Sunday, May 8, 2016

What Must I Do?



This is the last sermon in our series on the Acts of the Apostles: Who We Are.


John 17:20-23; Acts 16:16-34
May 8, 2016
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

I mentioned last week that these chapters of John’s Gospel we’ve been looking at are part of what is called Jesus’ “farewell discourse.” Last week the content of that discourse was essentially instructions about what the disciples were supposed to do after Jesus had left them. In this reading, there are no more instructions or assurances or commandments or suggestions. Jesus is simply praying for the disciples. By extension, Jesus is also praying for us. Let’s listen to his prayer in John 17:20-23

"I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 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. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 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.

The word of God for the people of God.

In our second reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, we are still with Paul and Silas, in the town of Philippi, in Eastern Europe. Today’s Scripture passage continues the story from last week. It is really a series of stories, linked together by themes of slavery, freedom and salvation. Our story begins in the public square of the town of Philippi. In last week’s scripture, Paul met Lydia at “the place of prayer.” Now he and Silas have met, apparently more than once, a very annoying woman! If you have ever known anyone who seems to attract controversy, you may have a sense of what it was like to travel with Paul. Let’s listen for the narrative in 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.

The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.


There is so much going on in these verses that it is almost like watching a movie plot unfold. If our movie were about slavery and freedom, we’d first call attention to the slave girl, contrasting her emancipation from the evil spirit that ruled her, with her continued slavery to those who owned her and used her.

Then we’d move our camera lens to the owners of the slave girl, enslaved to their money making scheme to such an extent that they bring charges against Paul and Silas. They are completely captive to their greed. They can’t exactly charge them with healing the slave girl, so, like any good movie villain, they bring false and trumped up charges.

Our next scene would be the townspeople stirred up against Paul and Silas, captive to the sin and violence that inhabits every human soul. Paul and Silas are then literally imprisoned. When the earthquake sets them free, we see clearly that they are not held by the chains, because their hearts and souls are captive to Jesus Christ. The jailer somehow recognizes this, and sees his need for salvation.

In fact, the jailer, in his despair, seems to be the only one who realizes what is going on.
He is the one who asks the central question: What must I do to be saved?

This would be the climax of our movie plot – the question on which everything turns. But we are church-goers, and not movie-makers, so our thoughts of course turn to the Christian view of salvation. What must I do to be saved? Paul and Silas answer “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

Like they did with Lydia, they speak a word of hope. And, as happened with Lydia, their message was welcomed, probably received with great relief. When their message is welcomed, they too are welcomed, with hospitality at the jailer’s home. The jailer’s gratitude is expressed in his care for them, feeding them and binding up their wounds. And he and all his household are baptized.

It’s easy to see in this story who is free and who is not. It may not be as easy to distinguish who is saved and who is not. The woman healed of the evil spirit – is she saved? from what?
She is still enslaved.

Are Paul and Silas saved?
Not from the beatings – the punishment for their act of healing.
Not from prison – the sentence for the unfounded charges.
Still, even in the darkness of a prison cell, they sing songs of praise to God.
They are saved from imprisonment, but when their chains fall away, they do not leave the jail. 
Instead, they stay, and bring salvation to the jailer.

For most of us, the word salvation brings to mind a personal salvation – a story like that of the jailer, who believes, and is saved. There are multiple Biblical perspectives of salvation –
there is the personal – God saves me;
the corporate – God saves a people;
the global – God is saving the world.

And there are multiple Biblical perspectives on how salvation happens –
in a moment of individual belief;
as an ongoing process – “you who are being saved,” Paul says the epistles,
as a continuing action of God through the Holy Spirit for the world.

Our Bible study material a few years ago illustrated salvation with the story of Emmanuel Kelly, a performer on the British TV show, the X Factor. That show is one of those talent shows, like “The Voice” and “American Idol.” Emmanuel Kelly came onto the stage a few years ago, a slight, dark-haired and olive skinned young man whose undeveloped arms and uneven gait drew questioning looks from the judges.

Emmanuel told the viewers how he had been rescued by his mother from an orphanage in Iraq. Emmanuel and his brother, who also has undeveloped limbs as a result of chemical warfare, were left at the orphanage in a cardboard box. They were taken from the orphanage to Australia for medical care by a woman named Moira Kelly, who later adopted them both. Emmanuel wowed the judges and viewers with his performance.

Our Bible study material asked: In what ways is Emmanuel’s story one of salvation?
But I wanted to know more about this woman, Emmanuel’s mother, the woman who adopted two sons, both of them with serious disabilities, from a war-torn country.

Turns out she’s a story in and of herself.

Here’s some of the Wikipedia entry on this amazing mother: as an 8-year-old, she saw a documentary film about Mother Teresa and decided she wanted to be an aid worker

As a primary school student in Carlton, she would climb the fence of her school to help feed the children at the special school next door. After high school, she completed a course to be a special education teaching assistant then trained as a lay missionary and completed a course to be a probation officer with young offenders. She was a "house mother" at an Aboriginal mission.

Next, she sold her car to finance her airfare, and left for Calcutta to work with Mother Teresa's mission. She remained in India with Mother Teresa for six months. She returned the following year to continue working with Mother Teresa. She continued her work with young people in the United States, in the Bronx, and then went to work in a refugee camp in Bosnia and Herzegovina, opening two pharmacies, starting a free mobile dental health care clinic, starting a home care program, organizing the emergency medical evacuation of patients to hospitals overseas, and developing education and recreation programs.

Later, Kelly she set up the non-profit organization Children First Foundation. The foundation facilitated medical treatment for children in developing countries. It was in that capacity that Moira Kelly brought Emmanuel and his brother back from Iraq. She’s received multiple awards and international recognition for her work. But her son didn’t mention any of that in his interviews. Emmanuel Kelly talked about how his mother loved him, cared for him, encouraged him, and helped him believe in himself. And she’s his mum – she told him that even if he is a big time X Factor singer, he still has to clean his room.

Moira Kelly is a practicing Christian, a woman whose life is grounded in her faith, whose purpose and meaning emerge from her Christianity. She, too, is a person who has received salvation. Moira Kelly is not loved by God because she does these things. She does these things because she is loved by God. Her work on behalf of others is not done so that God will save her. Her works are because God has already saved her.

Emmanuel loves her because she is his mother, not because she is an internationally recognized humanitarian. She loves her son because he is her son, not because he made it onto a television show, or even because he cleans his room!

Like the jailer, we may ask, “What must I do?” Paul and Silas answer, “Simply believe.”
Salvation comes easily, as a gift of freedom. Our appropriate response is gratitude and hospitality, sharing blessings with others, caring for those who are in need,
offering the same salvation that we have received.

Not because of who they are, but because of who we are. 

Amen.

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