No fear: No escape

Sermon, Easter 7C, Sunday May 12, 2013.

St Petri

No fear: No escape

Acts 16:16-3416 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.17 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.” 18 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.19 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. 20 When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews:21 and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.”  22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods.23 After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely.24 Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. 25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26 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. 27 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. 28 But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34 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.

If only Paul’s mother and Silas’ mother could see them now! What a story of these two fearless men of God being who they are in the middle of hostile but so fulfilling circumstances. Their mothers would be proud of them! They display such staying power.

I wish I could display more staying power sometimes. Sometimes wonder if women have more staying power than blokes. Mums can be real stayers. They just get on with the million jobs and see it through on a daily basis. But then again, blokes do that too – most of time anyway.

I wish I could be a real “stayer” when it comes to keeping fit, watching what I eat and drink, supporting my team and my friends. I wish I could show more staying power in praying and staying in the Word daily. i wish i could be more of a stayer in my treatment of others and my ability to stay the course when life gets a little rough.

Here we have a story about real staying power for Christians in challenging moments. What a story…

The band of travelling witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection and ascension are on the road. They come to gentile cities, seek out any spark of Christian community they can find, either in the Jewish synagogue or in this case, in Philippi, down by the river! They meet this remarkable lady, Lydia, a maker of purple cloth for the many wealthy retired military families who live in Philippi. She becomes the host and a leader of the beginnings of the first European church community.

As Paul and Silas stay in the city to plant a Christian community, they come across another woman. She is in trouble. She is trapped in some sort of evil presence ties with future seeing. She dabbles in occultic and psychic future telling for money. When anyone dabbles in this kind of thing they open themselves up for evil spirits and the demonic. She is a money spinner for her “owners”. It is her entrapment to evil that Paul and Silas recognise. She has some kind of evil spirit wreaking havoc in her life

In some strange way she is aware of these men who are obviously not like her minders. She will not stop following them around and being a very loud advertising voice for who they represent and what they are doing. “These men are servants of God and they are telling you how to be saved”, she repeatedly yells….

After days of this constant noise, which is actually an interruption to the gospel work of Paul and Silas, Paul decides to act. He speaks directly to this evil in this woman enslaved and this woman is now released from this oppressive spirit.

The owners of this now freed girl are angry. Their evil scheme of money-making is now ended by the gospel Paul and Silas are peddling. It gets racial now. That old chess nut of human intolerance and bigotry come out to play. “These JEWS are upsetting our fine city!” call the greedy users of women.

In their rage and their greed they gather a lynch mob against the foreigners and manage to do a deal with the authorities to imprison Paul and Silas – after a sever flogging that is. The very worst of human behaviour is on show here. Greed, violence, oppression, manipulation, injustice.

But if we think that these will win the day, we are wrong. Has it struck you that this is a classic escape story? Has is struck you that this is a classic escape story without an escape!? There is no escape because there is no fear.

What would you do if your were physically assaulted and imprisoned in the highest security wing of a prison? Maybe we would actually do what Paul and Silas did – pray in spoken and singing voice.

When all else fails, when our plans come to nothing, when we are severely challenged by someone or something, maybe that is when we finally realise on who our life really depends – Jesus? The rest of the time we find it very easy to forget about praying and get on with everything else we think we have to do.

Bigotry and racism have surely inflicted their wounds on these men of God. But they still seem to have no fear. They pray, they sing, they speak the of Jesus in the presence of anyone in earshot. They triumph.

Then the miraculous happens as has happened in jail cell before – to Peter back in Acts 12. Somehow the ground shakes, the chains fall and freedom beckons.The jailer, who has been specifically ordered to guard these men with his life, is at the point of death. In the confusion, he believes they have escaped. He pulls his sword to do himself in – a much better fate than having the Roman military do this for you. To his relief and amazement, there has not been a break out. These two men are right there with him – but without chains.

The loaded question comes – ‘What must I do to be saved?”. Is the soldier fearful of these men and their divine powers he has just witnessed? Probably. Is he fearful of they now could inflict on him in their power? Probably. Is he still scared of what his colleagues and the system will do to him? Probably. He has every reason to fear for his very soul. But Paul and Silas don’t. The great escape never happens – not for them anyway. There is no fear and so there is no need for escape.

“Believe on the Lord Jesus the Messiah, and you will be saved”, they declare.

In his fear and need, the jailor says, “yes” to this gospel word.

Wounds are washed and bandaged by this jailor and his family. The good news is welcomed into their home and their lives. Paul and Silas do what they always do. They preach and teach the gospel of Jesus – his imprisonment, his treatment at the hands of greedy and unjust men, his compassion for the sick, the oppressed, his ability and will to free and love and save…..

As is the case in the book of Acts and the whole NT, Baptism accompanies the proclaiming of the gospel to hungry believers. This jailor and his whole family are baptised. Gladness has come to this city. Joy has come to this family. The church is planted and the gospel is taking root in this pagan city.

It is happening here too – both the fearful stuff of life and the faith-filled living that the gospel brings.

Are you fearful? What of? Who? We all carry varying levels of fear about various things and situations and people.

But these things are not the last word or the controlling factor in our lives – or at least they do not need to be for us who have been “gospel-ised” or evangelised like this jailor and his whole family and that young woman and like Lydia.

In the fearful moment when powerful people, powerful forces, prejudice, intolerance, even violence threaten us, we have the real option of praying and singing and being together in the moment.

Because fear is not the last word and all fear is driven away by the love of Jesus coming to us in his word, his gifts, his people, we have no need to escape fear or fearful situations.

When my health is under attack, I don’t need to escape.

When my heart and mind is under attack, I have no need to escape.

 When my emotions and sense of well-being is under threat by a conflict with another person, I don’t need to escape.

When I am challenged by someone, I don’t need to escape.

 I can stay in these things as I stay the course of praying to the Lord about it and even singing my prayers and my faith in Jesus alone or with others.

Friend’s, the Lord calls us to stay in our day. he calls you to be a “stayer” in your week with all its challenges and with all that you feel threatening you. He calls you to let the love of Jesus cast out your fear. He is in the chains, in the prison, in the situation. He is active in love. Our calling is to stay, not escape. Our calling is to sing, pray and speak, not stay silent or cower in the corner.

As we continue to be who he had created us to be, as we continue to quietly and sometimes noisily confess the gospel faith by how we live together in love we will resist the temptation to flee our troubles and our fears through lack of faith in Jesus’ power and love, and instead proudly bear witness to him in all circumstances and in front of all people.

As we do we may see what Paul and Silas and many others who have stayed the course have seen – sinners being glad that they have been found, included, loved.

Amen.

GROUP STARTERS

In what ways or in what things are you a real “stayer”?

Re-read verses 20-25. How does Paul and Silas response to such unjust and harsh treatment strike you? Would this be your response?!

We all carry varying levels of fear about various things and situations and people.  Are you fearful of something in particular at the moment – Who, What…..?

In what ways do you sometimes try to escape hardship and/or unfair treatment by others?

What difference does faith in Jesus’ victory over fear and even death make in your life as you face fear and trouble?

Have you senses Jesus’ presence in moments of fear – if so, share that story…..

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