to be –

a living word of God,

sign of God’s Kingdom,

of God’s desire for the restoration

of the God-given

unity of all humanity.

 

Trembling with awe and gratitude,

the jailor cried out,

“What do you have in your lives

that you would do such a thing –

what must I do to be [saved] as you are?”

 

The word of Paul’s action

opened the way

for the word of Paul’s teaching about Jesus

and the joy that followed:

 

the jailer washing and anointing

the prisoners’ wounds,

 

the prisoners washing the jailer and his family

in the waters of baptism;

 

and then the meal of thanksgiving

shared by all –

 

 

Baptism and Eucharist . . .

 

creating and sustaining

the unity for which Jesus prayed.

 

 

Last night,

with engaging tours of our church building

and a festive banquet

of marvelous food and drink

and much love and laughter,

we began our week-and-a-day-long

celebration of the 50th anniversary

of the dedication of this building,

 

this splendid house for the church . . .

 

Splendid, not primarily because it is

a striking work of a particular

architectural style . . .

although it is that . . .

 

but splendid because of its power

to draw us in Sunday by Sunday

out of a world always threatening

to remake us

in its image,

 

that we may dwell in the presence

of the One

in whose image we are made.

 

 

A splendid house for us the church,

in its power

to gather us in to be made,

out of many, One –

the Body of the Risen Christ.

 

Splendid

in its power

to send us forth,

out of One, become again many,

seeds of the gospel,

sown near and far.

 

Splendid

because it is designed

to orient us

to the central actions

of our life in Christ:

 

the waters of the font

where we were born into this life

and knit with all the baptized

into one body in Christ,

 

the Word of God proclaimed

and interpreted,

ever opening to us anew

the meaning of this life

in Christ,

 

 

the Holy Banquet table,

where Christ gives himself to us

in consecrated Bread and Wine,

uniting and sustaining us in this life . . .

and where we offer ourselves again

to become what we receive,

Christ’s life

for the life of the world.

 

 

We celebrate this house for the church

because it welcomes us home each week

for refreshment and renewal

that we may be equipped

to proclaim and live

the gospel of God in Christ

in an unsettled, difficult, and challenging time

for the sake of the Creation God loves.

 

We celebrate this house for the church

because it speaks so clearly

a word of invitation

to all seeking such a home,

all who would draw near to God,

all who would join us in this life,

all who cry out,

“what must I do to be [saved] as you are?”

 

 

“Let everyone who is thirsty come,

let anyone who wishes,

anyone who wishes,

take the water of life as a gift . . . ”

 

that all may be completely one.

 

May this be the word

we proclaim by our lives.

 

 

 

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