“The Book of Acts”
A sermon from parishioner Ginnie Glassman
I have been told that the Book of Acts reads like an adventure novel. So I present to you today: The Book of Acts, spin-off of the Gospel of Luke, starring Peter, Paul and the Holy Spirit with a cast of thousands.
In the pilot episode, Jesus, whom God has amazingly resurrected from the dead, meets with his disciples many times over forty days, instructing them and telling them about the Kingdom of God. The apostles listen but still don’t really understand. Where is Jesus going? How and why does Jesus need them to be witnesses?
In an early episode, Jesus tells the disciples not to leave Jerusalem until he sends his partner, the Holy Spirit, to be with them. Then he blesses them and ascends before their eyes. They stand open-mouthed staring at the soles of his sandals. Then the men in white appear saying that he was taken up to heaven. Confused and frightened with Jesus gone again, they hide out in confusion and fear of persecution.
In the next episode, they gather for the feast of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit blows in through their locked doors. He baptizes them with strength and power. Suddenly, they have the courage to speak about Jesus to the crowds. They find they can do miracles. Hundreds listen and follow them, asking to be baptized. (Be sure to tune in next week for an eye witness account of this event.) They begin to establish churches. This is getting big! Can they handle it all? What are the authorities thinking and plotting?
Now let me remind you of last week’s episode:
Paul, who you knew as Saul before his conversion experience, is traveling with his companion, Silas, to spread the Gospel beyond Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit is actively directing their trip and blocking certain cities where they had planned to preach. One day, Paul has a vision of a man saying “Come over to Macedonia and help us”, so they set sail at once to Philippi, the largest city in Macedonia. There they meet Lydia, a woman of faith, who listens to Paul and asks that day to be baptized along with her whole household. Then she invites Paul and Silas to stay at her home.
Finally, in this week’s episode, we find Paul and Silas still in Philippi. They have just cast out a demon that had allowed a slave girl to predict the future. Her owners had profited greatly from her ability to tell fortunes. Now she can no longer do this. With their source of income gone, they are angry and drag Paul and Silas before the magistrates. They rile up the crowds to their side by accusing Paul and Silas of causing trouble and teaching customs against the Roman laws. The magistrates have Paul and Silas beaten and thrown into prison. The jailer makes sure they will not escape by putting them in the inner cell and then fastens their feet in stocks. Then the jailer heads off to sleep.
After this rough treatment, we would not be surprised to hear grumbling, whining, complaining and bitterness from our heroes. But what do we find them doing? Singing and praising God!! …with the other prisoners listening to them.
Suddenly at midnight, comes a way to escape in the form of a violent earthquake. The doors all open and their shackles are broken. The jailer wakes up and is about to kill himself, thinking he would be killed for letting the prisoners escape. But did the prisoners run off? NO! Paul shouts to him and says they are all still there! Was it the Holy Spirit that kept them from escaping when they could? Did God direct them to save the jailer’s life? Too much going on right now to stop and ask questions! The jailer gets lights and runs in. He finds they are all still there and falls at the feet of Paul and Silas asking “What must I do to be saved?” They tell him if he believes in Jesus, he will be saved. Paul and Silas preach to him and the other prisoners about Jesus.
Then, the jailer takes them to his home, washes their wounds and feeds them. He asks Paul and Silas to baptize him and his whole family. They are filled with joy in believing.
Let’s go behind the scenes and talk with some of these people:
Grecian Gazette: Lydia, you heard Paul preach about Jesus and on the spot you decided to get baptized. How did you make that decision so quickly?
Lydia: As a Jew, I was already a believer in God. I wanted a place to pray in this Roman city full of idols and came upon Paul. He is a powerful preacher. He knows our teachings well and showed me how Jesus fulfilled them.
GG: Then you invited the men to stay with you at your home?
Lydia: Yes, I wanted them to baptize me and my family and to hear more of what they had to say. I offered them hospitality so they have a safe and comfortable place to work. They are good houseguests. I want to help them build a community of believers here in Philippi.
GG: Mr. Jailer, you had charge of Paul and Silas when they were in prison. The treatment they got seems harsh.
Jailer: Yes, because I take my job quite seriously. When the magistrates told me to make sure the prisoners did not escape, I put them in the inner cell which is dark, damp, cold, rat-infested and no food. Just to make sure they wouldn’t get out, I put their feet in stocks. My life depended on them not escaping.
GG: Then you went off to your quarters to sleep?
Jailer: Yes, they were as secure as I could make them.
GG: When the earthquake hit, you were awakened and were sure that the prisoners had escaped?
Jailer: Yes, I was ready to kill myself rather than face the shame and punishment of being killed by the magistrates’ orders.
GG: But then you did a 180 in your treatment of the prisoners?
Jailer: When I heard Paul call out to me that they were all still there, I could not believe it. I ran down to see for myself and they were there! I knew only God could have sent the earthquake. I knew that these men had strong beliefs that prompted them to spare my life. I wanted to know more about the God they believed in. When I asked how I could be saved, they told me and the other prisoners about Jesus. I was convinced by their powerful testimony. I invited them to my home to wash their wounds and feed them. I wanted my family to hear their words and to baptize all of us. I hope they will stay on for a while here in Philippi.
GG: Paul, you have had some awesome adventures on this trip! Tell us about the vision that drew you to Philippi. What did you experience?
Paul: Actually, it was kind of like the day I met Jesus on the road to Damascus. I was awake but the person in the vision before me was clear. I knew this time, I was being directed by the Spirit of God because we had been blocked from so many other places where we had planned to preach.
GG: Paul, what caused you to stay in the prison after the earthquake? You could have left with Silas.
Paul: A while ago, my co-worker, Paul, had been led out of prison by an angel while he was in a trance like state. When the authorities could not find him the next day, all the guards were killed. The Holy Spirit prompted us not to let this happen to the jailer. Even though his treatment of us was rough, he was devoted to his work and sincere. After his experience with the earthquake, he asked to be saved. We told him and the other prisoners about Jesus. He then took us to his own home, cared for us, fed us and had us baptize him and his whole household. They were so joyful to be believers and Silas and I were happy to be part of it.
Jesus called his first disciples one by one saying “Follow me.” Those men dropped what they were doing and followed him. Lydia asked to be baptized right after listening to Paul. The jailer asked how to be saved, heard about Jesus and then asked to be baptized that same night. Paul had a vision of the man in Macedonia calling to him and went there at once. All of these people recognized the signs of God’s intervention in their lives and responded immediately.
I am sure Paul and Silas were frustrated at not being able to land where they planned to. I am sure they wondered if or where the Holy Spirit was leading them. When they cast the demon out of the slave girl, they ended up beaten and thrown in prison. Surely, they were upset and frustrated with the ministry they felt called to. In the end though, they converted and baptized two households, spread the word of Jesus to all the prisoners, showed the jailer, the magistrates and the prisoners the power of God and eventually established a church in Philippi. Had it not been for the missed cities and ending up in prison, they would not have witnessed the power of God in their rescue.
Do we look for God’s hand in our day to day lives? If we recognize it, do we respond immediately? Or do we take time to think it over? Evaluate the risks? Argue with God that we are not qualified? Figure out if we have enough time to take on something more?
Quite a few years ago, a friend of mine told me about the Education for Ministry (EfM) classes that he was taking and enjoying. As I was a new Episcopalian, he kept encouraging me to get involved. At the time I had a full time job, two young daughters and parents who were aging. I kept insisting that I did not have time. Finally, I decided I would try it for a year. That year became sixteen and my life was changed. I struggled to find time to do the reading and did not like leaving my daughters one night a week but found the discussions and activities enlightening. I learned a lot about God, the Bible and myself. Looking back, I see the direction in which God was taking my life and I am grateful for it.
Be aware this week of angel whispers or the fluttering of the Spirit’s wings in your life. God may be leading you to something good despite the difficult path to get there. God tells Jeremiah ‘I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”(Jeremiah 29:11) He just needs us to respond and trust Him.
Collect: O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
With Paul and Silas, we came to Philippi in Macedonia, a Roman colony, and, 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. While 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.” She 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.
But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly 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. When 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. But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. He 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.
1 The Lord is King; let the earth rejoice; *let the multitude of the isles be glad.
2 Clouds and darkness are round about him, *righteousness and justice are the foundations of his throne.
3 A fire goes before him *and burns up his enemies on every side.
4 His lightnings light up the world; *the earth sees it and is afraid.
5 The mountains melt like wax at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth.
6 The heavens declare his righteousness, *and all the peoples see his glory.
7 Confounded be all who worship carved images and delight in false gods! *Bow down before him, all you gods.
8 Zion hears and is glad, and the cities of Judah rejoice, *because of your judgments, O Lord.
9 For you are the Lord, most high over all the earth; *you are exalted far above all gods.
10 The Lord loves those who hate evil; *he preserves the lives of his saintsand delivers them from the hand of the wicked.
11 Light has sprung up for the righteous, *and joyful gladness for those who are truehearted.
12 Rejoice in the Lord, you righteous, *and give thanks to his holy Name.
At the end of the visions I, John, heard these words:
“See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.
“It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”
And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.
The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.
Jesus prayed for his disciples, and then he said. “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”