Sunday, May 16, 2010

Seventh Sunday of Easter

Acts 16
One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. 17While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, ‘These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you* a way of salvation.’ 18She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And it came out that very hour.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. 28But Paul shouted in a loud voice, ‘Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.’ 29The jailer* called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30Then he brought them outside and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ 31They answered, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ 32They spoke the word of the Lord* to him and to all who were in his house. 33At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

People talk about senate reform, but no one has a solution to this perennial problem.
Government tries to control monetary policy, but the opposition accuses them of simply printing more money.
The unskilled are channeled into menial jobs with no hope of advancement.
There is a trend toward agribusiness, with many predicting the end of the family farm and the rural way of life.
People want to be entertained, with an explosion of nightclubs, theatres and stadiums meant to distract from everyday life.
People could eat healthy, but sugary drinks and fatty food are often the first choice.

I might be talking about the last decade, but I’m really talking about the Roman Empire in the first century after Christ. The more things change the more they seem to stay the same. And year by year, in Rome of old and Toronto of today, some see the malaise and most don’t.

The thing that seems to remain the most constant is the plight of the most vulnerable. The ‘unskilled in menial jobs’ remain at the bottom of the ladder, with the key difference that today’s minimum wage earners were more accurately described in Rome as slaves. The second key difference is that slaves made up 25% of the Roman population, while today the unemployed and the working poor seem to account for more.

Another parallel is the approach to mental illness. And this becomes a segue into our story from the Acts of the Apostles. Paul and Silas are tormented by a slave girl with gift. She seems to be able to see things, to name things that people do not necessarily wanted named. And like someone adept at guessing ages or weights, this girl has made her owners a great deal of money.

She follows Paul and Silas and reveals the truth of their visit to Macedonia, and shouts it in a loud voice: “These men are slaves of the Most High, These men are slaves of the Most High: they mean to tell you the way of salvation.” There is supposed to be no such thing as bad publicity, but Paul and Silas are not happy. The author of Acts says that Paul and Silas are annoyed, and that might be just true enough to cause what happens next: they heal the girl.

There is no joy over this miracle. The entrepreneurs that profit from her misfortune have witnessed the end of their small business, and decide to press the matter in court. The charge is lost to history, but the outcome is inevitable: Paul and Silas meet the magistrate and find themselves in a cell, shackled to the wall.

The final part of the story—the earthquake and the great reversal whereby Paul and Silas save the jailer from his own sword—mark the end of this miraculous day. But there will be more. Paul and his friends tour what we now call Greece and Turkey, making trouble in the Lord’s name (the original ‘holy terrors’) and making good on the poor girl’s original prediction, that these servants of the Most High will bring salvation everywhere they go.

I can only imagine the author’s delight in reporting this story. I can only imagine the delight in recording this moment when slave sees slave, as the girl calls out to her colleagues and names them for the Most High.

To our ears, of course, ‘slave of the Most High God’ sounds off, a tainted metaphor that carries the weight of history and does not live comfortably in our imagination. Nor should it. We can still marvel, though, at the unique sight this young woman possesses, that she can see herself in the two men before her, and see the parallel between her situation and theirs.

The key difference is that these ‘servants of the Most High’ have come to bring liberation, and free everyone they meet for whatever binds them or controls them. And this leads to the even greater irony in Acts 16, as the prisoners free the jailer.

To enter the Acts of the Apostles is to enter an upside-down world where the shackled are truly free than those with swords are only a threat to themselves. Where the possessed have true sight and reveal the secrets of salvation. Where the present order will end and freedom will come to those we see the world with new eyes. And where the gift of salvation can be taken home to a household of faith, and the Apostles move on, to bring Christ to a new town or village.

Today we welcome and recognize new servants of the Most High, those who choose to give their life in service of the Gospel. We welcome and recognize them, and applaud that they have made a commitment to Central and the church of Jesus Christ in Weston. We honour their willingness to serve, and put on Christ.

Now before I put Cassidy, Dana, Courtney and Paige on the spot, or burden them with the weight of the future, I would note that this journey of faith began long ago. I would point to Nylah, and the mark of Christ now upon her, and the formation that begins at the font and will continue until she confirms the vows make at her baptism.

Nylah, like all children, is both student and teacher. Nylah, like all children, can show us as much about the wonder of God as we can possibly hope to share with others. When we allow children to tutor us in the ways of openness and delight, we are closer to God and the world God intended us to see.

And here we can shift the metaphor once more. Paul and Silas are ‘children of God’: children of the Most High who live out the same wonder and openness that children bring. They gave their trust to God, and in doing so Paul and Silas began each day as an adventure.

I urge you to read on in Acts and join them in their adventure. The readings for Acts of the Apostles will conclude next week, but the spirit of Paul and Silas will continue in each story where the protagonist places absolute trust in God and God’s plan. It is only in trust and seeing each day as an adventure that transformation will come.

Paul and Silas don’t see a slave girl, they see a child of God.
Paul and Silas don’t see a jailer, they see a fellow prisoner in need of release.
Paul and Silas don’t see enemies or adversaries, only future believers whom God will save.

The more things change, the more they remain the same. The world of Paul and Silas and the world we inhabit are mostly the same. The themes of human failure, of struggle, of servitude remain. And the failure to see remains, the inability to imagine a different future for those who struggle the most, then as now.

And yet, each generation, brings up a new generation of servants, to do the hard work of helping others see. Each generation brings up the next to continue this fellowship, to safeguard important work, and share the Good News of Jesus Christ in Weston.

Thanks be to God, Amen.


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