The Door Will Be Opened: It May Take An Earthquake
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. 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.
Now there is so much we could say about this first part of the story.
- How genuine is Paul really being in setting this woman free from the so-called spirit of divination (coincidentally the Greek actually says Python Spirit – like she is snake possessed! This goes back to the story of the god Apollo killing a python at Delphi to take over the temple for himself. The priestess there became known as Pythia and she was always known for predicting the future, or divination. Because this woman could predict the future, she was said to have a Pythian spirit.
- Paul seems more annoyed with her than anything. It’s almost as if after being nagged by this lady for so many days he was so sick of it, that he commands the spirit to leave her. And it did.
- Whatever the reason, the woman is freed from possession. She is healed.
- Last week Paul was more than willing to speak with a Lydia, a lady of high class and wealth. This week he is kinda harsh with a woman of slave status. Paul comes across here as a product of his time. I think it’s sad he doesn’t treat this slave woman with more initial respect. But in the end he does Free her. At least he frees her from bondage to a spirit. I would also love for Paul to free her from her bondage to her human masters. But we aren’t quite there yet in the story of the church. We’ll get that door opened, eventually. For now, we settled with freedom from spirits…that is what the story wants us to see. But the story is just getting started…
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.
What are Paul and Silas imprisoned for? Think about this now. Why are they imprisoned?
Paul and Silas are imprisoned because of prejudice.
The masters do not offer charges and do not say what Paul and Silas had done. Instead, they appeal to the base prejudices of the Roman people. Basically, they don’t talk like us, look like us, act like us, value the same things we value, etc. That is, they go to the magistrates and say, “Look at these bad dudes. Lock them up!”
And this should give us pause to consider where we do the same today. Where do we engage the prejudices of others in order to get a favorable decision for ourselves? Do we tell stories or jokes that invites laughter because of prejudicial attitudes? Do we call people out because they are different rather than because they actually did something wrong? Do we judge people who are different more harshly? And give people who seem more like us the benefit of the doubt? Do we intentionally or unintentionally play into peoples fears in order to gain support, prop up ourselves, look better, etc?
I think these are all honest questions that the story invites us to ask of ourselves just as it invites us to see how these slave masters did it to Paul and Silas.
You see, prejudice often closes the doors on people. But God won’t have that.
Nowhere in the Bible does it say,
- See yourself as better than others.
- Look down upon people who are different.
- Assume you are right and others are wrong.
- Assume that those who are poorer than you are less intelligent than you.
- Don’t try to understand another persons perspective.
- Tell others how wrong they are.
But it does say,
- Love your neighbor as yourself.
- Pray for your enemy.
- Invite the outcasts to the feast.
- Walk the extra mile in the shoes of someone different
- Sell what you own and give to the poor.
- Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly.
You would think we would read the parables and lessons from Jesus, and actually follow him. But too often we say we believe in Jesus and never try to actually follow Jesus by loving others, welcoming people into grace and mercy, inviting others into family and faith, and opening the doors to our hearts, our lives and our churches. It’s sad really.
Yes, prejudice closes door. But God won’t have that. Listen and see…
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.
Sometimes deliverance begins with an earthquake – a earthquake that shatters the prisons we have placed ourselves in. Prisons that divide us from them. Prisons built from walls that are nothing but prejudice. Yes, sometimes it takes an earthquake to shatter those walls and open our doors!
Paul learned this lesson. Silas learned this lesson. But another person in this story will learn this lesson as well.
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.”
Now, before I go on, if you didn’t know anything else that happens in this story, you have to wonder why Paul Silas and the other prisoners stayed. Right? It’s crazy.
But their refusing to leave gives us an opportunity to reflect. There are all kinds of prisons in the world that we find ourselves in. Sometimes we place ourselves in prisons. We get imprisoned in our own negative thoughts. We get imprisoned by expectations – sometimes those others put on us and sometimes the ones we put on ourselves. We can become imprisoned by our job, through relationships which are sometimes difficult, abusive or toxic. We can become a prisoner to entertainment – always needing the TV on, the computer on, the radio or MP3 player on from the time we wake to til we fall asleep.
The point is that a great many things can hold us captive today. And too often the door of the prison is open. We – like Paul – just don’t get up and walk out! This about that this week. There may be some prisons that you need to acknowledge in your life. And you may need to also acknowledge the door of it is open.
Get up! Walk out!
Now Paul and Silas had a very good reason for not walking out this time. And you may already realize it, but if not keep listening…
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.
When morning came, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.” And the jailer reported the message to Paul, saying, “The magistrates sent word to let you go; therefore come out now and go in peace.” But Paul replied, “They have beaten us in public, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they going to discharge us in secret? Certainly not! Let them come and take us out themselves.” The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens; so they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. After leaving the prison they went to Lydia’s home; and when they had seen and encouraged the brothers and sisters there, they departed.
The last part of this story is so great. If you didn’t get that Paul was imprisoned because of prejudice at first, you surely get it now. The story makes it clear that they were wrongfully incarcerated. The storyteller reveals that Paul and Silas are Roman citizens. And that meant that it was illegal to beat them and charge them without trial and evidence. You couldn’t prejudge a Roman citizen and get away with it. But you could prejudge a Jewish person because they were looked down upon. This is ethnic prejudice at its finest.
And you have to love how Paul isn’t letting anyone get away with it. He is making sure that the magistrates and authorities admit that they misjudged him. He refuses to leave until they come to him face to face and apologize! You just have to cheer when you hear this. We all want people who treat us with prejudice attitudes to have to admit it and apologize!
Two more things about this last part of the story.
First, I want to return to the earthquake which opened Paul and Silas to freedom. You see, it wasn’t the only earthquake that day.
The jailer knew he was in trouble. The inmates would escape and he would be put to death if they did. So Paul and Silas made another earthquake: they didn’t escape, they stayed put. And that response amounted to an earthquake in the life of that jailer.
No one would expect Paul, Silas and the prisoners to stay. It doesn’t make sense. It’s not smart. What they did was shocking, jolting. The jailer was was charged with holding them in the jail. He was absolutely complicit in their wrongful imprisonment. And yet Paul and Silas stayed for that one man that he might live, that he might be saved. They cared more for his life than their own. (Sound a little like Jesus to you?)
And this clearly shook the jailer to his very core, shook him out of his former life, shook him so much that he cried out to them, “What in the world am I going to do? How can I be saved from this?”
It was both a practical question (How can I avoid being out to death?) and a spiritual question (How can I be saved as you have clearly been saved by your God?). This pagan jailer who had done Paul and Silas wrong was now seeking salvation from the very people he had oppressed. Oh, how the tables turned!
Paul and Silas act and the jailers openness to the way of Jesus meant that God’s kingdom was expanded to include people who had previously been left out. People who the jailer represented. People who were considered pagan. People who were different. People who treated the early Christians terribly. People who could have easily been considered enemies.
Last week in the story of Lydia, the church was opened to Gentiles who already did worship God, but lived a different lifestyle than the Jews, and particularly women who had a low social standing, who were rarely leaders and certainly not Jewish leaders.
This week, the church is opened to those pagan Gentiles who were not god worshippers like Lydia, pagans who were doing terrible things to Jews, but who were still looking, seeking, and willing to believe and follow.
Now to the second thing I mentioned. Lydia is mentioned at the end of this story to create a connection to this story and remind us of her story. Her story is similar to this one through the hospitality of a shared meal. Both Lydia and the jailer invite the disciples to their homes and share a meal with them.
The point: Who you share a meal with testifies to how truly open you are to people, to different types of people.
If you say you sccept someone, then ask yourself: have I had them over to my house for dinner? You see, if you say you are open to someone, then it will show in your eating habits. And if you are not sharing a meal with folks, then you probably are not as open to them as you might think.
So this week, challenge yourself and invite some folks to dinner! Make this a summer of communion. I challenge you to have someone over to your home this summer that you may not be comfortable with, who you may not know well, you you say you are good with, share and meal and really get to know them.
In many ways, the gospel of Jesus begins with the table – the table of grace – where we eat together and our differences are transformed from division into beauty and strength and appreciation for the other. For difference is not to be condemned. Difference is to be celebrated. We are not all the same. But we are part of the same family. Like a beautiful tapestry, like a sunset sky, like a pointilistic painting, like a harmonic song… every different color, shade, or note makes up the beauty of the whole. Getting to this deep spiritual, Christian truth is the essence of the body of Christ. It is the essence of what we mean as Disciples of Christ when we describe ourselves as “a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.”
When doors are shut, the body of Christ is broken and fragmentation thrives.
But when the doors are opened as Christ commands us, then wholeness can become reality and the body of Christ lives!
Rome closed a door on Jesus and he allowed his body to be broken for you and me. But this brokenness was to be the martyr for our movement of wholeness. A broken body that shows the world that closed doors is no way to live. For when we closed a door, we – like Rome – break Christ’s body and send him again to the cross. But when we open the door as Christ commands and promises, then we repair Christ’s broken body, we make whole what was broken, and we become what God intends us to be: One in Christ Jesus.