Tag: Unity

Many Gifts; One Spirit

John 2:1-11 l-951-jesus-was-here
1 Cor. 12:1-11

In the shadow of the Apollo Temple sits the Corinthian church. They receive a letter one day from the Apostle Paul. He writes them that they are uninformed. They, who are stellar examples of Roman wisdom. They – who are in the shadow of THE religious place to be and have all the world at their finger tips – They do not know what they’re doing.

Paul explains that the people in the congregation once went to statues and idols who cannot speak, such as the ones in the Apollo Temple… but now they are led to another who CAN speak. Statues and idols cannot testify about a god, but the Holy Spirit of God that is in each believer CAN testify. So whenever someone says, “Jesus is Lord!” you know that person has God within them.

The people likely nodded, yes. This is true. But why bring it up?

So Paul explains his logic… since the Spirit of God is not in a temple or in statues, but it people…

… if John Dough looks different, and talks different, and worships differently… but testifies Jesus is Lord… he has the Holy Spirit in him.

If Jane Dough looks the same as you, speaks the same, and worships in the same place… but spits on Jesus’ name… she doesn’t have the Holy Spirit within her.

The testimony of Christians is not statues. Not crosses. Not churches. But people. We are the Temple of God. We are the body of Jesus. We are the bearers of the Holy Spirit.

People. Among people are where you find God.

The awful thing about that is that people are much harder to get along with than say, tolerating a beautiful temple in the middle of the city… or driving by that quaint church. Seeing a cross is pretty easy. Living the cross is hard. We even say someone is a “Good Christian” to mean they’re a Good Person… but a person living in the footsteps of Jesus is not good… they’re usually causing trouble, rocking the boat, demanding things change, and that the weak should ban together to take the power from the mighty. They’re sitting in protests and signing conscientious objections to war and all the other counter-cultural things that the Spirit leads them to live in to.

Often, they’re at odds with other Christians who have just as solidly held beliefs in other protests, and in going to war.

In Corinth, things were no different. People are people. And people are hard to get along with.

The church in Corinth was much like Saint Michael’s. And like us, they had particular gifts… some things the Spirit leads people to do… that they valued much more than others. We always have music every Sunday. And a sermon. And candle lighters. And a bell. Why don’t we have cookies every Sunday? Or dance? Or puppet shows? We pray every Sunday with words… but when do we pray with our hands? When we do speak in tongues? When do we do art and take long walks in nature?

Now, the church in Corinth began to think that just their way of knowing God was the right way. All the other ways of worshiping, of moving with the Spirit, and knowing the Divine was inferior. “They’re just not wise. We, we’re smart. We’re educated. We’re enlightened. We do it this way.”

Things got even more intense when it came to beliefs and activities. Corinth was fighting over whether or not it was okay to eat meat sacrificed to other gods… because if not… you pretty much had to go vegetarian in the city. They were also fighting about circumcision. And kosher. And just how Jewish or how Pagan a person could be and still be Christian.

Churches with one another and inside themselves are fighting today, too. We’re fighting over whether or not homosexuality is a sin. We’re arguing over how patriotic, or not, a person can be and still be a Christian. We’re debating the role of women in the church. We’re debating the role and place of children in the church. We’re debating what is and in whom and where CHURCH can be found. And we’ve been splitting over baptism for centuries.

Paul steps into the middle of this and says: you’re all different. You’re all different! If he were poetic, he might say: you are each a different wildflower in a field.

But there is only one Spirit in each of you. There is only one sun who shines on you. Because you are all different, you are beautiful. Because you are all different, you are united into community. The differences are gifts!

Our diversity is given to us for the common good.

We’re farmers. We know what monocropping is. It’s very efficient farming. We plant the same exact type of corn for several hundred acres and kill all the other plants. We know just when to harvest all that, we know what kinds of chemicals to use, we know just the machine for harvest. We know the kind of corn or soy or wheat we’re getting and don’t have to sift it out into different varieties and uses.

The problem with monocropping is that if a new virus springs up and eats THAT crop… the entire crop is gone with no back up.

Think… Irish potato famine. Most people in Ireland ate a potato called the Irish Lumper. A blight got into the crop and it spread like wildfire. Combine this with poverty, poor management, racism, and a host of other issues… and you have 2 million starving refugees and 1 million dead in the matter of 4 years. Monocrops are efficient… but risky. They don’t have a lot of flexibility and resiliency.

Diverse crops – like planting two varieties at once, or the old fashioned 3 sisters of corn, beans, and squash in one hole– are resilient and handle more blights, weather changes, and viruses. However, they’re the hardest to manage. Your garden is a diverse crop. It’s okay if its a bad tomato year – the corn did awesome. However, you had to put way more work into that diverse crop than in a monocrop.

Monocrop churches are efficient. Nothing is unplanned. But they’re fragile. Get a blight in there… a poor preacher. A poor organists. A poor parishioner… and things go badly.

Diverse crop churches are chaotic, but strong. It’s okay if something goes bad, the rest is still good. The next sermon or pastor will be better. The next organists or song will rock. I don’t like this parishioner, but I like all the rest.

Paul tells us to welcome the chaos and diversity. It’s what makes us strong. In the diversity of ideas and opinions and ways of knowing God we support one another for the common good. So if one person has an off day, the whole community isn’t ruined. We support the weak until they’re strong again. And if one person feels moved to protest gay rights because of scripture, and another feels moved to protest homophobia because of scripture, then because of scripture they can sit and talk and understand why the other feels so strongly.

For the common good we’re given DIVERSE gifts. Gifts of wisdom and insight. Gifts of intelligence and education. Gifts of healing faith and gifts of powerful prayers. Gifts of prophecy, and discernment, and yes – speaking in tongues and dancing in aisles and interpreting ancient languages and interpreting current affairs. Gifts of being the naysayer who finds holes in plans. Gifts of being dreamers who see what others cannot. Gifts of being a source of humor. A warm hug giver. The gift of holy tears. Gifts of understanding finances, or understanding poverty, or understanding loneliness. And gifts of Holy joy. Holy love.

The holy gift of presence.

All gifts of the Spirit are given for the common good, allotted in different amounts and given in great diversity, make us the strong vegetable garden that with stands whatever crazy weather we get.

Because we are united in the one Spirit, from our one Lord, of our one God. We’ve got one Gardener care taking for us who knows just what the plan of the garden is.

Our lectionary ties today’s reading from Paul’s letters with Jesus’ very first miracle. And it isn’t raising a person from the dead. It isn’t walking on water. It isn’t bread. It’s wine. Turning water into wine.

What a strange gift of the Spirit!

Can you imagine finding out your gift is making wine? What other weird gifts do we have hiding in our pews?

Jesus has a strange gift, but he knows just what gifts are supposed to be used for: the common good.

And so, that’s how he uses it.

There’s a wedding in the little village of Cana. The groom and bride are supposed to provide wine for as long as people stay and party with them. It’s tradition. Its good luck. Most importantly, its hospitality. Usually guest bring along a little wine or food for the party too. Think of it like a potluck. But, for whatever reason, the wine has run out. The party is going to be over early. The couple are going to start their wedding on a bad foot.

In the course of the world, its very small. An auspicious start to a wedding. So what? No one will die. No lives are ruined.

In the course of the world, most of us are very small. And our gifts are small. What good is a talent for cooking chili? Or a talent for understanding how to program a TV remote?

Jesus is reluctant to share. But Mary encourages him. There’s no silly gifts! ALL gifts are given for the common good of us all!

So Jesus goes and asks for the jars of water. And wedding servants… not the bride and groom, not their parents, not the guests… witness Jesus’ very first public miracle. Along with his disciples. Plain water, in jars meant for washing hands and dishes and ritual cleanliness, turns into the sweetest wine.

When the gift is shared, the sweetest delight is spread among the whole community. From God comes abundance! From God comes diversity! From God comes all good things!

The wedding’s party in the community is saved, and people continue to stay together happily.

The disciples begin to believe in Jesus after this. They begin to believe he IS heralding the in-breaking of God into the world in a brand new way. They begin to understand the generosity of God, the hospitality of God, and perhaps even the joy of God.

God rejoices over us!

When we’re sticking by each other, helping one another, using our gifts for one another – the heart of God is joyful!

For among people is where God delights to be.

And God delights to make each of us unique.

Amen!

 

Reflection:

The take home message for the day is every one of us have unique gifts. Turning water into wine is pretty silly. But Jesus knew how to use it for the common good. What silly gifts do you have? How could you use them to bring joy, happiness, and love to others?
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To Gather Up All Things

Ephesians 1:3-14 glitter
Mark 6:14-29

Sometimes our lectionary hands us readings that are very difficult to understand and fathom. I feel like this Sunday’s have given us two hard to delve into texts. One is an introductory  letter to the Ephesians; and the other is a long aside about John the Baptizer in the gospel of Mark. Supposedly, they’re related! Whoever worked on the lectionary outline believes so.

Therefore, let’s take a close look at Ephesians and see what the author is claiming, and then let’s use that like a lens, something to help us focus, on Mark’s story.

The letter to Ephesians is broke up in English into sentences, but in Greek, it is one big long sentence listing blessing after blessing that is showed upon us from God.

1. The first blessings is that before the world was built, God chose us for adoption. To be children of God, although we have mortal parents, and although most of us aren’t biological descendants of Abraham – God’s chosen. So – why did God do this? Because God is good. God chose this for God’s own good pleasure and will. Not because of anything we’ve done. God just decided God wants to create us, and create us to be loved.

2. The second blessing is God freely chose to give us God’s Beloved. Not only were we chosen to be children, but given God’s beloved child Jesus. When God created us, we were created for praise. So just living praises Jesus.

3. Our third blessings is that in Jesus, we have redemption, forgiveness of our trespasseses or sins, and this is due to the rich grace of God and again – not because of anything we have done.

4. Fourth – we know the mystery of God’s will, because God wants us to know it out of God’s love for us. We know God’s will because we know Jesus. This will is to love God and love one another!

5. Fifth, in the fullness of time, in the right moment, God will gather up everything on heaven and earth and bring us all together as one. Love unites us.

6. Sixth, in Christ we’ve been given an inheritance — a gift– from God. This is the Holy Spirit within us. It, again, is a free gift from God.

7. Seventh blessing – That Spirit works in us to accomplish everything God has planned. So when you don’t know how to love God or love another, you can pause, pray, think, reflect, and listen for the Spirit to guide you.

8. An eighth blessing – As we work for God, we live in praise and glory of God. We’re not asked to live counter to our nature or to God. We’re asked to live our lives, and in living, love. That love is a constant prayer of praise for God.

9. Nine blessings! All who have the seal of the Holy Spirit, all who have the Spirit within them, have gotten a down payment towards the full redemptive work of God. It’s a foretaste, a little snack, of the big meal to come when we’re all one in love and unity in God.

10. And ten! Ten blessings! And all of this is because God is gracious and glorious. Not because of any deed any human has done.

So what does all that mean?

It means Christianity is a weed.

You might try to get rid of it, but it comes back because God generously spreads love’s seeds everywhere. You may ignore God, but God won’t ignore you. You may curse God, but God is going to keep showering love and blessings on you because THAT IS WHO GOD IS.

Who is God? We have seen God in Jesus. What did Jesus do? Live generously; preach courageously; advocate spiritual, physical, and mental health; and confront all forces that harm others. All this he did humbly, and did not return violence for violence.

Like a weed, this movement won’t die. It just keeps resurrecting. Because the love of God is life itself. All of creation was made and is made in love. Although death is a part of reality, it isn’t the final word. Life is the final word. Resurrection. Life after death. Life continuing to beat the odds and find a way because God wants it to.

It means Christianity is a weed, or glitter (as in the kids’ chat), or fire – and spreads and spreads because it is God’s will to spread love all around!

Mark tells us of how Jesus sent out his disciples spreading the movement of God’s love. They came back with good news of the success of healing people, inviting people into God’s new age, and forgiving sins. That’s when our story begins today when Herod realizes this love won’t die.

King Herod Antipas hears of this success of Jesus’ movement too. He hears some people commenting, “Jesus is John, come back from the dead!”
Others say, “Oh no. Jesus is Elijah, come back from heaven!”
And others say, “He is a brand new prophet, but is as powerful as our ancient prophets.”

Herod, however, has no doubts. He is quivering in his sandals. Jesus is surely John resurrected. And who killed John?

Herod.

Perhaps Herod is thinking of the prophets who have wrote God says ‘Vengeance is mine, sayth the Lord.’ Perhaps Herod is terrified because he ordered the death of God’s holy man. This Jesus fellow can heal the sick, raise the dead, and has a direct line of communication with God. What is God going to do to the man who killed God’s prophet?

Herod is scared.

Mark takes a moment then to explain how Herod got in this position. Some years ago, Herod took his sister-in-law as his wife. John appeared from the desert saying, “Hey! That’s not right! You can’t take another’s wife just because you’re the king!” This is much the same situation that got King David in trouble, when he stole Bathsheba from her husband.

Now, Bathsheba hated David for doing this and killing her husband Uriah. She worked against David.

Herodias, however, doesn’t want her brother-in-law-husband to dump her. She likes being the queen. So she works against John.

The issue is… she can’t do anything without Herod’s permission… so she has to scheme a way to kill John and make it look like an accident… or convince her husband some way to kill John.

As Herodias schemes to kill John, Jesus begins to learn from John. This is the beginning of Mark’s gospel. Jesus is John’s disciple until John is arrested by King Herod just a few verses into the story. You see, Herod can keep a close eye on John in the dungeon. It is protective custody. It is saving Herod from Herod’s wife Herodias who has people out in the cities seeking to kill John.

Herod listens to John, and knows John is a holy man. John speaks and it perplexes Herod, but Herod likes it.

The first banquet of Mark is thrown for Herod’s birthday. Lots of people and guests and leaders attend. There, Herod and Herodias’ little girl dances. Her doting father is so pleased, he makes the same foolish offer as the king in Esther’s story: name anything you want, up to half of the kingdom, and it is your’s!

The little girl goes to her mother and asks, “What should I ask for?”

Her mother doesn’t waste a moment. “The head of John the baptizer.”

Picture this little girl, the word means she’s under the age of 12, dancing back out to her daddy before all the heads of state and saying, “I want the head of John the baptizer… on a platter!”

Leave it to a child to embellish their requests with ‘on a platter.’ I wonder if she did it to try to gain her mother’s pleasure. I’m certain Herodias was tickled pink.

We’re told Herod is deeply grieved. But everyone is watching. Will he renege on his oath? If he will, what other oaths will he violate? He won’t even keep an oath to his little girl… imagine the lies he’s telling the other heads of state.

So Herod sends for a guard to behead John. The head is put on a platter and given to the child. She leaves and gives it to her mother. A sneaky, sly mother and a foolish, weak father led to the death of God’s prophet.

John’s disciples hear of the gruesome capital punishment, and come and get John’s body and bury him.

Why does Mark take all this space to tell us this story? Mark – who wastes no words and who’s favorite word is ‘immediately?’

Because it is foreshadowing John’s disciple, Jesus.

Jesus will host the next banquet in the story and invite all the outcasts from the state. He will preach against the state when its leaders are immoral. Jesus will be arrested and brought before the leader Pilate. Pilate will listen to Jesus, and be perplexed, and admire him. Pilate will find Jesus to be a holy man, and not want Jesus killed. But for the sake of keeping face, and staying in power, Pilate will order Jesus’ gruesome death during a time that should be a celebration. Jesus’ disciples will take Jesus’ body and bury it.

Will that be the end of the story?

Was it the end of the story for John?

No. God kept on acting. Bringing out new voices out of the woodwork, raising up new songs from the very stones every time people were silenced.

Like a weed, the movement won’t stop appearing.

Like a mustard seed, it just keeps growing and spreading.

As told to us in the letter of Ephesians, from the beginning of time God’s been working on teaching us humans generosity, love, care for God’s garden, care for each other, and morality.

From the beginning of time, God’s been sending us prophets, messages, dreams and visions and voices to guide us.

From the beginning of time, God’s been creating and recreating our world and we, in it.

From the beginning of time, God has willed, mysteriously, goodness upon all things.

Greed and fear can’t crush this goodness. It might kill it. It might spray Round-Up on it. Greed might steal the last miter of the widow; gobble up the single-parent houses; or make orphans of refugees. But God won’t let greed win.

Fear might drive the people to mob mentalities where they cry out to crucify their very savior; abuse their fellow neighbor; and attempt to exploit the strangers who are angels in disguise. But God won’t let fear win.

Blessing upon blessing continuously and ponderously tip the scales of the world towards goodness. Generosity upon generosity, forgiveness upon forgiveness, grace upon grace continue to counter whatever evil springs forth from our hearts, moves our hands, poisons our minds, and promotes a hell on Earth in the name of security, national pride, or the economy.

God does this not because we’re good. Not because we’ve got it all together. But because God is good. And God wants good for us. God wants good for God’s creation.

Our job is to be messengers of this goodness and help spread it along. We’re the rainbow of hope in our uncertain world. We’re the chosen community working to live into God’s reign, now. We’re the children of God who have chosen to give up our citizenship to the United States of America, or Great Britain, or Canada, or Mexico, or planet Earth and take on the citizenship of the Kindom of God.

So we’re ambassadors. Bringing messages like those very first disciples of repentance, forgiveness, healing, and love to village after village. We’re a rebellion. Preaching peace in war; forgiveness to wrongs; and God’s love for all. We’re God’s children.

Greed and fear will always be attacking us, locking us up, silencing us… but we’re mustard seeds. A light on a hill. A contagious laughter filled with the Holy Spirit that is resurrected again and again again until all things are gathered into one.

Amen.

Whose Baptism?

Acts 8:26-40

thekla2
This fresco represents the calling of Thekla, which led her to renounce her engagement and her life as a married woman. Thekla appears at a window (far left), listening to Paul as he preaches with his raised right hand on an open codex. Behind Paul, stands Theokleia, Thekla’s mother, with her right hand raised in admonition (her eyes and right hand have been scratched out, an indication that someone considered her a heretic). Thekla was not permitted to appear in public, but she heard Paul’s sermon from the window of a neighbor’s house and was spellbound by his words. In spite of her mother’s admonition, she renounced her engagement, followed Paul, and spread the word of God. “Stylistic comparisons suggest a date for these paintings in the late 5th or early 6th century A.D., in particular in the Justinianic period” [Austrian Archaeological Institute (www.oeai.at/index.php/st-pauls-grotto.html)].
 “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” The Ethiopian treasurer asks Philip this as they ride along in the treasurer’s royal cart and carriage. “Look, here is water!”

And Philip responds by leaping off the wagon, and baptizing the new believer.

No special water.

No special time.

No special place.

An ancient story, not in our Bible but still from 180 AD, is the story of “Acts of Paul and Thecla.” Thekla, like the Treasurer in our Gospel today, is a noble. She listens to Paul’s preaching, and she decides to become a follower of Christ. She breaks off her engagement with another nobleman and says: ‘I’m staying a virgin and following Paul about and the Christ!’ This goes over just as well as you think it will. The town flogs and tosses Paul out, but decide to burn her at the stake if she won’t give up Christ.

And she won’t.

What begins is a series of miracles — rain saves her from the fire, smoke covers her like clothing so she doesn’t have to be naked, and Thekla walks boldly back to Paul. She now says – Don’t just let me come with you, listening, but let me cut my hair and pass myself off as a man, so I can preach this good news too! Just give me a baptism!

And Paul says no. She’s a woman, and women clearly don’t preach. So he won’t baptize her.

But Thekla doesn’t go home.

In the very next town, Thekla again is told to give up Christianity and marry a guy. And again she refuses. And again the town takes her clothes away to shame her and tries to kill her. Again miracles occur. When it looks like things are over and Thekla is in the middle of the city arena where the pond is full of hungry seals and the land with every angry beast, Thekla knees and prays.

“In the name of Jesus Christ do I baptize MYSELF” and she throws herself into the pond of hungry creatures.

No special time.

No special place.

No special water.

Then there are more miracles. Lightening strikes and fire and lots of chaos. Every animal and every human that tries to harm Thekla finds they cannot. In the end, the town is scared of her and asks, “Who are you?!”

She answers, “I am the handmaid of the living God; and what I have about me-it is that I have believed on that his Son in whom God is well pleased; for whose sake not one of the beasts hath touched me. For he alone is the goal (or way) of salvation and the substance of life immortal; for unto them that are tossed about he is a refuge, unto the oppressed relief, unto the despairing shelter, and in a word, whosoever believeth not on him, shall not live, but die everlastingly.”

The governor orders clothes given to the woman and her permitted to leave.

But Thekla says no. She’s put on the garments of salvation, and those are what she’ll leave with.

A whole lot of the town converted to Christianity that day.

Thekla then traveled, preaching, testifying, healing, and teaching the Word of God.

When she ran into Paul, he was amazed to see what a following she had, and he asked what was going on – and did she still want baptized? She answered, “He that hath worked together with thee in the Gospel, hath worked with me also unto my baptizing.”

In other words… The same person who converted you, Paul, to Christianity and brought you to understand the scriptures is who baptized me.

That same person is who baptized the Ethiopian treasurer. Philip just was there, enabling the receiving of the gift.

That same person baptized each of us.

The water doesn’t matter.

The time doesn’t matter.

The place doesn’t matter.

Baptism is a gift from God to us, and we respond back to God. And as a community, we welcome our new sibling and begin to walk with them through all of their lives.

It is why little ones can be and are baptized.

Baptisms are from God.

No human can prevent them because we humans, we’re participating in and witnessing a sacred moment between an individual and the Holy Divine.

No one here heard the conversation Rebecca and God had today. But it happened. It is in her soul. There in the desert near Ethiopia, or in the crowded coliseum arena of a city, no one HEARD the conversation that man or woman had.

But Philip and a whole ancient city witnessed the holy moments.

Today you are Rebecca’s witnesses. You need to tell her the story of her baptism. Just like you need to tell the story to Alden, and every one of our children — age 0 to 100.

And we need to remember our own baptisms, and the stories we’ve been told about them.

At that moment, you and God connected in a brand new way. At that moment, you joined in Christ’s birth, and life, death, and resurrection. At that moment, you gained a family that will never, ever fit in one place for a family reunion. (Well… no reunion here on Earth.) At that moment, some human baptized you in the name of Christ – but it was God who reached out, touched you, washed you, sealed you with the Spirit, and gave you a new life in Christ.

So who’s baptism is it? In our scriptures, we hear of people arguing about whether someone has received the baptism of Paul’s, or the baptism of John’s. You may today hear today people refer to the Methodist baptism, or the Catholic baptism, or the United Church of Christ baptism…

But there is only one baptism. One God. One Creator, sustainer, and redeemer in who gifts us this sacred ritual.

We all share the baptism of Christ.

Amen.

Psalm 133 Call to Worship

One: How very pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!
Many: It is like precious oil anointing the head,
One: Anointing the beard of Aaron and running over the collar of his robes.
Many: It is like the dew of Hermon, falling on the Holy Mountains.
One: For there God ordained the blessing, the blessing of life forevermore.
Many: Like frosting on the cake, like the cherry on top – is unity. The crowning goodness of our Lord.
One: Let us go and worship our unifying God.
All: As one we praise the God who is Three-in-One!

1 Peter 5:6-11 Call to Worship

Call to Worship
Based on 1 Peter 5:6-11
One: Cast all your anxiety on God because God cares for you.
Many: We discipline ourselves to be alert to God’s presence.
One: Like a lion, the Adversary prowls looking for someone to devour.
Many: We resist temptations by remaining steadfast in our faith.
One: Know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world know the same sufferings you do.
Many: Throughout the world, our brothers and sisters want the same things we do, pray for the same things we do, and love just like we do.
One: And throughout the world, the God of all grace, who has called us to eternal Glory in Christ, restores us, supports us, strengthens us, and establishes us.
All: To God be the power for ever and ever! Let us worship God!

Completely One

That-they-all-may-be-one-1-300x196
St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Thunder Bay Ontar

Acts 16:16-34

John 17:20-26

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.

Amen.