Sermon Ideas 4U - Archived Sermons -- AFTER Advent 2002
This page is in honour of the 'pesky, perpetual, predictable and persistent return of the Sabbath'!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The United Church has a great online bookstore and here is the link.
If you live in Canada they will even send you a book display for your event and people who dont get to see that many books at once can have a ball!
May 12, 2013 -- Season of Easter
May 12, 2013 -- Season of Easter
Acts 16: 16-34
Revelation 22: 12-14, 16-17, 20-21
John 17: 20-26
Hogan’s Heroes is the wacky tv series from the ‘60s and ‘70s, set in “Stalag 13", a Prisoner of War for camp in Germany. Presided over by the totally inept Colonel Wilhelm Klink and Sargent Hans Schultz this camp is apparently the only one from which no prisoner has ever escaped; a fact which Klink is always reminding his sceptical superiors. In fact, there has been no escape from Stalag 13 because underneath this camp is a network of tunnels and the prisoners can practically come and go as they please.
We all know that the reality of a POW camps was very, very, different and those involved in resisting the Nazis took much greater risks than Colonel Hogan and his band of merry prisoners.
The story of Paul and Silas in jail could be billed as “the story of the prison beak that never was”. It is part two of the story of the apostles work in Macedonia that we began last week with the story of meeting Lydia at a riverside “place of prayer”.
This week’s reading has them returning, once again, to that same place of prayer and encountering another woman whose healing lands them in jail where an earthquake takes place leading them to other converts and leaving town to proclaim the Good News of Jesus elsewhere.
What can we learn from the somewhat odd story told in this passage. First, this passage calls us to reflect upon the nature of power and freedom. Secondly it asks us to look at the cost of discipleship and exercising that freedom. Thirdly, the true freedom offered by Christ breaks down the barriers human beings have constructed.
First, what does this text say about the nature of power and freedom. Last week we met Lydia, a wealthy woman of business able to make decisions, both for herself, and for her entire household. This slave girl we meet today does not even have a name and is not able to make any of her own decisions. In a way she represents all of those “nameless” and “voiceless ones” around the world who cry out for our attention. We are the only ones who can grant them freedom.
Mentally, this girt is possessed by what is referred to as a “spirit of divination”, which gives her the ability be a fortune teller. Physically, she is a slave, a possession and must do what she is told. We are told that she has made her owners wealthy.
You could say that this story proves the rather cynical proverb that “no good deed goes unpunished”. Paul’s “good deed” of healing this woman, has deprived some people of their lucrative source of income. These people apparently have the ear of the magistrate and Paul and Silas are brought to the marketplace to be tried on charges of being a danger to peace, order and good government - when we know the real reason is that in liberating this slave girl from her illness they have interfered with someone’s pursuit of unbridled profit. (a thinly veiled reference to the “un”-official mottos of Canada “peace order and good government” and of the USA “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.)
They are sentenced to serve time in the most secure area of the local prison.
What do they do? They stay up all night singing hymns The rest of the inmates stay awake, having no choice but to listen to these crazy prisoners singing. I can’t imagine most of them being all that happy about the noise. But, about midnight, when an earthquake destroys the prison, and the prisoners could have escaped, they just hang around! Weird.
The jailer is ready to fall on his sword certain that he will be punished for the prisoners escape but Paul stops him because there has been no escape.
This turn of events would have contradicted everything the jailer knew to be true of prisoners; they can’t wait to be released, and all of them would escape if they could!
It is clear to him that Paul and Silas men know something, or have something he does not! He wants that! It seems to me that this is what is behind his question about being saved. I Don’t think it has anyhing to do with where he is going when he dies! He wants to know how one lives like a free person, while in prison.
We have, in this passage the beautiful mutuality of him washing their wounds and then he and his household being baptized; or washed with the waters of salvation.
This story challenges all of our notions about power and freedom. The jailer was a man of power, at least to the prisoners, he was free, but in his own mind he knew that he was just a cog in a much bigger and completely heartless machine. Through the actions of Paul and Silas he encountered the God who could give the power to live as free people, even while in the deepest of prisons.
When reflecting on the “”cost of discipleship” it is clear that sometimes doing the right thing has a cost for the one doing it, after all their good deed landed them in jail. Their action also had ripples in the social fabric as well.
The news of late has been focussed on the Bangladeshi garment industry. On Friday it was reported that a woman was pulled alive from the rubble of a factory which had collapsed 17 days before. We could try to dismiss this as a far away problem having nothing to do with us, but we would be lying to ourselves. All of us probably own some clothing made in factories like this one or even this specific factory. Western companies, which includes those who operate in Canada, have contracted with various agents in Bangladesh whose garment factories come no where close to our safety standards.
It seems to me that this is simply unacceptable. We can’t turn a blind eye to it, even it it takes a while until we are annoyed enough to change where our clothes are made. How do we change this?
What if we refuse to deal with companies whose factories do not meet safety standards of any kind and whose treatment of factory workers is inhumane?
It would be like Paul saying to the slave girl: peace upon you, be made well! But after that it will require constant vigilance so that these factories do not move elsewhere and enslave others. It will most likely require that we pay more for clothing. The reason the factories are there and not here is money - plain and simple.
Churches such as the United Church are accused of meddling in politics if we talk about justice for garment workers, native rights, environmental issues or the power of empire but when our answer the question, “What is salvation” has anything to do with living this life, we are making political statements. We cannot avoid it. If we support the status quo we are making a political statement; if we push for societal change in any way, we are making a political statement. It does not matter if we stick to our traditional anti-smoking, anti-drinking, anti-gambling stands or if we branch into human rights and environmental issues - we are making political statements.
The jailer wanted to know how these men in his prison could be free even while they were bound, but salvation also has something to do with removing the bonds that make life more difficult for people in the first place. A religion that does not seek justice and freedom for people who have been denied it is indeed an “opiate of the people” as Karl Marx stated long ago.
We believe that caring for creation is part of our Christian duty. Scientists tell us that reducing fossil fuel emissions is the most critical thing we need to do in order to avert environmental catastrophe. The question is: “Are we prepared to pay the cost?”
We all know we are in the midst of a lobster protest. Boats have been tied up, which is the only way the lobster fishers can think of to demand a fair price. They cannot be forced to fish! Yet it is not just those who hold the lobster license who are affected; by not hauling their traps - the people who depend upon the fish plants are out of work, especially because blockades have been organized to prevent the companies from processing lobster bought elsewhere.
How do we sing the songs of our faith when we feel trapped by forces beyond our control. Where is the good news?
Like Paul discovered everything has repercussions. We have to ask ourselves what is right in this situation?
Canadian farmers are having a very hard time because the globalization that has changed the garment industry has also changed the food industry. Our large grocery chains are catering to a customer who wants low prices and consistent availability. I like to find things on sale at the grocery store, but quite often can’t find out where it comes from and thus what safety standards its growers had to follow If we are not prepared to address these questions AND pay fair prices for local products this will not change.
The stories about the spread of the gospel in these early years is a study in the breaking down of barriers that divide humans from one another and barriers that keep people from being the people they were created to be. They speak to our basic fears of meaningless and fill our spirts with hope, purpose and true freedom.
1995- 2013 The Rev. Beth W. Johnston.
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