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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  • Patience–for the Lord is Near

    I don’t often read from the book of James in the New Testament.  It’s a relatively short book, with instructions for Christians ranging from words about poverty and riches to warnings against judgment upon others, and finally to instruction on patience in the midst of suffering.

    Patience in the midst of suffering…  I confess that doesn’t sound very appealing.

    Suffering comes in so many forms, and all of them are significant and legitimate. Suffering varies, of course, and as a person living in the United States of America, I’m often reluctant to claim that I suffer from anything egregious. I have food, shelter, companionship, and various freedoms. But we do suffer. We suffer from lots of things. Isolation, job loss, self-doubt, economic uncertainty, criticisms or judgments from others. Criticisms or judgments from ourselves. There is no doubt that in one way or another we are even suffering from this COVID-19 pandemic. I miss you all. Meg and I are your pastors. We should be seeing you each week and praying with you, rejoicing at the good things in life, and comforting each other amidst the difficult time in life.

    It’s impossible to determine when we might get to the end of this, but I feel like we are about to turn a corner thanks to the hard work and miraculous creativity of scientists who are making COVID-19 vaccinations possible. I was in Colorado for a few days at the end of January to visit my father again, and it was such a blessing to drive him to a hospital where we received his first vaccination shot. The next one will be available in a few more weeks, and only then will I feel more secure about him, and the rest of us, making it through this.

    While reading James recently I came across this passage in the fifth and final chapter.

    Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.

    James is writing to a group of people in first century Palestine who are wondering when Christ will return. He suggests they be patient for the coming of the Lord. I hope they were able to be so, because here we are two thousand years later…awaiting that same return. But in the midst of our ‘waiting’ we’ve learned something else about the Kingdom of Heaven. We don’t have to wait for the return of Christ for Christ to be present in our lives and across this world. The Kingdom of God is at hand. We help bring it about. We help bring about that kingdom of love and grace and comfort.

    James goes on to suggest that just as a farmer waits for his or her crop to sprout up and grow with the rains and flourish for time of harvest, we too must be patient. He then instructs them to strengthen their hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Patience. It’s been a long time, but I hope and pray we are doing well with patience during this pandemic.

    I am still in shock that around 3-4,000 Americans are dying each day from COVID-19 or related complications. It is staggering. The number is higher around the world. How do we mourn such a time? I’m not exactly sure, but perhaps the season of Lent which begins on February 17th will give us some room to do just that.

    This all brings me back to one of the central purposes of us as a congregation—the faithful worship gathering that we hold each week. I thank you for your patience and support while we worship on YouTube and occasionally via Zoom. I’d rather be in person with you, but not at the risk of anyone’s health or life. It’s a bit strange to me, being the church in this ‘digital age’ forced upon us by quarantine and social distancing. We’re doing our best, and I hope we’re doing it well. But I’m having a struggle with patience as I dream about seeing you all again in person. Session continues to discuss future plans; we will continue with our current setup for now and pray for a day when vaccinations are widespread and transmission rates approach zero. Not only for the sake of our worship, but also because of the value we place upon the health and well-being of each person.

    I’d like to also thank you for the love and support you have extended to my family as we’ve grieved my mom’s death on December 28th. My father received many cards from you, and he sends his thanks; they were all very meaningful. As you know my parents regularly visited Logan and enjoyed worshiping the Lord with us. Dad says when we’re back in person for church you can be sure he’ll be around to worship with us again. He, along with all of us, can’t wait to hear the Praise Band, Chancel Choir, and Westminster Bell Choir live and in person. Once again, thank you all.

    As James pleaded to those early Christians living in very uncertain times, may we strengthen our hearts, for indeed the Lord is near.

    Peace be with you all,  

    Derek

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