Sunday’s sermon: Every Time I Pray

Text used – Philippians 1:1-18

  • For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been following Paul’s travels through various parts of the Roman empire as he set up churches and shared the good news of the gospel.
    • Last week: talked about how Paul ended up in Athens via Thessalonica and Beroea
    • Week before that: talked about Paul and Silas’ imprisonment in Philippi
    • Today’s Scripture reading is a little like one of those scenes in a movie when they cut away from the plot line – from all of the happenings – to one of the characters writing later about his or her reflections on the happenings.
      • Writing a journal entry
      • Writing a memoir
      • Writing a letter to someone else → I picture it sort of like the 1987 classic film “84 Charing Cross Road,”[1] the movie with Anthony Hopkins and Anne Bancroft.
        • Bancroft = woman from New York City seeking some particular out-of-print books who writes to a bookshop in London
        • Hopkins = one of the owners of the bookshop
        • Two correspond back and forth via letter for decades and end up developing a close friendship
        • Format of the film: scenes of Bancroft and Hopkins going about their normal lives with their families and friends overlayed with sections of them speaking aloud their letters to one another
      • And that’s sort of how I picture today’s reading from Philippians. → book of Philippians = one of the letter written by Paul to a congregation that he had started elsewhere
        • Books of 1 and 2 Corinthians = Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth
        • Books of 1 and 2 Thessalonians = Paul’s letters to the church in Thessalonica
        • Book of Philippians = Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi → Yup … the same city in which Paul and Silas had been imprisoned. The city of the fortune-telling slave girl, the earthquake at the prison, and the prison guard who became a Christian along with his whole household.
  • So before we dig further into this morning’s text, I want to set the Philippian scene a little bit for you this morning. – excerpts from “Introduction” section of commentary on Philippians from The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series[2] → Let this paint a bit of a picture for you. 

“Philippi was a fairly small city in the first century CE (approx. 10,000 inhabitants) … Philippi had originally flourished because of gold mines nearby, but these had been worked out long before the first century CE, and the city was important mainly as an agricultural center, being situated on the edge of a fertile plain where grain and wine were produced. … The fact that the city was a Roman colony gave its citizen great privileges, for they enjoyed considerable property and legal rights and were exempt from the taxes imposed on those without this status. Citizens of the colony were also citizens of Rome, and the city’s administration was modeled on that of Rome. … When Paul came to Philippi, therefore, he would have found a stable nucleus of Roman citizens, many of whom were Italian by birth and who constituted the aristocracy of the city. He would have found Roman administration and discipline as well as Roman culture. The official language was Latin … and the city was loyal to Rome, which meant, among other things, that the cult of the emperor would have been much in evidence. [The “cult of the emperor” was the Roman practice of worshipping the emperor, and, by extension, his family, as divine. It’s a practice that was begun with Julius Caesar in 44 BCE.] … No archaeological evidence has been found for a Jewish presence in the city … [so] Paul’s converts would have been entirely, or almost entirely, Gentile.”

    • So that gives you some insight into who Paul was writing to – the people, the culture, and the geographic nuances of Philippi.
    • A bit of other pertinent information → Many of Paul’s other letters that made their way into the New Testament canon are letters that address a particular issue that the church was going through at the time.
      • E.g.s
        • Galatians = letter written by Paul to churches in Galatia that had received other Jewish-Christian missionaries who were preaching “a different gospel” and trying to force the practice of circumcision on new Christians[3]
        • 1 Thessalonians = letter written by Paul to church in Thessalonica (reminder: Thessalonica = city that Paul and Silas were chased out of because the Jews in that city were angry that Paul was welcoming Gentiles into this new Christian subculture) → purpose of 1 Thess is to encourage the believers there to stay the course – to remain strong in their faith – despite opposition and even outright hostility from non-believers[4]
        • Ephesians = broad letter intended for multiple communities written by Paul to address importance of incorporating Gentiles with the people of Israel in the new creation that God had planned from the beginning → emphasis on unity and community[5]
      • But the book of Philippians is different. There doesn’t really seem to be any major issue that Paul feels the need to address in this letter.
        • Touches on a few points of theological clarification and teaching
        • Spends a very short time (1 single verse) on mildly rebuking a few of the local leaders who seem to be in disagreement with one another[6]
        • But on the whole, the purpose for this particular letter from Paul seems to be wholly and utterly joyful. Paul is expressing his encouragement for the Christians in Philippi and the work that they’re doing. Paul is expressing his thanksgiving for his faith and the ways that their faith bolsters his own. And of course, Paul is expressing praise for the person and work of Jesus Christ.
          • Summed up nicely by scholar: The passage that opens the apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi is striking in its emotion and intimacy. It suggests a deep, and potentially enduring, relationship. The key theological themes are remembering, joy, and fellowship. Paul’s recollection elicits thanksgiving, his joy is rooted in shared tribulation, and the longing for fellowship can only be fulfilled in Christ.[7]
  • One of the main emphases throughout this passage = concept of koinonia
    • Powerful concept throughout Paul’s NT writings
    • Powerful concept within the mission and worship and identity of the early Church
      • Rev. Dr. Katherine Shaner, ordained ELCA minister and assoc. prof. of NT at Wake Forest University School of Divinity: A koinonia in the ancient world is literally a partnership. And not just a “hey, we’re all on the same team” partnership. It’s a partnership that is formalized, recognizable to the outside, and often with tangible goals. Oftentimes it is a share in a financial or another kind of large valuable entity. Even in our own world, whether it’s a share in a stock, or a share in a home, or a share in another kind of property, we make these partnerships all the time. But we rarely think of the ancient world as having such partnerships—particularly when the shares are shares in the Gospel.[8] → And how often do we think about our faith like that? How often do we think about our faith as a valuable share in the work of the Gospel? But truly, that’s what we’re doing here this morning. That’s what we do whenever we gather here whether it’s for worship, for fellowship, even for Christmas cookie sales or cleaning days or major milestone celebrations like our 150th anniversary coming up. We’re gathering together because of the partnership that we find here. We’re gathering together because of the partnership that we’ve formed here – a partnership that we form and re-form and re-form every single time we come together as a community of faith. We’re gathering to regenerate our spirits and our minds with our shares in the Gospel – that message of God’s love for us and for the world, a love so big and so wide and so strong that it took Jesus to the cross, to the grave, and back again.
        • Paul’s words from our passage this morning: This is my prayer: that your love might become even more and more rich with knowledge and all kinds of insight. I pray this so that you will be able to decide what really matters and so you will be sincere and blameless on the day of Christ. I pray that you will then be filled with the fruit of righteousness, which comes from Jesus Christ, in order to give glory and praise to God.[9]
          • Gr. “more rich” = even more effusive than our translation this morning makes it sound → literally “overflow,” more than what is ordinary or necessary[10]
            • Outstanding
            • Abounding
            • Above and beyond
          • NOTICE: It’s not your faith that Paul wants to see grow “more rich” (though that’s definitely a part of it). It’s not your perfection. It’s not your beauty or your wealth or your success or any of those other measures that society likes to uphold. → Paul: “This is my prayer: that your love might become even more and more rich with knowledge and all kinds of insights.”
  • I have to be honest with you, friends, I feel like this passage is such a passage for the times in which we are currently living.
    • Hard time
    • Divisive times
    • Angry and hateful times
    • People I know who have long been “news hounds” – who have always tried to keep up with the headlines and what’s happening around the world – have stopped checking their news sources because all of the anger and fear and mistrust and disinformation and ugliness that is spilling out all over the place is just making it too dang hard for them to be a good human right now. And I get that! I don’t know about you, but I feel a little bit like a prize fighter that’s been in the ring too long and has taken too many hits.
      • Spirit is aching
      • Mind and my soul feel battered and bruised
      • But even in the face of all that pain and brutality, I feel like I could stand up here and preach Paul’s words directly to you this morning because even nearly 2000 years after they were written, they are still true.
        • Text: I thank my God every time I mention you in my prayers. I’m thankful for all of you every time I pray, and it’s always a prayer full of joy. I’m glad because of the way you have been my partners in the ministry of the gospel from the time you first believed it until now. I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus. I have good reason to think this way about all of you because I keep you in my heart. You are all my partners in God’s grace.[11]
          • Truly, friends, I do indeed thank God every time I mention you in prayer. I am thankful for you – for who you are, for what you do for me and for this congregation and for the love and work of God out in the world. And I am thankful for this community – all that it has been, all that it is, and all that I know it can be. With Paul, I am glad, and I’ll continue to be glad. Alleluia! Amen.

[1] 84 Charing Cross Road, directed by David Hugh Jones (1987; Culver City: Columbia Pictures, 1987), DVD.

[2] Morna D. Hooker. “The Letter to the Philippians: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 11. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000), 469-471.

[3] Richard B. Hays. “The Letter to the Galatians: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 11. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000), 184.

[4] Abraham Smith. “The First Letter to the Thessalonians: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 11. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000), 682.

[5] Pheme Perkins. “The Letter to the Ephesians: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 11. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000), 362, 365.

[6] Eph 4:2.

[7] James H. Evans, Jr. “Second Sunday in Advent – Philippians 1:3-11 – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 38.

[8] Katherine A. Shaner. “Commentary on Philippians 1:1-18a” from Working Preacher, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/narrative-lectionary/partnership-in-the-gospel-2/commentary-on-philippians-11-18a-3.

[9] Phil 1:9-11.

[10] Exegesis by Rev. Elana Keppel Levy: https://somuchbible.com/word-studies/annotated-scripture/philippians-11-18a/.

[11] Phil 1:3-7.

Sunday’s sermon: To An Unknown God

Text used – Acts 17:16-31

  • We humans have such an odd relationship with the unknown.
    • Certainly experience some fear/trepidation toward the unknown
      • Scariest part of any psychological thriller/horror movie = part where camera focuses in on the face of the whoever’s acting in the scene → hear the scary/suspenseful music + see the dawning horror on the person’s face → But we can’t actually see what they’re afraid of … and those few drawn out moments of not being able to see is worse than anything else.
      • Human’s innate fear of the dark → story of having to empty the food scraps bucket as a kid
      • Fear that comes with any the unknown of medical/health situation as well, either for ourselves or for our loved ones → In those first moments – those moments when we first realize that something in wrong, those moments between any tests or examinations and any results, those moments right after we’ve received a diagnosis – we are overwhelmed with the magnitude of the unknown.
    • And yet, as human beings, we are also fascinated by the unknown.
      • Quote from famed British author/essaying Aldous Huxley: There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.
      • Fascination that has fueled every scientific breakthrough since the first humans started investigating and inventing things
        • Stunning example of that this past week: initial test images from the James Webb Space Telescope that were released this week revealed never-before-captured images of Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way → what scientists call the “gentle giant” whose gravitational pull literally holds our everything together[1]
      • Fascination that extends far beyond the realm of the real into the vast reaches of the fictional → Anytime anyone imagines what could be in the unknown, a story is born.
        • Fictional representations of what could have been in the past – in the blacked-out sections of history that have been lost to time and memory → either what has been lost in the historical record or what was never a part of the historical record to begin with
          • E.g. – author Ken Follett’s Kingsbridge series (books: The Evening and the Morning[2], Pillars of the Earth[3], World Without End[4], and A Column of Fire[5]) imagines the building of a great cathedral in a small English village and the life that goes on around it throughout the centuries → It’s a series based in historical fact but fueled by the unknown storylines of people’s lives.
        • And, of course, fictional representations of the future – what could be called the Greatest Unknown.

    • And truly, throughout history the Church has played a significant part in wondering about the unknown. I mean, in essence, that’s faith, right?
      • Can’t empirically prove the existence of God
      • Some of the more mystical, complex elements of theology/tradition: doctrine of the Trinity → how God can be both three persons (God, Christ, and Holy Spirit) and yet one eternal God
      • Can’t even wrap our minds around all that God is because … well, because God is God and we are not.
      • And so in that space of unknown between us and God, we find faith.
  • Today’s Scripture reading = fascinating e.g. of the interaction btwn. faith and unknowning → Paul’s experience in Athens
    • First, let’s back up for a little context. → only a few verses in between what we read last week and where our reading started this morning, but a lot of action in those verses
      • LAST WEEK: left Paul and Silas at the home of the prison guard in Philippi → Paul and Silas had been beaten and thrown in prison for their acts of witnessing (and for casting out the demon that enabled the slave girl to be a fortune teller and therefore losing her owners a lot of money) → Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns in the prison at midnight → earthquake broke all the chains and opened all the doors → Paul and Silas and the rest of the prisoners stayed put instead of fleeing à their actions and their faith inspired the prison guard and his entire household to be baptized and become followers of Christ
      • FROM THERE:
        • Paul and Silas journeyed to Thessalonica → experienced much resistance and persecution from Jews in that city (weren’t happy that so many Gentiles were included in this new Jesus movement) → formed a mob intent on arresting Paul and Silas (similar to the situation they experienced in Philippi) → found only the person who had been housing Paul and Silas in Thessalonica → jailed him and some other believers instead
        • Other believers help Paul and Silas to leave Thessalonica under the cover of night → Paul and Silas travel to Beroea (received a much more hospitable welcome) → But those from Thessalonica were still so outraged and worked up by what Paul and Silas had been doing there that they followed them to Beroea and began to stir up the crowds there as well!
        • Believers in Beroea sent Paul away to the coast for protection while Silas and others stayed in Beroea, panning to reunite with Paul as soon as possible
      • Verse just prior to today’s reading: Those who escorted Paul led him as far as Athens, then returned with instructions for Silas and Timothy to come to him as quickly as possible.[6]
    • As our passage for today begins, one of the scholars that I read this week summed up Paul’s situation pretty well: Here is Paul, alone in Athens, after being driven out of Philippi, Thessalonica, and Beroea, a solitary witness, once again trying to be faithful in yet another strange and complex situation.[7] → Clearly, Paul has his feet firmly planted in the unknown.
      • Unknown city
      • Unknown situation (on his own – without traveling companions or other believers for the first time in a long time)
      • Unknown culture → At the time, Athens was a highly learned city –a hub for intellectual and cultural life within the Roman empire teaming with scholars and philosophers, historians and poets, artists and architects, and so many more. Athens was, after all, the city of Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom. So anybody who was anybody in the ancient Roman world – or anybody who wanted to be anybody! – went to Athens to try to make their mark on society. And suddenly, not through his own planning but through the necessity of circumstances, Paul found himself in Athens alone.
    • To his credit, didn’t seem to quell Paul’s spirit – beginning of this morning’s text: While Paul waited for [Silas and Timothy] in Athens, he was deeply distressed to find that the city was flooded with idols. He began to interact with the Jews and Gentile God-worshippers in the synagogue. He also addressed whoever happened to be in the marketplace each day.[8]
      • Reminder of religious policy of the Roman Empire → For the most part, the Roman Empire left other religions alone so long as those adherents A) didn’t cause trouble for the Romans, and B) continued to do what the Romans required of them (pay taxes, mostly).
        • Jesus’ words from Mk: “Give to Caesar what belong to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”[9]
      • So with this policy, a place like Athens – a melting pot of people from all over the empire who had come to study and learn and flourish, a city full of people who would have brought their own religions with them from whatever corner of the empire they hailed from … a place like Athens would have been awash in various religious centers and shrines and all manner of worship necessities. And being the fervent evangelist that he was, Paul felt the need to speak.
    • Paul goes toe-to-toe with some of the philosophers → And poor Paul. He ends up getting dragged before another court! – text: They took him into custody and brought him to the council on Mars Hill.[10]
      • Mars Hill = rocky hill just outside Athens, meeting place of “the council of the Areopagites,” the court of Athens → dealt with all manner of issues: capitol crimes, legal matters, political issues, educational and religious affairs[11]
      • Yet even before this grand court in this intimidating setting, Paul speaks words of faith into the unknown! – text: Paul stood up in the middle of the council on Mars Hill and said, “People of Athens, I see that you are very religious in every way. As I was walking through town and carefully observing your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: ‘To an unknown God.’ What you worship as unknown, I now proclaim to you.”[12] → And from there, Paul goes on to tell the people about this previously unknown God.
        • God who created the earth and the heavens
        • God who created humanity in all our complexities and beauty, all our foibles and our imperfections
        • God who came to save God’s most beloved creations: us
  • And there are two powerful lessons for us to take away from Paul’s witness in this moment bursting with the unknown.
    • First: Paul’s conviction, Paul’s certainty → Paul doesn’t claim to have all the answers to every question that the council could ask, but when it comes to his faith, Paul stands firm.
      • Secure in his relationship with God
      • Secure in his trust in person and work of Jesus Christ
      • Secure in his call to share his faith with any and all
      • Just because the situation all around Paul is full of the unknown doesn’t mean that Paul has to let that unknown erode his conviction. Even with all that he’s been through, even with all that he is currently facing, even with all the unknowns that his own future holds, Paul stands firm in his faith.
    • Second: Paul doesn’t throw that firmness back in the faces of those listening to him → Paul cites his own convictions and his own experiences. He makes observations – observations, not judgments – about the city of Athens and the variety that he finds there. He draws in some cultural references that will mean something to those around him without warping or manipulating the culture. In all his witnessing, Paul doesn’t condemn the people of Athens. He doesn’t accuse the people of Athens. He doesn’t use his faith to threaten the people of Athens or to shame them for their unknowing. Paul simply declares the Good News of God in Christ Jesus to them, opening up a door to perception for the people of Athens in between their known and their unknown. And, friends, our challenge is to follow that example.
      • Scholar: The challenge is to say to those around us, “We see your spiritual hunger. Might we offer sustenance from our rich store of spiritual resource?” The challenge is to find the imagery and language that allow us to enter another’s world in order to speak our truth honestly, respectfully, and effectively. What does it mean to be so fully rooted and grounded in God, so centered in our own experience of the Christian story, that we cannot keep from sharing it?[13] → In the midst of all the unknowns in the world – the world around us and the world within us – “What does it mean to be so fully rooted and grounded in God, so centered in our own experience of the Christian story, that we cannot keep from sharing it?” Amen.

[1] Ashley Strickland. “New image reveals the ‘gentle giant’ at the heart of the Milky Way” from https://www.cnn.com/2022/05/14/world/milky-way-black-hole-science-newsletter-wt-scn/index.html.

[2] Ken Follett. The Evening and the Morning. (New York: Penguin Books), 2020.

[3] Ken Follett. Pillars of the Earth. (New York: New American Library), 1989.

[4] Ken Follett. World Without End. (New York: Penguin Books), 2010.

[5] Ken Follett. A Column of Fire. (New York: Viking), 2017.

[6] Acts 17:15.

[7] John S. McClure. “Sixth Sunday of Easter – Acts 17:22-31 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 473.

[8] Acts 17:16-17.

[9] Mk 12:17.

[10] Acts 17:19a.

[11] “Areopagus” from The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible – vol. 1, A-D. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962), 216-217.

[12] Acts 17:22-23.

[13] Randle R. (Rick) Mixon. “Sixth Sunday After Easter – Acts 17:22-31 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 476.

Sunday’s sermon: A Tale of Two Households

Female hands holding two houses.

Text used – Acts 16:16-34

  • This morning’s text, y’all … mmm, mmm, mmm! This morning’s text is one of those Biblical stories that could easily be it’s own Hollywood box office drama.
    • It has …
      • Intrigue
      • Action
      • An exorcism!
      • A courtroom (complete with false accusations!)
      • One of those “all was lost … but then!” moments
      • Prison AND a prison escape
      • And it ends with lives changed. Really, this story has it all!
    • It’s also one of those stories that we can pretty easily break down into two parts, and those parts are defined by two different households and the choices they make.
  • Before we dig into that, let’s take a minute for a little backstory for some context. → remind us how we got to where we are in Acts today
    • Reminder: Acts = continuation of account written by author of Luke’s gospel → so Acts = Good News, part II
    • Main character throughout most of Acts = Paul
      • Acts begins with disciples/Pentecost
      • Focuses on Peter for a few chs.
      • Enter Saul → Saul’s dramatic conversion → spends the rest of the book chronicling Saul/Paul’s many missional journeys to start churches and share the gospel of Jesus Christ far and wide
    • Leading up to today’s portion of the story = major drama!
      • Paul’s original traveling companion/evangelizing partner = Barnabas
        • Started a lot of churches together
        • Walked A LOT of miles together
        • Even put together their own ministry team with a few of their own followers/disciples
      • BUT backing up some verses from today’s passage, we read that Paul and Barnabas had an argument – text: Some time later, Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit all the brothers and sisters in every city where we preached the Lord’s word. Let’s see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John Mark with them. Paul insisted that they shouldn’t take him along, since he had deserted them in Pamphylia and hadn’t continued with them in their work. Their argument became so intense that they went their separate ways. Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus. Paul chose Silas and left, entrusted by the brothers and sisters to the Lord’s grace.[1]
  • Part 1: household of the slave woman
    • Like any good story, this one begins with sometime to draw us in right off the bat → Paul and Silas are out doing their work in God’s grace – “on the way to the place for prayer”[2] – when they come to the attention of this slave woman … a woman with an uncommon … gift?: “a spirit that enabled her to predict the future,” a spirit that enabled her to make a lot of money for her owners[3]
      • Interesting bit that gets lost a little bit in our translation: Gr. translated as “slave” when describing the woman is the same Gr. translated as “servant” when describing Paul and Silas → Is there an element of choice involved in this? The woman is indentured. Her freedom is not her own. Paul and Silas are devoted to the service of God. Through this service, they find an ultimate and eternal freedom – the freedom of Christ.
    • Maybe it’s this servitude connection that draws this woman to Paul and Silas. We don’t really know. But whatever draws her, it’s a powerful, persistent draw! – text: She began following Paul and us, shouting, “These people are servants of the Most High God! They are proclaiming a way of salvation to you!” She did this for many days.[4]
      • Draw that’s so powerful and persistent that it eventually pushes Paul over the edge → Paul finally turns to her and casts out the spirit that’s been enabling her to predict the future → And we can’t really blame Paul, right? Remember, time-wise we aren’t that far removed from Jesus being arrested, tried, convicted, and killed for spreading the message of God’s love and grace. And how Paul and Silas are going around trying to spread the same message. And here comes this woman shouting and pointing and drawing attention to them again and again and again. I mean, really, if someone was following you around all day shouting about your business and drawing attention in a time and place when it wasn’t entirely safe for that business, you might get a little testy, too, right?!
      • Fears are justified → action and attention ended up coming back on Paul and Silas in spades – text: Her owners realized that their hope for making money was gone. They grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them before the officials in the city center. → And this is where the choice comes in. Just like everyone else within earshot of this woman, her owners surely must’ve heard (or at least heard about) her claims as to who Paul and Silas were.
        • Must’ve heard about their mission
        • Must’ve heard about their message
        • Must’ve heard about their faith
        • In fact, we know they did because of what they said in front of the court: They said, “These people are causing an uproar in our city. They are Jews who promote customs that we Romans can’t accept or practice.”[5] So they knew that Paul and Silas were proclaiming a message of faith and witness. And they could have paused to listen – to let that message seep into their minds, into their hearts, into their spirits. They could have given the word of God a chance to work in and through them. But instead, they chose to follow the way of greed. Their fortune-telling, money-making slave was no good to them anymore, and that was what mattered to them: recompense and revenge. They actively chose to reject the work and worship of God.
    • Result: Crowd joins in the attacks against Paul and Silas (as crowds so often do) → authorities order Paul and Silas to be stripped, beaten, and thrown in prison “with great care”[6]
      • “with great care” = challenging translation → sounds soft and maybe even compassionate BUT Gr. here is more forceful and restrictive, more like “thrown them securely in prison” or “in prison beyond a doubt”
        • See this in the description of Paul and Silas’ imprisonment – text: When [the jailer] received these instructions, he threw them into the innermost cell and secured their feet with stocks.[7]
  • Brings us to part 2: household of the jailer himself (different household, much different choice)
    • Despite their imprisonment, Paul and Silas are “praying and singing hymns to God”[8]
      • Maybe for their own benefit → to keep their own spirits lifted
      • Maybe for the benefit of those around us (text: the other prisoners were listening to them[9]
      • Surely, though, God was listening to them. – text: All at once there was such a violent earthquake that it shook the prison’s foundations. The doors flew open and everyone’s chains came loose.[10] → In this darkest and most desperate moment, Paul and Silas are displaying a strong and wholly devoted faith. And God’s response to that faith is equally strong. Not only are Paul and Silas’ chains released, but every door in the prison is opened and every chain is loosed.
        • Brings to mind God’s promise through Is (words that were probably running through Paul’s mind as well, since he’d been a Temple scholar before his conversion): God has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release for captives, and liberation for prisoners[11]
    • Clearly a situation that presented the jailer with his worst nightmare → jailer (who had been asleep) wakes up to find every door in the prison open and assumes that all the prisoners have fled → literally about to fall on his own sword rather than risk the wrath of the Romans over having lost every single prisoner → Paul stops him: “Don’t harm yourself! We’re all here!”[12] → jailer is so overcome with disbelief and gratitude that he falls on his knees before Paul and Silas à leads them out of their bondage and out of the jail himself and asks the ultimate question: “Honorable masters, what must I do to be rescued?”
      • More familiar version of this question: “What must I do to be saved?
        • Heard similar question asked of Jesus by the rich young ruler in the gospels
        • And truly, this is the It’s the question that’s the whole point of Paul and Silas’ many journeys. It’s the question that’s the point of their work and their message, their witness and their prayers. “What must I do to be saved?” And so they give the jailer the answer that they have given to so many before him and will give to so many after him: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your entire household.” They spoke the Lord’s word to him and everyone else in his house.[13] → And so the jailer is present with The Choice.
          • To believe or not to believe
          • To embrace faith or not to embrace faith
          • To give their hearts, their minds, their lives to God … or not
    • And, of course, the jailer makes the opposite choice that the slave woman’s household makes – text: Right then, in the middle of the night, the jailer welcomed them and washed their wounds. He and everyone in his household were immediately baptized. He brought them into his home and gave them a meal. He was overjoyed because he and everyone in his household had come to believe in God.[14] → And I have to point out that the ending of this story is just as important as the rest of it because not only are we given the jailer’s choice – to choose faith, to choose God – but we’re given a glimpse into just how immediate and life-changing that choice can be.
      • Affects the jailer’s action
      • Affects the jailer’s spirit
      • Immediately upon actively choosing God, the jailer acts in compassion and hospitality to those on the margin – those he had literally just released from his own prison. He takes these men into his own home, bandages their wounds, and gives them something to eat. And not only are his actions affected, but his state of being is affected as well. We’re told that the jailer was “overjoyed” because he and his whole household had come to believe in God.
        • Gr. really interesting word here → denoted the physical act of rejoicing but also includes an internal causality for that rejoicing → makes the joy a central part of the subject’s sense of self instead of just a reaction to some external event → Because of his choice – because he chose God – the jailer was given joy – joy on an essential, elemental level … a kind of joy that can’t be taken away.
    • And friends, we are given that same choice each and every day. When we wake up in the morning, do we choose God? As we go about our days – the rollercoaster of ups and downs as well as the most tedious moments – do we choose God? In the ways we interact with others, do we choose God? As we wind down at night and prepare for sleep, do we choose God? At the very core of who we are, do we choose God? Amen.

[1] Acts 15:36-40.

[2] Acts 16:16.

[3] Acts 16:16.

[4] Acts 16:17.

[5] Acts 16:20-21.

[6] Acts 16:23.

[7] Acts 16:24.

[8] Acts 16:25.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Acts 16:26.

[11] Is 61:1.

[12] Acts 16:28.

[13] Acts 16:31-32.

[14] Acts 16:33-34.