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Monday, May 09 2016

Pastor Randy

Acts 16:16-34

    Maybe some of you here today can relate to a story from a mom who wrote to Reader’s Digest.  She says it had been a rotten morning.  Her three kids were wired and driving her crazy. Counting to 10 wasn’t cutting it, so to release the pent-up frustration, she walked into her bedroom closet, shut the door and SCREEAAMMED!

    It worked. Afterward she felt much better. Ready to face the rest of the day, she opened the door and was greeted by three terrified faces.

    “Mom,” said her five-year-old. “I told you there was a monster in that closet!”

    I’m glad you enjoyed that.  For all of our mothers here today, and for all of us who appreciate our mothers, let me wish all of us a Happy Mother’s Day.   After all, maybe some of us were the monsters that our mothers had to put up with.

    Having said that, let me ask you if this sounds like you.  Every once in awhile, I run into people who say to me things like, “Pastor, I don’t know a lot about the Bible.  My parents used to drop me off for Sunday School when I was a kid, but I’ve been away for a while, and I’m looking to get back to church.  I want this for my children too.  I know it’s important.  I’ve never read the Bible much, so I guess I want it for me too.”  When I hear things like that – I want to jump for joy!  And here’s why.  We live in an age of disbelief, and a growing skepticism about God – about Jesus Christ – about the Bible.  To make things worse – we live in a time when we are bombarded by 24 hour news programs – radio – TV – internet blogs – where most of the news we hear is what we would call bad news.  

    And since we are bombarded with almost non-stop bad news, I find myself – along with most – if not all of you – crying out for Good News.  People are starving for Good News.  

    Would you agree that the church – this church – is a Good News place?  You’ve heard me say this before.  I think one of the biggest crimes any preacher – including myself – can do is to be boring.  I think one of the worst things any church – including this church – can do is to be inhospitable.  Especially when there’s a famine for the word of God – a famine for Good News.  We want to hear it.  We want to see it.  The Good News is something that we want to experience.  We want to see the Good News in action, yes?

       Now our generation is certainly not the only generation in which there has been a hunger for Good News.   Just read the Gospels.  Just follow the lives of the disciples – particularly the life of Paul in the book of Acts – and you’ll find that the world in which those first Christians lived experienced a famine for Good News too!

    And that’s where our story begins today in our reading from the book of Acts.  You know, there are so many great stories about the early church in the book of Acts.  In today’s reading, we see that Paul and his traveling companions Silas, Timothy and Luke are in Philippi, a cosmopolitan city in Greece.  There they share their faith.  There they share the Good News of Jesus Christ.

    Did they win over the entire city?  Well, no, but they did have a successful start.  In fact one of the first people in Philippi to become a believer – is a woman by the name of Lydia.  Lydia’s story can be found in the verses immediately preceding today’s reading in the 16th chapter of the Book of Acts.  She and her entire household hear the Good News, and are baptized.  So satisfied is Lydia with the Good News she has heard, she invites Paul and his companions to stay with her.  Lydia’s offer of hospitality creates the first house church, where this tiny but growing flock can be taught and nurtured.  It also gives them a base of operations – a place from which the Good news of Jesus Christ will be spread.   
    Well, things are going fine until one day – Paul and Silas get into trouble.  You see, there is this slave girl who the Bible says, has a “spirit of divination.”  This girl – this slave – is a fortune teller, and she earns a lot of money for her owners through her fortune telling.   Following after Paul and company day after day she cries out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you “a” way of salvation.”  Well, after several days of this, Paul becomes annoyed.  He addresses this spirit of divination in her and says, “In the name of Jesus Christ, I order you to come out of her.”  And it did.  But alas, now her fortune telling days are over.  She no longer is a source of income for her owners.  So what do these owners do?  They seize Paul and Silas and drag them before the magistrates of the city.  And they say things like, “These men are disturbing the city.” (A lie, but never mind that.)  “They are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Roman to adopt or observe.”  (Another lie, but never mind that too.)     As a result, they are stripped, beaten, and thrown into prison.  Now folks, how do you think you would respond if that were to happen to you?  You’ve been lied about – you’ve been stripped and beaten – you’ve been thrown into prison, your feet locked in stocks.  Every painful breath reminds you of the beating you’ve just received.  Your ribs are cracked.  Your kidneys are bruised.  Your back aches.  Your legs are cramped.  It’s cold and damp.  Oh yeah – and there are probably rats running around in the dark.   

    Ok.  Did I make that sound gruesome enough?  

    So – now – now put yourself into that setting.  Yeah, I know, the rats probably did it for some of you.  BUT – but how do you feel?  Feel like ... singing?  Huh?  Listen to what Paul and Silas do next:  “About midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.”

    In that nasty place of a jail – you know, where those rats are running around – Paul and Silas are praising God.  In other words – they’re making that jailhouse rock.  And if that weren’t enough, an earthquake hits – an example of God’s perfect timing by the way – and that jailhouse really starts to rock.  The foundation is shaken.  The doors are opened.  Chains are unfastened.  I guess you could say that that jailhouse began to shake, rattle and roll!

     But imagine the jailer’s panic!  He is personally responsible for all of those prisoners.  And suddenly, they are all free!  Will they kill him to get their revenge?   Will his captain do the job as punishment for letting them escape?  He decides to save them all the trouble, and just as he is about to plunge his sword into himself, Paul cries out, “Do not harm yourself.  We are all here.”      What happens next is simply amazing.  The jailer goes to Paul and Silas, falls down on his knees, and asks, “What must I do to be saved?”  Obviously, he’s been listening.  He’s been listening to Paul and Silas – as they make that jailhouse rock – with their songs and prayers.  Who knows, perhaps he had heard Paul preaching on the streets of Philippi.  We don’t know.  Whatever, what Paul and Silas DID was far more important than what they SAID.  They cared for the jailer’s welfare.  They cared about his life.  They literally save the jailer’s life.  “Do not harm yourself.  We are all here.”      Paul and Silas by their words AND their actions reveal the mercy of Christ.  Do not miss this point.  Paul and Silas reveal the mercy – the compassion of Christ.  And the jailer?  Well, the jailer was hungry for more.  He was hungry for good news.  “What must I do to be saved?”  And the answer?  Listen now.  “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.  Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved – you and your household.”   

    When you get home, I want you get your Bible out.  I want you to take and circle that verse in your Bible.  Acts 16:31.  Circle it as God’s promise to you.  Because this promise IS to YOU – to you and your household.  “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”  Acts 16:31.  Now how are you going to remember that verse?  Here’s how.  How old do you have to be before you can drive a car? [16] Ok.  Double that and subtract one, and you get what? [31]. There you go.  Acts chapter what?  [16] Verse what? [31].

    SO – what happens next?  The jailer takes these men to his home – and he bathes their wounds.  They in turn bathe him – and his entire household – in the waters of baptism.  The wonderful thing is, is that the Bible is full of stories just like this one – about people like Lydia – people like the Philippian jailer – people hungry for Good News.  People starving for the Word of God.  And God, in God’s own way, and in God’s own timing, brings the Word – the Good News message of Jesus Christ – to them.      Listen!  People are still hungry – still starving – for Good News today.  As I said earlier, one of the worst crimes preachers and churches can commit is to be boring, inhospitable, and uncaring.  Folks, if you ever feel that I am boring you, please let me know.  Because if that’s the case – then I’ve been boring you for 25 years.  By the way – for those who keeping track – I started here 25 years ago [yesterday] [this past Friday].  Let me know if I ever bore you.  That would mean that it’s time for me to find another line of work.  Because let me tell you.  God’s Word is not boring.  God’s Word is Good News.  And we are Good News people!

     And by the way – we need to be hospitable people.  Lydia and the Philippian jailer not only heard and believed the Good news Paul proclaimed to them, but they in turn immediately practiced the ministry of hospitality.  They opened their doors to Paul and his companions.  

     We are a hospitable church.  But I think we can always do better.  More and more people are coming to this church for the first time all the time.  By the way – if you are a first or second time guest with us today – I want you to know that we’ve been expecting you and praying for you – and we’re glad that you are here with us today.  

    But it’s the job of all the rest of us to be welcoming – to be hospitable.  So if you come here, and you find someone sitting in your seat – especially someone you don’t know – please – do not ask them to move – even if you ask them nicely.  Even if that is the place where you sit week after week after week – and have been for years.  I say this, because this very thing happened at one of our worship services just last week.

So – what’s the better thing to do?  Sit somewhere else!  Graciously give up your seat – AFTER you say hello to that person you don’t know.  Introduce yourself by name – and say something like, “I don’t believe we’ve met,” and let the conversation go from there.  And here’s why.  People are hungry for the Word of God.  People are looking to be fed – not only by what we say – but also by how we make them feel welcome – but by what we do – and by how we do it.  If you ask someone to move – or if we fail to say hello – do you think that person is going to hear the good news?  No!  But they will remember that we were not a welcoming church.

    Listen!  This is a lesson we can learn from Paul and Silas.  With their prayers and singing – they made that jailhouse rock.  With their prayers and singing – and with a little help from an earthquake – they were all shook up.  But here’s the wonderful thing that happened.  The jailer heard their prayers and their singing – but it was when he saw the integrity of their actions – actions that were the result of their faith – he saw that they not only talked the talk, but they walked the walk.  He said to himself, “I want what they’ve got.  I want to be one of God’s people too!”

    Folks – when people are watching you – and they are – are they saying, “I want what she’s got.  I want what he’s got.”?  It’s important – because people today are hungry for good news – people are hungry for the Word of God.   So any time we can make this church rock, let’s do it!  Let’s get people all shook up!  We have Good News to share.  So let’s do it!  Let’s tell it!  Let’s live it!  Let’s be it! Let’s do it!  God is doing a wonderful thing.  And that’s Good News – Good News that everyone needs to hear!    Amen

Posted by: AT 10:48 am   |  Permalink   |  Email

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Zion Lutheran Church
9535 Clarence Center Road

PO Box 235
Clarence Center, NY 14032
Phone: 716-741-2656

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