“Get Real” 06/02/2019 by Rev. Stacy Swain (Click on title for audio)

SCRIPTURE READINGS                                                                                     

Acts 16:16-34

Let us pray:  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts, be acceptable to you O God, our rock and our redeemer, Amen.

         Our passage this morning begins with this strange interaction between Paul and a slave girl who has the power of the spirit of divination.  While healings in Scripture are typically seen as expressions of the liberating power of God’s goodness, this one seems to be more about Paul’s personality than about God’s intervention.   The scripture tells us that Paul casts the spirit out of the girl because he find the girl’s constant refrain   “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation,” which she offered up it seems with great enthusiasm over many days, — annoying.  She clearly does have the gift of divination for the words she speaks are true, but no matter, Paul casts out that spirit because she had gotten on his last nerve.  What a strange encounter.

         But then I got thinking about it.  My daughter graduated college this week and the festivities included two, two hour long cocktail parties one on one day, one on another, hosted by the parents of my daughters’ good friends. Coffee hour is good training for cocktail parties but as lovely as these two were, I have to admit I still found them to be rather intimidating.  Walking up to someone I don’t know and starting a conversation feels really awkward to me and so I usually default, after the initial pleasantries to that question,  “So… what do you do?”
         Then with terror I realized what a mistake that was for after by cocktail companion had talked for a bit, I realized that they will inevitably turn that question back on me, asking “And you, what do you do?”   That is when I find myself summoning the best of my linguistic gymnastics to try every distraction and off ramp to not have to tell them that … well… I am a Pastor.  There is honestly nothing deadlier to a cocktail conversation, or any casual conversation really than telling someone that you are a pastor.  People honestly don’t know what to say after such an admission. It is a buzz kill of the greatest effect.


         So I can only imagine how annoying it would be if I had someone tagging along behind me day after day, in crowded events of graduation proclaiming in a loud voice, “hey everyone! A word here please!! This one is a Pastor? Yep, a follower of Jesus.” 

         Right?  I have heard many of you say that your friends are rather bewildered when they learn that you are a church goer.  And how many of you feel a need to explain yourself and our church, once they do know.  So you get how annoying it would be if someone was trailing you in Whole Foods, or at the end of the year band concert, or at the Senior Center or at your favorite coffee shop, shouting out:  “Hey! — Look here everyone, this one goes to church!”

         We would find it awkward and annoying for sure, so I get it that Peter does too. But when I think about what was at stake for Peter, I am surprised that annoyance is really all that he felt.   For the stakes for Paul are high.  Paul and Silas are Jews in Roman territory.  They are strangers in a foreign land.  They are not among their own people.  They look differently, speak differently and are probably already getting that second look from people and feeling rather exposed even before the girl starts in.  The rapidity by which the crowd is stirred up with scape-goating violence again Paul and Silas speaks to the suspicion the Romans must have harbored against those who looked, sounded, acted differently than themselves.

         While being church-going people in our time and place is more of an oddity than something that places us in any kind of danger, we in this community have taken a vow to stand with those who may in fact feel threatened.  We vow in our  covenant to affirm the inclusive love of Jesus and as such to stand with and for those feel vulnerable and at risk for being fully who God created us to be.   We covenant with us whose sexuality falls outside what some in our society deem what is right and permissible.    We covenant with us who are vulnerable and are to be made to feel less than because the color of our skin is not the color of privilege.  We covenant with us who are vulnerable and to be made to feel less than because we are living pay check to pay check. We covenant with us who are vulnerable and to be made to feel less than because we are differently abled. This inclusive love of Jesus embraces us who are made to feel less than because we are making a life on our own as a single person; who are made to feel less than because we do not have an advanced degree that legitimizes our  worth, I could go on and on.  There is no end to vulnerability and the assault to worth and legitimacy.  And it is because of all of that seeks to sort and separate and stratify by worth, that here we stand together for love’s sake. 

         And so we are grateful for this place.  We are grateful for the covenant that gives expression to our values. We are grateful for the safety of this space where we come home to our essential worth as being beloved children of God before we or anyone else sorts us into any category of worth.  We are grateful for a place that welcomes us, and reminds us that we are loved.  We are grateful to share time when we do not need to perform, or prove but simply to be.  To share in God’s peace, to carry each other’s burdens and share in each other’s joys and to be nourished at this table along with the great communion of those who have come before and that are to follow

         And for all of that, we love and treasure this church. 

         But we also know that we come in here, to be affirmed and find rest, refreshment and restoration, so that we will have the strength and courage to go out into the world, like Paul, to live what we know and to join with God in making it  real in all the place we find ourselves in week after week. 

         We are followers of a God of liberation that is at work.   God of all creation, the author of life, the one who brought all that is into being, the power of goodness that flows in and through this world of ours, the every present possibility and power of love that no tomb or jail cell can hold— is on the move.

         God is on the move and as followers of the one who came in love, so too must we be. 

         Paul and his team of apostles ventured out into the far corners of the Roman Empire to share the good news of the love that he himself had experienced – what he knew to be real through what he had lived.  He went out to the far corners of the Roman Empire to be a beacon of hope, a source of comfort, a font of inspiration and an ambassador of love in the beautiful but wounded world that he found himself in.  

         And so by God’s grace, let us join him in our time. 

         May we, this church be a beacon of hope.  There is much despair in our world right now. There is much fear, anxiety and depression.  And while pain is real and is to be held, there is also the power of our faith that claims as a central assertion that “nothing is impossible with God.”  God makes a way even when it looks like there is no way at all. Let us be beacons of hope!

         May we, this church be a Source of comfort.     May we not turn from the brokenness in our world and in the lives of our neighbors but may we go into it.  May we sit down next to the one in pain and bear witness to her suffering.  May we reach out to those who are lonely and feed those that are hungry in body or in spirit.  Let us be sources of comfort.

         May we, this church, be a font of inspiration. May we like the prophets of old have visions and dream dreams of what God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven could look like right now.  One of the graduation speakers this week spoke of growing up in East Germany and seeing the Berlin wall every day on her way to work. Year after year it loomed there cutting her off from all that lay on the other side.  And then one day, it started coming down.   Change is possible. New paradigms of what it is to live with each other on this earth are possible. Let us be fonts of inspiration.    

         May we, this church be ambassadors of God’s love.   On the day that I was installed here as your pastor, Matt Fitzgerald who at the time was the senior pastor of the Wellesley Hills church preached the sermon.  He told us that the church, all of us together in how we live and love this world, ought to be evidence of the reality of God.  That someone who may be wondering if God really exists ought to be able to catch a glimpse of God at work by watching God’s people at work.  That is a tall order for sure, but may we grow in love.  May the power and presence of love, be our animating force and energy.  Let us be ambassadors of God’s love.  .   

          And so dear people, let us not shy away from what it is to be church but instead let us boldly embrace it.  Let it be shouted from the rooftops if need be.    Let us live love, in the impulses of our heart, the gifts of our hands and the works of our minds out into the world.  Let us be hope, comfort, inspiration and love in a world that is in desperate need of it.  For make no mistake God is on the move, love is alive, and we are called into it all.  Thanks be to God, Amen.