Greetings from Faith Episcopal Church in Kingston, Washington! You may have noticed that I post on our weekly schedules other churches in our Diocese that are to be remembered in our community prayers—I’ve been doing this for a few months now. It is from the Diocesan congregations’ prayer cycle. Well, Faith Church in Kingston takes this seriously and sent us a card this week letting us know they are praying for us this whole month. It’s good for our fellow churches to support and pray for each other, and it sort of models the early church communities that prayed for each other. I also found to be the case this past Friday and Saturday at the Total Common Ministry retreat time at St. Christopher’s, Westport—the TCM churches represented there prayed together and supported each other in the discussions and ideas for ministry.
This is the last Sunday of the Easter season, and we have had our readings during this season as follows: the 1st has been from the Acts of the Apostles, the 2nd has been from Revelation of John, and the Gospel each week has been readings from the book of John. These Revelation and John passages each week have been very challenging, as we have found during our weekly Bible study discussions. Our readings for today are no different—they may seem to be really disjointed—not providing any common theme at all. But I think I came up with one—Hope!
In the Gospel from John 17, Jesus prays to the Father not only for His disciples, but for all who would believe in Him: ”I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Jesus also prays that those who have been with and believe in Him will be with Jesus in Heaven, to see His glory: “Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” This should give us all real hope that our faith in Jesus Christ has a solid basis for our eternal salvation, as Jesus intercedes for all of us with his death and resurrection, as well as provides the Holy Spirit to help us to live our lives in faithfulness.
The 2nd reading from Revelation 22 actually is the end of that book, and the end of the Bible canon. It is a vision from John about how Jesus speaks of His glory and His believers in Heaven. These are words we are familiar with: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Also, he gives hope and encouragement to all to hear and believe Him: “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.”
As much hope as we can get from these readings, to me the most practical hope we can get is from our reading from Acts 16. Paul and his followers are going to a temple to pray and share their faith with others, and they encounter a slave girl with a “spirit of divination”—she can see the future and her owners use her to make of lot of money for themselves. She continually follows Paul around for days, crying out that Paul and his followers are “slaves” of the Most High God, and they are proclaiming a way to salvation.
I got this thought from a friend on Facebook who thought about this passage—Have you ever been trying to give a talk and have someone in the audience constantly calling out anything? It disrupts the entire speech and all attention goes away from what you're trying to say. You might as well pack up and go home - or cast them out!
Paul, a hothead at times anyway, became annoyed with the girl for her continued proclamations, and called the spirit out of her, rendering her useless to her owners. [I’m not so sure that was a very good thing for the girl and her relationship with her owners, depending on what they did to her next—maybe this was an unintended consequence of helping the girl with the spirit who possessed her.]
They seized Paul and the others and had them jailed by telling the Roman magistrates that they were disturbing the peace and stirring up the people with ideas and customs that are unlawful. (Pretty phony argument, but effective! This happened too many times to Paul during his ministry!) They even incited the crowd to attack them, stripped them, have them beaten with rods, severely flogged them, and then tossed them in jail with their feet in stocks.
You would think this would be a real downer for Paul and his men, but instead Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God. A major earthquake occurred, and the prison doors and their chains were loosened. They could have escaped and gotten away, and when the jailer arrived, he decided to kill himself because he would be in trouble for letting them escape. Instead they were still there and stopped him, and began to preach to him about how to be saved. The jailer took them all in to his house, administered to their wounds, gave them food to eat, and he and his household were baptized. [Now that is some pretty strong evangelism carried out by Paul and his followers!]
The hope I see in this story is that Paul and his followers showed extreme faith in Jesus, regardless of what was done to them, and they were delivered from their bonds. The hope for us is that we likely will not ever have to undergo anything like what they were put through for their faith, and yet God is there to help us with our tough times, if we are faithful.
Just as our hope for our salvation is through our faith in Christ Jesus, our hope as a church community to be faithful witnesses of Christ’s love is with each other. In our pews today is a small but important part of God’s faithful people here in Montesano. Some of you have been a part of this church for a half century or more, while others only have been here a short while. Regardless, we are all important in God’s plan for bringing His love and message of hope to others.
Consider what each one of you has done here so far and what more you can do to continue to build our church—and bring God’s hope to others here. Mary had an opportunity a few weeks ago inside our parish hall to proclaim her understanding of her Christian faith, and did not miss it. After our own discernment class in the church ended, she sat with her son and others at the end of the AA meeting in Calder Hall, and got an earful from one person who was trashing churches and religion. After he left, the others still there told Mary there were sorry the person had acted that way, and were embarrassed she had to listen to that, knowing she was very active and helped with worship here. Mary responded that it was ok, that person was entitled to their opinion, and she did the judge him. She knew her own faith and shared it with others—a faith that is unwavering but not judgmental and thinks she is better than others. This is the type of witness Jesus would want to have us share, a faith that is steady, loving, and hopeful to all who hear it.
We showed a community of faith and hope in God’s healing power last Sunday when we all--and I mean ALL, laid hands on Brad for healing and peace. We show it when we talk to each other about how we’re doing and what we can do to help each other, or to pray for others outside of our church community we know are hurting. We show this faith and hope when we give to our community and beyond of the first fruits of what we receive—not the leftovers after we take care of ourselves. And, we show our hope for the future of this church when we make it the most inviting place we can for those who come here for other meetings and events and for those who may enter our church for worship.
We can be this faith community in many new ways—I ask you all to offer up those ways to consider, so we can find ways to be more and more what Jesus wants us to be, His witness to the community here to help each other live in faith and love--and hope!