Easter 7C: Maranatha--The Great Jailbreak
A Sermon Preached at the Cathedral Church of St. Mark
The Very Reverend Tyler B. Doherty, Dean & Rector
In our reading from Acts this week we have a jailbreak—the freeing of Paul and Silas from the innermost cell where they’ve been stripped and beaten and had their feet fastened in stocks. Acts, in its typically cinematic way, is trying to remind us of something very simple—that the Christian life, the life of discipleship, is all about freedom, the freedom of life in Christ. This freedom is all-encompassing and includes freedom from all different kinds of things that keep us bound—images and stories about ourselves, others, and God, mechanically habitual ways of seeing and being that keep us trapped, unhealthy patterns of relationship. Prisons come in all shapes and sizes, and in a certain way you might say, “we are all doing time.”
When we hear that around midnight, “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,” it’s important for us to realize that this isn’t just a piece of historical reportage about a seismic tremor in first century Macedonia. The open doors, the unfastened chains, the tumbled down walls are a statement of profound spiritual transformation that results from having Jesus at the center of our lives as individuals and as a community. It’s an enactment of spiritual journey of each one of us and of the transfiguration that takes place when we allow Jesus to be on the throne of hearts, when we move from the tyranny of the false self to the freedom of the true self, the self that knows itself in God, in whom we live, and move, and have our being.
The false self, according to Fr. Thomas Keating is the self that we develop in the absence of a conscious experience of the love of God. Human beings are literally made for happiness, and I would venture to say that everything we do we do in an effort to be happy. The Enron exec who swindles millions of dollars, the alcoholic who drinks herself into oblivion, the micro-managing control freak, the praise junky who carefully curates their image in the eyes of others—all of these strategies, and countless others, are simply the means of trying to find happiness in the only way they know how.
The false self, Keating reminds us, is essentially structured around three basic strategies for seeking happiness—power/control, affection/esteem, safety/security. Depending on how we were raised, one of these basic strategies for seeking and maintaining happiness will become our habitual way of being in the world. It’s not that we’re bad people for doing so, it’s more that this way of seeking happiness simply doesn’t work; life lived according to the strategies for seeking happiness employed by the false self is 100% effective recipe for misery. David Foster Wallace, in his address to Kenyon students about to graduate titled, “This is Water” puts it this way:
In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing… God … is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things-if they are where you tap real meaning in life-then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you .... Worship power-you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart-you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.
Life with power, money, good looks, our intellect, or whatever at the center is the prison from which God in Christ through the Holy Spirit yearns to liberate us. The life of Christian discipleship is essentially a jailbreak. The shaky foundations of life with those substitutes for God, those idols, comes tumbling down, and the firm foundation, the true happiness of life in Christ begins to emerge. So life in the Spirit is really about beginning to see the various ways that we’ve, through our misguided attempts at securing happiness on our own terms, placed something other than God at the center of our lives. In the very seeing, in the very recognition is the beginning of freedom. The walls of the false self start to crack that the temple not made with hands, life in Christ, might be built in and through the fabric of our lives.
This freedom that is life in Christ, is our birthright, it’s the end for which we are made, what it means to a fully flourishing human being. And the Good News of the Gospel, is that this freedom has already been given to us pure gift—unmerited, unearned, undeserved. It’s the water of life that irrigates the parched ground of our being. The invitation to eat of the tree of life, to dine at the banquet of divine love, has been issued since the foundation of the world. As our reading from the end of the Book of Revelation says, “The Spirit and the bride say, "Come." And let everyone who hears say, "Come." And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.
The Spirit and the Bride say “Come” and welcome everyone from every language, tribe, nation to the table. And those who are welcomed are charged with spreading the word of welcome. The welcomed become the welcomers, and the welcomers become the water of life for the thirsty, the parched, the alienated, and the lonely. They eat of the tree of life and then become that fruit for others—those who are hungry in body or spirit. Having been freed from the prison of looking for love in all the wrong places, these people become the instruments of freedom, the means of grace, in the lives of others.
And so, when we hear Jesus in his prayer to the Father, the High Priestly prayer as it’s called, pray that we may become completely one, it’s important to see that this oneness, this union and communion with God and one another is a oneness that celebrates particularity, the precious uniqueness of each individual. God, the God of surprises delights in diversity and variety. Recall those lines in Psalm 104 where God creates the Leviathan “for the sport of it.” Being one with each other doesn’t mean we all think the same, vote the same, pray the same, look, or act the same. Being one is being rooted and grounded in love and then living from that love for others. The amazing thing is that the more we give ourselves away to God, the more our unrepeatable uniqueness, our individuality comes to fruition. Teilhard de Chardin’s phrase for this is, “union differentiates.” Oneness with God, union and communion with the source of all creation paradoxically fosters true diversity.
The beloved community, then, is not just a bland, monochrome, pablum oneness where all difference, diversity, and particularity are erased, but a place where the unique gifts of each person are discerned, named, celebrated, and exercised for the building up of the body of Christ, for the common good. The beloved community’s oneness derives from being turned in the same direction, looking to one we call Lord, and inviting him to live his life in and through us.
That’s what it means, I think, to utter those words that end the Book of Revelation—maranatha, “Come, Lord Jesus.” It’s to proclaim that in him is the freedom for which we yearn and for which we are made. It’s to proclaim in one voice that we want love at the center of our lives and at the center of our community. It’s to proclaim that we want the Lord Jesus seated on the throne of the heart not just at the end of days, but right here and right now in very place. That’s the real shaking of the foundations that flings open all the doors and unfetters those who are bound. “Come, Lord Jesus,” maranatha, is the greatest jailbreak in history.