The Adventurous Lectionary – The Seventh Sunday after Easter – May 29, 2022

The Adventurous Lectionary – The Seventh Sunday after Easter – May 29, 2022 May 20, 2022

The Adventurous Lectionary – The Seventh Sunday of Easter – May 29, 2022
Acts 16:16-34
Psalm 97
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
John 17:20-26

Christian spirituality is, in its essence, surprising and countercultural. It is also mystical nature, opening us to deeper experiences of the Holy, from which we receive our life mission. Christian spirituality challenges our self-imposed limitations and transcends any orthodoxy or behavioral expectation in its quest to be faithful to the “sacrament of the present moment.” (Pierre de Caussade) The moment in which God comes to us in our world, giving us a larger perspective, inspiring hope, and energizing action. Authentic faith breaks down barriers, goes beyond polarization, and expands the circle of concern to embrace enemies as well as friends.

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,” a hymn that sustained me in the heart of the COVID season.
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 Paul’s and Silas’ response to imprisonment and humiliation? They have sought to be faithful to God, and though his healing initially appears to be the result of Paul’s annoyance, they have liberated a slave girl, and received a beating and imprisonment for their efforts. 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 often feel at risk, personally and institutionally, and worry about the future of our congregations, nation, and the planet. We are mortals and we – and those we love – may face painful and debilitating illness, and the dying process itself. We also feel anxiety at the rise of racism and Christian nationalism, internal threats to democracy, and gun violence. To all appearances, we will be at the mercy of powers greater than ourselves, and we are tempted to succumb to “weak resignation at the evils we deplore.” (Harry Emerson Fosdick) 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 – war in Ukraine, saber rattling in North Korea, anti-democracy movements in the USA, 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 among political leaders. 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? The greatest impediment to facing life’s challenges with equanimity and courage 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.

We can live affirmatively trusting God to supply our deepest needs and provide resources for confronting our sense of despair and powerlessness. God is giving us courage and wisdom when we have none and receiving us into God’s presence at the hour of death and as we confront the deathful behaviors of political candidates and national leaders. Belief in our role in a larger story is not escapist or an opiate to deaden the pain of non-being, nor does it turn us away from this world and the quest for justice. It is rather the inspiration to trust God with the large issues of life as we tackle what’s right in front of us, affirming that God’s Shalom, God’s vision of wholeness, will be final world for persons and the planet.

We can turn to the spirit of Doris Plenn’s added verse to “How Can I Keep From Singing,” written during the dangerous days of the red scare.
When tyrants tremble, sick with fear,
And hear their death-knell ringing,
When friends rejoice both far and near,
How can I keep from singing?
In prison cell and dungeon vile,
Our thoughts to them go winging;
When friends by shame are undefiled,
How can I keep from singing?

“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 divisiveness and seeking healing.

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.

The words of Revelation proclaim that God 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. Anyone who thirsts will receive refreshment. 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! Jesus’ prayers radiate through the ages calling us to unity in a world of polarity. Perhaps, the author of John knew the threat of schism and division, of incivility, that is rampant today, religiously and politically. We are one in the Spirit, joining diversity with loving unity. 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. How can we keep from singing?
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Bruce Epperly is a pastor, professor, and author of over seventy books, including THE ELEPHANT IS RUNNING: PROCESS AND OPEN AND RELATIONAL THEOLOGY AND RELIGIOUS PLURALISM; MYSTICS IN ACTION: TWELVE SAINTS FOR TODAY; PROPHETIC HEALING: HOWARD THURMAN’S VISION OF CONTEMPLATIVE ACTIVISM; and PROCESS THEOLOGY AND POLITICS.


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