Easter 7 C – …but they’re not like us…

What in the world is happening here?

An slave girl is being manipulated by her owners for considerable profit.

This girl has a peculiar talent for what the author of Acts calls “divination” –

what others might call wise and insightful, in this case is considered ‘evil possession’

Wise and insightful, I say – because she has, in this instance,

identified Paul and his crowd as

“slaves of the most high God, who proclaim …a way of salvation.”a

not once, but many times.

Paul becomes very much annoyed – casts out ‘the demon’

and cuts off a very lucrative source of income.

Paul’s momentary act of frustration nets him a perfunctory trial and a night in the town lock-up.

The story of their incarceration – and liberation; not to mention their jailer’s salvation –

I would leave for another day.

For the moment I am struck by the seeming inconsistency here.

Does this mean that it’s okay to offer a message from God,

but it is ‘demon possession’ if you identify others as the bearers of God’s message?

This makes me wonder if Paul’s memory had failed him.

Not too long ago, his was the voice from outside the community;

it was his message – his conversion –

his proclamation of God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ

that frustrated and troubled the followers of Jesus.

It seems to me that no one is entirely comfortable

hearing the good news come from an unexpected source.

Slave girls and zealots – neither of these are points of view that we are able to understand –

and what we often fear what we don’t understand.

So what does it take, to make these strange voices sit well n our eager ears?

What is the difference between Paul the Zealot, and Paul, our brother?

Could this slave girl not have made the journey

from frustrating outsider to friend and fellow believer?

(her message suggestion some understanding, if not sympathy…)

Was Paul’s reaction justified, or was he only giving us a glimpse of how hard it is to find that unity that Jesus prayed for on the night of his arrest…?

It is a question worth asking

as throughout the church, practical considerations cause us to reconsider

the differences that divide the body of Christ.

We have all encountered those differences – they are real, and hurtful, and frustrating.

They exist within congregations – denominations – and across the spectrum of Christian belief,

and every voice (mine included) believes the solution is possible,

if only there were more listening and less arguing…by “them”.

And it is worse when the voices you hear proclaiming their convictions

comes from beyond your own understanding – your own ‘comfort zone’.

Paul knew the place of slaves in his culture –

he had heard the rumours about this girl and her ‘keepers’ –

suspected that there was something going on that was not from God.

To hear her declaration must have been unsettling.

Perhaps he had been wrong about her.

Could God use such a one as this to draw people to the gospel?

No less shaken are we, when someone from outside the community comes

and points to the truth in a way that we find strange.

For me it is that strangest of phenomenon – the internet preacher.

Faceless, unknown, and fully comfortable in their on-line world.

Virtual church seems a complete contradiction to me, yet there are many who claim that church in any other form has lost their trust – this is the wave of the future.

The unnerving thing for me, is that these folks have some very keen insights

into things like trust and belief – they seem to have had a very real experience of the risen Christ, even though they describe that experience in ways that I don’t understand.

Are they right – are we?

Paul’s experience suggests there is a choice to be made – though we never discover what that girl does with the “freedom” that Paul offered her –

but Jesus prayer suggests that we should expect something else.

A broader experience of faith –

a more diverse understanding of God in Christ –

a unity that does not mean everyone thinks, acts and believes in the same way.

A unity from God, in and through the risen, reconciling Christ,

is what we should be looking for – what we have been promised.

Such unity means putting aside prejudice and preconception.

It means opening ourselves to new, and often frightening experiences in faith.

It may even mean learning a new language;

the language of the street – or of today’s youth – or technology.

If we allow ourselves the chance to learn – the chance to listen –

we may discover God is offering us a chance to grow in faith.

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