Shaking the foundations

12 May 2013
Seventh Sunday of Easter
Easter 7C (RCL)
Acts 16:16-34
Psalm 97
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
John 17:20-26

This is the Sunday between Ascension and Pentecost, so in some regard, the focus is on the upcoming gift of the Spirit. In the readings for this Sunday, the focus is pretty oblique.

The reading from Acts seems almost novelistic in the way it relates the story of release of Paul and Silas from prison. I find allusions to the tomb (the innermost chamber of the prison, the stocks) and the resurrection (the earthquake), and it certainly fits with Luke’s narrative purpose to show the apostles recapitulating the ministry of Jesus. But I think the point almost slips past us because of our familiarity with the language.

The slave girl, we are told, had the spirit of a python (the NRSV translates “divination”). The oracle at Delphi was possessed by a python when she prophesied: this slave girl fits a pattern well-known in the ancient world. And, she is speaking the truth (at least from Luke’s perspective): these men are slaves of the most high God. This is a good narrative set up. The conflict arises over Paul and Silas putting forward a way of life that is not lawful for Romans.

They are put in prison, and during the night there is an earthquake, and the doors are opened. The jailer, supposing the prisoners have escaped prepares to commit suicide (as the honor code of the day would have required). Instead Paul calls out that all are still present and accounted for. The jailer asks, “Sirs (or Lords), what must I do to be saved?” We here this in the context of “Jesus saves” evangelical preaching. He might be asking, “How do I get to heaven?” In fact, he is asking, “How do I get out of this jam I am in (that you have put me in)?” And Paul answers “Trust on the Lord Jesus.” First, it’s an unusual preposition for the verb “trust”. The usual prepositions are “in” and “into”. Luke is not careless with words, so we need to pause and wonder why.

The result is that the jailer and his household become believers (trusters) in God. Paul invites the jailer to get out the jam he’s in by shifting his allegiances from Lord Caesar to the Lord Jesus. That’s the reason for the preposition “epi” — rebuild your world upon the Lord Jesus. The earthquake now begins to make sense in the story. The jailer’s world has been shaken. And it also makes sense that the whole jailer’s household comes along with him. The paterfamilias served in essence as the priest of the household, offering sacrifice on those occasion that required it. This is a huge shift.

The Gospel passage speaks of our participation in the life of the Trinity (as you are in me and I am in you, may they be in us). But Jesus is praying not just for the disciples in the room, but for those who will come to believe through their word (us and beyond us). Again, a shift of identity is required. We are to be identified as persons through our participation in the inner life of the Trinity, not through our standing in the world’s definitions (glory trickles down in the world; it is freely given in the Trinity).

The passage from Revelation, which ends our Bible, invites all to come and drink freely of the water of life — an image of abundance; crystal clear water flowing right down the (golden) street of the city. The invitation is to shift from our zero-sum ways of defining individuals (wealth, power, status) etc., to an open sum mutual indwelling which glorifies all. Being “saved” means much more than just getting your “get out of hell free card” punched. It invites us into a new definition of person, of household, of glory.

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