Sunday, June 23, 2019

Second Sunday after Pentecost

Isaiah 65
8 This is what the Lord says:
“As when juice is still found in a cluster of grapes
and people say, ‘Don’t destroy it,
there is still a blessing in it,’
so will I do in behalf of my servants;
I will not destroy them all.
9 I will bring forth descendants from Jacob,
and from Judah those who will possess my mountains;
my chosen people will inherit them,
and there will my servants live.

Summer is upon is, and the books are starting to stack up.

We often discuss summer reading at some point in the season—what are you reading or what do you plan to read—but maybe it’s time to write something instead. So find your typewriter, grab some paper, and let’s get started!

In order to help this effort to write the next great Canadian novel, we should begin, then, with a review of structure—the basic outline of what you’re about to share with the world. Everything should start with a plan, and may as well follow convention, since finding ideas is hard enough without reinventing the wheel.

Act one is your set-up, like the girl who runs away with her little dog Toto, only to be carried off by a twister to the Land of Oz. It will help the story if you inadvertently drop a house on some wicked witch, since the first act is all about conflict, or setting the scene for conflict. There is a way to get back to Kansas, but first you have to follow the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City.

Act two is where the real action happens. If act one is conflict, then act two is ‘complication,’ with twists, turns, and usually some flying monkeys. You and your companions may be given a task, and in the course of completing this task you may find some inner resources you didn’t know you had.

Act three, sometimes called ‘resolution,’ will solve or end the matter (nothing like a bucket of water to resolve your witch problem) and culminate in a moment called denouement, a French word that means denouement. Maybe you’ll get some random items to symbolize that you already had everything you needed to succeed. And maybe you’ll get some instruction on how to operate your ruby slippers, advice that would have been handy around the time of the flying monkeys.*

Conflict, complication, and resolution: three moves that give your narrative structure and might make you the next J.K. Rowling. So get to it, but don’t forget to share some of your millions with the church, and don’t forget that the same narrative structure that will carry you forward begins in the Bible.

Examples? God says don’t eat the fruit of that tree, they do it anyway, and they get hard work and pain in childbirth. (note: not every story has a happy ending). God frees the Israelites, they wander in the desert for forty years, and they finally enter the promised land. Jesus “lived briefly, died violently, and rose unexpectedly,” (Willimon), three acts that still give life.

So the movement of conflict, complication, and resolution can be found throughout scripture, but what about our passage today? Or what about the Book of Isaiah as a whole, how does it fit our narrative structure? First, and rather conveniently, most scholars agree that Isaiah is really three books, with three or more authors, and so we already have the beginning of a pattern.

First Isaiah, the first 39 chapters, is catalog of God’s anger at Israel, and the various ways God intends to punish her disobedience. In other words, conflict. Second Isaiah, chapters 40 to 55, “anticipates the restoration of Israel,” and the creative way this will happen.** Third Isaiah, the rest of the book (including our passage today), resolves the story by describing the New Jerusalem. Conflict, complication, and resolution.

Or is it? A careful eye will look at second Isaiah and question how the restoration of Israel could be described as a complication. And I wondered that too, until I realized that I was reading the book from Israel’s perspective instead of God’s perspective. The complication is God’s change of heart, or God’s willingness to “comfort ye my people” just a few verses after threatening destruction. Another complication is using King Cyrus of Persia to redeem the people from exile, the “creative way” I mentioned a moment ago.

So that’s the overview, what about our passage itself? It’s part of third Isaiah, but it mirrors the movement of the whole book. So here’s some conflict, the indifference that God cannot abide:

To a nation that did not call on my name,
I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.’
2 All day long I have held out my hands
to an obstinate people,
who walk in ways not good,
pursuing their own imaginations—
3 a people who continually provoke me
to my very face.

God gets more specific, even attacking the new-age people who invent their own religions (“Keep away” they say, “don’t come near me, for I’m too sacred for you!”). But then something happens, and this complicated God relents:

“As when juice is still found in a cluster of grapes
and people say, ‘Don’t destroy it,
there is still a blessing in it,’
so will I do in behalf of my servants;
I will not destroy them all.

And finally the denouement, the resolution that only God can give:

9 I will bring forth descendants from Jacob,
and from Judah those who will possess my mountains;
my chosen people will inherit them,
and there will my servants live.

Disobedience leads to planned destruction, God relents, and the promise of eternity resumes. So what changed? Or rather, what changed God’s mind, from destruction to redemption in just a few verses? As always, the clue is in the text, but first another complex three-part narrative:

When God saw a golden calf, carefully crafted in the time Moses was away, God burned with anger. ‘Look at what your people have done,’ God said, ‘so step aside while I destroy them, and make you, Moses, a great nation instead.’ But Moses decided to complicate matters. ‘These are your people,’ Moses said, ‘and imagine the shame if the Egyptians see that you liberated your people only to kill them out here in the desert. Perhaps, God, you should remember your promises instead.’

When Belden Lane recounts this story he points to that awkward moment when your child wins their first argument against you, and the mixed feelings you feel. A bit of sadness maybe, having passed from the “I’m the parent and I’m right” stage into something else. A bit of frustration, maybe, having been bested by something you created. And pride, mostly pride (I hope), having made a person who can sometimes surpass you in wisdom and insight. And that’s what happened at the foot of the mountain, steps from the golden calf. So back to our passage:

“As when juice is still found in a cluster of grapes
and people say, ‘Don’t destroy it,
there is still a blessing in it,’
so will I do in behalf of my servants;
I will not destroy them all.

The complication is a God willingness to turn away from anger, hear words of life from the creature God created, and respond with mercy. A very brave Moses will challenge God and win, even if it means he will never see the promised land himself. A very human Jesus is dying on the cross and says “forgive them, Father, they know not what they do.” And God forgives. The pattern is the same: conflict, complication and resolution, and the promise of eternity resumes.

The novel you write is your life, with twists and turns, conflict and complication, and your co-author is the Most High. Sometimes it’s an uneasy writing relationship, with doubt and recrimination, and more than a few pages in the trash bin. But other times the pages take flight, animated by gratitude and deep joy, and resolved with redemption and forgiveness. It’s a creative partnership, and the story you tell together will bring life to others, now and always, Amen.

**Bruggemann, 2003, p. 171

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Trinity Sunday

John 16
12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

I suppose a summer sermon is as good a time as any to reveal the secrets of preaching school.

Everything, it seems, began with an E. First was elocution, literally teaching us how to speak. And that was only after learning how to breathe, among the more valuable things I learned at school.

Then there was exegesis, learning to read the Bible seriously but not literally. Exegetes—those who practice exegesis—learn how to explain without explaining away, an important skill when you’re handling words of life.

And then there was equivalence, specifically dynamic equivalence, retelling the passage in a language that makes the passage more comprehensible to a modern audience. Fans of The Message, a modern language version of the Bible written by the late Eugene Peterson, already know how dynamic equivalence works—substituting words and phrases that we might use today in order to make the meaning plain.

So, as an example, here is the first verse from our passage: “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.” The first thing that comes to mind is “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth,” but that might be a bit much. Anyway, I think you can see how it works, so let’s try an updated version of our passage:

I could tell you, but I don’t think you could handle it. But the Spirit of truth is coming, and all will be revealed. He won’t speak for himself: instead, he’ll pass on what he hears and what he’s told is coming. The Spirit will be my spokesperson, and honour me through the words spoken. God and I are sympatico—and what I say to the Spirit will be passed on to you.

It’s actually something you can do at home. If you are struggling to make sense of a reading, simply imagine a way to update the language or say it in another way. And it’s particularly helpful for reading John’s Gospel or the letters of St. Paul. So, not exactly earth-shattering as preaching secrets go, but it does help us unlock those words of life.

So what is this information that they couldn’t handle, maybe above their pay grade, to be shared on a strict need-to-know basis? The verses that immediately follow our passage reveal the secret, and don’t seem to require translation, since the emotion is so raw:

16 Jesus went on to say, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.”
17 At this, some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” 18 They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.”

In his response, Jesus repeats “you will see me no more” again, to a total of four times in the passage, a sure signal that we’re at the heart of the matter. Jesus has been trying to prepare them for his death for a number of chapters, and also trying to signal something else: “then after a little while you will see me.”

In other words, you can spare them a bit of sympathy, with the Master pressing them to comprehend the incomprehensible. ‘You will see me no more and then you will see me’ is just another way of saying Easter for us, but to the disciples it clearly made no sense.

So it becomes a secret to be revealed. And the secret will require the Spirit of Truth for revealing, speaking on Jesus behalf, sharing words from God—and generally making comprehensible the incomprehensible. In other words, Pentecost. So, in effect, Jesus is describing Easter, Pentecost and the future of the church of God under the direction of the Spirit, all without saying those exact words.

Jesus is describing the church of God under the direction of the Spirit. If you are just now thinking what I’m thinking, you might be thinking that this sounds a lot like the Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Said another way, Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Whatever language you choose, it seems that the other secret Jesus was revealing to his disciples was the relationship between the Sacred Three.

So listen again to our passage, but this time listen with your Trinity hat on, and ponder the way these Three interact:

The Spirit of truth is coming, and all will be revealed. He won’t speak for himself: instead, he’ll pass on what he hears and what he’s told is coming. The Spirit will be my spokesperson, and honour me through the words spoken. God and I are sympatico—and what I say to the Spirit will be passed on to you.

God in Jesus formulates the message and the Spirit speaks. The Spirit will share the words we need to hear, revealing the truth and the truth to come. Jesus will be honoured through the Spirit, and you will get a glimpse of heaven through the words shared. Three persons, each with a role, are each an expression of the same divinity, blessed Trinity.

Speaking of the Trinity, my friend and colleague, the Rev. Connie den Bok, shared a helpful insight some years ago, with a built-in challenge to the church. She said that each major expression of the Christian church—Catholic, Protestant and Pentecostal—tends to gravitate to particular Person of the Trinity. In this way it becomes definitional, expressing who we are and how we meet the world.

So, for Roman Catholics, it’s Jesus, particularly his passion, and his place at the table, the centre of their life together. Even the structure of the church highlights the second person of the Trinity: a succession of apostles beginning with Peter, selected by Jesus as the rock on which he builds the church.

For Pentecostals the emphasis is on the Spirit, specifically being baptised by the Holy Spirit of Pentecost. The tradition’s emphasis is in the name: receiving the Spirit, personal conversion, and speaking in tongues. The story of this tradition requires more time, but it’s worth noting that something that started on Azuza Street in Los Angeles in April of 1906 now has over 500 million adherents worldwide.

And what about us, the mainline Protestants of the Methodist and Presbyterian variety? We tend to focus on God, in our prayers and liturgy, in the hymns we sing and the words we share. In the United Church, our Book of Worship is called “Celebrate God’s Presence,” which pretty much sums up the focus of the mainline Protestant church.

I share all this on Trinity Sunday to highlight the need for balance. This was the point Connie’s analysis—that we are not well-served by staying in our lane. We need to “lift high the cross” like our Catholic friends, and celebrate that the cross is the means by which we are redeemed. We need to live under the guidance of the Spirit, the “wind who makes all winds that blow”—the spirit of Pentecost constantly pushing us toward the next expression of church. And we need to celebrate God’s presence, all the while remembering that ‘God in Jesus formulates the message and the Spirit speaks.’

The Spirit of truth is coming, and all will be revealed. We live in the hope that God will renew the church, through the reconciling love of Jesus and in the spirit of Pentecost: breathing new life into all of us, Amen.

Sunday, June 09, 2019


Acts 2
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them.
5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?

How can I help people overcome their fear of the Bible?

Perhaps I should be more specific: how can I help people overcome their fear of reading difficult place names in the Bible? I’m not naming names, but someone with a name that suggests long ears and love for carrots was very quick to ask if there were any difficult words in the assigned reading. Hmmm.

So, I was given two choices: play fast and loose with the truth or change the reading. So I changed the reading. So here is the next section of Acts 2, largely dreaded by even the most seasoned scripture reader:

9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,[b] 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

Akin to mind-reading, the text anticipates our question, saying, “what does it mean?” A violent wind filling the whole house, something appearing as tongues of flame, and languages, so many languages, speaking to those with ears to hear. The Spirit speaks in the native tongue of those present, familiar and disconcerting all at once, adding to the general confusion of the day—until Peter speaks:

22 “Listen to these words, fellow Israelites! Jesus of Nazareth was a man whose divine authority was clearly proven to you by all the miracles and wonders which God performed through him. You yourselves know this, for it happened here among you. 23 In accordance with his own plan God had already decided that Jesus would be handed over to you; and you killed him by letting sinful men crucify him. 24 But God raised him from death, setting him free from its power, because it was impossible that death should hold him prisoner.”

Naturally, this message fell harder on some than others. The ones staring at their feet were likely members of another crowd, shouting “crucify him” just a few weeks ago. They were “cut to the heart” it says, and they asked Peter what they must do to make it right:

“Repent and be baptized,” Peter said, “every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

St. Luke tells us that some three thousand were added to their number, baptized and joined to a fellowship that extends down to today. They dedicated themselves to teaching and prayer, the breaking of bread—and sharing all they had. They praised God, enjoyed the esteem of others, and “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

In other words, a happy ending. But the thing about happy endings is they tend to overshadow the circuitous path required to get there. The awkward drama of Pentecost, the risky sermon that turned out okay in the end, even the bountiful harvest of new believers—all point to the unpredictable God we serve. Who knew these on-again-off-again friends of Jesus would be the foundation of a faith? Who knew lives could be interrupted with wind and flame and never be the same? Who knew that the crucified one would reign as Lord of All?

God knew. And no doubt, the days that followed were filled with far more questions than answers, as three thousand came to terms with being transformed, along with all the changes that come following an encounter with the Living God. It put me in mind of a wonderful quote from Bishop Will Willimon, who seems to capture the mood of Pentecost and some of our questions:

A God whom we couldn't have thought up on our own has turned to us, reached to us, is revealed to be someone quite other than the God we would have if God were merely a figment of our imagination—God is a Jew from Nazareth who lived briefly, died violently, and rose unexpectedly. And it scared us to death but also thrilled us to life.

This is the printed version of his quote, a quote that he occasionally weaves into his latest talk or topic. When I heard him last month, the topic was ministry: the kinds of people God chooses to enact God’s mission to the world. Dr. Willimon was obviously in a mood, because the quote morphed into this: “God is a Jew from Nazareth who lived briefly, died violently, and rose unexpectedly, then returned to the same losers that betrayed him.” The only thing better than a good quote is an adaptable quote.

In other words, God did the hard work of redemption (“lived briefly, died violently, and rose unexpectedly”) and then looked around and settled on ordinary women and men to pick up the work. We who are “scared to death but also thrilled to life” have been entrusted with this fragile vessel called the church, baptized in the name of Christ, and filled with the gift of the Spirit. Somehow, we need to make it go.

It should not surprize you that three weeks into the racing season, the leading metaphor I share is “the church as a fragile vessel”—and that somehow, we need to make go. Last Wednesday it was increasing wind, and the adjustments needed as the nature of the race changed. The week before, it was no wind at all—just rain, three layers including my trusty foulies, and my ever-stylish sailing touque. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how good you look on board, because without wind, you’re not sailing. Styling, but not sailing.

And that put me in mind of something else Dr. Willimon shared: the ever-present danger of moralism. Moralism means encouraging better human behaviour without mentioning that we are always dependent on God’s grace. “Privileged people,” Willimon said, “love to be told that they are the solution.” And they love to believe that everything they need to “be the change” already exists inside of them. But the problem with this “stone soup” style of theology is that it’s not theology at all—it’s humanism.

In other words, you may be sitting on a boat, imagining you know everything that needs to be known about how to make the boat go, but without wind, your just sitting on a boat. Maybe styling, but not sailing. At one time, we thought we were God’s church with a mission in the world, but now we see that God’s mission has a church in the world—and that’s us. A fragile vessel seeking wind, the wind of the Spirit that blows through our weary world to make all things new.

The message of Pentecost is receive the Holy Spirit—the wind that makes the church go. Accept the promise of new life in Christ—for you, and your children, and for the generations that follow—everyone whom God calls. And trust in God: to give you the words and the wisdom required to reach others, drawing them into our fellowship.

Speak to them in a language they can understand: people of Weston and Mount Dennis, residents of Emery and Thistletown, Pelmo Park and Silverthorn, Humber Heights and Rexdale, visitors from Humberlea and Kipling Heights, the Junction, and even Baby Point—declare to them the glory of God and the wonders of life in the Spirit, in Jesus’ name. Amen.


Sunday, June 02, 2019

Seventh Sunday of Easter

Acts 16
16 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” 18 She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.
19 When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. 20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”
22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully.

The ninth grade was a confusing time.

I’m not talking about puberty, that’s another sermon altogether. Imagine a seemingly short bus ride from Mount Albert to Newmarket, leaving the comfort and certainty of my home town, to be confronted by big city ideas like Greek and Roman mythology.

Who were these pagan teachers, or teachers of pagan ideas? Flying too close to the sun with waxen wings? Even a boy from Mount Albert could see how that was going to end. Stealing fire from the gods? Pushing the same rock up a hill day after day? Is it Poseidon or Neptune? Athena or Minerva? And Delphi, why is everyone always talking about Delphi?

Well, it seems I finally have the answer, some forty years later. Delphi makes an indirect appearance in our passage today, read with verve by Joan, and leading to longer sequence of events that I have hinted at over the last two weeks. Recall we are in the midst of an accidental sermon series, three Sundays on the Book of Acts, four if you count the festival of Pentecost just one week from today.

So before we look at Delphi, a brief recap. In week one, we met Dr. Skinner of Luther Seminary, who gave us the overall theme for these sermons, namely, “what becomes possible in a post-Easter world.” Part of what’s possible was summarized this way: “strangers become friends, outsiders become members of the household of God, and anyone who calls on the name of the Lord can be saved.” That was week one. In week two, we met Lydia: first convert on European soil, leader in her church and community, dedicated follower of Jesus Christ. Her household in Philippi is the first to accept baptism, beginning a movement that stretches down to today.

There was a hint in last week’s reading—St. Luke describing Philippi as ‘a Roman colony and a leading city in that district’—and it is to that reference we now turn. The city was founded by Greeks, conquered and renamed by Alexander’s father Philip II, and eventually colonized by the Romans, populated by retired soldiers and their families. These first colonists served the Emperor Augustus, and were rewarded with land and homes near a town with its own gold mine. So Philippi was wealthy, loyal to the emperor and his successors, and dedicated to the peace and stability of Rome. And into this mix stumbles Paul and Silas.

But before we get to that, there is one other detail worth noting. The town was proud of their connection to Augustus, and mirrored Augustus’ dedication to the god Apollo—and all that that dedication entailed. So in addition to all the usual things associated with Apollo—light, poetry, music—there is also Apollo’s role as the patron of Delphi, the famous oracle. Dr. Skinner argues that the spirit of Pythia (an old name for Delphi) was important to the people of Philippi, as important as the connection to Augustus and Apollo. So who has a Pythian spirit, the ability to see hidden things? Well, let’s meet her, she’s speaking just now:

“These men are slaves of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” Sorry, what was that?
“These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.”

And so it went, for many days, following Paul and Silas and the others, this young woman with the Pythian gift of seeing hidden things. She was right, of course, and an effective seer, and made her owners a great deal of money. Until she annoyed the wrong slave of the Most High.

“In the name of Jesus Christ,” Paul said to the offending spirit, “I command you to come out of her!” And at once, the spirit was gone. Remember how money is the root of all evil? Well, the owners of the-slave-who-could-no-longer-foretell-the-future were more than unhappy that their revenue stream had dried up. They turned Paul and Silas over to the magistrate, charged them (ironically) with disturbing the peace, who in turn had them flogged and thrown into prison. And that’s where the real story begins.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” 29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

What follows is among the first and most compelling creeds of the Christian faith: “Believe in the Lord Jesus,” they said, “and you will be saved—you and your household.” That hour the jailer washed them and dressed their wounds, accepted baptism along with the rest of his household, and led them home for a meal and fellowship, under the blessing of the Most High God.

And this might be the end of the story, except for the Pythian spirit of truth that visited that town. By daybreak, the magistrates and officers of the town realized that the words of the former seer were right: these men were indeed slaves of the Most High God. But rather than experience faith, these leaders felt fear, and were offended by the silencing of this Pythian voice. They promptly invited Paul and Silas to go in peace, and to leave Philippi. And leave they did, but not before seeing Lydia one final time—and then it was off to the next place the Spirit would lead them.

But I’m still stuck at Delphi, and the ability to see hidden things. And it’s not just Delphi, it’s a whole world of spirits, demons, and the like that seem to see things clearly when others cannot.

In the first chapter of Mark, Jesus is minding his own business in the synagogue when a man with an unclean spirit appears and says, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” Two chapters later, the crowds grow larger, pressing in on Jesus, many possessed. And whenever the impure spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” Two chapters more, and we meet the demon-possessed man living in the tombs, a demon so powerful even chains could not restrain him.

When the man saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. 7 He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!”

Do you see what’s happening here? The demons of Galilee can see it. The Pythian spirit of Philippi can see it. The centurion, the merchant and the jailer can see it. But the world cannot see it. We are surrounded by street after street of people with a hunger for meaning, but they struggle to see it. So what’s the block, and what can we do to help?

There is a very human tendency to take something simple and make it complicated. It happens in relationships and systems and most obviously in answers to life’s big questions. And part of the appeal of the Book of Acts is the return to basics, the ask and answer of this amazing chronicle. What did she say?

“These men are slaves of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” And did he ask? “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And what did Paul and Silas say? “Believe in the Lord Jesus,” they said, “and you will be saved—you and your household.”

Remember from last week, this is not the formulaic ‘say some words’ and be saved. This is embracing a world where salvation is held out for soldiers and slaves, jailers and widows, the least likely converts in the world’s eyes. This is taking up the challenge to love your neighbour, and continually extend your definition of neighbour to include everyone and even the earth itself. And this is a commitment to love the Lord your God, with all your heart and soul and mind.

Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, and your household, and the neighbours in your street, and everyone who leans in to learn about this remarkable God of love and mercy. I shouldn’t be complicated, because even the demons get it: “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High?” Love, just love, that’s all. Amen.