The Jailer’s Story

“The Jailer’s Story”

Acts 16-31 Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ stained glass

Acts 16:30-34 – June 2, 2019

A number of years ago, a pastor friend of mine needed to buy some new tires for his car. He had an acquaintance who was an auto mechanic, and went to his auto shop to purchase the tires. My friend Pastor Jamie was fascinated by the machine used for balancing, and watched the tires go round and round. The mechanic watched, too. Pastor Jamie suddenly asked the mechanic, “Did you ever feel your life was just spinning round and round, just like that tire? So fast, that you weren’t sure if it was going to spin out of control?”

As we follow the apostle Paul through the book of Acts, we might get the same idea. Paul’s life seemed to spin out of control time and time again. Trouble certainly seemed to follow Paul; take this week’s Scripture reading, for example. Paul and his friend Silas were beaten and thrown into prison. What is that all about?

We need to back up and see exactly why the people of the city of Philippi were so upset. Last week, we met Lydia, a well-to-do Gentile business owner who became a believer in the Gospel. She invited Paul and his friends to stay at her large house and use that as their base of operations. This week, we continue in Philippi with a slave girl who had an evil spirit, who did fortune-telling to earn money for her owners. She followed Paul and his friends around town for days, calling out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, telling you the way to be saved!”

On the face of it, Paul and his friends might have looked on this slave girl’s hollering to be free advertising. But, no! It got annoying, very quickly! The slave girl was a kind of heckler, constantly trailing after the missionaries. Finally, Paul got fed up, and cast the evil spirit out of the slave girl. The spirit was gone! However, so was the way the girl had earned money, telling people’s futures and fortunes. The girl’s owners were really upset at this turn of events! They got mad at the apostle Paul, too.

Now we start to see why Paul and Silas got thrown into prison—this time.

I am not sure whether life has ever spun out of control so much that you and I have gotten thrown into prison, but things can take unexpected twists and turns, and sometimes drag us into some awful predicaments.

It did not matter whether the owners of the slave girl were lying or not when they accused Paul and Silas in front of the Philippian judge. (They were, though.) The false accusation—that Paul and Silas were trying to lead the citizens of Philippi astray by encouraging them to leave behind good, solid Roman practices—fired up the crowd and got them to shout out against Paul and Silas. What is more, the judge was convinced to have Paul and Silas beaten and put in prison.

To give us a closer look at what their punishment involved, I am afraid Dr. Luke will offer a candid description. I am letting people know, just in case anyone needs a trigger warning.

First, Paul and Silas were beaten with rods—around the size of a broom handle. We cannot be sure in Paul’s and Silas’s case, but the beating with rods was oftentimes so severe that it broke bones and lacerated the skin. Following the painful beating, Paul and Silas had their legs pulled far apart and wooden stocks were clamped around their ankles. [1]

After this acute pain and suffering, the two missionaries actually were singing hymns of praise at midnight. Can you imagine how much Paul and Silas had just experienced? After all that, Dr. Luke reports that they were singing hymns of praise to God, and the other prisoners were listening. What a change from the usual prison noise of shouts, groans and curses.

Perhaps we have not experienced anything as severely agonizing as being beaten and thrown into jail unjustly, but life can spin out of control in any one of a number of ways.

We can see how Paul and Silas singing hymns at midnight is a key part of this narrative, because the Lord sends an earthquake to the Philippian jail as a result of that praise. “Just as the Gerasene demoniac was loosed from his chains by Jesus (Luke 8:35), all the prisoners, including Paul and Silas, are loosed. The work of the Spirit brings freedom to all who are captive.” [2]

Enter the jailer upon the scene. At this climactic point, the Philippian jailer was filled with fear and despair. Dr. Luke says, “When the jailer saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped.”  His prisoners—his duly-appointed charges—had been sprung. The jail had been destroyed, and the jailer thought he would be tortured and killed by the Roman authorities for failing in his duty.

It is at this critical point of despair for the jailer that Paul calls out, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

Remember my friend, Pastor Jamie, and his acquaintance the auto mechanic? Remember how they both watched the tire spinning round and round, almost out of control? Jamie made that comment, and the auto mechanic immediately agreed. The auto mechanic then asked the question of the day: “what’s the use? What can I do about it?”

This is so similar to the question asked by the Philippian jailer: “The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

What can we do to get right with God, get our lives on track, and come into a loving relationship with our Lord and Savior? Paul and Silas’s answer is in the next verse: “They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house.”

Pastor Jamie shared the good news of Lord and Savior with his acquaintance the car mechanic. Similarly, Paul and Silas shared the good news with the jailer, another working-class guy. Both gratefully received the Gospel. And, the jailer and his prisoners were ultimately freed—both in this world, and the next.

To take that sudden out-of-control moment and transform it into something God-sent is truly a gift of God. We can all pray with Jesus in our reading from the Gospel of John, our Gospel reading for today, “26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

The narrator Dr. Luke so skillfully expanded the apostle Paul’s groundbreaking adventures in the city of Philippi into an elegant story or drama in Acts 16. Using the backdrop of Galatians 3:28, “There is no longer Jew [Paul and Silas] or Greek [Lydia, the slave girl, the jailer], there is no longer slave [the slave girl] or free [Lydia, Paul], there is no longer male [Paul, Silas, the jailer] or female [Lydia, slave girl], for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” [3]

God’s power acts to bring together the most unlikely group of people for God’s glory. We can celebrate, because God has arms wide open for all who believe. Even me, even you.

Praise God! Amen, alleluia.

[1] http://www.christianlibrary.org/authors/John_L_Kachelman_Jr/phil28.htm

[2] Landers, Richard M., Homiletical Perspective on Acts 16:16-34, 7th Sunday of Easter, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, Vol. 2 (Louisville KY: Westminster John Knox, 2009), 527.

[3] Walaskay, Paul W., exegetical Perspective on Acts 16:16-34, 7th Sunday of Easter, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, Vol. 2 (Louisville KY: Westminster John Knox, 2009), 527.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

 

Struggle for Liberation

“Struggle for Liberation”

Isa 61-1 freedom, liberty word cloud

Isaiah 61:1-3 – August 14, 2016

Has anyone listened to the news? Or, read the newspaper lately? Or, checked out the headlines on their computer news sites? Other than the Olympics—which is some positive, uplifting news, indeed, and a much needed boost in this mixed-up world—there is very little positive going on in the world right now.

Bombings in Thailand, and wide-spread flooding in the Gulf Coast. Not to mention the violence in Milwaukee, poor economic forecast and drought-stricken areas covering large sections worldwide. Add to that, the rise in the prison population in the United States, complicated by the surge in unemployment in many urban areas across the country. Problem upon problem. What can we do about all of this? It makes me feel helpless, and hopeless.

Our Scripture passage from the Hebrew Bible comes from the book of Isaiah, chapter 61. As we read through the first two verses, we might just as well be reading the headlines from the daily paper or from a news site online, or listening to the news on the radio or television. Chapter 61 talks about the poor, those who are captive, brokenhearted, and those in prison. With one huge exception: the prophet has been chosen and anointed by the Lord to bring help and hope to those very people.

Reading from Isaiah 61 again: “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. God has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, margto proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Praise God! The Lord is listening to the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives and the prisoners!

The prophet knows very well he has been sent and deputized to go to these people who are down and out. On the outskirts, on the margins of society. In this world today, so many people are poor, and captive, and prisoners. Outside of this country, certainly. But, even within this country. I am certain there are many people on the outskirts and margins of society very near this church, in a two mile-radius all the way around St. Luke’s Church.

I am preaching through the United Church of Christ’s Statement of Mission for my summer sermon series. This week, our sentence from the mission statement says: “Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called: to join oppressed and troubled people in the struggle for liberation.”

This call from the statement of mission certainly echoes Isaiah 61. The prophet is clearly joining oppressed and troubled people. On the outskirts, on the margins of society.

Our Lord Jesus read this very passage from the prophet Isaiah when He started His ministry. Right after Jesus was baptized, He went to Nazareth. While in the synagogue, He was given the opportunity to read from Scripture. This was the passage Jesus read. After reading these verses, “20 Then He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on Him. 21 He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’”

We have the prophet in the time of Isaiah sent to the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized. We have our Lord Jesus saying—at the beginning of His ministry—that He has been sent to the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized. And, we have the United Church of Christ’s Mission Statement saying that we—all of us—have been sent to the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized.

Jesus chose to hang out with these “down and out” type people, deliberately.

In fact, Jesus was soundly criticized. In the Gospel of Mark, the religious leaders get all righteous on Jesus for hanging out and eating with tax collectors and other “sinners.” The super-righteous Pharisees would not even allow themselves to come near these second-class citizens! That’s how much better they considered themselves. But, our Lord Jesus willingly associated with these “sinners,” these people who according to religious law were ritually unclean.

Jesus came to earth to reach out to all people, to bring the good news of the Gospel to everyone. Jesus came to the tax collectors just as much as the Pharisees, to free all people from their spiritual bondage. To liberate all people, so that we could be free, indeed!

Isn’t that just what God has been doing, all along? All throughout biblical history, and throughout the history of the church? We can follow that thread of liberation through the Hebrew Scriptures, highlighted by the Exodus, where the Jewish people were freed from slavery in Egypt. A huge liberation, to be sure!

We can follow the additional freedoms from oppression and liberations from captivity stated in the Bible. The book of Judges has one after another. The books of the Kings of Judah and Israel, more periodic liberation. The return from captivity of both Judah and Israel. Then, the ultimate liberation from captivity—humanity’s freedom from the bondage to sin and death, paid for us by Jesus Christ and His death on the cross.

Praise God! We have been set free from this bondage of sin and death. The physical, mental, emotional and psychological shackles that kept us all bound as prisoners have been loosened. Thank You, Jesus! I am so very, very happy and grateful and thankful.

Jesus encourages us—each of us—to reach out in the same way. We are to reach out to the poor, the brokenhearted, the oppressed. That is our part, to offer this freedom from bondage to those we meet.

I know what some people might say. “I am just one person. The task is much, much too big. Plus, I haven’t been trained in mission, or evangelism, or chaplaincy, or how to preach.”

Let me tell you a story. A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement. She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!”

The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied, “Well, I made a difference to that one!” [1]

Remember, our sentence from the mission statement says: “Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called: to join oppressed and troubled people in the struggle for liberation.” Exactly so. You and I can do what we are able. No matter how small or how big it might be.

What can I do? This task of freeing the starfish—I mean, people from the penalty of bondage and death? What can we do to join oppressed and troubled people, and sit with them in their time of need? Walk with them through their difficulties?

I know it seems like a small thing, but I go regularly to play for a hymn sing at a nursing home in Chicago. I know the seniors appreciate my playing. What about donating to the Maine Township food pantry? I know it seems small, but there are hungry people throughout the community who will thank us.

Let us follow the prophet, and follow our Lord Jesus in this worthy effort. Engage with others. Find something to do, or say, and do it!

Please God, help us all in this endeavor. Amen!

[1] Adapted from The Star Thrower by Loren C. Eiseley

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)