Year C; 7 Easter; 2 June 2019

Acts 16:16-21

 

The first thing I want to do right now is to name the two unnamed characters in the story from the Book of Acts we just heard. There is the slave-girl and the jailer. Neither have names. Both were set free to follow Christ.

The slave-girl could tell fortunes for her owners and made them rich. (She kind of reminds me of a modern-day trafficking slave). She pestered the Apostle Paul and his side-kick Silas day in and day out, telling their fortune, “You are slaves of the Most High God! You proclaim a way of salvation!” Over and over again. Paul got so fed up – he was known not to have too much patience – that he turned around and cast that loud spirit from her to quiet her down. I’d also like to think that he wished to save her from the demon spirit and her slavery.

I think all along that she and her spirit knew they wanted what Paul and Silas had – joyful prayer and song for the love of Christ.

SO! WHAT NAME SHALL WE GIVE HER?

Marissa! Thanks, Inua, our youth member! “Marissa” it is!

So, Marissalost her “demon spirit” and was set free by Paul’s healing command.

We don’t know what happened to her after Paul cast out her demon. My hope is that she ran away from her owners and found new life in the community in Philippi that Paul had founded.

We know what happened to Paul and Silas. The slave owners were so angry that their fortune-telling slave would no longer gain revenue for them that they took Paul and Silas to court, had them stripped and beaten with rods and thrown in jail.

Ironically, Marissawas set free, but Paul and his followers, were beaten and became prisoners. Their legs were put into the stocks. They were locked away under the supervision of yet another character in this story who has no name, the jailer.

SO! WHAT NAME SHALLWE GIVE HIM?

Thanks, Willow, another youth member. Did you say, “Bob?” That’s my dad’s name. Not “Robert,” but “Bob?”

OK, so Bobwas the security guard. We know he was there over-night and that he had a family at home. He was another person who saw something unique in Paul and his followers. He witnessed their joyful prayer and song for the love of Christ all night long in jail! Even in the stocks and locked up as prisoners, they worshiped God by singing hymns and praying!  They were locked up, but they seemed free.

The most hardened security officer or prison guard might have begun to long for THAT kind of freedom: The freedom to worship and pray and give thanks to God wherever you are and whatever your circumstances. Could that be SALVATION?

After the earthquake tore open the prison doors and released the captives, the jailer knew he would face death for letting the prisoners go free. And so, he decided he would rather end it by his own sword than face a humiliating and painful and public death.

Despairing of his situation, he cried, “How will I ever survive this mess?” And he lifts his sword to do himself in. Paul stops him and tells him that he had lost no prisoners. They were all still there – though on the other side of the cage. It really didn’t seem to matter to them whether they were behind bars or not – they knew they were free because they followed Christ.

And our friend, Bobthe jailer wondered what they had, and asked for the same thing. “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  And the most beautiful scene of reconciliation unfolded that very night. Paul and Silas told of the Good News of Jesus, his love and forgiveness. And Bobthe jailer washed their wounds, for you can imagine that their clothes must have been in shreds after their severe beating with those terrible rods. What followed was another kind of washing, the baptism of each member of Bobthe jailer’s household. A conversion took place and spread throughout the jailer’s family, and in turn there was the breaking of bread and the sharing of a meal – the jailer’s family and the prisoners – right there in the jailer’s home! In the middle of the night!

I was at a birthday party recently for a seminary friend. Her spouse invited lots of friends and family to celebrate her 50thbirthday and invited us to give suggestions for Rock and Roll music from each decade of her life. He made up a play-list of these suggestions and gave them to the DJ.

Now, this spouse claims to be a non-believer. He and my friend live in the happy tension of his non-belief and her priesthood.  The night of the party, during his announcement in which he greeted all the guests, he made what he thought of was a joke. Introducing his apology for not being able to include everyone’s music suggestions, he said loudly right into the mic these words, “The bedrock teaching of Christianity is forgiveness.” A brief hush came over the otherwise raucous dancing crowd because everyone present, believer or non-believer knew that his statement was true.

He paused as we collected ourselves. And then he asked forgiveness of the crowd if he hadn’t included their song. We all laughed!

I loved that this person, an avowed non-believer, proclaimed a bedrock principle of Christianity, “Forgiveness.” Yes, forgiveness provides for the opportunity for reconciliation of broken relationships, for love, for joy, for unity.

One of the prayers in the Marriage ceremony goes like this, “Make their life together a sign of Christ’s love to this sinful and broken world, that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair.”

This certainly goes for couples in marriage. And it goes for Marissathe slave-girl, Bobthe jailer and his household, and everyone here assembled today. It goes for our graduates, too. We pray for them, “Make their lives commencing now a sign of Christ’s love to this sinful and broken world, that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair.”

What if each one of us this morning marked as the beginning, the “commencement” of following Christ in that bedrock teaching of forgiveness and love.