May 12, 2013 - With Hearts Both Frightened and Free

Pastoral Leader Terry Pierce is a student in the Diocese of Texas Iona School where she preached on May 12, 2013 on Acts 16:16-34 and John 17:20-26:

"At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God."

Over the past few months, some of us have hosted visits from our Bishops and participated in confirmations and baptisms.  Next week, on Pentecost, we will baptize and reaffirm our baptismal vows in our churches. 

The wounds of sin are cleansed;

we are baptized with the water of baptism;

we share a meal with the newly baptized;

our entire household rejoices.

"In the water of baptism we are united with our Lord Jesus in his death so that we may live in the power of his resurrection and be reborn by the Holy Spirit."

There are many things people might have predicted about my life.  Those predictions did not include celebrating my sixtieth birthday wearing white robes tied with a binding I dare not call a rope and preaching about things that were for most of my life beyond my understanding and outside my belief.  They surely did not include participating in the baptisms this year at St James Taylor of nine month old Kelsey and nine month old Paxton.

I look around this room and remember the stories we have shared of our lives and know that there are many among us whose lives did not look like people headed to ordination.  In our midst are those recovering from addictions, from broken relationships, from unimaginable loss; there are those who have experienced tragedy in their families and those whose daily lives and work have brought them into the midst of unimaginable pain.   

The twelve apostles are often described as an unlikely choice of men to develop a movement and build an organization.  They were tax collectors and fisherman, men who earned a living at the edges of respectability.

 In Acts 7, Paul is described as a young man when he witnesses the martyrdom of Stephen.  In 2 Corinthians 10, Paul says that people say about him that "in person he is weak and his speech is worth nothing."  In a non-canonical document written about a hundred years after his death, Paul is described as "A man small in size, with a bald head and crooked legs; in good health; with eyebrows that met and a rather prominent or hooked nose."  Like Moses before him, Paul was an unlikely prophet.  Neither his appearance nor his past relationship with the followers of Jesus recommended him as their spokesman.

 In today's story from Acts, Paul and Silas' imprisonment came about because Paul was annoyed.  Listen:  "She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, 'I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.'"  I can imagine: This woman is following Paul and Silas around repeating the same thing over and over until she gets on Paul's last nerve.  Paul jerks around to face her and commands, "I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her."

This was not some heroic act done righteously and with intention.  Paul was annoyed and in his annoyance he commanded the spirit away.  In his annoyance, Paul created for himself and Silas an unexpected bout of misfortune at the hands of the woman's unhappy owners.  I can see Silas rolling his eyes, thinking "not again, what has he gotten us into now!"

 Paul found himself on this day in Philippi, far from home, and far from any occupation or activity that people might have predicted for him.  A man whose encounters with Christians began as a persecutor "spoke the word of the Lord to his jailor" and the man and his household were baptized. 

Paul and the apostles, like many of us,  had done all kinds of things they ought not to have done, yet God called them with an inescapable insistence, a command upon their hearts that didn't allow for disobedience. 

 Today, we celebrate the Eucharist in an in-between time.  Christ has ascended to sit at the right hand of his Father.  The Advocate, the Holy Spirit has not yet descended on us.  We sit in the in-between.  Like the disciples, we are trying to understand what has occurred, looking back so that we might understand how to move forward. 

 Our time at Iona is an in-between time: a period of separation from our daily lives that encourages us and allows us to pay attention to what has come before so that we might hear how God calls us to move forward.

In London, the only rational method of transport for one unfamiliar with the city is the subway.  Painted on the ground in the subway stations are large signs saying "Mind the gap".  As a train approaches the station, the disembodied voice that emanates from above says, "Please mind the gap".  Those gaps are the space between the train car and the platform and they can require a large step if one is not to fall into the space below the train.  These gaps, the in-between spaces and times of our lives, call for minding.  They call us to pay attention. 

 Last month, Mark Crawford introduced us to this offering prayer:

All that we have and all that we are

Comes from a heart both frightened and free.

Take what we bring now and give what we need,

All done in his name.

We stand in the gap with hearts both frightened and free.  From a heart both frightened and free, we are called to speak the word of the Lord so that Kelsey and Paxton might be washed in the waters of baptism and receive the gift of life in our Lord Jesus.  Though our schooling here would prepare our minds, or at least Sam (Sam Todd, Dean of the Iona School) prays it will, God will take our frightened hearts and he will most graciously take what we bring and give what we need. 

 It is not that we are a special people, smarter than most or more capable or trustworthy.  The people of Israel were not a special people - we are not told that they were wealthier or smarter or better travelers than their neighbors.  They were simply the ones God chose who responded to the call.  The disciples were not a better people - they were tax collectors and fisherman, people on the fringes.  They were the ones God chose who responded to the call.

 We are surely not wealthier or smarter (in fact some might argue that people who decide to pay to spend three years preparing for a job that promises to pay them nothing and consume huge amounts of their time might not be quite as smart as the next guy, but that's not the point today).  We are simply the ones God chose who responded to the call.

 Our hearts heard a command, distinctive and imperative, that we could not avoid.  As Laurie pointed out on Friday night, we might wish to build a shelter and stay awhile longer in this in-between place.   The command on our hearts, distinctive and imperative, will soon carry some of us from this in-between place at Iona to ordination, as it has so many before us.

All that we have and all that we are

Comes from a heart both frightened and free.

Take what we bring now and give what we need,

All done in his name.

Paul shows us what comes after the in-between time.  Jesus prays, "I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.  As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me."  The jailer and his entire family believed on Jesus through the words and lives of Paul and Silas. 

 Jesus calls to each of us to come with hearts both frightened and free, knowing that God will take what we bring and give to each of us everything we need to respond to his call.  As we are united with Christ and with those who came before us in the waters of baptism, we are the invitation to those who will come after.

 Let us go forth from this place, once more, confident in what we bring and trusting what we will receive to love and serve our Lord Jesus.


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