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Easter 7 May 8, 2016 - The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
EASTER 7  Year C
Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22: 12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26
Christ Church
Tacoma Washington
Sunday, May 8, 2016
The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
Easter’s Great 50 Days
are drawing to a close
and we are preparing to celebrate Pentecost.
Still our lectionary,
our schedule of readings,
looks back in John’s Gospel,
to the last meal
Jesus shared with his disciples
before his crucifixion.
A meal marking an ending . . .
          of his earthly life.
And a beginning,
          although his disciples didn’t yet know it,
of his life lived in and through them.
Jesus prayed for these followers
he had chosen, and taught, and loved . . .
these disciples who had spent three years
trying to figure him out
          and keep up with him.

He prayed that God
would hold them together
after he was gone,
and strengthen their faith,
that his work might indeed continue
          in and through them.
He prayed not just for those first disciples,
but for every disciple there would ever be,
everyone who would come to believe in him
          “through their word.”
He prayed that we all may be one –
completely one –
united in him with each other and with God
in a vibrant dynamic of grace and love,
a living web of faithful, holy relationship
so unique, so attractive,
(so unlike our competitive,
contentious, fractured world)
that all might see in
who we are
and what we do
the Kingdom of God
coming into being,
even now,
even in this world,
might see,
and seeing,
might believe.

Among those first twelve disciples
there was disagreement,
dispute . . .
and so it always is . . .
Jesus prayed for a unity
spacious enough,
flexible enough,
resilient enough
to survive
          our self-centered
resistance to it.
Jesus prayed
that this mystical communion of God’s beloved
would continue
for all time and beyond all time,
be passed along
from generation to generation to generation
through the word of his disciples.
And what did he mean
by “their word?”
Certainly their preaching
and teaching.
But more than that.

“In the beginning,”
says John,
in the beginning of his Gospel,
“was the Word,
and the Word was with God
and the Word was God. . . .                                                 (John 1:1)
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us,
and we have seen his glory . . .”                                        (John 1:14)
Jesus came into the world
the living, active, creating Word of God:
telling and showing,
proclaiming and enacting;
          in word and deed revealing God’s Kingdom . . .
and we have seen his glory,
not just heard about it.
We have seen his glory:
his grace and truth manifest
in family, or friends,
or mentors, or spiritual guides,
an unexpected stranger,
saints with a capital S and a small s,
a faith community at its best . . .
in acts of forgiveness, reconciliation,
compassion, peace and justice-making . . .
through the word of their lives,
we have come to believe.

And now it’s our turn
to be words-of-God-made-flesh,
to incarnate, to walk, our talk –
to be the living and active revelation
of the good news about Jesus,
that through us
others may come to believe.
Through our baptism,
we have been woven into
this mystical communion of joy,
the living body of Jesus’ followers,
all the baptized across the ages,
past, present and yet to come.
As we live our baptismal vows,
God nurtures and strengthen this unity:
With God’s help,
we continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship,
in the breaking of bread and in the prayers;
With God’s help,
we persevere in resisting evil,
and whenever we fall into sin,
repent and return to the Lord;
With God’s help,
we proclaim by word and example
the good news of God in Christ;

With God’s help,
we seek and serve Christ in all persons,
loving our neighbor as ourselves;
With God’s help,
we strive for justice and peace among all people,
respecting the dignity of every human being.
With God’s help,
we cherish the wondrous works of God,
          and protect the beauty and integrity of all God’s creation.
With God’s help,
we are becoming what we proclaim,
a living word of God,
the body of the Risen Christ,
alive and active in the world
for the world,
so that others may come to believe.
“Blessed are those who wash their robes,”
exclaims the Risen Christ,
“so that they may have the right to the tree of life
and may enter the city by the gates . . .

Those baptismal robes . . .
way too big for us
when we first put them on.
The sleeves droop into our soup;
the hem drags the ground as we walk,
          collecting the dust of our failures.
Keeping our baptismal robes clean
          is a lifelong endeavor . . .
they get dirty,
we wash them . . .
they get dirty again,
and we wash them again
and we keep on,  
now signs of God’s Kingdom,
now signs of our own brokenness,
          our own internal disunity
                   that creates disunity with others.

The story we heard today
from the Acts of the Apostles
might be entitled:
The Worst and the Best
of Saint Paul.
The Worst of Paul:
sign of brokenness and disunity –
the preoccupied Paul
responding with irritation
to the slave girl with the spirit of divination.
Why did she attach herself so fiercely
to Paul and his companions?
In her proclamation,
“These men are slaves of the Most High God,
who proclaim to you a way of salvation.”
          she was not far from the truth.
She herself was a slave,
but not to God –
to human beings.

She was
the property of others,
the lowest of the low . . .
a woman AND a slave . . .
Her singular gift
of fortune-telling
made her owners rich,
and perhaps gave her some status
among their slaves.
What did she want
from Paul and companions?
For what did she hunger and thirst . . .
perhaps to escape from
the disunity of a system
where one human being
could be the property of another,
could be exploited by another . . .
perhaps an invitation into
the way of salvation Paul proclaimed.
In his annoyance,
Paul couldn’t be bothered to find out.

He got rid of the spirit
in order to get rid of the girl.
He took from her
the one thing that made her
of special value to her owners.
Was this a healing –
did the loss of the spirit of divination
          bring her a new freedom . . .
or take away from her
that one thing that lifted her
          just a little above the life
                   of an ordinary slave?
We don’t know . . .
it’s not really a story about the girl
          after all . . .
about a healing or a conversion . . .
because the focus is ironically on
the loss incurred by her owners
and their reaction.
But we might see in the story
the fundamental brokenness
          of a society
where inequality is the acceptable norm
          and oppression a way of life.
And we might see
Paul’s own brokenness
in his failure to engage with the slave girl
          as a fellow human being,
to enter into relationship with her,
to ask,
as Jesus so often did,
“What do you want?”
          “What do you want?”
Jesus, who was never afraid to ask
          or to hear the answer.
The Best of Paul:
sign of unity and God’s kingdom.
As a result of their encounter
with the slave girl,
Paul and companions were mercilessly beaten
and thrown into jail.
I wonder if,
during their singing and praying,
Paul thought back
to the slave girl
with regret at a lost opportunity?

an earthquake rattled
the prison and broke open the doors.
Jolted awake
and fearing his prisoners
had escaped,
the panicked jailer
drew his sword to kill himself . . .
This was more than the prisoners
could possibly have hoped for.
Chains off, doors open,
only one man
between them and freedom . . .
and he was about to
get out of the way
by killing himself.
But Paul stopped him,
shouting out,
“Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!”
Paul growing into his baptismal robe,
being who he was meant to be –
a living word of God,
sign of God’s Kingdom,
of God’s desire for the restoration
          of the God-given
unity of all humanity.

Trembling with awe and gratitude,
the jailor cried out,
“What do you have in your lives
that you would do such a thing –
what must I do to be [saved] as you are?”
The word of Paul’s action
opened the way
for the word of Paul’s teaching about Jesus
          and the joy that followed:
the jailer washing and anointing
the prisoners’ wounds,
the prisoners washing the jailer and his family
in the waters of baptism;
and then the meal of thanksgiving
shared by all –
Baptism and Eucharist,
the unity for which Jesus prayed
manifest in word and deed.
“Let everyone who is thirsty come,”
bids the Risen Christ,
“let anyone who wishes,
anyone who wishes,
take the water of life as a gift . . .”
that all may be completely one.
May this be the word
we proclaim by our lives.