Acts 16:16-34; John 17:20-26
Have you ever had to make a decision you knew would be unpopular yet made it anyway knowing it was the right thing to do?
Most of you are parents, so I know you understand me! You have no doubt had to make a decision on your child’s behalf knowing they would hate you for it, yet you stood beside your decision because it was the right one to make.
We make decisions all the time. Some are trivial, some are more complex. Some lead to things we never imagined. I once turned down a job which, had I accepted, I would have never found my way into ministry.
So, we never imagine what sorts of consequences will come of the choices we make in our lives. As parents, it feels like every decision we make can impact our child’s life. Whatever we do, we might wonder if this is helping my child grow into a responsible citizen, or is it leading them down the wrong path. Will the pain we suffer because they don’t like the decisions we make be worth it when we know they are safe?
In our reading from Acts today, Paul decided to make an unpopular decision. It was an odd decision really. They were being followed around by a slave woman who had the ability to tell fortunes. While she followed them she would call out “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” She was like a walking billboard for the apostles. Telling everyone what they were up to. Paul got tired of this after a few days and took care of it. He ordered it out of her, and it left.
Why would he do this? Why would he stop a woman from proclaiming what they were up to?
Well, think about who it was that would call out to Jesus in such a way. Who were the ones who would call out in a loud voice proclaiming who he was? The only ones who would do such a thing were people who were possessed by demons.
In Mark 1 we learn of a man possessed by a demon in the synagogue who called out in the presence of many people, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? … I know you are the Holy One of God!” In Mark 5 there is another demon who was in a man, a man who could not be restrained because of the demon, and he ran and knelt before Jesus and said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” This was the man who had many demons within him that Jesus cast into the herd of pigs which then jumped into the sea.
In the Gospel Luke 4 we hear that Jesus cast out many demons, and as they came out they shouted, “You are the Son of God!”
This woman following Paul and the other apostles had a demon. It gave her abilities that were not natural, and it kept calling out about the apostles. So Paul helped her with her demon. He ordered it out in the name of Jesus Christ, and it left her. From then on she no longer pointed them out.
There’s a reason why demons want to point out Jesus and his followers. They are a threat to their existence. For Jesus, demons would point him out in hopes it would draw the attention of the Jewish leaders so they would take him away and kill him. The demons know why Jesus is there. Jesus is going to save the world and defeat Satan and his army. If Jesus cannot finish his work, then they win. So, whenever they have the chance, they shout and draw attention to him, but Jesus rebukes and silences them so he can continue his work.
For Paul and his group, it’s the same thing. The demon wants to point them out in a region where they are not welcome. Remember, even though Paul has changed teams, from persecuting the followers of Jesus to instead proclaiming Jesus, the church is still under threat of prosecution. Those who seek to build up the church are still under threat of imprisonment and death. So, again, Satan and his demons want to put an end to it. So Paul decides to remove this demon from the woman.
This is an action that doesn’t make them very popular. By casting out the demon they have removed a very lucrative ability which brought lots of money to this slave woman’s owners. They are flogged and end up in jail. So, the demon still almost gets it’s way. Almost.
While the men are in jail, they sing and praise God. A great earthquake comes and all the doors of the prison are opened. The jailer, fearing the prisoners have escaped, attempts to kill himself, but is stopped by Paul and the others who have not left their cells.
The jailer comes to them and seeks to be saved. The apostles lead him to Jesus and the jailer takes them to his home to clean up their wounds and to have himself and his entire family baptized. These are Romans… gentiles. The gospel continues to spread outside of Jewish circles. The church continues to grow.
The apostles are living out what we heard Jesus praying for in the gospel of John. In the reading we heard Jesus praying for the church. Jesus prays that the church may be one. Jesus also prays for the church to be one with God and with him, as God and Jesus are one. Jesus wishes we were so close together the world will not be able to ignore the reason why the church exists. To show the love of God sent to the world in Jesus Christ.
Jesus prays his ministry, his existence, his life will fill us with his love. Jesus knows how much God has loved him, and he wants to share that abundant love with us. He wants to be one with us.
Jesus was one with the apostles. Look how readily, how quickly they responded to people who wanted to come to Jesus. They were always ready to lead people into lives of faith, to help them turn away from the sin in their lives. They were always ready to show the love of God to people in need.
Who are you in the picture. Are you one of the apostles, showing God’s love to everyone? Are you one of the people seeking to find the love of God in your life? Or are you unsure of where you stand?
Maybe you are wondering where you might fit into the church. Maybe you haven’t experienced a lot of love in your life. Maybe you don’t know how to express love in a meaningful way.
If you fit any of these descriptions, you need the love of God. God offered amazing love in Jesus Christ when he came to earth to show us the way back to God. A way people turned away from a very long time ago. Jesus came to show us how to get back there.
Remember how Adam and Eve would walk in the garden with God. How deep a loving relationship they had with each other. God wants to bring us back into such a relationship. I also think many people want to get back there too.
We continue to look for love and meaning in so many places. We buy things, we work harder, we turn to sinful acts in order to find some kind of fulfillment. Yet nothing…. nothing can offer the same fulfillment, the same meaning as experiencing the love of God in our lives.
Peter, Paul, Philip and all the other apostles had the love of God. They were one with Jesus as Jesus is one with God. And they shared the experience with people who were seeking the same thing. People who wanted to know God in a way different from just following rules and laws. These people wanted to experience a relationship, they wanted to understand God and how He loves us. They wanted to learn more about Jesus and why he came, what he taught, and what he did for all mankind. They wanted to know why demons trembled at his name.
They wanted, we all want, to experience being part of the “one”. Being as close to God as we can, experiencing his love and his passion for us. We want to follow Jesus so we can learn more about God and how we can be more productive, more faithful in our lives today. We want to know how we can help share God’s love with others.
We do this by becoming one with God. Jesus prayed we would all be one with him, so we could see God’s glory which He so patiently wants to share with us. So that, person, church and God can be one, drawing people into this circle God has created for all who come to Him.
Today’s suggested readings also had a passage from the book of Revelation. It says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end… 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.”
The invitation has been made. We are invited to be one with God. We are invited to welcome others to join us. Anyone who thirsts. Anyone who longs to experience the love of God.
It’s that simple. All we need to do is respond to the invitation. To respond to with faith and hope that God will renew, heal and change our lives.
Jesus prayed, “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
We are more than welcome to become one. Jesus prayed it would happen. Who are we to argue with the Son of God who came to bring us back to a place where we are loved more than we can ever imagine?