Jailbreak

The following is only an excerpt of this sermon. The full sermon can be heard by clicking the audio link below.

Acts 16.16-34

Etty Hillesum was a young Jewish women from the Netherlands, who lost her life in Auschwitz in 1943. She wrote in her diary and in letters to friends about the terrible, abysmal life that she lived in concentration camps. Even in the midst of this abysmal life, she clung to faith in God and to a joy of living. She had no answer as to the why of her suffering. She wrote: “Of course it is our complete destruction [the Nazis] want. But let us bear it with grace.”

She wrote: “There is no hidden poet in me, just a piece of God that might grow into poetry. And a camp needs a poet, one who experiences life there, even there, as a bard is able to sing about it.”

Now I don’t know about you, and I don’t know what it is like to be in a concentration camp, but I suspect, I know, that I wouldn’t feel like singing. Some people, though, just have that ability to sing in the midst of the most trying circumstances. They are able to discover something deep, they are able to access something of life and hope from a profound inner place that their outer circumstances can’t touch. Some people are just like that.

A couple of those individuals, at least as they are portrayed in Acts, are like that. And we run across them in Paul and Silas. It is not exactly clear what laws Paul and Silas have broken, the whole affair smacks like the proceedings of a kangaroo court and that’s pretty much what it seems to have been. The charge against them seems less connected to the girl freed from the profitable prophetic spirit and more based on a stereotypical fear of Jews and people who are different. The prosecutors incite the crowd. The magistrates, wishing to keep public order and mollify the local chamber of commerce arrest them, probably because it was more convenient than not arresting them.

But time in the lockup is not wasted time for Paul and Silas. They prayed and they sang. We don’t know what songs they chose to sing… maybe it was How Great Thou Art, or maybe it was What A Friend We Have In Jesus, or maybe it was the camp song Jesus Is A Rock And He Rolls My Blues Away. Any of you know that song? Great song. Next week, maybe two weeks from now. We don’t know what song they sang. But we can be certain that the music lifted them up. You see they were able to discover something deep. They were able to access something of life and hope from a profound inner place that their outer circumstances couldn’t touch. Some people are like that.

It may have been in the darkest, innermost chamber of the prison. And the doors and the walls of their cell may have been thick and the heavy chains on their legs may have been locked, but my friends, they were not bound. They were not bound because they were exactly what the evil spirit said they were: slaves of the most high God. That God who loves, that God who delivers, that God who never leaves her children alone. Their songs that night reminded them, I believe, of that deeper freedom, of more profound peace that the world could never take away.

As they were singing, right in the middle of the second verse to Jesus Is A Rock, in the middle of the night, the earth heaves and the prison shakes and the doors fly open and everybody’s chains fly off. And the jailer wakes up and he sees the doors are all open and the chains are all off and knowing what happens to jailers when all of your prisoners escape – he takes out his sword and he’s ready to fall on it himself.

(To listen to the sermon in full, please click below)

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  • Breakfast Encounter

    Last Friday morning, I stopped by my GP’s office to let them draw some blood for a test and to get my flu vaccine for the year. Because of the blood test, I had to ‘fast,’ arriving for the blood draw without having any food that morning. When the phlebotomist had drawn the blood and given me the shot, I went to a nearby diner to get some breakfast. Little did I know I was about to witness something extraordinary.

    While I was eating my pancake, egg, and piece of sausage and reading a book about Oscar Romero, a young man went up to the counter to pay. I didn’t notice any of this, of course (occupied as I was with not only Oscar Romero’s life and ministry to the poor of El Salvador, but also all that butter and syrup…) until the young man started yelling at the woman behind the counter.

    “Swipe it again!” is what drew my attention.

    She did, and the card must have been denied a second time. She ran it again, and the look on her face told me the same thing happened. Denied.

    The young man was getting more agitated and saying things to her under his breath. I was paying more attention now, and she asked if he had another card she could try.

    “No! I don’t have another bleeping card!” he yelled at her. Except he didn’t say bleeping.

    Now I’m not a stranger to harsh words. I’ve said them myself. Usually when I’m trying to get a rusted bolt off an old machine and it finally comes loose, taking some of my knuckle skin with it. And I think I quietly swore under my breath in January of 1988 when the Washington football team beat my beloved Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, 42-10. There have been other times too. But never, ever at a person.

    Upon being sworn at, the young woman stared at the man like she didn’t know what to do (how could she?). Tears were about to appear. And the air in the room went real still. Like in the movies. I’m sure the background music was still playing, but it seemed deathly quiet at that moment.

    I was about to get up and walk over to the counter—not exactly sure what I was going to do once I got there—when another man who had been eating nearby wandered up real slow, eyes staring at the young man. He was a tall guy, with white hair under his old IFA ball cap, probably in his sixties. He asked the young woman, “What seems to be the problem here?”

    And that’s when the young man made what I thought was a fatal mistake: he answered when he hadn’t been spoken to. “It’s nothin’. My card won’t work,” he spat back.

    I thought a fight was about to break out, but the older man, his eyes searing into the young disgruntled one’s face, reached for his wallet and said to the cashier, “Aubrey, I’d like to pay for this young man’s meal, if that’s okay with him.” And after getting out some cash, he put his hand on the young man’s shoulder, not one of those friendly pats on the shoulder, but one of those firm grips that, well, made me think he was making sure the lesson was going to stick.

    I’ve had those kinds of hands on my shoulders a few times over the years. Perhaps from a coach, maybe from my dad once or twice; they happen when a boy or young man really needs to start paying attention.

    And after staring at him for what seemed like an eternity, the old guy said, “Be kind.” And then walked away.

    The young man left the restaurant and climbed into an oversize truck that was parked right out front, cranked up the volume on his radio, and left some rubber on the road as he departed.

    I went into the church office sometime later to finish my sermon, but I kept thinking about angry people and hurt people and kind people and people who teach lessons to those who could use them. I also thought about people who have a head full of kind words who refuse to tolerate ugliness.

    I hope I can be someone like that.

    I have a feeling Aubrey earned a whole lot of tips that morning. She deserved them.

    Be kind.

    That’s all for now.

    —Pastor Derek

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