The Adventurous Lectionary – The Sixth Sunday of Easter – May 1, 2016
Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10; 21:22-22:5; John 5:1-9
Today’s readings join vision, spiritual transformation, and healing, and call persons to become everyday mystics. When we respond to God’s visions for us, we claim God’s healing touch and bring healing to ourselves and our communities.
The reading from Acts describes Paul’s venture to Macedonia and the founding of the Philippian church. It begins with a visionary experience that is self-authenticating not only to Paul but to his companions. God comes to us in a variety of ways, dreams, visions, encounters with Jesus, intuitions, and synchronous moments. A healthy congregation needs to be open to divine-human encounters, even though we seldom talk about them in mainline and progressive church. Yet, every time I gather congregants and community persons to talk about mystical experiences, participants describe their own or family members having encounters with angels, near death experiences, synchronous encounters, and visions. Honoring these experiences brings vitality to our congregations and opens us to new forms of mission.
Paul’s vision lures him and his companions to Philippi, where he encounters a woman of substance, Lydia. Lydia is a spiritual and economic leader in the early Christian community. Her leadership established the church in Philippi, and reflects the significant role of women in the early church. Women are at the cross, the tomb, the roadways sharing the good news of the resurrection, leading worship, and establishing congregations. The role of women needs to be affirmed, especially in light of the current political and economic misogyny. In remembering the stories of women in the first century, we affirm their leadership in our time and place and are inspired to continue the quest for equality for women in society, politics, and ecclesiastical life. [For more on Acts of the Apostles and Paul’s ministry with the Philippians, see Bruce Epperly, Transforming Acts: Acts of the Apostles as a 21st Century Gospel (Energion);Philippians: A Participatory Study Guide (Energion), and Spiritual and Religious: A Postmodern Preaching Pilgrimage with Philippians (Parson’s Porch Books)]
Psalm 67 describes a world of blessing. God has blessed us as individuals and as a people. God’s blessings are ultimately ethical and just. We are blessed to pursue equality. We are blessed to bless others through a commitment to justice for stranger and neighbor alike.
The reading from Revelation portrays a vision of the future. John of Patmos’ mystical vision describes a realm fully open to God’s presence. The world the author experiences is bathed in light, where justice reigns and tears are no more. Such a world does not exist but it remains a horizon of possibility, judging every human political achievement. History stands under divine judgment: the moral arc of history is slow, and we are tempted to give up hope, but the horizon of hope leads us onward.
John’s mystical vision presents an impossible possibility. Still, impossible ideals must lead us forward, even when we must, to use the language of philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, seek – along with God – the best for the impasse. Divine possibilities are both personal, and in the moment, grounded in “what is.” Divine possibilities also lure us toward impossible dreams. The Spirit of Adventure takes beyond realism to the world of our dreams, and even if we don’t make it, the journey leads us closer and closer toward Home, God’s Shalom.
Jesus’ encounter with a disabled man focuses on the question, “Do you want to be made well?” This question is addressed to the man at the pool and also to us. Do you want to be healthy? Do you want a healthier family life? Do you want healing of relationships? Do you want to be a healthy and effective professional? Often we know what is good – whether in terms of diet, lifestyle, and behavior – and fail to do it! Like the man at the pool, we often make excuses, when God calls not only to stand up but is willing to provide the energy for us to start moving toward the future.
This same question can be asked of our institutions and political system. Do you want to be well? Do you want justice to prevail? Do you want the hungry to be fed and the homeless to be housed, and what are you willing to do to achieve it?
Getting well requires us to make significant changes in values and behavior. We must be willing to stand up, responding to God’s call and move forward in partnership with God’s vision of abundant life. As we respond to God’s call to health, we must be agents of transformation, trusting God fully, yet being agents, actively seeking wholeness for ourselves, our communities, and the planet. [For more on Jesus’ healings, see Bruce Epperly, Healing Marks: Healing and Spirituality in Mark’s Gospel (Energion), Healing Worship: Purpose and Practice (Pilgrim), and God’s Touch: Faith, Wholeness, and the Healing Miracles of Jesus (Westminster/John Knox]
Visionary experiences, openness to possibilities, and willingness to be blessings to others guide us toward the future. When we open to God’s creative vision, miracles occur – not contrary to nature – but emerging from nature. Open to God’s vision, God will accomplish more than we can ask or imagine.