Breaking Free
 — Rev. Phil Hobson

May 8, 2016
Mother's Day

Acts 16:16-34
John 17:20-26

Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.

In the Gospel according to John, many verses are given to Jesus praying for his followers.

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.

This last phrase, “That they may all be one” is the motto of the United Church of Christ. Jesus prays that people would come to believe through the words and lives of those who follow him, that we who follow Jesus would know the love of God deep in our hearts and guts and soul the way Jesus does.

But this is a hard thing. It is so simple to focus on our differences. It is so easy to find someone to blame for how we are feeling, what we are going through, what has not gone according to our plan. We learn this as kids when we play three player games. The easiest way for two people to get along is to find a third person to pick on.

But we came to faith somehow. We had someone, at some time, in some place, maybe in one big way, or lots of little examples, who offered a witness to what the love of God looks like, how the love of God acts, what it means to know that they are loved, and we wanted some of that.

I give thanks for all the women and the few men who taught Sunday School when I was growing up. I think of the women, like my mother, who started their own businesses in fields that were formerly the realm of men: public relations, technical consulting, financial planning. I think of the struggle of those who worked and raised children, and were on the cutting edge of the sandwich generation: taking care of their kids and their parents at the same time. I think of the mothers whose full time job was the family, more than enough work there. I think of the women and men who kept the church going in full years and lean years.

And I know that Mothers Day is a complicated and often difficult time. For some, the title of Mother is their crowning achievement. For some, there is the grief of having been a mother and losing a child. For others, the grief is wanting to be a mother and never being able to. For some, motherhood is more difficult than they know how to handle. For others, their own mother was or is neither healthy nor loving, and yet somehow they manage to be a loving and healthy mother themselves. For some, the emotional, social, mental or medical needs of the child for their parent do not end when they have reached physical maturity. I give thanks for women who fit these categories, and so many more.

I am reminded of the words of Caroline Myss, who said that when someone we love is going through the dark night of the soul, it is our duty to practice our spiritual disciplines, to go to church, to worship and pray, to do what is necessary to maintain our own spiritual equilibrium in the midst of their storm. Or, in my own shorthand, to stay prayed up, because the lifeguard is not allowed to drown.

That is my entrance into the story of Paul and Silas. They are going about their work – preaching and teaching about Jesus – when this slave girl with a spirit of divination knows who they are, follows them around, and tells everybody.

Paul gets annoyed. It took a few days to get annoyed, that is how focused he is on what he is about, but finally, he turns around and casts out the spirit of divination.

Well, preaching Jesus does not get you in trouble. Messing with the people who profit off of others being enslaved, messing with making a profit off of people being kept unclean, disrupting making a living by forcing others to use their lives on their masters’ behalf, that will get you beaten and thrown into jail. And these are serious troublemakers, so put them in the innermost cell.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.

We see a prison. The jailer saw a prison. The guys who wanted to punish these men for ruining their fortune telling scheme saw a prison. Paul and Silas saw a place to stay for the night, a place for singing and praying to God.

I wonder what they sang?

Woke up this morning with my mind stayed on Jesus.
Woke up this morning with my mind stayed on Jesus.
Woke up this morning with my mind stayed on Jesus.
Hallelu-, hallelu-, hallelujah!

They did not worry about cell walls and doors. They were:

Singing and praying with my mind stayed on Jesus.

And maybe the prisoners start see their cells differently. Because when the earthquake comes and the doors fall open and the jailer, worried that everyone has escaped and does not want to face the shame of failing, and is ready to fall on his sword, Paul calls out to him: “Hey, don’t hurt yourself, we are all here. We are in the back. Come sing with us.”

For the jailer, for the prisoners, for all who were part of the midnight hymn-sing, it was a new day, it was a new life. Because Paul and Silas stayed focus on what is more true than the past, more true than business as usual, more true than beatings and imprisonment, more true than whatever we are afraid of. They were focused on a love that is like an earthquake that opens prison doors. They stayed focus on a grace that forgives our jailers and welcomes them into the household of sinners saved by grace. They stayed prayed up in the midst of their troubles.

For everyone else, their focus was jail and trouble and difficulty. For Paul and Silas, their focus was Jesus. And what we focus on becomes our reality.

This is not easy. There is a reason we call them spiritual disciplines. It is not easy to stay prayed up when our beloved is having troubles. It is not easy to keep our spiritual practices going while people we love are hurting, or when the world focuses so much on the differences, the trouble, the difficulties.

This is why we need each other. How different the story might have been had Paul not had Silas or Silas had not had Paul. We need one another to pray when we run out of words, to lift and carry when our strength fails, to love when our hearts are weary. And we will return the favor when we have the words, when we are strong, when our hearts are filled with God’s love.

Woke up this morning with my mind stayed on Jesus…

Thanks be to God.