Easter 7C – June 2, 2019

After leaving the prison, they went to Lydia’s house…. Acts 16:40

In two weeks, we begin Vacation Bible School.  It’s an adventure in faith for everyone involved – the children, youth and adult volunteers and the whole church.  Today our first reading from Acts is also an adventure in faith and is best told as a story.  So, with the help of this marvelous purple shawl, I will be transformed from Pastor to Storyteller. 

Good morning, my name is Lydia and I’m from Thyatria, a place famous for making beautiful purple cloth.  The dye for the cloth comes from snails which makes it very expensive.  As a young woman I moved to the city of Philippi where I set up my own importing business, buying and selling the cloth.  The people of Philippi really like purple – I’ve noticed that the people of Phoenixville do too.  Do you think that’s because purple begins with the letter P and so does Philippi and Phoenixville? Well, I worked hard and became a wealthy woman.  I even had my own house and some wonderful girl-friends.

Every Saturday morning, we’d gather by the River to talk and pray together.  It was my favorite time of the week because I felt close to God and my friends.  One morning, some men asked to join us.  We were surprised, because the men had their own group farther down on the banks and usually left us alone.  But not these two.  Then instead of standing above us like most men would do, they actually sat down as equals to listen and to talk.  The one named Paul told us about a man called Jesus who healed the sick, fed thousands of people with a few loaves of bread and fishes,  taught in a way that you felt God was with you, walked on water, raised the dead and then after dying on a cross, rose from the dead three days later.  I’d never heard of such a man but the more I listened, the more I believe that in Jesus, God was with me.  I asked Paul, “What do I need to do to follow this Jesus?”  He replied, “Be baptized in his name.”  So, I sent someone to my house and asked my family and everyone there to come down to the river.  Paul taught them about Jesus too and together we were all baptized with water and the Word of God.   Have you been baptized?  In a river?  Or maybe with water from a river?  Afterwards, I invited Paul and Silas to be guests at my house as long as they were in Philippi.  They didn’t want to be a bother, but I insisted and was so happy when they agreed, because then we would be able to learn more about Jesus. Every day Paul and Silas went into town to meet people and to share the good news of God’s love.  There they met a slave girl who was possessed by a demon.  She made a lot of money for her owners by telling fortunes.  She’d followed Paul and his friend Silas all around town while shouting: “These men are slaves of the Most High God who are telling you a way of salvation.” Instead of this free advertising helping them, she scared people away.  The girl kept this up for many days until Paul got so frustrated, he turned around and said to the demon, “Out!  In the name of Jesus Christ, get out of her!”  And just like that, it was gone.  She was free!  But her owners were furious!!!!  Now their little business was suddenly over, their hope of making money off of her, gone too.

The slave girl’s owners beat up Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace where they were arrested and then pulled into court.  There they said to the judges, “These men are disturbing the peace.  They’re Jews and promote customs which are not lawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”  Meanwhile the crowd was getting riled up and turned into a restless mob out for blood.  When I heard about it, I was surprised that Paul and Silas weren’t killed right then and there.  It got worst.  The judges order Paul’s and Silas’ clothes to be ripped off of them.  Then they were beaten black and blue with big sticks and thrown into jail.  The Jailer put them in the inter-most cell and locked leg clamps on their feet.  That way they wouldn’t be able to stand up, let alone escape.

Imagine if your legs were being held down, you couldn’t do anything.  I don’t know about you, but I think I would have started crying, but not Paul and Silas.  There they were in a dark, smelly jail cell, all because they freed a slave girl from a demon, but instead of crying, they’re praying, and singing a hymn!!!   If you were in that cell what would you pray?  What hymn would you sing? 

As they were singing, the earth started shaking, at first it was like adding some drums to the song, but then the shaking became quaking getting louder and louder. Help me make the sound of an earth quake. The prison shook, the doors flew open and the chains fell off of all the prisoners including Paul and Silas

Startled from sleep, the jailer saw the cell doors swinging loose on their hinges. He was horrified for he knew what happens to jailers who let their prisoners escape.  He pulled out his sword and was about to do himself in, figuring he was as good as dead anyway. Maybe if he killed himself the authorities would spare his family.  Paul stopped him saying, “Don’t do that, we’re all still here! Nobody’s run away.”  Did you hear that?  All those prisoners and nobody ran away. 

Well the jailer got a torch – a stick with fire on it — because flash lights hadn’t been invented yet and he rushed inside.  Badly shaken, earthquakes do that to you, he fell down before Paul and Silas.  Then he led them out of the jail and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved, to really live?”  Think about this – the man who had all the keys to unlock the cells of every prisoner, now realizes that none of those keys gives him freedom. 

When I think about it, me Lydia, an educated woman with her own business selling beautiful purple cloth, a woman with a fine home and a family, I thought I was free, but the truth was, I wasn’t.  I always worried that the next shipment of cloth would be late and my customers would buy from a competitor.  I fretted about my children, that I wasn’t spending enough time with them and they would wind up in trouble.  And would I be safe in Philippi for if authorities jailed Jews on trumped-up charges, what might happen to me, an immigrant from Thyatria?  If someone grew jealous of my success, would I too be beaten and tossed into jail? 

So when I heard about what Paul and Silas told the jailer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, put your trust in Jesus, and you will be saved, you will live as you’re meant to live – you and everyone in your household,” it was like I was being saved all over again, just as I was on that Saturday morning by the river.  That’s one of the most wonderful things about the adventure of faith that we are continually renewed by God’s love and not just for us, but by God’s love for others, for everyone. 

So, Silas and Paul told the jailer and his whole family about Jesus, talking all night long.  The jailer made them feel at home, washed their wounds and put bandages on them. Then he and his entire family were baptized.  Afterwards, they enjoyed a wonderful breakfast together – everyone rejoicing in God for they were free indeed!

I know this has been a long story, but I have a little more to tell you.  After breakfast, there was a knock in jailer’s door.  The police were there and said Paul and Silas were to be released.  They were to leave town right away. But Paul told the police, “They beat us up in public and threw us in jail.  They can’t get away with that.  We’re Roman citizens in good standing!  Now they want us to leave quietly?  No way!  Let them come themselves and lead us out in broad daylight.”  If I’d been there, I would have said, “Paul, knock it off.”  But that’s not how he operated.”  So, the officers went and told the judges who panicked because they had no idea Paul and Silas were Roman citizens.  If the Roman authorities found out what happened, they’d be in trouble. So, they hurried over to the jail, apologized, and begged them, “please, please, please leave the city.”  Before doing so, Paul and Silas came to my house and told us everything and encouraged us to live, grow and share in God’s love through Jesus.

And guess what, we did!  We started a church.  The very first church in Philippi and the very first church in Europe.  Yup, that was us.  In the beginning it was my family and the Jailer’s family, but over time more and more people learned about Jesus and they were baptized too.  Paul and his friend Timothy visited with us and taught us how to be a church.  They told us to worship God, love Jesus, love one another, tell everyone we knew about Jesus and care for the poor.  When they were away, they wrote us letters and we wrote back to them.  In one of those letters, Paul sent us a hymn.  Maybe it was the one he and Silas sang that night when they were in the jail.  I don’t know but every time we sing it reminds us that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 

Well, I am back to being Pastor.  I have some pieces of purples cloth to share with you to remind you about the story of Lydia.  Please help me pick up the quilts and then together let us sing Take on the Mind of Christ as printed in our bulletin.  Amen.

St John’s Lutheran Church Phoenixville