The Adventurous Lectionary – The Seventh Sunday of Easter – June 2, 2019
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
Christian spirituality is, in its essence, surprising and countercultural. It defies our expectations and challenges any orthodoxy or behaviorial expectation in its quest to be faithful to the “sacrament of the present moment.” (Pierre de Caussade) Authentic faith breaks down barriers, goes beyond polarization, and expands the circle of concern to embrace enemies as well as friends. The attractiveness of the church is in its unpredictable openness to whatever God calls for, beyond our political, religious, ethical, and relational stereotypes.
As I read Acts 16’s account of Paul and Silas singing and praying in prison, I am reminded of the traditional hymn “How Can I Keep from Singing.”
My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation,
I hear the sweet, tho’ far-off hymn
That hails a new creation;
Thro’ all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?
What tho’ my joys and comforts die?
The Lord my Saviour liveth;
What tho’ the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night he giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging;
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?
Can you imagine their response to imprisonment and humiliation? Their lives are at risk, but they are living out their faith in song. No doubt, Paul and Silas have fears and are feeling the pain of having been whipped, but they are experiencing a deeper reality – the ever-present faithfulness of God. Later, the apostle Paul was to pen, “whether I live or die I belong to God” and “nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” They embody a spirituality of stature, which recognizes the pain of the moment and places it in the wider perspective of divine providence.
Paul and Silas live in a world of conflict – and so do we. We are mortals and we – and those we love – may face painful and debilitating illness, and the dying process itself. To all appearances, we will be at the mercy of powers greater than ourselves. But, we may discover an even greater Power and Wisdom – the Power of God – greater than anything the world can throw at us. I am experiencing this interplay of anxiety and jubilee as I read the news this week – saber rattling in the Middle East, draconian and punitive legislation intended to control women’s reproductive choices, continuing wars of the environment, restrictions on the freedom of the LGBTQ+ community, and overall bullying, dishonesty, and vindictiveness at the highest levels of government. I am often in despair that our nation will come to its senses and choose pathways of life rather than intentionally pursue chaos, death, and destruction.
But, how do we faithfully prepare ourselves for realities we cannot control? Socrates once noted that all philosophy or love of wisdom is a preparation for death. While we may not hold that the world is a prison house, as the Socrates of Plato’s Phaedo asserted – we can affirm the goodness of the earth and yet recognize the brevity of life, letting go and letting God in all the challenges of life. The greatest impediment to facing life’s challenges with equanimity may be our rugged and isolated individualism, which leaves us bereft of resources when we can no longer determine the events of our lives. There is way forward and that is claiming the “grace of interdependence” and recognizing that we are, even as agents with freedom to choose and change the world, utterly dependent on a Wisdom and Power Greater than Our Own. The “grace of interdependence” emerges from “leaning on the everlasting arms” and discovering that God’s mercies are new every morning. God has an everlasting vision and our lives are part of an everlasting story.
“What must we do to be saved?” is a perennial religious question. And the faithful answer, “Nothing!” Nothing, that is, except recognizing that we are already saved. We are in God’s hands, now and forevermore. God is always reaching out to us, and we find wholeness is receiving God’s grace, letting it flow in and through us, and becoming instruments of the grace we have received. The gospel proclaims amazing grace, greater than our fears, that motivates us to join God’s cause of healing the world. We are one in God’s grace, despite the incivility and polarization of our world. We need to claim and live out this unity, challenging the divisiveness of our nation’s leaders, and their dubious claims to follow Christian principles.
Psalm 97 describes the awesome glory of God. God’s power aims at justice. It is not power for its own sake or to massage the divine ego, but power to bring forth beauty and support the righteous in trying times. Our human pretenses will pass; diabolical leaders will fade into oblivion, and in contrast, God’s vision of truth, goodness, and beauty, energizing the moral arc of history will have the final world – and that word is love that heals and redeems persons and nations.
God, the words of Revelation proclaim, is the beginning and end, the Alpha and Omega. Not locked into timelessness, God bends toward the earth, embracing humanity in its pain and weakness. God offers living water to all. God’s ever-flowing grace is available to all. We simply need to say “yes” to the grace that already sustains us, living by grace now, and not fear, despite the challenges of life. The waters of salvation are here, so come to the waters, regardless of your journey’s meanderings.
In John 17, Jesus is praying for us! We are one in the Spirit, joining diversity with loving unppity. Jesus is visualizing all who will come after his first followers and is praying that we be one with him, God, and one another. The love of God for Jesus is intended to shape our identities, preserving our unity and inspiring our own love for the world God has created.
Today’s readings describe our experience of God’s power and glory in terms of loving care. We can sing in desperate times and gain the courage to respond to crises because God is with us, our deepest reality, inspiring and sustaining us, and calling us to align ourselves with the pathways of Shalom.
Bruce Epperly is the Senior Pastor of South Congregational Church, UCC, in Centerville, MA and the author of fifty books including “Spiritual Decluttering: 40 Days to Spiritual Transformation and Planetary Healing,” “Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God,”
“Become Fire: Guideposts for Interspiritual Pilgrims,” and “The Mystic in You: Discovering a God-filled World.”