“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps 19:14)
It’s closing in on nine years since a friend of my daughter’s was involved in an accident on River Road in Whately. It was a bad one. I remember visiting her at Baystate Medical Center. It was touch and go. She survived, but was left paralyzed.
A lot of people would have given up. She was so active, and now she needed help to do everything. I would have understood depression. Instead, this strong, young woman grabbed life with more gusto than anyone I know.
She plays basketball. She wheel-chaired up Mount Washington. She’s gone white water rafting. She skies. She’s fearless with her wheelchair. She’ll go anywhere. If she wipes-out, she picks herself back up, and off again. And she mentors others who have been injured like she has and helps them physically and emotionally.
She’s the one you may have seen in the Baystate Medical Center commercials and billboards. When I’m driving north on 91 in Northampton, I see her looking at me and as it says on the billboard, “I will not let a spinal cord injury define me.” What an amazing attitude.
Or how about the story of Paul and Silas that Amy shared with us today. They’re dragged into the center of town. A mob has gathered. Paul and Silas are strangers and they’re talking about some strange new religion. People don’t like that. It gets them all worked up.
The politicians go along with the mob. Paul and Silas are stripped of their clothing and beaten with rods in front of a crowd who loves the spectacle. They’re thrown into a miserable prison cell and their feet are locked into a stockade.
Do they give up? Just the opposite. You know the way that girl wouldn’t let being paralyzed define her, how she drew on some inner strength and is far more adventurous than I would ever dare, well, Paul and Silas are like that too. They would not let their situation define them.
It’s the middle of the night. They’ve been beaten and people enjoyed it. They’ve been locked up in some dirty, cold prison. And they’re singing, says the Bible.
Their faith gave them the freedom to not be overwhelmed by anything in this world.
Faith was liberating and powerful. Thrown into prison – didn’t matter. Beaten – didn’t matter. Despised – didn’t matter. They were singing hymns at midnight because their faith set them free no matter what. Now that’s the power of faith!
Jesus hears the singing and Jesus needs them to keep preaching so miraculously they’re freed from their chains, and the doors of all the prison cells swing open. The jailor thought all the prisoners had escaped. Back in that day, if they escaped it was his life that made up for the loss.
He was ready to kill himself, but Paul yells from inside the cell, “We’re all here.” It didn’t matter if they were in prison or had escaped into the night they were already free. The jailer was so moved by this strange and powerful faith that he and his family were baptized.
Victor Hugo once said: “There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.”
I wonder if it’s the time again for Jesus’ gospel. I wonder if His gospel is the idea whose time has come – again.
Jesus’ gospel is not just Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – the Gospels. It’s the entirety of Jesus’ message and life, and what comes from it. Looking at the way the world is today, crass, selfish and violent, Jesus’ gospel is as strange now as when Paul and Silas upset the people in ancient Philippi.
The gospel is as radical and uncompromising today as it was when it got Paul and Silas beaten and imprisoned. We don’t have to be led by our fears though. The gospel leads us by our dreams. It lets us sing no matter what.
And you know why? Because the Good News, the gospel, is that Jesus believes in the good in us. Jesus is so optimistic about who we are that we even have trouble hearing it.
Think back to today’s Gospel. Jesus proclaims that He and God the Father are one. This is one of the key texts that led eventually to the teaching of the Trinity. But then Jesus continues and says, “So that they [,Christians] may be one, as we are one.”
Think about that. … Jesus and the Father are one. Jesus shares that same glory shared between Father and Son with us: “‘The glory that you [Father] have given me – I have given them.’”
That’s an amazing statement and we don’t really hear it because we’re so used to being told that we’re sinners. But the gospel, the Good News is that we are like God. We share something of the divine nature. And isn’t that the same message that the Bible begins with in the book of Genesis? Isn’t it a consistent and optimistic message?
God sees us for our dreams not for our fears. He sees the good we are capable of. There’s nothing stronger than “an idea whose time has come.” I think and I hope it’s the time again to hear for the first time the strange message of the gospel, of the good we are capable of in Jesus.
It’s time to figuratively sing hymns in the prison, to realize that nothing in this world is stronger than our faith. Let’s now come together at the Communion Table to feed our souls so that we are strong enough to be like God and to go out and startle the world with this new gospel.
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Faith, love and chitchat.
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