Sunday May 8, 2022 – Paul & Silas
Life and Work of our Church
Acknowledging the Territory
As we begin our worship, we once again acknowledge that the land upon which we live, work and worship is, by law, the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. We offer our deep gratitude for this land and we commit ourselves to live with respect upon it, seeking justice and equality for all.
Lighting the Christ Candle
The light of the Risen Christ shines in our world.
We light this Christ Candle to remind us to let Christ’s light shine.
Call to Worship
We gather here today to sing God’s praises together.
But what if I feel more like crying than singing?
Singing God’s praises can dry our tears and give us comfort.
But what if there are those who try to stop me from singing?
Singing God’s praises can strengthen our faith and give us courage.
But what if I don’t know the words to say or the tune to sing?
Singing God’s praises together can fill us with such joy and hope that our own unique song will blend with the songs of others, lifting all our voices to God.
I will sing in spite of sorrow, fear or uncertainty
And together we will worship God.
Opening Prayer (in unison)
You always give us a choice God, to do what is right or to do what is easy; to put ourselves first or to put others first; to listen to you or to listen to the ways of the world. And yet not matter what choices we make, you continue to stay with us, calling us, guiding us, and challenging us to put our faith in you and to live in the joy of knowing that, no matter where we are, you are with us. For this, we thank you God. Amen
Gift of Music All My Hope on God Is Founded #655
Theme Conversation When God Created Mothers ~ by Erma Bombeck
Last week we heard the story of the conversion of Saul. Today we jump ahead in the story of Saul, now known as Paul, as he travels to Philippi where he and Silas stayed with a follower named Lydia. But before we get to today’s reading, let me catch you up on what happened between Damascus and Philippi.
From Damascus Paul returned to Jerusalem. The majority of the followers there did not believe that Paul had truly become a believe, but Barnabas a leader from the church in Antioch, stood up for him. Eventually Barnabas and Paul begin travelling together until an argument in Antioch results in Paul and Silas departing for Asia. But we are told that the Holy Spirit would not let them preach in Asia and instead, led them to Macedonia, where they settled in the city of Philippi with a woman named Lydia who was a rare thing at the time, a woman of independent means. Our scripture today tells of what happened in Philippi.
Acts 16:16-34 Good News Translation
One day as we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a young servant woman who had an evil spirit that enabled her to predict the future. She earned a lot of money for her owners by telling fortunes. She followed Paul and us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God! They announce to you how you can be saved!” She did this for many days, until Paul became so upset that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I order you to come out of her!” The spirit went out of her that very moment. When her owners realized that their chance of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them to the authorities in the public square. They brought them before the Roman officials and said, “These men are Jews, and they are causing trouble in our city. They are teaching customs that are against our law; we are Roman citizens, and we cannot accept these customs or practice them.” And the crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas.
Then the officials tore the clothes off Paul and Silas and ordered them to be whipped. After a severe beating, they were thrown into jail, and the jailer was ordered to lock them up tight. Upon receiving this order, the jailer threw them into the inner cell and fastened their feet between heavy blocks of wood.
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was a violent earthquake, which shook the prison to its foundations. At once all the doors opened, and the chains fell off all the prisoners. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he thought that the prisoners had escaped; so he pulled out his sword and was about to kill himself. But Paul shouted at the top of his voice, “Don’t harm yourself. We are all here!”
The jailer called for a light, rushed in, and fell trembling at the feet of Paul and Silas. Then he led them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
They answered, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your family.” Then they preached the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in the house. At that very hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; and he and all his family were baptized at once. Then he took Paul and Silas up into his house and gave them some food to eat. He and his family were filled with joy, because they now believed in God.
The Power of Praise
One of the advantages that I have found using the Narrative Lectionary over the past year is that we get a much more in-depth picture of each of the four gospels. Unfortunate, with only a few weeks each year devoted to the book of Acts, the picture is less comprehensive. Although other parts of the story of Paul are touched on in other years or brought in through his letters, there is much of Paul’s life that we do not have the opportunity to reflect on.
One of those stories that I touched on when I introduced today’s scripture was the story of Paul’s intention to travel to Asia to spread the gospel. We are not told exactly how it happened by we are told that the Holy Spirit prevented him from preaching in Asia. Given the overall picture we have of who Paul was, I can only imagine how frustrating this must have been for him.
And yet, when I think of my own life, I can think of a number of times when, no matter how carefully I planned or how much I wanted things to turn out a certain way, things just never seemed to work out. The funny thing is that, looking back, what ended up happening invariably turned out to be better than anything I could ever have planned.
Perhaps the same is true for Paul. Although his intention had been to go to Asia, he was instead led in a dream or vision to the territory of Macedonia and to the city of Philippi. It is believed that it was here in Philippi that the first Christian Church in Europe was founded, built on the foundation laid by the preaching of Paul and the leadership of Lydia.
But it was not an easy road for Paul. The city of Philippi was a Roman city. Jews living in Philippi were a fringe minority who, it appears, were considered to be outsiders and troublemakers. Soon after arriving in Philippi, Paul and those with him were headed to a place of prayer which was likely a Jewish worship location outside of the city walls. As they were on their way, a slave girl who had the ability to predict the future began following them around and crying out to all who would listen, that Paul and his companions were servant of the Most Hight God and that they would tell the people how to be saved. We are told that Paul got so annoyed at her for following him around and shouting, that he cast out the spirit in her that gave he the ability to see the future.
The truth is that Paul doesn’t come out of this looking so good. He heals this girl, not out of compassion, but because he is annoyed with her. He also does not seem to give any thought what-so-ever to the consequences of his actions. Without her ability to see the future, the girl’s value to her owners is gone. Exactly what this will mean for the girl we don’t know since we are never told what happens to her as a result of Paul’s healing. What we are told about are the consequences for Paul.
The owners of the slave girl are furious at the loss of their lucrative source of income. They dragged Paul and Silas in front of the Roman officials who whipped them and threw them in jail. It is interesting to note that their reason for jailing Paul and Silas is that they are Roman Citizen and what they are teaching is against Roman law. What they are unaware of, and what Paul does not reveal to them at the time is that he himself is a Roman citizen.
But regardless, Paul and Silas are thrown in jail and it is here that one of the most incredible stories of Paul’s ministry takes place. Despite having been stripped, whipped, beaten, and shackled, Paul and Silas were praying and singing.
When I read this, I can’t help but think of a scene in the movie Titanic. As the mighty ship sinks and people madly run around trying to save themselves, a lone priest quietly gathers with a small group around him as he recites the Lord’s Prayer. At the same time the sting quartet refuses to head to the life boats and instead continues to play soft, southing music in the midst of the chaos. What they are playing, by the way, is Nearer My God to Thee. There is an amazing feeling of calm, acceptance and peace in both these scenes that seems to me to be reflective of the story of Paul and Silas.
The scene in that prison must have had a profound effect on those witnessing it since we are told that the other prisoners were listening. And it is in this strange and unexpected moment of calm that we are told the prison is shaken by a violent earthquake, all the doors are opened and the shackles fall away.
The jailer, who apparently had fallen asleep, wakes up to find the prison in ruin. Certain that the prisoners had escaped, the jailer draws his sword intending to take his own life. Although to us this action may seem extreme, the understanding of the time was that if a prisoner escaped, the one guarding him at the time of the escape would be required to serve out the sentence, even if that sentence was death. With the entire prison population having escaped, the jailer must have seen no hope of avoiding death himself and likely felt that to take his own life would spare his family the disgrace of seeing him publicly executed.
But before he can carry out his plan, Paul assures the jailer that not one prisoner has escaped. Overwhelmed with relief and gratitude, the jailer falls to his knees and asks Paul what he must do to be saved. Paul and Silas share the message of Christ with the jailer and his entire family and all of them are baptized and become part of this new group of believers in Philippi.
And all of this happens because Paul and Silas were singing praises to God despite the fact they had been beaten and chained in a prison cell.
We don’t always think about the power of praise. We think of praise as a way of expressing gratitude for the good things of life. We think about it as part of our weekly worship. But we don’t always think of it as a source of power and strength that can help get us through the tough times.
During those difficult and trying times, we tend to think of lament and prayers of petition as the source of comfort and hope. But when we look at the book of Psalms, even the most desperate psalms of lament, those that accuse God of desertion and that demand to know why God is treating the psalmist so unfairly, all end with praise for God’s faithfulness. And it’s important to remember that these psalms were written, not to be read, but to be sung.
Singing praises to God in the midst of darkness is a powerful statement of faith. And it is lifegiving not only to the one doing the singing, but to all those around. It offers a ray of light and a ray of hope even when everything else seems dark and hopeless.
In many ways we are living in a dark time right now. There is much fear in our world. COVID-19 continues to claim countless lives and to affect almost every aspect of our lives. Prices for everything from food, clothing and gas to shelter and medication, continue to rise exponentially while wages and government assistance remain stagnant. The climate crisis continues to cause devastation throughout our world, and the war in Ukraine threatens to escalate to the point many people fear we are on the brink of another world war. In the midst of all this, how do we sing praises?
Well, we follow the example of Paul and Silas. When they were thrown in jail, they had no reason to believe that they would not die there. There was no fixed prison sentence. Once in jail, unless they were a Roman citizen, a prisoner would only be released if someone from outside petitioned for their release and usually paid a very large fine. They would also not be fed or attended to in any way unless someone from outside did this for them. If they didn’t starve to death, Paul and Silas would likely die from the wounds inflicted on them during the beating. They had no reason to hope.
Yet in midst of all this Paul and Silas prayed and sang praises to God. They were able to do this because of their certainty that, even here in the midst of pain and hopelessness, they were not alone. Through their faith in Christ, they had come to understand that God was with them even in a prison cell and that God would continue to be with them even in death. Paul and Silas were able to sing praises because they truly believed, the words Paul himself would later write in his letter to the Romans, “Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love [demonstrated] for us in Christ Jesus our Lord!”
But we need to also remember that Paul and Silas didn’t simply grab on to this faith and then sit around singing and praying. The reason they were in prison in the first place is because they were willing to stand up and speak out about their faith. They were willing to go where God was calling them and to put their faith into action.
We are all called to pray and to sing praises to God. We are called to hold tightly to our faith that we are not alone. But we are also called to put our faith into action, no matter what the consequences of those actions may be.
I told you earlier about that scene from Titanic where the priest was praying as the ship sank. What I didn’t tell you is why this one scene is so strongly etched into my memory. I was watching the movie with my daughters when that scene appeared. One of my girls turned to me and said, “That would be you!”
I laughed and said, “No. I’d be reciting the 23rd Psalm, not the Lord’s Prayer.”
She shook her head and said, “Yea, right. Knowing you, you’d be singing it!”I pray she was right.
Gift of Music Oh a Song Must Rise MV#142
We Offer Our Gifts
And now let us continue to sing our praises not through our words or melodies, but through our actions. It is in the sharing of what we have that our praises ring out loud and clear. So, as we sing our offertory response, let us bring forward the gifts that have been placed on our offering plates and let us also remember and dedicate to God all the gifts that we share.
Offertory Response MV#191
What can I do? What can I bring?
What can I say? What can I sing?
I’ll sing with joy. I’ll say a prayer.
I’ll bring my love. I’ll do my share.
Let us pray;
Loving God, as we sing our praises to you, may these gifts be a symbol of all that we have to be thankful for and all that we gratefully share with others. Amen.
We Offer Our Prayers
As we bring our offerings before God, we also bring our prayers. Let us take a moment of silence now to remember all those whose names are in our prayer jar and all those who are on our hearts and minds this day. Let us also offer a special prayer this day for all mothers everywhere.
Prayers of the People
Mothering God, in a world that often seems to care little about your creation, where profits and personal gain are given priority over the needs of creation … help us always to be grateful for the gifts of life and beauty. Help us to seek out and embrace opportunities to help mend our broke world and help bring health and strength back to creation.
In world driven by greed and the lust for power; where industries and governments care more about wealth and control than about the people that they were created to serve … help us to never give up on justice and equality. Help us to continue to sing out the belief that we can use the gifts you offer us for the good of all and that you can use us and our gifts to benefit all of your creation.
In a world where people are broken, humiliated and abuse at the hands of strangers or at the hands of those who should love and care for them … help us to trust that healing and love are possible. We express our gratitude for those who seek to face down injustice and champion human rights, those who stand in the dark places with your light held high and who give of themselves for the sake of others. Help us to be counted among those who care.
In a world where we struggle to deal with pain and suffering, with hatred and abuse, with violence and injustice, with hopelessness and despair … we bring before you those for whom we weep, those we embrace in our hearts, and those we feel helpless to reach. In a world where we often feel so insignificant and powerless, help us to remember that we are not alone. Help us to remember that you are with us. Touch our hearts again with your gentle love, peace and encouragement, so that at all time and in all situations, we will continue to sing out your praise, trusting in your promise of hope, peace and joy. Amen.
Gift of Music I’m Gonna Live So God Can Use Me VU#575
So go out from here with joy in your hearts and a song in your soul. Go out from here knowing you are loved and ready to share that love with others. And as you go remember you are never truly alone, because you Go with God.
Choral Blessing VU#416
Forth in your name, O Christ we go, our daily labour to pursue,
You, only you, resolve to know in all we think, or speak, or do.