St. Matthew’s Sermon 06-02-2019


St. Matthew’s Sermon 06-02-2019

Missed Opportunity

Acts 16:16-34 (adding 35-39), Psalm 97, Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21, John 17:20-26

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

Today’s reading from the book of Acts is already a little long, and I made it longer by adding the closing verses to the Lectionary assigned story. I just hate when a reading gets cut short of what my message requires.

Anyway, we are hearing of Paul’s mission to the Roman colony- city of Philippi where he didn’t find a Synagogue and went outside the city limits looking for a gathering place of scattered Jews that may have settled in the city. He does find a few and spends time with them, teaching and preaching the Good News.

Coming to today’s reading we hear of a slave girl with “a spirit of divination” who kept harassing them; day after day, she shouts “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.”

One might wonder why Paul found this annoying; on the surface at least, she is speaking truth; Paul often refers to himself as a slave (or servant) of God; the one God, the “God Most High”. But this is a foreign city in a foreign land, influenced by Greek and Roman culture where the pagan God, Zeus, is also referred to as “The God most high” so assuming that she is referring to the God of Israel may be problematic.

It seems Paul was aware of this and though he tried to not make a scene and resisted the opportunity to cast the spirit out of her for a while, he finally got his fill and did so, much to the chagrin of her owners whose favorable income was suddenly cut-off.

Not being ones to miss an opportunity to exact revenge, the slave owners haul Paul and Silas to court. But just like we often see in our modern world, they don’t bring up charges for the girls loss of ability as a fortuneteller, rather they play the race and ethnic card to get the magistrate and the crowd on their side; These men are Jews, their disturbing the peace and advocating customs unlike ours.

(Sound familiar?)

It works; Paul and Silas don’t even get the opportunity to speak in their own defense, they’re convicted by popular opinion and, even though their accusers don’t get compensation for the loss of income, they do get the revenge they seek and the opportunity to see these despicable foreigners beaten and hauled off to jail.

The scene changes and brings more unexpected activity. Paul and Silas are locked up securely, their feet on stocks in a dark, windowless room but do they spend their time in frustration or anger? No, they take their down time as an opportunity to “pray and sing hymns to God”!

God hears their prayers and strikes the jailhouse with an earthquake powerful enough to release the bonds and open all the doors. But, yet another unexpected twist, the prisoners don’t take the opportunity to flee.

The jailer doesn’t realize this right away, assuming that they would have taken the opportunity to run like anyone else would have, he prepares to take his own life rather than face a torturous death inflicted by the authorities for allowing prisoners under his charge to escape.

Still more unexpected activity; fearing for his life, and fearful of the series of bewildering events taking place, the jailer asks “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” That question is answered with another unexpected twist. Where he is asking about having his life saved, Paul responds with how he can have his soul saved, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household”!

And, yet another opportunity is taken in a difficult situation; Paul seizes the opportunity to preach the word of God to one that could justifiably be considered his enemy and gains a convert! And another twist; the jailer turns completely around from being an uncompassionate link in the brutal legal system of Rome to gently washing the wounds of his prisoners and welcoming them to a meal within his home. Then “he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God”; proven by his shift to mercy and hospitality!

Oddly, Paul and Silas are now on good terms with the jailer, but they aren’t yet free to go, and he isn’t yet at liberty to let them go; they spend another night. And with the coming of the new day we find a new twist in the story and more opportunity.

 Word comes from the magistrate, without explanation, that Paul and Silas are free to go but suddenly things are spun around again as Paul, for the first time ever, announces that he and Silas are Roman citizens which, in turn, jeopardizes the authorities. You see, just like in nations today, there are different rules in the justice system for citizens and for noncitizens. So Paul insists on facing them and receiving an apology from them; taking advantage of this opportunity to clear his and Silas’ names and to remind them of the need for more attentive judgment in their future cases.

It’s been a long journey for us to follow Paul and Silas step by step through this story. It’s been a long two days for Paul and Silas; a lot has happened, some by fate and some by the hand of God; all starting when Paul lost his cool and cast a spirit out of a slave girl. But from that point on, every negative became an opportunity for a positive.

Paul and Silas were beaten and jailed unjustly but it gave them the opportunity to pause, pray, and sing praises to God.

With the earthquake they could have taken the opportunity to run, but if they had they would have become fugitives rather than justified freed men.

Though they were victims of vengeance, they didn’t seek vengeance when they could have had the satisfaction of seeing the jailer take his own life; but instead turned it into an opportunity to win another soul, in fact a household of souls.

They could have avoided the discomfort and risk of facing the unjust magistrate by walking away when they were released, but they took the opportunity to call for correction of the justice system.

And, once it was all over, and the right opportunities taken, they were free to continue the work of spreading the Good News as good men, worthy of the call of God.

There is much to be learned from this story, not only about how Paul and the other Apostles worked at delivering the Gospel to the world, but also about how we can continue that mission with our lives today; by passively resisting injustice, lifting up the fallen, putting another’s salvation above our desire for revenge, recognizing and seizing the opportunities to do good in the face of evil, and keeping ourselves credible ambassadors of God’s Word.

Amen

 

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

36 And the jailer reported the message to Paul, saying, “The magistrates sent word to let you go; therefore come out now and go in peace.”

37 But Paul replied, “They have beaten us in public, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they going to discharge us in secret? Certainly not! Let them come and take us out themselves.”

38 The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens;

39 so they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city.
Psalm 97
97:1 The LORD is king! Let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!
97:2 Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
97:3 Fire goes before him, and consumes his adversaries on every side.
97:4 His lightnings light up the world; the earth sees and trembles.
97:5 The mountains melt like wax before the LORD, before the Lord of all the earth.
97:6 The heavens proclaim his righteousness; and all the peoples behold his glory.
97:7 All worshipers of images are put to shame, those who make their boast in worthless idols; all gods bow down before him.
97:8 Zion hears and is glad, and the towns of Judah rejoice, because of your judgments, O God.
97:9 For you, O LORD, are most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods.
97:10 The LORD loves those who hate evil; he guards the lives of his faithful; he rescues them from the hand of the wicked.
97:11 Light dawns for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart.
97:12 Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name!

Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
22:12 “See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work.
22:13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
22:14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.
22:16 “It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”
22:17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.
22:20 The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
22:21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.

John 17:20-26
17:20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word,
17:21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
17:22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one,
17:23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
17:24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
17:25 “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me.
17:26 I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and
I in them.”