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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  • After all this time…

    Well, this is it my fellow followers of Jesus, we are returning to in-person worship at First Presbyterian Church. It has been fourteen long months of us learning to be a worshiping community in the best ways we could figure out (thank you Jesus, even for things like YouTube and Zoom). It’s been challenging for me as your pastor (I imagine Pastor Meg would say the same). It’s been challenging for all of you in faith and life and with family and friends. 

    But we’re going back to church, praise the Lord.

    Many things seem to be happening in our world at this moment. How are you handling it all? We’re opening the church doors again. There was a verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial in Minneapolis. Many of you have your Covid-19 vaccinations. It’s Springtime and the tulips are starting to bloom. The Sandhill Cranes and other migratory birds are back in the valley. So how are we doing as we process all of this? How are you doing?

    Relief? Sorrow? Joy? Sadness? 

    All of the above?

    I’ve heard several phrases of late, including ‘pandemic pain.’ I’ve felt fatigued myself. But having received the vaccination shots, I am ready to be back in our church building with you praising the Lord together. With high vaccination rates among our church members and several safety precautions, Session has voted for our return to in-person worship. Details are listed in another article inside this edition, but our first Sunday back will be Sunday, May 9th, with our regular service times of 9 & 11 a.m.

    This worldwide pandemic is not over. Not by a long shot as I watch the news from places like India and Brazil, or even Michigan. But many of us have received our vaccinations and we are implementing some practices that should allow us to worship the Lord together, safely. And to be clear (I cannot say this enough), if you do not feel safe coming to church in the near future, please continue to worship from home. I will do my absolute best to make sure our worship live-stream allows you to connect with God and connect with the rest of us from the safety of your own home. We have purchased a small and simple (yet high quality) camera that will live-stream Sunday morning worship directly to YouTube. You have the option to watch it ‘live’ as we are worshiping or watch it at a later time that is more convenient for you.

    So, what might we expect on Sunday mornings in May when we go back? First and foremost, we will be together singing, praying, and praising the Lord. Hallelujah! There will be a few changes, of course. We ask that everyone wear a mask while in the building. We will not have indoor fellowship to prevent ‘grouping’ around the food. Both services will be in Bruner Hall (this is to allow for social distancing). We will initially space chairs out in groups of one, two, three, four, etc. (please find a group of chairs that matches your household). Our air handling system will be on during the service. We won’t use hymnals so that multiple people aren’t touching them each morning (lyrics will be in the bulletin and projected onto the wall). And finally, if you are feeling under the weather, we ask that you please be extra-considerate of your fellow worshipers and remain home.

    Every day of life is a new endeavor. The same is true for us in this process of returning to worship. May we prayerfully and carefully take actions that promote good community health, along with our spiritual health. Thank you for your patience with us, and I look forward to seeing every one of you, whenever that might be.

    —Pastor Derek

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