READINGS: Acts 16:16-34 John 17: 20-26
The kingdom of heaven is like a jigsaw puzzle. . . . You're a piece and so am I and so is the guy down the street who disagrees with everything I say or do. We can't even get our own church to fit together into a neat unified whole, so how can we hope for the unity of the great diversity of all God's children?
And yet that is Jesus' prayer: "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 glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one."
When John writes about this kind of mystical unity it can seem really puzzling. The pieces don't always match up. John tells us Jesus and the Father are one. John pictures Jesus telling us to eat -- to gnaw on -- the bread and that Jesus himself is the bread. So the Son, who is in the Father is in us. But then again, no one can know the Father but the Son. But if we know the Son we know the Father. . . . No. I think that piece doesn't match here ... it goes over there, or maybe with this other one or .... Sometimes I wonder whether the huge puzzle will ever be one picture.
What is it that holds this puzzle together? Can someone pass me the glue? "Ghostly Glue" -- that's what some medieval mystics called the Holy Spirit. The Spirit -- the God that fits everything together: "We are one in the Spirit" we sing. "In the unity of the Holy Spirit" we pray at the Eucharist.
But right now the puzzle is jumbled. At this time of year, if we follow the disciples' journey, Jesus ascended into heaven last Thursday. But it's still another week until Pentecost -- the time when the Holy Spirit arrives to comfort and "glue together" the church. No Jesus. No Spirit. They're off somewhere with the Father and here we are. Now what?
Stand around looking up at the sky or hang around in the upper room again, waiting? Go fishing or form a committee and write a mission statement? It's really scary when the puzzle we were just beginning to figure out falls apart. In our fear we feel cornered ... trapped. How are we going to get out of this prison?
In prison at "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."
Not fishing or a committee, but a choir. It seems that it's possible to sing one's way out of prison, out of the scary, trapped places in our lives.
What kind of person sings in prison?
---- one who somehow, despite the jumbled mess around them, feels joy and hope;
---- one for whom the deepest reality is elsewhere;
---- one whose spirit is free.
Paul and Silas sing themselves free from prison because they already are free in Christ -- because they have taken the advice they give to the jailer: they believe. They have the faith that results in rejoicing. "Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved" they tell their jailer. And when he became a believer he and his entire household rejoiced. Paul and Silas have been stripped and beaten and chained in place; chains even around their necks -- but still they sing. And when they sing, the foundations of their prison are shaken and both the singers and the listeners are freed.
What kind of person sings in prison? One who believes.
Corrie Ten Boom writes about her sister Betsie when they were taken to Ravensbruck, a Nazi extermination camp. They slept that first night unsheltered on the ground in the rain. And Betsie began to sing: "The night is dark and I am far from home .... Lead Thou me on." Her sweet soprano was joined by voices all around them. The song, like the Spirit, reminded them of Christ and connected them to God, and for a moment they were free.
In fact Betsie lived through unspeakable conditions in the freedom of the Spirit that allowed her to almost continuously sing God's praise ... even giving thanks for the fleas that infested their sleeping area. She lived in the Spirit instead of the concentration camp. And she sang.
Singing somehow connects us with the Spirit. And that shakes the foundations of our prisons. What kind of prison are you trapped in? What restricts your life and your growth? Just because it's not as horrendous as an extermination camp, doesn't mean your prison is any less real or any less threatening to the spiritual freedom God intended for us.
We all encounter prisons in our lives. We are good at getting stuck. We can be trapped by circumstances: by poor health or inadequate income. We can be chained up by other people's expectations of us. (Or by our own expectations of ourselves.) We can be imprisoned by addictions -- alcohol or overeating or overworking. We build our own prisons out of our fears: Fear of making a mistake can freeze us in place. A fear of appearing foolish or stupid may tie us down. Shame and embarrassment can build insurmountable walls.
What's your prison? How can you set your spirit free?
Paul and Silas seem to suggest that it's worth trying to sing our way to freedom. Even if your prison, like one of my own, is fear of singing poorly, it can still free you.
There's something about music and singing: It touches our souls. It connects us with others, even with others we might rather not be connected with. It's a kind of glue like the Spirit -- it's a community builder, a kingdom builder. Singing connects us with the Spirit.
Song and music touch our spirits, touch The Spirit, and the Holy Spirit comes to remind us of our liberation in Christ. It draws us into Christ, even into the kingdom of heaven where he has ascended. Like a momentary time warp we become one in the Spirit. We become one in Christ just as Jesus is in the Father.
Singing connects us with the Holy Spirit and the Spirit can shatter the foundations of our prisons and free us to be one in Christ with all who sing God's praise. Listen to the hymns we sing:
---- O for a thousand tongues to sing,
---- Alleluia, sing to Jesus,
Jesus and his followers from the beginning until today, sing God's praise.
In song the Spirit frees us and unites us with Christians throughout the world and with all our loved ones who have gone before us in the faith. All the pieces come together in the Alpha and Omega and the puzzle is complete.
Even in the prisons of our lives, let us rejoice, give thanks, and sing.
May our singing shake the foundations of our prisons and shatter the divisions in our lives, that we all may be one. AMEN