Sermon for Easter 7 on the Conversion of the Philippian Jailer in Acts

Powerful story about the ministry of Paul & Silas, helping others

In a jail

To other prisoners

And to the one who had put them in the innermost, jail cell.

Beaten with rods, not because they were really doing anything illegal in the eyes of the Roman authorities, but because they had made the financial well-being of the idol sellers DRY UP.

Not unusual for Paul.  He seemed to cause trouble in almost every town he went to – with his message about Jesus Christ.  In Corinth at one time, he almost caused a riot, so that the political leaders had him removed from town, rather than allowing him to debate others about his beliefs.

In the 1980s miniseries: the Story of Peter and Paul – one of my favorites – today’s lesson for Acts is told. And in it, after the earthquake, the jailer comes to find that Paul and Silas are not in their own cell.  And he fears for his life, and figures that killing himself by his own hand will be swifter and more merciful than at the hand of the Roman authorities.

Paul calls out – for he and Silas are in ANOTHER jail cell ministering to fellow prisoners and their needs, and singing hymns of praise to God.

The story is so very powerful because of the contrasting images within it.

Paul and Silas beaten with rods and imprisoned. 

The jailer is afraid for his own life and decides to take it.  And then, when he realizes that they did NOT escape but were still there, he falls on his face and in affect asks: How can I HAVE LIFE?  THE LIFE YOU SPEAK ABOUT AND OFFER?

They tell him, believe what we say about Jesus – believe IN Jesus, and you will be saved, and not only you, but your WHOLE HOUSEHOLD.

Then, the JAILER ministers to his prisoners.  Washing their wounds from the beating.

And he and the ENTIRE household are baptized WITHOUT DELAY.

Then the prisoners brought up into the jailers house as honored guests.  And all rejoice about their new faith.

Powerful story filled with paradoxes and contrasting images. 

The tables are turned, so to speak.

Because of Jesus Christ, the chains of imprisonment are broken.

From the worldly view: Christian missionaries Paul and Silas were in chains.

From God’s view, the jailer – just doing his job, was ACTUALLY in chains – of fear.

And because Jesus came, in the presence of God’s servants, Paul and Silas, chains were broken and new life was given.

IT IS THE SAME TODAY:

This VERY day, the Risen Jesus is walking down a street in Jackson Heights along with a number of our Trinity Family members and friends: for the Queens Pride Parade.

Children, older folk, Boy scouts, gay and straight are sharing the Good News that God in Jesus Christ is welcoming to ALL people, and that one can find a place of welcome and safety here in Astoria, at Trinity Lutheran Church.

Chains may well be broken, as our sisters and brothers make public witness that God does not condemn God’s children. 

For those who have felt for too long that no church would welcome them, and have heard messages of intolerance, and yes, hate – chains will be broken as this public witness of God’s love in Jesus Christ is shown by feet walking in a parade.

Conversación biblicas en Espańol and others are going to help us in tangible ways to break other chains and bring a message of hope, of freedom and especially of love.

Through the AMMPARO program, Trinity Lutheran will give tangible witness to immigrants, and especially immigrant teens and children that God in Christ loves them and they can find, at least in some ways, a sense of welcome, of safety and a community they can trust.

No matter your political persuasion or what you think about the issues we are facing at our southern border (this time is not the time for us to debate this) we are being called by GOD to do something to help.

I’m going to share a story with you – and it is going to be shocking, so prepare yourselves:

Christopher Vergara & partner Roberto Lara.

Legal Guardians for a 19 year old from Guatemala. 

Did all they could to get papers, IDs, etc. so that the young man is now living in one room of an apartment, and has a job to not only pay his bills, but to have a sense of dignity.

Why did their “son” as they call him, run away?

Gangs, threatening.  Join or else.

No thank you.  Packed his bag.  Left his mother and younger brother, and came to US for safety.

About a month later, he heard something that was very tragic, and to us shocking.

Younger brother approached by the same youth gangs to join.  No thank you.  And went off to another part of the village.

Several hours later: a knock on the door of the house.

Mother opens the door to find a box on the door step.

Inside, the head of her younger son who refused to join the gang.

God is calling us, in the midst of the great tragedy of people’s lives, to DO SOMETHING. To minister to the needs of those who are imprisoned by fear, by impending death, by insecurity, by having no hope and not knowing where to turn or to run.

Just like the beaten and shackled Paul and Silas, we, who have been freed in Jesus Christ, are called to minister to others who find themselves in prisons of all kinds.

And to bring hope.  And to say, to those who, like the jailer, think it is better to end their own life swiftly –

DO NOT HARM YOURSELF. 

WE ARE HERE

AND SO IS JESUS.

For the son of Christopher and Roberto, the older brother to the youth that was murdered in Guatemala?  You know one thing that helped him in his documentation here in NYC?  He was baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.  To be saved.  Not just for eternal life – but for now. 

Dear Ones, we are called to be hope.

We are called to be a safe place.

We are called to bring welcome, in REAL tangible ways to those who have not felt welcome in the church or in our world.

We are called to be the very presence of the Risen Jesus

        Right here

                Right now

God give us the strength, the vision, and the courage to do so.

Amen.

Paul Milholland