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Epistle Lesson: Acts 16:16-34
One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities.When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.”The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks 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. When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.
Christ is Risen!
Today we come to our final sermon of our series of Resurrection Power. Throughout these 43 days, we have been looking at this word Resurrection and all that it means. From sending us out as missionaries, to touching the untouchables, From prayer to challenging our very own identity as to whose nation we belong to all because of Christ’s Resurrection.
Our final scripture from this series actually picks up exactly where we left off from last week.
Go to Ipad to refresh the memories from last week
(Paul journey to Philippi, going to the Gentile women, meeting Lydia and staying at her home)
And today, we pick right back up with Paul continuing the ministry to which he was called in going throughout the Roman Empire proclaiming the Resurrection of Jesus. And today, it get’s personal. We have two accounts of what the Resurrection Power meant in Paul’s ministry.
The first of which is this woman who has been following Paul and his friends around announcing to all that would hear that “These men are slaves of the most High God.” Truly, a fascinating understanding of who these men were as we see later how they refer to Jesus as their Lord. When one calls Jesus, kyrios or Lord, inevitably one calls oneself doulas or Slave. And sure enough, this unnamed woman, who was a slave herself, but unto earthly masters have rightly named Paul and his cohorts as slaves of the Most High God. However, after a few days of her crying out, Paul became annoyed by her and in the name of Jesus liberated this spirit that was in her. Paul freed her from this spirit, and yet it is not too difficult to assume also freed her from her own slavery to her masters. She was no longer of any worth to her masters and instead of an asset that would bring money into the household, would have become a liability and cost them money to have fed and housed her. And so, it is not very difficult to believe that because of the Resurrection Power that resided within Paul, this woman was freed or liberated from more than just this spirit.
But this account of Acts does not say. It does go onto say that Paul and Silas by her masters were brought before the magistrate and being convicted of disturbing the city was stripped of their clothes, beaten and thrown into prison. Paul, although has been stoned, flogged, and beaten before for his faith, this is the first time he has experienced prison for his faith.
And it is from within prison do we begin to see God’s grace at work in the second account of Resurrection Power. Here is Paul and Silas, those who were deemed the most troublesome inmates as they have been placed in what was considered the most secure cell in the middle of the house. After being flogged, and exhausted from the day’s events, even their feet are fastened into the stocks. And yet, it says at about midnight, Paul and Silas are praying and singing hymns to God. Not only is this happening, but even the other prisoners are listening to them. They cannot be quiet, even in prison they give glory to God. And it says, that while they were worshipping an earthquake had liberated them from their bondage. The prison doors were opened and their chains were released. They had been set free, and in their freedom chose to stay. The jailer awakens from his sleep to see the doors to the prison opened and he is quite sure that all of his prisoners had made a run for it. He was so sure of this he was ready to commit suicide because he knew how much trouble he was going to be in for allowing the whole prison to escape. You know, if he lost one prisoner he may be suspended for so much time, two prisoners he may lose his job, but the whole prison? He certainly did not see any hope in this situation. And as he was about to kill himself, Paul calls out to let him know that they had not fled the prison. And this begins a radical reversal of what could only constitute Resurrection Power.
In the Resurrection, we claim that which is dead is given new life, that which is without hope is hopeful, that which is lost is found. It is a radical reversal that takes place through the Resurrection of Christ. And let us look at this first amazing thing that happens. It begins with the title by which the jailer calls Paul and Silas. After Paul calls out to the jailer to not harm himself, the jailer retrieves Paul and Silas and brings them out of the prison. And the jailer then addresses Paul and Silas as Sirs. In actuality, the greek language gives a bit more to understanding to what the jailer says. The jailer calls them Kyrios. Sound familiar? It should because it is the same word that Paul and Silas use to refer to Jesus as Lord in the very next sentence. This is important because the jailer begins to see them not just in the respect of Sir and Maam as we would use it today, but as I said before, when you call one Lord, you place yourself lower than that person. This jailer, who was given the duty to guard these men, who was placed in authority over them, has just addressed Paul and Silas as though he was lower than them because of their devout love for Jesus and not leaving even though they had been clearly liberated by an act of God. And after addressing them as such, this jailer seeks their wisdom. The jailer asks the age old question, “What must I do to be saved?” Now we within the church immediately want to think that the jailer is asking about his eternal salvation. But the better counter question would have been, “Saved from what?” With his sword in his hand and had just about killed himself, maybe he meant saved from the wrath of the authorities.
This question really is the personal question of the ages. What is it that we are in need of saving from? Are we in need of being saved from becoming too complacent in our life? Are we in need of being saved from bondage to addictions? Maybe we are in need of being saved from being overcommitted to too many things that we forget to spend time with God. Whatever it is that we are in need of saving from, or whatever it was that the jailer meant in his question, Paul and Silas seemed to have the succinct answer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your whole household.” And it is with this answer that we come to understand one of the very fundamental teachings about salvation. Salvation is not ours to give or to take, but it is ours to receive. God is the actor in salvation. God is the one who does the work of renewing that which is broken.
Paul later writes to the Church of Ephesus about being saved, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—“ This gift of being saved is an act that only God can do, and yet it requires the acceptance from each of us. I suppose you could understand it this way. Let’s say I crafted a piece of pottery and gave it to you as a gift. You took that piece of pottery and at first cherished it, but then becoming negligent with the gift dropped it on the ground and it shatters. You, at this point, do not care and walk away. I see the broken shards of this vessel I had given you on the ground and I come and take them and began to recraft, re-create them into a new vessel. I come to give you the renewed gift of the once broken vessel. You have a choice. You either receive it or you do not. God has taken our broken lives, and has already paid the price, already through the work of the cross and Resurrection remade the vessel. It is now our responsibility to either accept that gift of salvation or not.
And according to John Wesley, salvation is not simply eternal life with God. “Eternal life with God is clearly part of salvation, but that is the final stage of salvation, which is called glorification….[Wesley] goes on, ‘It is not something at a distance: it is a present thing, a blessing which, through the free mercy of God, ye are now in possession of.’ In essence, salvation, for Wesley, is the ‘entire work of God,’ from the first stirring in our souls telling us that we need God to our receiving of eternal life.”
And so God’s work, God’s grace in our lives is symbolized for us in this Sacrament of Baptism. For some like this jailer who is not raised in a Christian home, it happens when they as an adult and see God’s work in their lives and are ready to profess God’s work in their life. For others, like the rest of his household, it may be that God is acting in their lives whether they know it or not, but are being raised in such a way to recognize God’s presence and thus are candidates for that wonderful act of being included in God’s family through baptism. It is though in baptism that signifies to all not an end, but rather a beginning of God’s salvation. God’s saving works to bring that life, our life, into complete holiness and glorification. It is in baptism God claims us, adopts us and names us his own, a child of God.
I would like to close today with a story that I heard some time back from a Rev. Janet Wolf, a United Methodist minister. Janet wrote a story about a parishioner of hers that I would like to share.
You see Fayette, although new to the Church understood the power of baptism deep in her soul.
She came to Janet’s church one summer, pacing back and forth outside the open doors, listening intently to the music, the laughter, the words. Occasionally she would crouch down on the front steps engrossed, amazed and astounded at what she heard. Little by little that summer Fayette moved from the sidewalk to the steps, from the steps to the door and finally one day from the door to the pew.
Months passed and finally Fayette decided to join a membership class. As part of this class, Janet began to explain about baptism. She began, “You see, in baptism, each of us is named…” but before she could finish, Fayette jumped up and with excitement and enthusiasm, and began to finish her sentence….“each of us is named by God as bright, brilliant, beloved children of God and beautiful to behold.” “I know. I know those words. I heard you say them before at all those other baptisms.”
“That’s right,” said Janet, “we say them as a response to everyone’s baptism.
“Well,” said Fayette, “I can’t wait till you say them at MY baptism!!”
It seemed from that day forward Fayette began reciting those words over and over again whenever she could. During prayer time, in the middle of the sermon, in the midst of a hymn, you could hear Fayette shouting out, “You are a bright, brilliant, beloved child of God and you are beautiful to behold!”
Finally the day came for Fayette to be baptized. As she emerged from the waters, she sprang out of the baptismal pool, dancing and leaping for joy down the aisle. Turning to the congregation she said, “And now I am…” and the whole of the congregation responded to her, “bright, brilliant, and beloved child of God and beautiful to behold.”
Well, not long after that, the pastor received one of those dreaded middle of the night phone calls. It was the local hospital calling to say that Fayette was there, having been brought in after a brutal assault. As Janet approached Fayette’s room, she could hear her mumbling to herself, “bright, brilliant, beloved…bright, brilliant…bright, brilliant, beloved child of…” Standing in the doorway Janet could see Fayette pacing back and forth. Her face was swollen and bruised, muddied and bloodied, hair going this way and that.
She turned to see Janet standing there and she said “I am bright, brilliant, beloved child of God…” but she couldn’t quite finish it. Again she started, “I am bright, brilliant, beloved child of God” and turning to see herself in the mirror with the reality of the words not matching the image staring back at her, she went on, “And God is still working on me! And if you come back tomorrow I’ll be so beautiful to behold you won’t recognize me!”
You see, Fayette knew, even in the midst of the tragedy and trauma that was so often her life, that there was nothing that could ever take back, erase, or wash away that mark she had been given in baptism…she was forever permanently and powerfully marked as that bright, brilliant, beloved child of God and she was beautiful to behold!
This is God’s gift to us, a gift that we are seen to God as God’s child and although at times we may be more beautiful tomorrow than we are today, God is still working on each us in this wonderful process we call God’s Grace in Salvation that begins with baptism.