When you and I were in our mother’s wombs – we were sensitive to everything she did. What she ate, we ate. What she drank, we drank. What she breathed, we breathed. Good things: like cheese and bread and veggies — and bad things, like cigarettes and too many cups of coffee. Whatever she knew, we knew. Wherever she went, we went. When she was awake, we slept blissfully rocked by her motion. When she was asleep, we rocked her with our motion. We were separate people, but we were also one.
Jesus uses mothering imagery, birthing and nursing, to speak of God and God’s reign. Jesus tells us to be born again – one again – this time not with our biological mothers, but born of the Spirit. Born and connected to God.
Jesus says God cares for like a nurse, a sitter, a grandparent soothing a little one’s fears. He says we are welcomed into God’s presence like a lost son welcomed home by a loving father; and we are sought after like lost sheep, or coins.
God’s love is like these examples, but yet more. It is a love and desire for us that is even stronger than what we can feel for our significant others, our children, our families and friends.
Jesus prays that we — all Christians around the world, throughout all time — will come to know this closeness, this empathy, and love. So what one does, another feels. When one hurts, we all hurt and respond. When one is praised, we’re all praised. When some sleep, others are awake, and we work in partnership: united, as one.
Just as we cannot be literally born again, but must be spiritually reborn, so too we cannot literally be one with one another. There is a difference between you and I; there is a gap that we must work to cross. But scripture gives us many examples of how learning to be one-in-Christ looks like.
In today’s reading in Acts, Silas and Paul are in Philippi. As they go to tell people about THE way to salvation through THE God, a slave girl follows them who has a spirit of python, a spirit of divination from the Zeus pantheon. Zeus, too, is called The God Most High. And the words the Zeus-following-spirit give the girl are just true enough “a way of salvation” versus “the way of salvation” — not naming which God is being spoken of — that Paul and Silas’ mission is getting confusing to the locals. Are these Jews and slave girl one? Are they both saying salvation comes from Zeus?
Paul gets annoyed – turns – and demands the spirit to leave the poor girl alone so she, and others, can think clearly.
But the girl was bound by more than just a spirit. She was also a slave girl, and her owners saw that their money left with the spirit. Where the presence of Jesus is, a person cannot exploit another. It is against Christ to become rich off of taking advantage, exploiting, another.
The account continues by saying the owners of the now-free-to-Christ girl drag Paul and Silas to court and charge them with disturbing the peace. That is such a broad charge that today plenty of people are still charged with it. And often, like Paul and Silas, they are activists who are trying to teach people a better way: the way of being one. The way of identifying with all people and loving all people. The way of standing in solidarity with those society likes to use, abuse, exploit, hide away, and shun.
The two missionaries are put in jail after being beat. They’ve not had a trial. They’ve never been given even a chance to identify themselves, let alone explain their side of the story.
But in the middle of this super unfair situation, they still praise God. Silas and Paul knew that God is one with us, and we are one with God. God is our father, our mother, our perfect love who doesn’t leave us in our darkest hours.
At midnight – there is an earthquake – and everyone’s doors and chains are released. Everyone! They all could run free! As soon as the jailer sees this, he gets his sword to kill himself. I mean – what else is he going to do? He’ll be tried as a criminal: he didn’t prevent all the prisoners from escaping. We know criminals die by crucifixion. A quick sword is a better death.
Much like Silas and Paul, and the slave girl, this jailer is in a prison too: and just like for Silas and Paul and the slave girl, the word of Christ releases the jailer.
The jailer hears “Don’t harm yourself! We’re all here. No one escaped.”
The jailer gets a torch and comes into the prison — where all his prisoners calmly wait, freed, where without lights they knew the jailer was going to kill himself. These prisoners who didn’t fear their unjust treatment and praised their God… who in the world are these people? What gives them such strength?
The jailer doesn’t know who these people are, or who their powerful God is – but he wants to know: what must I do to be saved?
Saved from their God – who is far more powerful than anything the jailer knows? Saved from misery and hopelessness, as these people are? Saved from being selfish and saved from not identifying even with those who persecute and jail? What is the secret to these missionaries’ ever burning, hopeful, life-giving light?
They share: the source of their oneness, their love, is the Lord Jesus Christ.
And the jailer becomes one with the prisoners. He washes their wounds. He feeds them and gives them a place to sleep. The prisoners become one with the jailer. They baptize him and his family. They rejoice with him and his family. They all praise God, who brought them together.
Jesus’ prayer is this: that we love one another. That we all become one, as Jesus and God are one. That we convert the world with examples of our love for each other, and for the world. Compassion, empathy, willing to reach across divides and save the enemy- save the jailer- from themselves; save the imprisoned- save the slave girl- from those who exploit; and save each other -from the hopelessness of dark prisons at midnight– Jesus’ prayer is that our love reflect the love of our heavenly parent. And that our love be the balm that tends the world’s wounds. That the love – the love shown to us in Christ – may liberate the entire world so that we may all be one.