The Seventh Sunday of Easter; Year C (5/16/2010)

God's Transforming Touch

Lessons: Acts 16:16-34 Psalm 97 (12) Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21 St. John 17:20-26

Prayer of the Day O God, form the minds of your faithful people into your one will.  Make us love what you command and desire what you promise, that, amid all the changes of this world, our hearts may be fixed where true joy is found, your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

16:16 One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. 17 While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” 18 She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. 19 But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. 20 When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews 21 and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” 22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. 23 After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. 24 Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. 25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27 When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34 He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

Acts 16:16-34 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

In this week’s lesson — the last in a series of readings we are studying from the Acts of the Apostles — we meet two people whose lives intersect with the life of the early church. The first is a woman whom Luke describes as having a “spirit of divination.” She is able to discern the future. These days she would probably be making a killing in the stock market. In that day, though, she finds herself under the control of those who own her, and who only seem to care that she is a good source of income. Paul frees her from the spirit that has been controlling her, but her owners are not amused.

They have Paul and his companions stripped, beaten with rods and imprisoned. The jailer, obviously afraid of the reaction should these prisoners escape, locks them into an inner cell with their feet in stocks. That, of course, is not enough to constrain the Holy Spirit. In the midst of Evening Prayer (at midnight!) an earthquake rocks the prison, the doors and chains give way, and the jailer is terrified. He would rather be dead than found negligent, but Paul reassures him, and he becomes a believer. He and his entire household receive baptism, and (like Lydia last week) care for Paul and his companions: washing their wounds, and bringing them home for a meal.

These two unnamed people are touched in profound ways by the early church. The slave-girl is freed from her spirit (and, presumably, from being used by her owners for financial gain) and the jailer is freed from his unbelief (and, presumably, from the fear of serving those who would punish him severely for any dereliction of duty). The church becomes for these two (and undoubtably for many others) a source of freedom and new life. It is not hard to imagine that despite the push-back they may receive from others (the slave-girl from her owners, and the jailer from those who consider his newfound faith to be foolish), their lives are never again the same. They have been touched by the power of God, and it has made a difference.

What sort of experience do people have who come into contact with the church today? Research shows us that many of them walk away muttering words like hypocritical, judgmental, uncaring… But that is why we continue to study the book of Acts. We believe that by holding these ancient stories dear, by studying them and reflecting on them, by striving to follow the faithful example of these ancestors in faith, we too can become agents of the Holy Spirit, through whom God helps people to experience freedom and new life.

At Saint Peter we hold two truths to be true: that every one of us is welcomed into the love of God just as we are, and that every one of us is sent into the world to be a reflection of Christ’s love. These are the realities we have tried to live out for the past three years as Alyssa, Kayla, Gabrielle and Jessica have been participants in our Catechism ministries. We have tried to love them well. We have hoped that in our care for them, they might glimpse God’s love. Most importantly, we have sought to place at the very center of their lives and their faith the belief that God loves them unconditionally. Just as they are. With all their strengths and weaknesses. Even in those times when they have a hard time loving themselves, God loves them enough to die for them, and promises to accompany them on every step of their life’s journey.

Now, this Sunday, they will stand before God and this congregation, and affirm their belief in these promises. Not only that, they will declare their intent to live among God’s faithful people, to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.

Like Lydia, who responded to the good news by inviting Paul and his companions to stay in her home; like the jailer, who responded to the good news by washing Paul’s wounds, and opening his home to his group; we hope and pray that these young women will respond to the good news by proclaiming the Gospel, by serving all people, by striving for justice and peace (in other words, by going out into the world as a reflection of Christ’s love…).

As they do, may they be a faithful reminder to each of us that this is our calling too. We have been welcomed into God’s love just as we are. We are sent into God’s world to be a reflection of Christ’s love. As we live into this mission, may others be touched by the presence of God, and the power of the Gospel. Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel

  1. What earthly realities bound the slave-girl and the jailer?
  2. What was the negative impact of those realities on their lives?
  3. How did their lives change, once they were touched by God’s good news?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. When have I experienced God’s unconditional love in an especially profound way?
  2. How has that love changed me?
  3. What does it look like when I “go into God’s world as a reflection of Christ’s love?”

David J. Risendal, Pastor