June 3, 2019
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church
June 2, 2019
The Reverend Rick Veit
What would you have done?
Today, in the reading from Acts, we learned about the continuing saga of the early days of the Christian Church. Jesus, their leader and messiah, the Son of God, had been executed by the Roman Government. He had been turned in to the authorities by members of his own faith community. And after his death, God raised him, giving him life, thereby offering all of God’s people life after death. But who are God’s people?
A few weeks ago, we learned of a controversy where Peter, one of Jesus’ closest disciples, began teaching that both members of their faith community, the Jewish and non-Jewish people, could receive the benefits from God, could have a relationship with God. In fact, his message that he saw in a dream was that all people could receive God’s love. This was hugely controversial. The faith community thought that they had privileged status with God. However, Peter learned a different message through his dream.
We hold on tightly to what we believe to be true in life and in faith and with all morals and values (tight fist). And we remain wide open to any new message from God that may teach us something completely new (open palm).
Last week, we learned about two other disciples of Jesus, Lydia and Paul. Paul had originally been an enemy of Christianity. But God changed his heart so that love would spread throughout the world. Paul also had had a dream, a vision. He was supposed to travel many miles to Macedonia. Why? Because people needed help there. It was actually similar to Peter’s message. Every non-Jewish person throughout the world needed help just like every Jew. They all needed to know that God loved them and had compassion, and that he wanted them to share that love and compassion with others.
When Paul arrived, he met a successful business owner named Lydia. She was a spiritual and prayerful person who had never known Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. And after meeting with Paul, Lydia and her household were baptized. Without hesitation, now filled with love and compassion and hospitality, Lydia virtually commanded Paul and his followers to stay with her at her home and she offered them food and sustenance.
Today, we continued to learn about the early Christian faith community. Paul and his disciples, including a man named Silas, went on after staying with Lydia to find the other places and people that God wanted them to help and to share the message of the Good News of Jesus Christ. They finally arrived at their destination in Philippi, Macedonia. It was a dangerous place to share the faith in their king, their God with whom they put their complete trust. It was a Roman colony who had a dictator and government that did not want to hear about any other ruler other than their own.
The disciples went to a place of prayer and met a slave girl who had a demon inside her. She was filled with evil, filled with the challenges of life. She mocked them, saying, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, a God who promises to love, not hate, a God who promises salvation – ‘ha!’” Paul, very frustrated, said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” Miraculously, the evil, the challenges that she had inside of her, came out that very hour. She received healing from the Lord.
Now this infuriated her owners. They were making money off of her evil ways. She would tell people’s fortunes and then require them to pay her for the “pretend” godly advice. The woman’s owners dragged Paul and Silas into the marketplace before the authorities. They said, “These men are disturbing our city. They are Jews who are trying to push their customs on to us, customs that are unlawful for us as Romans.”
According to one historian, the initial charge appealed to Roman anti-Semitism, but was without legal merit. It did, however, incite prejudice against Jews in a pagan marketplace, sparking the crowd’s hostilities against Paul. The second charge appealed to the legal “principle of incompatibility” according to which it is considered unlawful within the premises of a Roman colony to proselytize converts to a non-Roman cult. This charge, however, was also without merit since by Paul’s day the principle was no longer followed in legal practice.
The disciples are not given a chance to defend their actions and are, instead, attacked by the crowd and stripped of their clothing and beaten at the order of the magistrates. They were then thrown into prison.
So, what would you have done?
The reaction to all of this by Paul and Silas was nothing short of miraculous. Their reaction after being beaten unjustly by the people and the courts…was to pray and to sing hymns to God. They didn’t fight back. They didn’t yell at everyone. They were sent to help people in Philippi, and when they were confronted with the challenges set before them, they began to pray and sing. And other 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 prison guard awoke and saw the doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to commit suicide since his prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Stop it! For we are all here. We did not leave you.” They could have escaped! But God wanted them to stay, stay in this dangerous environment…maybe so the man would not commit suicide, maybe so the man would know love and forgiveness, know Jesus Christ. This guard fell down trembling, in need of help. And he says, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They responded, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Then, the jailer, the “enemy”, filled with the spirit of hospitality and love, took them, the very people he was supposed to keep in prison, and washed their wounds. He cared for them. And, just as we learned last week, God pulled a reverse. Paul and Silas went to Philippi to help them. But in return, God ended up helping Paul and Silas. And the guard and his entire household were baptized without delay. Just like Lydia, the guard brought them to his house and fed them, and they all found joy.
When and where has God called you to serve? Your job, at home, in school, at church. And what was, what is your response? Pray, sing, take action when people are in need?
Last week, we had another profound moment here, didn’t we. As I was preaching about my Easter sermon where we as a community responded to a visitor’s need for help, literally as I was preaching about it at the 10:30 a.m. service, a man walks into the sanctuary, having a huge bag probably filled with his belongings. He walks right up to the front row and sits down. At the end of my sermon, as we stood for the Creed and continued with the Prayers of the People, he walks right up to me and begins crying, pleading with me to pray for his friend or family member who recently died. Eric continued with the Prayers. And when he finished, we then prayed for Russell, Wade’s friend, just as he had pleaded. THEN, another man walked up to us and yelled, “Stop it.” He then handed Wade some money. “Oh, my,” I said. Then, very calmly, one of our ushers, Foy, came walking up the center aisle to help the man. A few of our parishioners brought him up to the parish hall and offered him some food and sat with him and cared for him.
We were brought into our own drama of faith just like Paul and Silas and Lydia and the prison guard. I believe as a St. Mark’s Community, we responded faithfully. Hopefully, that man knew the love of Jesus, the love of a community, a family. He is our family, right? We offered him prayer and help. And, in a reverse from God, I believe that we were blessed because of it.
Be ready. We have no idea when God will send us another opportunity.
Maybe it is today, here, and especially out there.
What would you have done? What will you do?