Sermons That Work

The Readings Today Are…, Easter 7 (C) – 2007

May 20, 2007

The readings today are a good example of how amazing, wonderful, and alive the written word of the Holy Scripture is. Although it was recorded at a different time in a different place by people of a different culture, it is still relevant to our lives in the Church and the world today. If you wonder if the Church is relevant today, let me invite you to think about two things: unity as the glory of God, and unity as the hope for a Godly world.

In our first reading today, we hear how Paul and Silas free the enslaved spirit of a young girl, resulting in their own enslavement. They came to Philippi in Macedonia, a risk in itself, because the Scripture describes it as a Roman colony – not exactly friendly ground for followers of Christ. And even though Paul and Silas are Roman citizens, they allow the community in Philippi to make assumptions based on what they represent, not who they are. They allow themselves to be punished for giving freedom to a girl who is being used by her owners for financial gain. Theirs is an example of how unity in mission results in freedom.

It is ironic that Paul and Silas are then imprisoned for freeing the girl. Afterward, it is amazing that their actions – praying and singing for all to hear – move their jailers to set them free and join them as baptized members united in Christ. Interesting that slavery and imprisonment led to unity and enlarging the community of faith. They found unity in the midst of controversy.

Is it possible that we might find unity for the church and the world in the midst of our controversies? Is it possible that we might learn something from those we have been imprisoned or marginalized by our judgments, assumptions, and actions? Certainly, this is the hope of the resurrection and Christ incarnate. And it leads to the question, “What does it mean to be united?”

The unity that enlarges the kingdom of God is not meant to be a unity that makes us all the same. Unity is not meant to impose the “melting-pot” mentality that destroys cultural, theological, and social distinctions. Rather, the unity of God’s kingdom celebrates the diversity of God’s creation.

The unity of the Gospel requires us to live into the diversity of God’s creation. It requires us to be reconciled with love and compassion to a higher purpose – one that results in unity.

Today’s Gospel reading invites us into unity coming from being with God just as God is with us. This awareness of God in our lives and in all of creation, though understood in many ways by different cultures and religions, has one unifying product: shalom. As our Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori describes it, shalom “has to do with the restoration of all creation to right relationship with God.”

God’s unity comes from relating to one another inclusively, affirming each person’s expression of God in them and God with them. It is God’s call and prayer for us all to unite in mission – to release those imprisoned by poverty; lack of education; gender inequality; environmental injustices; and lack of adequate health care.

The prayer that Jesus prays in the Gospel is one of unity and witness to the love of God in the world: “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and they know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

When you read the Gospel of John in Greek, you realize how similar the words “one” and “in” are to each other, but more important is how repetitively they appear, making it almost impossible to miss the point. And just as in our reading from Revelation, it is God’s glory that comes through when we are united in God’s love.

It is love, the agape love of God, that when given away freely, draws us into a community, uniting us as one. This is the love that makes us a serving community united in one accord and mission. This is what showed through in Paul and Silas to the community in Philippi. This love is what shines through each of us as God’s children. Can you imagine how bright the beacon of that love is when we are all shining together – beaming with love through our actions – one in mission?

This is the unity Jesus prays for in our Gospel today. This is God glorified in Revelation. This is the unity that celebrates the diversity of all creation.

Jesus said, “Come.”
And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes, take the water of life as a gift.
The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”
Come, Lord Jesus.

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Christopher Sikkema


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