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A Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 14, August 11, 2019

A Sermon preached by The Reverend Beth Lind Foote, Interim Rector, on the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 14, August 11, 2019

I recently had a few days outside the Bay Area bubble, in Cincinnati OH, where our oldest daughter ran the Episcopal Camp in the Diocese of Southern OH. She asked us to come to her last Family Camp session. We had a fun time at camp and met about 100 fellow Episcopalians. We also tie-dyed t-shirts in the cornfields, confirming that Haight-Ashbury has had a long-lasting cultural effect.

While we were at camp, President Trump held a rally in Cincinnati.  It was troubling to me being that close to it.  I was able to focus on my novel as I relaxed in a hammock for a few hours, but it was difficult for me to let go of all the trouble in the world. On our way home, we flew out of Columbus, OH. The interstate took us by the city of Dayton, and we know what happened there late last Saturday night, right after the shooting in El Paso.

These are troubling times, and it’s times like these when I find that I need my faith. I don’t take it for granted anymore.

What does faith mean to you?  What do our readings teach us about faith this morning?  How can we support each other’s faith during this Interim time, and time of great upheaval in our world?

According to classic Christian orthodoxy, faith is a gift initiated by God.  Later, the theologian, Martin Luther had a spiritual awakening as he read the Letter to the Romans, and led the Reformation with his assertion that we are justified with God by faith alone rather than by good works. 

When I served in Menlo Park, I learned to introduce the Nicene Creed with the words, “Let us affirm our faith in the words of the Nicene Creed,” which I think frames it well. The Creed affirms what the church came to believe in the 4th century, and when we say it together, we enter into a centuries long tradition of naming ancient articles of faith. As an Episcopal priest, I feel compelled to say, you don’t have to believe all of it all the time to be an Episcopalian.  But saying it together brings us into a common experience where we hear the faith of the church proclaimed yet again, and it always brings me to a place of wonder.

This week I was struck by the words near the beginning that say, “We believe in one God…maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.”

Faith rests on there on  “all that is, seen and unseen.”  We are familiar with the things we can see, and understand; and our faith leads us to look below the surface and over time our faith leads us to trust in things unseen.

At camp we had something called FOB, or “Flat on Back” time during the middle of the day, (basically nap time) and that’s when I read my novel in the hammock. The novel was a bestseller called, “The Overstory” by Richard Powers.  It’s a novel about the wisdom of trees, how people’s lives are intertwined with trees, how we’re destroying trees, and creation. The plot weaves together a cast of characters who become environmental advocates, some of them extremists, for the cause of defending trees.

The “Overstory” in the title refers to the unseen intelligence of trees, and the natural world.  Where humans see nature as something to be exploited, and used up, the novel shows us nature as valuable for its own sake, a very Anglican view of creation.

As I finished the book on the flight home, I found a redemptive message in the “unseen” intelligence of creation that is beyond our understanding. Things unseen are moving below the surface, beyond our control, and that gave me hope.

A growing Faith is hopeful like that, too.  Our faith consists of those “articles of faith” in the Creed, and also the unseen becoming ever more real to us. Faith is an ever-growing trust in God’s unseen action and love in the world.

In today’s reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, we hear the classic verse, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. “ which fits with the opening words of the Creed.  Paul uses the words “assurance,” and “conviction” to describe faith.

Paul also uses the story of Abraham following God’s call to explain what faith is.  Paul writes, “By faith, Abraham OBEYED when he was called to set out.” Faith is an invitation by God  to step out beyond our comfort zone, like Abraham did.  Faith is ever-changing; God continually calls us out into a deeper faith, and to face the unknown without fear.  Or at least to understand that fear is part of life, and to trust God and move ahead anyway, with courage.

James Fowler’s classic work on the different stages of faith talks about a spiral upward movement of disintegration and reintegration as our faith matures.  I believe that in an interim time there’s a similar process going on.  There’s a process of disintegration and reintegration as we move farther along the Interim journey.  It can feel uncomfortable. We can feel anxiety and fear.  But through that process of spiritual growth we grow stronger as a community.

In our Gospel passage, Jesus offers his disciples and us, an alternative view of living a life of faith, beyond fear.  He offers a life of faith based on the God’s pleasure to give us the kingdom. It affirms God’s faith in us as God’s beloved.  When I experience that aspect of faith, the world becomes lighter. It’s not all up to us to hold it all together.  God is holding us in a relationship of faith.  God is unseen, yet God is there.  God is the “Overstory” if you will, behind the scenes. 

Jesus says, “Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

This is Good News for us as Christians, because when we remember that it is God’s pleasure to give us the kingdom, we can see all that we have as God’s gift.  We become stewards of what God has given us, rather than hoarders.  We can loosen our grip on life a bit and notice our faith is carrying us along, something like the mystery of riding a bike.

There is so much that we are holding onto right now.  We legitimately have a lot to worry about in our country. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, something else bad happens.  As I mentioned, it was hard for me to relax on my vacation.

But perhaps the world is going through one of those spirals of disintegration and reintegration, too.  Maybe society is spiraling up towards a new consciousness, and we have to go through this period of disintegration and we can’t see the big picture because we are too close to it.  Maybe confronting white nationalism, racism, and the NRA out in the open is what needs to happen to bring us to a new day.  I pray that we may all work towards a more equitable and moral society.

Jesus also says, “do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  In this Interim time we may have fears about how we are doing at All Saints’ and what our future will be, along with our concerns about the world around us.  Let’s surround those concerns with intentional prayer.  Let’s ask God for what we need specifically on our journey of faith.  God is listening, it is God’s pleasure to give us the kingdom.  But we must we must ask for it, we must participate in the work of bringing it about.

Take courage, little flock.  Christ is with us, and he asks us to trust and to be ready for action, be ready to grow in faith, be ready to receive joy.  Amen.

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A Sermon for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost, July 14, 2019

A Sermon preached by The Reverend Beth Lind Foote, Interim Rector, on the 4th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 10, July 14, 2019

We know this story of the Good Samaritan.  Hospitals are named after the Good Samaritan, and there’s even a Roadside Assistance service for Recreational Vehicles called Good Sam. But do we know it?  What is Jesus the storyteller telling us today, in 2019? Two themes stand out for me this time around:  Borders and Brokenness.

Borders have been in the news a lot lately. Chris Webber preached about borders last Sunday, and it’s worth continuing. The Southern Border of the US with Mexico, the border between North Korea and South Korea, the border between truth and falsehood, the border between the rule of law and authoritarianism, the border between love and hate. 

In our passage from Luke, Jesus is talking about a kind of border that was important to Jews of his time:  the line that marked whether you were being a good Jew and following the Law of Moses, or not.

In today’s passage, Jesus meets a lawyer who asks him, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Lawyer in this context means an expert in the religious law, sometimes known as a scribe, rather than what we think of as an attorney.

Jesus knows his Scriptures.  He asks the Lawyer, the scriptural expert, “what is written in the Law?” Both of them are thinking of the Shema, the verse from Deuteronomy that’s foundational to Judaism, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself,” and Jesus says, “you have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

The lawyer shoots back a clarifying question for the ages: “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ response is the story of the Good Samaritan.

There was a clearcut border in Jesus’ society:  Samaritans and Jews didn’t mix.  To Jews, Samaritans were the “other,” branch of Judaism who did not worship in the Temple, and they were all considered “unclean.”  So when we call our hero, “The Good Samaritan,” it’s ironic because to Jews, Samaritans were not considered “good,” and so this particular one was called out as “The GOOD Samaritan.”

Jesus says the Samaritan passing by, “was moved with pity.” The Samaritan walking to Jericho crosses the border into human kindness.

This morning I’ll ask the lawyer’s question, “who is my neighbor,” in our world.  Our neighbors to the south of us in Central America are fleeing for our lives, and we are not being Good Samaritans.  These people are refugees, not criminals. The lawyer in our passage today would not even question the necessity of treating refugees well; hospitality to foreigners was a well-settled precedent in the Law of Moses.

Yesterday I saw a video clip of our VP looking with distain at hundreds of young men behind chain link fences who’ve been detained for 40 days without showers or other humane conditions, in an overcrowded U.S. detention facility. He turned his head, and offered no sense of compassion or kindness.

If we learn anything from today’s story it’s that Jesus calls us to compassion, and to care for other people, not put them in cages, not turn away from their pain, especially if we call ourselves Christians.

My colleague at Grace Cathedral, Rev. Ellen Clarke-King wrote a petition that asked fellow clergy and other mandated reporters to report the Border Control’s treatment of children as child abuse.  I was happy to sign along with 1,400 other Episcopal clergy and mandated reporters.  As Christians, we are all mandated reporters called to witness as the lawyer in the story, and keep asking, “who are our neighbors?”  Jesus teaches us that we’re all neighbors to each other, we’re all on this earth together.

Another border in Jesus’ time was the border of brokenness. Illness, disability, mental illness, all made someone broken and “unclean” under the Law of Moses.  This was a reason why the priest and the Levite pass by the injured man in the story, they are observing the border between themselves and a man made unclean by injury.  Corpses were especially unclean.  He could have been dead, so they look the other way.

It’s important to remember that throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus healing everyone, even the most “unclean” people around: lepers, people possessed by demons, the blind, the deaf, and the lame.  I think we take it for granted because that’s what Jesus does.  But he crossed a very big border in his own culture by touching these people let alone healing them.  Once you were unclean you were “broken.”  Jesus healing ministry shows us that the “broken,” like the man lying in the ditch at the side of the road to Jericho are our neighbors. 

Here at All Saints’ we have continued to serve our neighbors in need through the HACS brunch program on Saturday mornings.  This is a real strength of All Saints’, and we need to support it and work towards renewing its ministry for the long-term.

Let’s pivot for a moment to our reading this morning from Amos.  The prophet Amos calls out the kingdom of Israel because they were headed in the wrong direction. In a vision, Amos saw a plumb line, a measurement of sound construction, that was crooked.

To my mind the plumb line, or measurement of sound government in the United States– that we can expect a level of more governance— is out of whack.  This week I’ve been dismayed by the Trump Administration’s attempt to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, yet again.  There’s a disturbing undercurrent in our country right now that sick people deserve to be sick because it’s their own fault.  In other words, they’re “broken” and do not deserve healthcare.

It’s dangerous because it ignores the traditional understanding that insurance that benefits everyone who participates, and the more people who participate the better because it spreads the risk. 

I think this has something to say about the Good Samaritan story.  We see a story about attending to and caring about others.  We’re supposed to emulate the Good Samaritan and extend ourselves to care for others, and see ourselves as members of a society who values the decency of caring for each other.

And, I think the story is also about confronting our own “brokenness” and mortality, and our need for healing.  The story creates a vision of greater mutuality

Sometime during our lifetime we will be the man at the side of the road, beaten up by something:  a pre-existing condition, cancer, an accident, divorce, mental illness, grief, or plain old aging.  We will all need help from others, through medical care, through the personal care and love of other people.  

We also see a foreshadowing of Jesus’ brokenness in the Good Samaritan story. Jesus will shortly be the one who’s stripped, beaten, and crucified.  Jesus dies a young man on the Cross, not in comfortable surroundings as an old man.  He becomes one of us in his brokenness on the Cross.

In the words of the Eucharistic Prayer we hear the words, “This is my Body, which is broken for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.” Jesus offers himself to be broken for us, and affirms the holiness of brokenness as part of the human condition.

The Good News is that Jesus is there for us.  In a sense, He is the Good Samaritan, crossing borders to enter into our lives, and offer us healing.  Perhaps the Good News is that the church is the Inn, where we can accept that healing and receive Christ’s body and blood broken and offered for us, and share it with others.  The Resurrection is the Good News that our brokenness leads to new life in Christ.

The Good News is that Jesus cares that we care about each other, like a parent who cares about how their children care for each other. We are all children of God and we are all broken members of the human family in need to healing, and we are all called to love in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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A Sermon for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost, July 7, 2019

A Sermon preached by The Reverend Christopher L. Webber for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 9, July 7, 2019

I woke up last Sunday to pictures of the President stepping across a raised line in Korea and I’ve been trying all week to understand why the same man would want to ignore a border in Korea and build one up in Texas. I’ve been wondering whether today’s Old Testament reading can help us understand. It’s all about borders: the walls we build and the walls we tear down.

Naaman was a Syrian: commander of the armies of Aram Aram or Syria – same thing – a major power in those days stretching from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates It took in modern Syria and most of Iraq. Some borders mattered to Naaman and some didn’t. He ignored borders when he wanted to plunder his Hebrew neighbors. He was raiding south of the border one day and captured a young Hebrew woman and brought her north as a slave to serve his wife. Borders couldn’t stand in the way of personal gain.

Naaman’s behavior is similar, I think, to the way American corporations have plundered Central America for generations, exploited resources, overthrown governments, enriched a few and impoverished many. The American novelist, O Henry, invented the term “Banana Republic” to describe the governments created by the United Fruit Company and others to enrich American investors and impoverish Hondurans and Guatemalans. Borders don’t matter when we’re looking for plunder.

Israel had been a plunderer in the time of David and Solomon but now Israel was the plunderee, now it was a banana republic, ravaged by Egypt to the south and Syria to the north. Naaman would have understood our politics today. You might bring a few Central Americans north as servants and to work in the fields, you would certainly plunder the wealth, but you would build walls to keep most of the people you impoverished from coming north themselves. You build borders to protect yourself from that.

But the situation was complicated because Naaman was a leper. Well, it looked like leprosy. They couldn’t much tell different skin diseases apart in those days, but it looked like leprosy and that was scary. Leprosy ate away at your body and slowly destroyed you, and it was contagious so you exiled lepers, you made them stay outside the towns and cities, wander the countryside, but not get close. Lepers had to stay outside an invisible border ringing a bell to warn you and calling out “Unclean, unclean.”

But Naaman was the commanding general of the Syrian armies, so he wouldn’t be exiled quickly, but if that patch on his arm began to spread and he couldn’t hide it that was the end: no more palace, no more servants, no more luxuries, but a slow, painful, miserable death away from everything he valued and everything he cared about. But the Hebrew servant girl knew something, and she told Naaman’s wife and Naaman’s wife told him. The servant girl said, “There’s a prophet in Israel who does healings. Some say he even raised the dead. Maybe he can solve your problem.” So Naaman told the king and the king gave consent and Naaman headed south with a small army of servants and soldiers and went straight to the king’s palace in Israel.

The king of Israel at the time was probably King Jehoram, son of Ahaz, but this minor king was so unimportant we’re never told his name. So Naaman showed up at the door with a small army and said, “Cure my leprosy.” Well, the maid never said the king could do it, but Naaman just started at the top and scared Jehoram to death. “Me cure leprosy? Is he looking for another war?” But they got things straightened out and General Naaman went to see Elisha. And Elisha couldn’t be bothered even to go to the door. “Leprosy? No problem. Tell him to go wash in the Jordan and he’ll be fine.”

But Naaman was outraged. “Wash in the Jordan? That muddy creek?” We’ve got better rivers in Syria. Well, they did. Yjey had the Euphrates. He could have washed in the mighty Euphrates. Why bother to come all the way down south to wash in some muddy brook in Israel? Naaman flew into a rage and it took a while for his servants to calm him down. “Look,” they said, “if he’d asked you to do a hundred pushups or wash all over with Chanel #5 – wouldn’t you have done it? So why not the simple thing? What’s to lose?” So, grudgingly, he did. And it worked. And he was thrilled And that’s the end of today’s reading. It’s supposed to parallel or connect with the Gospel reading about Jesus sending the disciples out on a healing mission, but I’d rather make the connection to the headlines and borders.

So let me just finish off the story that the reading left hanging, unfinished. Here’s what we didn’t hear. Naaman was thrilled. He went back to Elisha and offered to pay him. But Elisha waved him off. “No problem. Go on home. Don’t worry. Forget about it.” So then – here’s the part I like – Naaman said, “Well, OK, but at least let me take back to Syria two mule loads of earth.”

Why? What’s that about? Naaman wants the dirt because now he knows there’s a God in Israel who answers prayer and he wants a chunk of Israel to stand on from now on when he prays so the God of Israel will hear him.

Do you see what’s happening? We’re at a stage of human development, religious development, when different people had different gods and the gods were connected with certain areas, certain lands. When in Israel, pray to Jehovah. When in Syria, pray to Baal. Gods have borders too. But Baal didn’t help my leprosy and Yahweh did. So if I have to go back to Syria maybe I can take some of Israel with me and stand on it when I pray and this powerful Israelite God will still hear my prayers

Here’s the point: this is a story of events that took place almost 3000 years ago and they were at a very early stage in the story of the human understanding of God. Move down a few centuries and you find Isaiah, another prophet for another time, and Isaiah knew something Naaman didn’t know and maybe Elishah didn’t either. Isaiah knew that God is a God who rules all nations. Isaiah knew that God could take King Cyrus of Babylon and use him as a tool in God’s hand. Isaiah knew that the God of Israel is the only God and there is no other. Isaiah knew that from the rising of the sun to it’s setting there is no other God. “I am the Lord,”“ says the God of Isaiah, “and there is no other.”

Think again about borders. We have a president who can step across one border and build walls on another. But what’s the big picture here? Where is God in all this? What does God care about borders? Here we are on the weekend celebrating American Independence and I learned something about that last week that I hadn’t known before. We have a prayer in the Prayer Book for Independence Day and we have assigned readings from the Bible, and I thought we always had. But No. No, the committee that created the first American Prayer Book in 1789 wrote a prayer for Independence Day and chose readings from the Bible, but the Bishop of Pennsylvania said, “Wait a minute. A lot of the clergy were not on board with this business. They had been loyal to their ordination oath to the King of England and some have gone back to England and some to Canada and we don’t want to embarrass the ones who remain by making them give thanks for something they aren’t thankful for.” So there was no prayer for Independence Day in the Episcopal Prayer Book until 1928 when most people had gotten over it. So in 1928 they put back the readings that are more relevant today than ever. They called on Episcopalians down to our own day to read these verses: Deuteronomy 10:17-21:

“The Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”If that’s not clear enough, there’s a newer translation, almost ten years old, but more relevant than ever, that puts it this way: “The Lord your God is the God of all gods and the Lord of all lords . . . He enacts justice for orphans and widows, and he loves immigrants giving them food and clothing. That means that you must also love immigrants because you were immigrants in Egypt.” (Common English Bible)

Argue the politics however you want and do what you want about walls and borders but our instructions

are clear. I took a certain pride in the presence of the one openly Episcopalian candidate on stage lastweek and the fact that he alone acknowledged that Christians are under orders. He said: “we should call out hypocrisy when we see it. . . a party that associates itself with Christianity . . . (and) suggests that. . . God would condone putting children in cages has lost all claim to ever use religious language again.”

And, yes, is it really so good a thing that there’s another set of borders in the world, another division between human beings? Is it a good thing that Korea is divided North and South? Is it a good thing that North America is divided three ways? Is it a good thing that Central American terrorists can control tiny countries and that we respect their right to rape and pillage as they like because, hey, there’s a border we have to respect?

What is it about borders? How is it that capitalists can ravage tiny countries with no one to hinder them, but when their victims flee for their lives we turn them away? What’s wrong with this picture? The wall is not the whole picture. The picture includes small countries destroyed by our corporations, but we’re not responsible and I don’t understand why.

Now I’m a priest, not a politician. I get to ask questions, not give answers. Except this: our God is the God of Isaiah, who knows no borders. Except this: we have a vision given us and a mandate to fulfill and the same God who loves us and calls us will also be our judge.

We will end the service today with the singing of that great hymn, “America the beautiful,” that puts into words and music something of what I’ve been trying to say:

“O beautiful for patriot dream
that sees beyond the years
thine alabaster cities gleam
undimmed by human tears . . .”

Few things, I think, cause more tears than borders, but we are given a vision that sees beyond the politics, beyond the borders, beyond the years; a vision that calls us and questions us: Must it indeed be always “beyond the years”?
Why not in our own day?
Why not now?

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A Sermon for Easter VII, June 2, 2019

A Sermon preached by The Rev. Spencer Hatcher, Director of Diocesan Relations and Recruiting for CDSP, on June 2, 2019

“I have experienced more freedom here in this place where, by so many measures, I am anything but free, than at any other time in my life. For the first time, I am not captive, even though I am, in fact, held captive,” he told me, tears welling in the corner of his eyes.

I held his eye contact, full of bother wonder and skepticism, and yet feeling in that deep place of knowing, that something important and true was stirring- something that would change me and my understanding of my faith- something that was already changing the landscape of this place.

This place being San Quentin State Penitentiary.

Or more specifically, this place being the Roman Catholic chapel in San Quentin. where weekly restorative justice circles, led by the inmates themselves, would gather to grieve and to support, to talk about what it means to be free, even when you’re not.

I don’t hear scripture passages about prison- spiritual or physical- the same anymore, after the experience walking alongside the Spirit and the inmates at San Quentin. They hold onto me differently now.

Today, our passage from the book of Acts is one such passage. Where we’re invited to explore imprisonment in three very different and yet inextricably linked ways. What is the freedom to which we are called? The one which we are promised?

First we meet an unnamed, young, slave girl filled with a spirit of divination, that is to say, she is possessed- a slave in both body and spirit- she is at the mercy of her masters who exploit her for money and at the mercy of a cultural system which does not count her worth as greater than that which she can bring those who hold her captive.

She follows around Paul and Silas, the Spirit within her calling out to them. And while I would like to believe they were stirred by compassion for her situation, by their God’s call to loose the chains of oppression, instead, they are moved by annoyance.

She, or the Spirit calling from within her, prove to be irritating to Paul- enough so that Paul calls out the Spirit. He casts out that which has held her spiritually bound. Her faith did not make her well, like so many of our scriptural healing narratives. And in many ways, she may now be in an even more precarious situation- unable to continue to provide money for her masters. And yet, she is still set free- from one form of bondage.

What sort of freedom is that?

This unnamed woman may invite questions, but she will not, or her narrative will not, provide the answers. In fact, we do not hear of her again.

Instead, next, because they are angry at losing their money-maker, her masters drag Paul and Silas to the magistrate to accuse them of “disturbing the city’- by which they really mean, upending their personal means of market production. Paul and Silas are stripped, beaten, and put in prison.

And perhaps, the next piece of the story comes as no surprise given that Paul has escaped physical imprisonment before. God, we’re told, hears the prayers and the songs of Her people, locked away, falsely accused in a Roman prison. Suddenly, a great earth quake shakes the very foundation of the prison, loosing the chains and opening the doors. Paul and Silas are now free.

But they do not leave.

The roman jailer, himself held captive by the system of honor and shame, realizing what has happened and the consequences a jail-break will have on his life and his family’s life, bound by the shackles of empire, which will not tolerate mistakes, takes his own sword to kill himself. Before he can complete the action, however, Paul calls out “we are all here”.

Only together are they free.

What can I do to be saved, the jailer asks on his knees. Saved from what, we don’t actually know. Saved from Rome’s wrath? From the prisoner’s retribution? From a feeling of captivity- in all it’s forms? From their God?

“Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household,” says Paul.

For theirs is a God who promises salvation. Paul, who has regularly called himself a slave to God, seeks to invite the jailer into the salvific freedom God has promised from the very beginning of time-

a freedom that comes with a hefty price of everything you are and everything you hope to be.

A freedom that breathed the world into being- that danced over the face of the deep before whispering life into the void.

A freedom that called out from a bush burning and yet not consumed, that toppled an empire, that parted the seas

a freedom that reminded a people that even those as mighty as Pharaoh could not contain them forever.

A freedom that walked with people in the person of Jesus Christ, calling into question the very systems which seek to deal death to what God has proclaimed alive- that is everything.

If you want to be free, Paul said, then follow us- for ours is a God of true freedom.

If you want to be free, then ours is still a God of true freedom.

At this- the last Sunday of the Easter season, where we celebrate liberation from all that deals death- where we celebrate the victory of life, questions remain. Because ours is still a world where, this week alone, 12 children of God died at the hands of a violence that has become all too familiar. We are still bound, held captive.

So, people of God, from what or whom do you, do we need a salvation which has already been given?

Because I am not incarcerated- I am not literally held captive. And yet, I know there are tender places in myself which are not yet free. There are voices in myself which whisper lies of a captivity that hold me bound- lies  that I am not enough- that I am in competition with those around me- that my worth is what I produce, or, perhaps, what I consume. That I am still in Pharaoh’s Egypt.

Perhaps you, too, feel the rub of the chains in your tender places

And if you do not feel the chains of captivity in your person, then perhaps you recognize them in our world- in a world that builds walls- literal, spiritual, and emotional- that all too often chooses the destructive forces of death as though that is the only choice- as if it’s own freedom is not bound up in that of everyone’s.

In a world where slave girls continue to call out on the streets, where masters continue to be bound by the forces of the market they, themselves ,created, where captors continue to suffer the consequences of a system which does not seek freedom- theirs or anyone else’s. In a world where we are equally more connected and more disparate than ever before- what truth do we need from this narrative?

What if this passage from Acts that we hear this morning is not about the incomplete liberation of one particular slave girl, or the imprisonment of two particular disciples, or the salvation of one particular jailer?

What if, instead, we read the story as a reminder that ours is a God who promises and who delivers- true freedom- and that that freedom is one that cannot and will not be done alone.

That the voices you hear in yourself which whisper that you are not enough serve to disconnect you from the very people who would remind you that you are.

That to silence the voices which remind us that captivity is still the lived reality for many people in our world, serves only to further bind up ourselves.

That the very walls we build to keep others out serve to keep us locked away.

What if this were a story reminding us that the earthquake has already come- the chains are already broken, the doors are already open- that God’s liberative work is done and is being done and will be done. Yesterday- today-tomorrow. Ours is to recognize that as children of God, we are not bound to the forces which deal death- those in ourselves and those in the world around us. That ours is to remember that there has always been another way.

That we are bound to a God who speaks and breathes and promises liberation.

What if we believed it? What if I believed it? What if you believed it?

From what do you cry out for freedom? For salvation?

Sister Joan Chittister, a roman catholic nun, and author, is known to respond to the question: “What should we do,” with the simple answer of, “something- each of us must do something”. 

As we transition between Easter and Pentecost, between a focus on the life and death of a savior and the call of a people, of a church- what liberating “something” are you called to do? Are you called to embody? Are you called to set free?