Breaking Chains

Sunday, May 12
Seventh Sunday of Easter

Focus Theme
Breaking Chains

Weekly Prayer
Precious Love,your ascended Son promised the gift of holy power. Send your Spirit of revelation and wisdom, that in the blessed freedom of hope, we may witness to the grace of forgiveness and sing songs of joy with the peoples of earth to the One who makes us one body.  Amen.

Focus Scripture
Acts 16:16-34

One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” 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.” And it came out that very hour. But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 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.

All Readings For This Sunday
Acts 16:16-34
Psalm 97
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
John 17:20-26

Focus Questions

1. How does it feel to put yourself in the place of each of these characters in the story?

2. What do we learn about the people in this story who are on the edges of what’s happening?
3. Who are the people on the edges of our own story, and yet often affected by our decisions?

4. What mission are you on in your church, and what is at the heart of it?

5. Is Paul’s undone work left to later times and cultures, and if so, what is left for us to do, in our own time?

Reflection by Professor Eleazar S. Fernandez
United Theological Seminary

Psalm of God’s Assurance: Righteousness and Justice as Foundations (Psalm 97)

When “clouds and thick darkness” (v.2) are everywhere, making it difficult for many to see God’s handiwork in the cosmos, nature, and human history, Psalm 97 gives the resounding assurance that the God of life reigns and that the foundation of this reign is “righteousness and justice” (v.2). God created the cosmos according to sedaqâ (righteousness) and God acts through the workings of nature and the unfolding of human history on the basis of righteousness and justice. Righteousness and justice, even when clouded and covered by darkness, are the foundations of God’s cosmic–ecological, sociological, and political–order. Order is predicated on justice and righteousness. When sedaqâ reigns, the created world is in harmony, a state of well-being or shalom.

Integrating multiple lenses (ecology, economics, and politics), we can say that God reigns and justice and righteousness have prevailed when right relations exist between beings in the web of life. Ecologically, this means, for humans, finding their proper place in the web of life and allowing other beings equally to thrive and flourish. They can do so, however, only by leaving behind ecocidal thinking and adopting an ecological sensibility that puts human beings in intrinsic interdependence with other beings; this means that the well-being of humanity cannot be isolated from the well-being of the whole ecosystem. Extending ecological right relation to the realm of political economy, this means the practice of “table manners” (economics as table manners of the oikos or household, which is derived from oikonomia) that makes it possible for everyone to have full access to the table or to the resources that sustain life. Minimally, this means that even when there is little food at the table, everyone must have their proper share. Maximally, this means being able to enjoy abundance when resources are available. Moreover, this means the reign of a political economy that takes into account the sustenance of those who are yet to come–the next generation. 

Sadly, our experience testifies to the work of forces that continue to undermine the foundations of God’s creation, which are righteousness and justice. Wherever we go, we see righteousness and justice being trampled upon and violated. Our religious tradition names this violation of justice or right relation sin. Sin is a violation of right relation: it is a violation of right relation with God–the source and creator of life; it is a violation of right relation with other human beings; and it is a violation of right relation with the rest of creation. Injustice brings discord and shatters shalom. When violation happens, the whole web of life suffers. When the natural world is violated by humans through rapacious destructive practices, nature suffers, which, in due time, will have catastrophic consequences that will affect all. We are witnessing the consequences of our ecological sins: climate change (particularly global warming that is causing sea levels to rise and stronger storms to occur with more frequency), flash floods, landslides, etc. Though everyone is affected, especially when the ecological disaster reaches catastrophic proportion, oddly, the ones with lighter ecological footprints suffer disproportionately. Evildoers may triumph, but not forever. The day will come when they will be put to shame (v.7) and the faithful will experience deliverance (v.10).

Acts of Exorcism: Prophetic Naming and its Necessity (Acts 16:16-34)

The darkness around us is deep; it is difficult to see God when “clouds and thick darkness” are everywhere. The deep darkness is not only “out there,” it is also “in here” or in us. Yet, no matter how painful and risky, we have to name the “clouds and thick darkness.” Only then do our eyes start seeing through the darkness.

We may call this prophetic naming exorcism. Exorcism is an appropriate act, for our current social malady (ecological devastation and social inequality that is breeding violence and hopelessness) is at heart a matter of faith and idolatry (Psalms 97:7). Idols are human creations that have been given the status of eternal securers. This is true of the system of organized greed and inequality. Profit is the god of the religion of the predatory global market–a system of organized greed. The priests or ministers are the economists, the evangelists are the advertisers, the lay people are the consumers, the cathedral is the shopping mall. Competitive spirit is virtue and inefficiency is sin. The only way to salvation is “shop till you drop.” And, if Jesus “saves,” we want to know where he shops. It appears that the place where most people crucify their intellects is the shopping mall, on the altar of profit and consumerism. Daily we bow and crucify our intellects, saying, “credo quia absurdum est” (I believe because it is absurd). 

Sabotage and rhetoric and the peace of the city

Our lectionary text in Acts (16:16-34) takes us to the nature and heart of exorcism. The Apostle Paul’s act of exorcism to a slave girl who “had a spirit of divination” (pneuma pythona—literally “a spirit, a snake”) touched the center of idolatry—profits for her slaveholders. His act of exorcism undermined the source of profit for the slaveholders who benefited from the slave girl’s power of divination. As would be expected, the slaveholders did not take the attack on their business lightly: they acted swiftly to make sure that Paul and his companions were punished. Paul and Silas were seized and dragged into the market place before the rulers (v. 19). Then the slaveholders presented trumped-up charges:  Paul and Silas were Jews disturbing the peace of the city and they were advocating customs not lawful for Romans (vs. 20-21). The economic offense that Paul committed–sabotaging the economic base of the slaveholders–was concealed under the political rhetoric of preserving the peace and security of the city. Given the charges–“foreigners” or “aliens” disturbing the peace of the city, introducing contaminants to the customs, and subverting the dominant way of life–the outraged crowd, with the approval of the guardians of power, turned into a mob and joined the attack against Paul and Silas. After they were attacked and beaten up, Paul and Silas were thrown into prison.

Though the above account happened a long time ago, it is so familiar to many of us in our contemporary situation. Protection and maintenance of a system that brings profit for the few at the expense of the many is at the core of the idolatrous system. Anyone who challenges the system will be dealt with, as we have seen in many parts of the world, with extreme brutality. As protest and resistance can be expected from awakened and organized people, it is no surprise that the system of organized greed and inequality intensifies security measures, passing additional legislation and increasing the budget for security. Wherever this system of organized greed and inequality is presently invested and seeking profits (large-scale plantation, logging, mining, etc.), we see militarization, repression, and extrajudicial killings. If the system can be severe in silencing opponents or whistleblowers who are citizens, it can be more so in dealing with “foreigners” or “resident aliens.” They may receive the threat of deportation or imprisonment if they speak their minds on critical issues (e.g., immigration reform, gun control, foreign policy, etc.).

Taking Courage: Where Does Our Hope Lie? (Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21)

Our lectionary texts seem not to offer any easy way out of our sorry mess, or any kind of silver bullet that would fix our global malady. While our text in Acts speaks of an instance of conversion (metanoia), and conversions do happen, the “clouds and thick darkness” of our global misery continue to hover over our sickly body politic. Nonetheless, while we should not expect any easy way out, we are offered the assurance that the God who is the Alpha is also the Omega (Rev. 22:12); that the Creator is also the Savior; that those who have suffered have not suffered in vain; and that those who wait in active hope shall receive what has been promised. Yes, our texts do not offer any easy way out but they call us to continue to live and act in hope, which is to live and act as if the new day has already arrived. Those who live as if the new day has already arrived are intentional about making their faith bear on their politics, which they understand not only as the art of the possible but also of making what has been declared impossible come within the range of the possible. This they can do because God’s grace is sufficient for their needs (Rev. 22:21).

Our guest writer this week for Mission 4/1 Earth

Dr. Eleazar S. Fernandez is Professor of Constructive Theology at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, New Brighton, Minnesota. Ordained in the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, he holds a B.A. from Philippine Christian University; M.Div. from Union Theological Seminary, Philippines; Th.M., Princeton Theological Seminary; and a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University. His teaching and research have focused on constructive theology, theological voices from the global South, theological anthropology, theology of religions, exposure-immersion trips, mission and ecumenics, and globalization and its challenges to theology and ministry  He is the author or editor of many works, most recently, Burning Center, Porous Borders: The Church in a Globalized World (2011) and New Overtures: Asian North American Theology in the 21st Century (editor, 2011).

For further reflection

Jiddu Krishnamurti, 20th century
“Analysis does not transform consciousness.”

Maya Angelou, 21st century
 “What you’re supposed to do
when you don’t like a thing is change it.
If you can’t change it,
change the way you think about it.”
Alan Cohen, 20th century
“Scared and sacred are spelled with the same letters. Awful proceeds from the same root word as awesome. Terrify and terrific. Every negative experience holds the seed of transformation.”

Toba Beta, 21st century
“You’re still in prison if you do nothing better in freedom.”

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, 20th century
“We always pay dearly for chasing after what is cheap.”

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