Sunday, June 2, 2019

Seventh Sunday of Easter
Acts 16:16-34
Psalm 97
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
John 17:20-26

Be glad in Yahweh, you righteous people! Give thanks to his holy Name.

I must confess that I say “Come, Lord Jesus,” on a daily basis. Our world is broken and His coming is the only thing that will finally make everything right. Of course, the world has been broken for a very, very long time. It has been broken since Adam and Eve ate the wrong fruit in the Garden of Eden. It has been broken for every generation of human being that has ever lived. It is definitely broken today, but is it really as bad as it has ever been or as it will ever be? Even so, come Lord Jesus.

We are impatient. We are looking forward to spending eternity in heaven with our Father and our Lord, Jesus Christ and we are tired of struggling in this harsh world. Jesus will come again in God’s time. We know this to be true and we trust that God will be faithful, but we still want it to happen in our time. God is slow because there are still people who do not know Him and have not yet come to faith. He is patient so that they have a chance to spend eternity with Him, too.

Our pastor often talks about praying for our “one.” This is the person in our life who is not saved but for whom we have hope. This isn’t about making someone into something we want them to be, but to pray that they will know the joy and peace that we have in Jesus Christ. There are too many people in the world who do not know Jesus or who have rejected Him, yet there is always time as long as we are still waiting for Jesus to come. We can’t save anyone, but as long as there is time, we should do what we can to share God’s grace with them. We were once like them, without faith and destined to separation from God, but thanks to Jesus we have the promise of eternal life. Is this not what we want for those we love?

We have that faith because those who have come before us were willing to share the Gospel with others. John writes, “Not for these only do I pray, but for those also who believe in me through their word...” Jesus was not just praying for His one, He was praying for all of us. He was praying for those who would come to faith based on the witnesses of those who knew Him. He was praying for those who will come to faith based on our witness.

We were once those who would believe, but we are now those who believe and we are sent to share the Good News of Christ with the next generation of believers. The early church had a natural sense of urgency when it came to the mission of the Church. Christ is coming again, soon. The kingdom of God is near. Now is the time, don’t wait! They were passionate about the message and they shared it with the world.

Now it has been two thousand years. We are no longer living with the same sense of urgency. Yet that message, “Today is the day,” is as true for us as it was for them, perhaps even more so since we are closer to His coming than they ever were. For us, however, two thousand years is a long time to wait and we have lost patience and our zealousness. We have allowed the worries and the cares of the world to temper our enthusiasm and we have followed with a skewed sense of purpose. We can’t seem to agree about anything anymore, even when it comes to the Kingdom of God. Ask a ten people about the Book of Revelation and you’ll get eleven points of view. Jesus calls us to love one another and be of one mind so that the world will know that God.

We are a diverse people; we come from different times and places. The Church has existed for two thousand years and has touched nearly every corner of the world. It is hard enough for the people in a congregation to agree about the color of the carpet. How can Jesus expect us to agree with people of completely different world views? There was a street in a town where we used to live that was called “church mile.” It had at least a dozen different churches, side by side. There were even multiple Lutheran churches, one from each type possible. Most of the churches were struggling because there were not enough people to keep the pews full. It seems to me that if Jesus’ prayer had been answered, those churches could have found a way to merge, to glorify God in their unity.

However, unity does not necessarily mean that we will all be the same. It is impossible. Not even the twelve disciples were the same. There were fishermen, a tax collector, revolutionaries and others. At least one was married. Some were brothers. They were from different villages. In the scriptures we can see they had different personalities. They did not always get along. The disciples often bickered and the early Church faced difficulties. The churches on that church mile had things in common, but they also had many differences. Joining as one body meant those Christians would have to give up something of their individual identities.

When Jesus prayed for the unity of the believers, He wasn’t praying that all Christians would join one particular type of denomination. I mourn over the brokenness of His Church, but I think He has allowed for the differences to suit our personalities. Some want red carpet, others want blue, and yet others think the floor should be tiled. Some like a praise band, others long for quiet, contemplative worship. I love liturgy, but I know others would prefer lengthy teaching sermons. I like to follow the lectionary, but others would prefer to hear the bible verse by verse. Some want a large church with thousands singing thunderous praise to God, while others like a smaller, more intimate congregation where they know the names of every person in the room. We are hard wired differently, so even when our doctrinal theology does not agree, we can’t assume those who disagree are less than Christian.

Jesus’ prayer for them and for us was to be of one mind. That mind is not our own, or the mind of our particular leaders, or the mind of our denominational perspectives. That mind is Christ’s. As we have seen over the past few weeks, Jesus set down how we could be unified. We are called to love one another with an active love. In service to our brothers and sisters in Christ, the world will see that we are one and will know that God is the Lord Almighty. They will see our unity and will know that God does exist in and through our lives. Two people can disagree about the color of the carpet and still love one another: that is a sign of God’s power.

Redwood trees last for centuries because they live in groves. Despite being incredibly tall and majestic, they have very small root systems and need to dwell together in groves. I once saw a tree that was felled by an extreme store and was shocked at how small the roots really are. That one tree was just far enough from the others that it had no support and thus no strength. They count on the other trees to help them stand; their root systems intertwine, giving the group a greater strength than any individual tree.

We long for Jesus to come because living in this world is the hard part, especially since we are still sinners. We are all imperfect; none of us have it completely right. The most important thing is to dwell in a community of believers, to pray for one another, to encourage one another, to correct and rebuke one another when necessary. We can’t live in faith alone; we need to be joined to our brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to be like the Redwoods, helping each other remain faithful as we wait for the Day of Christ.

There are, unfortunately, too many Christians who think they can go it alone. They choose not to participate in the fellowship of the saints, to join others for worship, word and sacrament or Bible study. They are disappointed with the body of Christ either because they have been hurt by individuals or they do not like what they’ve seen, so they decide to spend time alone with God. When they do this they stand separate, alone in the world, and then when the storm hits there is nothing to help hold them up. They have no unity with others who can give them the strength they need to stand. They are too far from that which gives true strength in Christ. The Church is strongest when we are one with each other in Christ Jesus.

It won’t be easy, because even when we find a community of faith that fits our needs, we will still disagree with people within that community. That’s why Jesus wants us to be of His mind, not worrying about the differences, but seeing Him in their lives. And when the world sees how we love one another, they will see the love of God. They will see how the Gospel of Jesus Christ changes a person. They will wonder what it is that we have that makes us live as we do. People are drawn to us when we glorify God with our lives, and perhaps they too will experience the forgiveness and mercy of God and be saved.

I once went out to lunch and used a gift card to pay for my meal. It was a partially used gift card and could not remember how much was left. I thought it was enough, but when the waiter returned with my receipt he said it was sixteen cents short. “Don’t worry about it, though. I got it.” It was a very nice gesture and we thanked him for it, but I could not have the waiter paying a part of my bill out of his own pocket. So as I left a generous tip, I included an additional sixteen cents.

Sixteen cents is insignificant and none of us would suffer greatly without those pennies. The restaurant probably writes off more than sixteen cents of ‘shortage’ every day in broken dishes, burnt food and cash drawer mistakes. I’m not sure where to draw the line, but at some point the amount becomes significant. While we might justify the smaller numbers, it becomes harder when it is a considerable amount of money. I once knew a woman who could justify every windfall as a gift from God, even those that might harm another. When she got extra change from the grocery store cashier or found something lost on the street, she praised God rather than tried to make things right. It is good to praise God with words, but it is even better to praise Him by living rightly in the world.

There was once a television commercial in which one good deed led to other good deeds. Unlike the campaign of “paying it forward,” the recipient in this commercial was not the one who went on to do a good deed. The next person in line was a bystander, a witness. They were not paying it forward, but were emulating something they saw happen. We are reminded that the things that we do, good and bad, are not only visible to the people who benefit from our actions. People witness them and they have an impact. A stranger in the grocery line might notice a kindness to a clerk and do the same for a co-worker. A friend might observe a good relationship between neighbors and take a better attitude home to their own neighborhood. A classmate of a child might witness a mother volunteering at school and decide to do something to help out at church. We do not know how the things we do will affect the world around us.

It is especially amazing that God has intervened in the insignificant aspects of our lives as part of His plan for salvation for others. I have had experiences that have seemed coincidental like an unexpected phone call or an unplanned stop at the store which led to something greater happening. These may not be quite so coincidental; it may just be part of a larger plan as God moves in and through the lives of His children.

Our reading for today could almost be divided into two different stories. In the first few verses we meet a girl who had a gift that was being used by her owners to earn money. She had a spirit of divination, so she could read the future or discover hidden knowledge by interpreting signs or by some supernatural power. She knew that Paul was a servant of God and she identified him by crying out to the crowds. It seems like an odd thing for the demon within her to do. Paul became annoyed because the girl became so distracting, keeping the people from hearing his message. He didn’t heal her because he felt sorry for her. He healed her because he was tired of her bothering them. He turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!”

The demon left the girl and her powers were gone which upset the girl’s owners because without her gifts she had no value to them. They had Paul and Silas arrested, and the two disciples were put into jail. Paul and his companions were sitting in that jail making the best of things, worshipping God together despite their difficult circumstances, I have no doubt that they were praying for a miracle to set them free. It is natural and human for us to look to our God to get us out of trouble; after all, He has promised to take care of us.

An earthquake struck as they were praying and singing hymns. The earthquake was so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken. The doors were opened and the chains were unfastened. Sounds like a miraculous gift from God to me. Paul and the other prisoners could have taken advantage of the opportunity and ran to freedom praising God. However, freedom for the prisoners would have meant punishment for the jailer. It would have been a punishment so great that the jailer thought his best option was to kill himself with his sword. Instead of running away, Paul and his companions as well as the other prisoners in the jail stayed. Paul called out to the jailer and told him that they were all still there. Paul believed that if God intended for them to be free at that time, then He would accomplish it in a way they would be truly free. Escape would have meant that they would all have been fugitives and the jailer would be dead. God did take care of them in His time and His way.

The integrity of the Christians caught the jailer’s attention and he asked about Jesus. In the end, he and his entire household was baptized. This conversion gave the Christian message credibility to the Gentile community and others began to believe in Christ based on the witness of that one man. One annoying girl led to the Christianization of the Gentiles.

The psalmist writes that God’s power and majesty is accompanied by darkness, fire, lightning and the melting of mountains. God is supreme over all things and gods and we who love God hate evil. Hating evil means living a life that does only what is right and not doing what is wrong, even if it is justifiable. Our circumstances may not seem good, but then living in God’s will is not always sunshine and happiness. Sometimes we’ll find ourselves in the middle of an earthquake. But as we trust in God and do what is right, we will find that His blessings are even greater than we ever expected. For Paul, the blessing was obvious when a new Christian found faith in Jesus Christ because of their witness.

There is reason for us to rejoice even now while we wait because God is faithful and His promises are sure. We long for the day when Christ will come and make all things right. We long for the day when we will dwell for eternity in the presence of our God and our Lord Jesus Christ. For today, however, there is still work to do. There are still people who need to hear the Gospel and to see our witness in the world. There are still people who need to experience the mercy and forgiveness of God so that they will believe and join us the praise and worship of God now and forever. Everything will be truly perfect in that day, but until then let us trust that God is working in this world in ways we may not understand, but that will ultimately lead to the fulfillment of all His promises.

A WORD FOR TODAY
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