Readings for Seventh Sunday of Easter 20 May 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Easter 7 Textweek

Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Rev. 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

The last thing I think on the computer when I turned it off last night was the service sheet for Pentecost. It’s quite difficult to hear today’s readings without an anticipation of Pentecost - there’s a real sense, certainly for me, of preparing for and becoming ready for the flame and the Spirit of Pentecost. But the readings are set in the context of Easter, they’re very much in the context of the community that gathers having witnessed and encountered the events of Easter. Each of the readings then seems to offer a reference point, an opportunity to reflect, whereby we can draw together our own Easter encounter, bring it together and then turn with the whole of our Easter collected together, turn and commit ourselves to the realisation of Pentecost. Pentecost is not some magic act where flames are sent from God to appear over our heads, it is our engagement with the divine.

Now the reading from Acts provides a wonderful opportunity to reflect and to review our own journey, because it seems to collect together, the narrative in Acts, it collects together life events. When you first read through it it almost looks as if the whole cycle of life is there in the reading, so an opportunity for us to ground, to earth our own life events in the divine story. The starting point from the reading: One day as we were going to the place of prayer’; the starting point is a place of prayer and the narrative begins with a meeting, the meeting with the slave girl, the lowest and the least powerful of all. Maybe that’s our starting point – to meet that person in ourselves, the lowest and the least powerful of all that is within me and to meet that person, that I Am, in a place or space of prayer.

The reading continues and there are two miracles in the narrative – the first one is created through the words of Paul, and it’s amazingly interesting that that miracle is born out of annoyance. This is not an Anglican Paul, speaking nicely to help others, that soft gentle meek and mild ‘let’s fix everyone that’s hurting’, this is someone who is stunningly annoyed, he is something-off, Paul is at this point, and his words bring forth a miracle. The second miracle that we read about in that first reading comes within the earthquake. It’s a breaking in by the divine quite unexpectedly, it was not asked for. Reference points that enable us to ask with what words shall we call forth miracles and in what unexpected earthquake will we find them? We then come to the suffering of Paul. Paul had to suffer because he disturbed our city – it sits right in the centre of the narrative, right in the middle. Paul disturbs the authorities of the city and is beaten for it. It’s quite important again if we know some of the historical context: there’s nothing wrong with this part of the narrative, this is normative for the day, and interestingly enough, normative for our day. The legality of what happened to Paul is based on homeland security legislation, the same legislation that we have. What the Romans did was they had some legislation that they could apply to those who belonged to different cults who suggested different ways, different pathways, from foreign lands, and this was legislation that generally wasn’t used but could be wheeled out when it was felt appropriate and it enabled you to do almost anything with the person to whom your applied the legislation. Stunningly contemporary stuff we’re reading here.

It appears right in the middle of the reading and maybe it’s crucial and central to our being a post-East community; maybe this is central to us being the Church and to being the Body of Christ, because this is the point in the story where most of us avoid, this is where most of us exit; this is where, ‘thank you very much I’ll leave the story at this point’. To be true to our calling, we will disturb the cultural norms and so we will suffer rejection by those who are themselves complicit in and locked into maintaining the power that is. And if by some slim thin chance, if like Paul we decide that we will stay with the story then the second part of the reading illustrates the practical outworking of this small microcosm of life. Paul goes on to save the life of his oppressor - loving neighbour, loving enemy and bringing creativity to the whole. He saves the life of the prison guard, the one that was keeping him captive, the one who was on a suicide mission, (obviously an American!) The reading concludes with baptism and rejoicing – bringing into oneness and celebrating the same. We can almost read that reading from Acts, align it with our Easter journey, align that then with our life and use those pointers to find out to where do we point: where are we going, where am I going?

The reading is followed by a delightful psalm. The psalmist sings to the abundant glory of the divine and it’s a song that almost by the time you get to the end of it, that last line, ‘Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name!’ Go through that quietly at home - you almost want to stand up and do just that. It calls us to rejoice in the Lord, it totally echoes the reading from Acts that was before it, and it’s as if there’s a poetic song that is taking us: ‘Come on, rejoice in the Lord’, inviting us forward to the reading that follows and to the Gospel. And as we come to the end of our Easter experience, so too we come to the end of the Book of Revelation and so to the closing verses of the Bible. You might say this is the last word. It is an ending that is absolutely filled with anticipation; it’s hard to see this as an ending because it is so full of anticipation.

There’s an inclusive call from the bright morning star to all who have, as it says in verse 14, washed their robes. If we recall the scene of the Transfiguration where Jesus appears and what’s noted is the brightness of the white of his robes, we begin to see where the imagination of the Book of Revelation, what it’s trying to illustrate for us: to our transfiguration, to our being seen in a completely different light. The final verses are a call to all who live in truth, in wholeness and in integrity, because it leaves outside those who practise falsehood. And yet it’s an inclusive reading – ‘for all who live in truth’ – not the truth of the world, not the integrity of those around but rather an integrity with all that has gone before. That’s why there’s that bit at the end – don’t add to this and don’t take away from it, it’s all here. That doesn’t mean that there’s a literal, ‘my goodness, it’s all in those few words’: the image, the story, the symbol, the calling are all held within the dream that is the Book of Revelation, that is held within the Bible. If we can find ourselves living in truth with that, then we hear the call that is so evident in the reading - that all who are thirsty come, ‘the water of life is a gift’, ‘Come, share in the tree of life.’ Read through that after you’ve heard one of the election broadcasts - doesn’t matter which party – listen to their spiel and then read this. You don’t have to use your head to know where I want to align myself. The difficult thing about going to the election will be the name that I want to put my tick against is not on the paper. Find that place. It’s amazing, there’s a great freedom there, because the tick on the box actually is irrelevant: we want to create far more of a disturbance in the world than any shift that a ballot paper will create.

Today’s readings finish with the prayer of Jesus. Again, it gives shape and form to our orientation both post-Easter and in anticipation of Pentecost. It is a prayer, it is an amazing prayer: ‘I ask on behalf of these’ – it’s a prayer on behalf of those present. "I ask on behalf of these’, and it’s also a prayer for those to come: ‘not only these but those who will believe in me through their word.’ We could say that this is a prayer directly for us, a prayer of the present and a prayer of the future. It echoes the divine calling to oneness: ‘that all may be one.’ This is not a prayer of pre-emptive strikes, it is not a prayer of fear and it is not even a prayer of hope; it is an echo of the divine call in each and every one. It’s not to be waited for, it’s not to be hoped for, it’s not to be found in my doing; it recognizes the divine in each and every one.

In verse 22, what we see in Christ, what we worship in Christ - often mistakenly – what we adore, what we desire, what we encounter in Christ is already gifted: ‘The glory you have given me’ - son to the father - ‘The glory that you have given me I have given them’. When we reflect on any image that we have of the Christ, when we reflect on that which draws us to worship the Christ, just hear again in that prayer: ‘The glory that you have given me I have given them.’ If we can believe that, we too will disturb those in the city.

The Lord be with you.
Peter Humphris