The Road Less Traveled
June 2, 2019/ Easter 7 /Richard E. Holmer
First Reading: Acts 16:16-34/Second Reading: Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21 /Gospel: John 17:20-26
The Road Less Traveled
Living faithfully as a Christian is not always easy. Jesus never said that it would be. He was quite open about the challenges and the sacrifices that came with following him. A Christian who never experiences any difficulty in leading a life worthy of our calling is either ignoring what Jesus says, or else just not trying to be faithful.
Our readings today illustrate some of the challenges that are inherent in striving to be a follower of Jesus. I invite you to consider: which of the following you would find harder. Is it… To do the right thing, the godly thing – when you are not required to do so, when there is another much easier way you could go?? Or, is it to keep believing something that may seem too good to be true, something unlikely, something that can’t be proved?? Or, is it to actually bring about a heavenly reality here on earth, as it is in heaven (as Jesus taught us to pray)??
Which of these do you find most daunting? To choose the right way, even when it costs you? To keep believing without any confirming evidence? To create real and lasting change in this world?
Let’s take a closer look at our readings. Our reading from the Book of Acts tells the story of Paul and Silas, and how they got themselves in trouble over in Macedonia. They encountered a slave girl who was making money for her owner through her spirit of divination, by telling fortunes. Paul casts out that spirit, which really aggravates the girl’s owners. The owners complain to the local magistrates, who have Paul and Silas stripped and flogged and thrown into prison. The jailer is ordered “to keep them securely”. During the night there is a violent earthquake that opens the does to the prison and breaks loose the chains holding the prisoners. Paul and Silas have the opportunity for an easy escape. They could even interpret the earthquake as God’s way of setting them free. Meanwhile, the jailer is in a state of panic. Seeing the prison doors wide open, he knows he will be held accountable-and he is about to fall on his sword and take his own life. But Paul shouts to him: “Don’t harm yourself – we are all here”. Instead of self- preservation, Paul and Silas thought first of the consequences their escape would have for the jailer, and they choose to stay. They make the hard choice-for another person’s benefit. Would you do the same? The passage from Revelation continues the account of John’s vision of heaven. It presents God’s promise of an end to sorrow and pain -an end to death itself. The invitation extended is incredibly sweet: “let everyone who is thirsty come”. “let anyone who wishes, take the water of life as a gift”. To those caught in darkness, it is a promise of perpetual light. To these cruelly separated from loved-ones, it is a promise of reunion. To those persecuted for their faith, it is the assurance of vindication and relief. Revelation lifts up a great promise. Yet, it can’t be proved. How hard is it to believe-especially when you are experiencing great suffering? In the gospel we hear the prayer Jesus offered at the Last Supper. He prays for his disciples and also for us, (including in his prayer all who will come to believe through the disciples’ testimony). And what Jesus asks is this: that all those who believe in him may be one-that all Christians would be truly united, to be fully one, even as Jesus and the Father are one. Essentially, Jesus asks to have things on earth be as they are in heaven: namely, unity, harmony, mutual trust and love. How hard is it to bring this vision into reality-to overcome all divisions among Christians across the earth, and demonstrate to all the reality of God’s grace by the blessed unity we share?
Which of these three challenges is the hardest (would any care to change your vote?)?
We could debate the relative merits of each case, but it finally doesn’t matter.
Here’s why: you and I are called to be about fulfilling all these tasks. Both personally and as a church, we need to work diligently at cultivating the kind of character-the integrity and courage-to do what’s good and right, regardless of the cost. Those Christians who have done so are the ones we remember and celebrate as true saints of God. Whether martyrs like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who sacrificed their lives for the sake of the faith, or ordinary faithful servants who freely gave of their time and money and services over the course of a lifetime we are inspired by those who lived by the courage of their convictions. What may help us all to be like those faithful followers is to fully embrace the promise of heaven-to live in the sure and certain hope that our life story will end well, no matter how hard the struggle along the way. We are not called to believe in “pie in the sky, by and by”. Our call is to trust Jesus, who has assured us that in his Father’s house, there is plenty of room for all who follow Him. We can learn from St. Paul, who lived with a kind of extravagant freedom. He could not be intimidated because, he said, if the worst should happen and he were to be killed, he would get to be with Jesus that much sooner. His confidence was founded on a hope that he was certain would not be disappointed. I like what the former president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel once said about living in hope: “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out”. It was such certainty that empowered Jesus to humble himself and accept even death on a cross. Oddly enough, the hope of heaven helps us to make sense of our lives in this world. When we are able to act with good faith and integrity, and when we exhibit an unshakeable hope in God’s promises to us, we may very well find ourselves coming much closer to unity with other believers. With eyes wide open, we can recognize that what unites us with other Christians is greater than whatever divides us. We can discover that unity lies not in the lowest common denominator, but is the highest What unites us is Christ, what divides is human weakness & vanity. It’s not possible to enforce some kind of organic unity among Christians, yet we can all come to recognize and accept that because One died for us all, we are all one in Christ.
I began by saying that it’s not always easy to live faithfully as a Christian. Living in relative comfort and security, we can forget that this is so. We can manage to get by, looking mainly to our own needs, trying to stay out of trouble, not making any waves. But I remind you (as I need to be reminded) that God does not call us to an easy life, but to a worthy life-a life that includes challenges and sacrifices, a life that can be far more interesting. We are called to take the road less travelled. Our readings today point us to that road.