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Speeches in Philippi

by davesandel on May 19th, 2020

May 19, 2020               (today’s lectionary)

Speeches in Philippi

“The crowds in Philippi joined in the attack on Paul and Silas, stripped them, beat them with rods, threw them into prison and secured their feet with a stake.”

I know, for us the readers it’s only overnight but … what the heck! What happened? Yesterday the people loved them, now they hate them.

Remember Jesus’ words: “The hour is coming when everyone who kills you will think he is offering worship to God.”

This is really a crazy story. A slave girl making lots of money for her owner with her prophecies accurately described Paul and Silas. She said, over and over, following them, “These men are servants of the Most High God who are telling you the way to be saved!”

So what’s wrong with that? After a few days Paul turned to her and said, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her.”

And the spirit did. And her owners were angry because she no longer shouted out money-making prophecies. Paul was right: a dirty spirit had been speaking through her, and now it was gone.

That’s why the police arrested Paul. Maybe this isn’t such a crazy story after all. Money, lies, power and privilege work their way. Dirty spirits abound. Deliverance awaits, but at what price?

The story isn’t over, though. In one of the most famous (at least for Sunday Schoolers) stories of the Bible, an earthquake broke loose every prisoner’s chains, opened prison doors, set the captives free, and frightens the jailer into a soldier’s suicide.

Almost.

Paul shouted just in time, “Don’t be a fool! We are all still here.” The jailer, who must have heard the slave girl’s descriptions of these guys and wondered if they were true, came to a quick conclusion. In this most amazing and wondrous and heavenly night of his earthly life, he fell on his face in thanks and asked for salvation.

Paul, clear about this, told him only to believe in Jesus. No further sacrifices, no acts of penance, no circumcision, no duties … just believe. The jailer invited Paul and Silas to his home for a meal in the middle of the night, and there, Paul baptized his whole family. A night unlike any other!

Next morning, hoping the exorcistic evangelists would leave quietly, city leaders tried to release them. But Paul (being Paul) would not leave quietly. In fact he wouldn’t leave the prison at all, claiming his rights as a Roman citizen and thereby putting a cloak of protection on his budding Philippian church. Abashed and afraid of Rome’s power, the mayor came in person to the prison and apologized.

Paul accepted graciously and after speaking a last time to Lydia and the other Christ-followers, “they” left Philippi.

“They”again? I guess Luke stayed behind, and he continues now to tell the tale as he heard it, not as he experienced it himself.

 

What did Paul and Silas sing, what did the prisoners hear, the jailer too? In the darkness, from their clammy cell hewn from rock deep inside the earth, Paul and Silas sang the sunlit hymns of their people. How about this?

O Lord, you hear the words of my mouth!

When I call, you answer, and inside my bowels you build up strength.

Your right hand saves me, Lord, while I wait patiently for my salvation.

Your strength builds up within me, and

I am confident of this, that you will complete all you have begun in me.

Your kindness to your children endures forever.

You will never forsake me, O Lord,

For you establish the work of your hands.

Yes, Lord, establish the work of your hands!

I imagine Lydia and her friends were heartbroken to see Paul go. Their lives were changed forever by how Jesus worked through Paul’s words. As he prepared to leave, perhaps Paul said something like what Jesus said when he left his disciples.

“I must go so that the Holy Spirit will come alongside you. The Spirit does the work, she uncovers your basic sin. Remember, this deepest sin is of disbelief! So it is not like a failure, vice or crime, because it not against other people. This is an act against God. So only God can show it to you.

But whereas the devil knows your sin and tries to condemn and destroy you with it, the Spirit is exactly opposite: the Spirit convicts and protects. Shown your sin, you are safe with the Spirit. Because I (Jesus) love you!

God frees you from sin, because my righteousness purifies you. All of this is out of your sight and your control. It is pure gift, receive it! My death and resurrection have defeated the devil. He is no longer prince of this world. You are free.

So, Jesus says … so, Paul says … As the Spirit comes, let him take you by the hand and lead you into all truth, into the whole truth, into nothing but the truth.

 This gave Lydia courage. And me too. Jesus refreshes my hope that in the presence of the Paraclete, in the company of the Holy Spirit, truth is available.

Truth is never something I come to on my own. Truth will be logical, but so much more. Truth will be absolute, but it will not exclude. God’s infused truth might be refused, but still it will  always be available with my next breath.

Accept. Receive. Relax. Rest in truth, my whole truth, nothing but.

Truth is love. God is love. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.”

God is the way. God is the truth. God is the life.

God is love.                        (Acts 16, Psalm 138, John 16)

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In the darkness deep inside the earth, and

In the sunlit leaves of green rising up inside the tree

In both life

Lives

Not on my behalf

Not because of my entitlements

I can now know I

Am neither above nor below anything or anyone

In the tree, near the sun

In the cave, inside the earth

God’s simple call to

Accept. Receive. Relax.

Doing only this,

I dwell forever in the midst of truth

And you have made me safe and free and whole and all that I am made to be

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