So this week has been a week of final goodbyes for me, I had my graduation party yesterday, and I am finishing my last week of high school. I have a plane flight to Vermont to travel with the circus this Friday, and very soon after I will be leaving for Smith College. When I read the readings for this week I was a bit confused. The first lesson with Paul and Silas seemed like a basic God performing a miracle because people believed in him situation. The second reading seemed to say if you do your laundry you can go to heaven “blessed are those who wash their robes”, and the gospel reading seemed like Jesus was a hippie saying “everyone is connected man”.
Upon further reflection and a severe lack of formal studies into any part of the bible, I managed to do what most sermons do and connect this to my daily life. So God might save me because I am a believer, I should always do my laundry, and oneness and love is important.
But seriously, I will start with what I got from the reading. At first I was very confused by Paul ordering the spirit out of the slave girl. I was confused by what she was doing wrong if she was proclaiming the good news that these men were bringing salvation. So what do we do when we’re confused about the liturgy? We text Elizabeth, or at least I do. She said there was a lot of room for interpretation about her freedom, so here is my take, with help from the internet. The slave girl is freed from her demon spirit of divination, but is still in physical bondage, accept this time with no way to get money for her owners. She is left in a bad situation, worse than when Paul found her, and seemingly just because he was annoyed. He assumed to free her but he failed, and his annoyance cost him his own freedom. This is not an easy trade either, he escapes from prison, freed by the Lord, and is happy having converted the jailor to the cause. The slave girl is still in bondage, with an angry master and no money making capabilities. Some may read this story as a positive one, a belief in God being the force that saves them from harm, but I read it as a bit of a cautionary tale. Do not perform miracles in spite, do not proclaim the powers of God without love or the miracle will do little good in their lives. In this day and age, I encounter very few Christians who are willing to discuss their faith at my high school. And I don’t need to ask them to know the reason. Throughout history, Christians have performed “miracles” that are not motivated by love, “miracles” that hurt people, “miracles” of conversion or of hate, or of annoyance at those who are not like them. As I go into college I must work to change this view of Christians, to view lessons like these as cautionary tales instead of proclamations of successful conversions.
If you truly love someone it is a love of acceptance, it is a love of who they are. “Miracles” performed without this love at heart, without considering and caring about the unintended consequences of your actions, cannot truly be acts of God. In this area a good example of this is the conversion schools’ native families were forced to send their children to because the United states decided that the best course of action was to rid them of their culture, language, and religion. The first of these schools was built in Washington State in 1860. Although the teachers, like Silas and Paul, may have believed that they were doing the right thing by God, this was not an action of love. They refused to consider cultural genocide in their attempts to perform these miracles. These were acts with consequence.
So where do we go from here? The bible is full of passages which tell people that the only way to salvation is through Jesus Christ, and who’s to blame them when they take this into the world and try to convert others to the faith instead of respecting the religions of others. I believe that no matter what we personally believe it is not with love to force one’s religion on another.
One of the key things which Jesus taught is to love one another, and by loving one another it would be known that we are Christians. We have strayed from this path in the past, and now the only way to go is up.
At Smith College next year, I will continue to be open about my faith, while respecting and admiring the faiths of others. I will carry with me the lessons I have learned at Emmanuel, that love, connection, and community are what makes somebody a Christian. If somebody asks me about my church I will reply that it is where I grew up, it is where I made friends, and it is where I was loved unconditionally. It was where I went through an atheist phase and members of the church wholeheartedly supported my “faith journey”. So as I move on in this next chapter of my life I will take with me the love that Emmanuel has shown me and give it to the world. I will openly proclaim my faith and love the faiths of others, I will love others as myself, and I will strive to perform daily miracles with love that is truly accepting and good. I will always remember you all and every day I thank and appreciate you for all you have done for me.
Thank you, and Amen.