Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year C
June 2, 2019
Lessons: Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people share their faith in daily life and all situations by actions and words.
Key Scripture: They answered “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” – Acts 16:31
Neither discipleship nor freedom is truly “free.” There is a cost: This much we learn from Paul and the other players in this week’s lesson from Acts. Paul and his companions continue their missionary journey, and trouble and complication decide to come right along. The scene opens with Paul simply trying to find a place to pray and encountering a slave girl in possession of a “spirit of divination.” The slave girl promptly “outs” them as being slaves themselves, slaves of the Most High God, that is. In fact, the girl follows them for days proclaiming their true identity, a fact that annoys Paul to the point of commanding the spirit to come out of her in Jesus’ name.
Freeing the girl of this spirit only serves to cause more complications because her value to her owners is immediately decreased. At the end of the day, unfortunately, she’s still a slave, now just a slave girl without supernatural money-making powers. As a result of Paul’s actions, he and Silas end up being beaten and thrown into the bowels of the Philippi prison and locked in chains. Yes, discipleship has a cost, and in this case it’s freedom.
Not to be dissuaded, Paul and Silas conduct a midnight prayer service, complete with hymns, that draws the attention of the other prisoners. Suddenly a violent earthquake commences, shaking the foundations of prison, opening doors, and releasing chains.
How the jailer slept through the commotion beats me, but when he wakes and sees the prison doors wide open, his first thought is to kill himself in the name of fear, honor, shame, and who knows what else. Paul stops the suicide attempt by telling the jailer that everyone is present and accounted for.
Seeing this marvel with his own eyes, the jailer falls trembling before Paul and Silas and asks what he must do to be saved. Not ones to look an evangelism gift horse in the mouth, Paul and Silas respond in one sentence. The jailer takes them home, cleans them up and feeds them, and they in turn share the good news. The end result is a whole house full of baptized believers.
This story is truly amazing—and complicated—and illustrates the cost of discipleship and freedom. I have to wonder about the fate of the slave girl. She was delivered from the spirit that allowed her to be a cash cow for her owners, but with deliverance came devaluation. We don’t know whether she believed, or what happened to her after Paul’s action. We also don’t know the fate of the other prisoners. Were they released? Did they believe and were also part of the family baptism? Or were they simply left no better off? We also have no idea how this nighttime adventure affected the career of the Philippian jailer. So much is left to one’s imagination.
Indeed, so it is with our lives today. If we’re serious about following Jesus, there will be a cost. Perhaps we won’t be stripped, beaten, and thrown into jail, but we might be. Such is the fate of Christians in various places around the globe. And what of people we might encounter, folks who are enslaved in various ways: poverty, addiction disorders, racism, human trafficking, hatred, consumerism, greed (to name only a few)? Will we take the time truly to build relationships and work for release, justice, and freedom? There will be a cost to do so. Yes, for us truly to be one (as Jesus prays), for there to be freedom for all people, we just be willing to pay the price and accept the cost. Oddly enough, if we do so, we will find freedom ourselves. Blessings on your bold witness and faithful preaching and teaching!
Held in tension between Ascension Day and Pentecost, this Sunday provides a perfect reminder of our status in this “already and not yet” time as we look for Jesus to restore and recreate wholeness from the broken pieces of our world. Many congregants feel ill-equipped to share their faith with others, so why not take this Sunday to remind worshipers that a shared faith is a lived faith. We so often overcomplicate the process with programs and studies.
Give each worshiper a card with these words of Frederick Buechner from Wishful Thinking printed on it: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
Invite them to pray and ponder their response to this statement. What will be the cost? How will living in this authentic place offer freedom? In what ways might the world be better if all people lived this way? On Pentecost Sunday, welcome their answers by creating a visual display where worshipers can print on tongues of flame how they can articulate their calling.
Paul, Silas, and the other leaders of the early Jesus Movement were effective in growing the movement exponentially. Sure, some of it was their leadership, but there’s more to a successful movement that one leader. Show youth this YouTube video called “How to Start a Movement” by Derek Sivers. You can check out the TEDTalk version here.
How does this way to start a movement reflect how the Jesus Movement got its start? How can we use this approach today as disciples and followers of Jesus?
This week’s focus verse is John 17:20-21 – “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
Show the children a picture of earth taken from space. Ask them what they see. Affirm their answers. Tell them that the first picture taken from space was by one of the Apollo 8 astronauts. Seeing earth from “outside” enabled these astronauts to grasp a bigger picture. As one of the astronauts said, “We are all in this thing together.” And so we are.
Jesus talks about that when he prays to God on our behalf. He wanted his followers to understand the unity that happens in God. We are individual humans, but we are not alone. We are all connected. What we do in this part of the world affects individuals in other parts of the world. Everything in creation is part of everything else. Our unity is found in the One who created us and in Jesus who loves us.
Invite the children to join hands and finish with a short prayer for unity.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Stewardship is best taught and learned by example. The choices we make about how to use the abundant resources God has given speak louder than the most eloquent words. What is your life preaching?
Stewardship at Home
What freedom do you enjoy as a Christian? Martin Luther pondered this question in his 1520 tract entitled On the Freedom of the Christian, which begins with these two statements: “A Christian is an utterly free man, lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is an utterly dutiful man, servant of all, subject to all.” Click here to read more about Luther’s thoughts on the subject and here for the complete text of the tract.
What is the cost of your Christian freedom? Spend some time this week analyzing what it “costs” you to follow Christ. How much more is involved than the time you spend in worship? What choices do you make, based on your faith, that come at a cost? For example, do you choose to buy fairly traded goods? Do you choose to shop locally whenever possible? Do you buy your electricity from a renewable energy provider? Is your retirement account held in ethically responsible funds? How do these choices reflect your status as “a servant of all, subject to all”?
2013 Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2013/05/one-for-all-all-for-one/
Photos: Mark Falardeau, Andy Montgomery, and NASA, Creative Commons usage license. Thanks!
Note: Reprint rights granted to congregations and other church organizations for local, nonprofit use. Just include this note: “Copyright (c) 2019, Rev. Sharron Blezard. Used by Permission.” Other uses, please inquire: firstname.lastname@example.org.