The Adventurous Lectionary – The Sixth Sunday of Easter – May 26, 2019
Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10; 21:22-22:5; John 5:1-9
Many people today are in search of the miraculous. We want to experience faith rather than hear about it. We want the living word of God’s presence and not just doctrinal words and ethical rules. We want the Spirit to well up within us as a living reality, not just a story from the past. We want the word to be made flesh and abstractions to take life in concrete actions for God’s realm.
Today’s readings join vision, spiritual transformation, and healing, and call persons to become everyday mystics and God’s healing partners. When we respond to God’s visions for us, we claim God’s healing touch and bring healing to ourselves and our communities. New healing energies are released, the doors of perception are cleansed, and we experience infinity in finite moments, eternity in the midst of time.
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-and-community 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. God’s revelations always move us from where we are to where God wants us to be, whether the journey is geographical or spiritual, or both in tandem.
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. (For more on mystical and near-death experiences, see Bruce Epperly, “Angels, Mysteries and Miracles: A Progressive Vision.”)
Paul’s vision lures him and his companions to Philippi, where he synchronously encounters a woman of substance, Lydia. Could God’s providence be involved in this meeting, the right place, the right time, the right person? Lydia is a spiritual and economic leader in the early Christian community. She is a religious seeker on a quest for a vital spiritual experience. 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; Philippians: A Participatory Study Guide, and Spiritual and Religious: A Postmodern Preaching Pilgrimage with Philippians]
Psalm 67 describes a world of blessing. When we are blessed, we literally shine from the inside out. 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. God’s blessings are not restricted to humankind. We are part of an ecology of blessing that embraces the whole earth and compels us to ask, “Are we blessing the earth by our values? Are we blessing the earth by our current business and public policies?”
The reading from Revelation portrays a vision of the future, the world as it could be in the interdependence of divine call and human response. 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. God’s temple is everywhere, and God’s light touches everyone. Such a world does not yet exist, but it remains a horizon of possibility, judging every human political achievement. The spiritual and moral arcs of history place our nation and economy under divine judgment: the moral and spiritual arc of history may be slow, and our actions can accelerate or impede its progress. Often, we are tempted to give up hope, but the horizon of hope leads us onward.John’s mystical vision presents an impossible possibility, the realm of Shalom. 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, whether physically, relationally, spiritually, or politically, 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, Healing Worship: Purpose and Practice , and God’s Touch: Faith, Wholeness, and the Healing Miracles of Jesus]
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 and transformative energies are released that transform cells as well as souls – not contrary to nature – but emerging from nature. Open to God’s vision, God will accomplish more than we can ask or imagine.
Bruce Epperly is Pastor of South Congregational Church, UCC, in Centerville, MA and professor in the D.Min. program of Wesley Theological Seminary. He is the author of 50 books, including “Spiritual Decluttering: 40 Days to Spiritual Transformation and Planetary Healing,” “The Mystic in You: Discovering a God-filled World,” and “Become Fire: Guideposts for Interspiritual Pilgrims.”