HELP IS ON THE WAY (reprise)
A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley
Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.”
She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.
When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”
The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully.
When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.
The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped.
But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”
The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”
Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.
Last week we talked about first aid- so today we’re going to have a quiz!
What are the two most important things you can do when someone needs help?
Call for help
AND, wait with them until help arrives.
Sometimes, most of the time perhaps, the person needing help will be someone else.
But sometimes, that person will be you.
In Macedonia- in a town named Philippi- the Apostle Paul and his friends encountered someone who needed help.
That someone was a slave girl. She was possessed by some sort of spirit, a spirt that her owners could manipulate for money.
I think I’m not going out on a limb here if I say that situation was not very easy for the slave girl.
I imagine that being possessed by a spirt- or having any sort of mental imbalance or incapacity- is probably, at the very least, agonizing.
As for her owners, since it seems that they were good manipulators, and it seems their main concern was their large profit margins, I suspect that the slave girl did not get treated royally. If they took advantage of the occupying spirit, they probably took advantage of her as well.
So there she was, speaking only what the spirit would let her speak, and doing what her owners told her to do.
Until Paul and his friends came by.
And when they came by, the spirit inside her knew: these men are inhabited by a better spirit.
A nobler spirit. A compassionate spirit. A spirit that leads to wholeness and joy.
A spirit that fills them with peace and love.
These men are telling others how to be SAVED!
But Paul and his friends did not stop to help her- they did not stoop to save her!
We can guess way, we can imagine a number of reasons they were reluctant to do so- and we’d probably be correct, because when they finally DID stop to save her, they ended up in jail.
But it doesn’t really matter way. They didn’t, and the truth is there are lots of times we don’t address a situation of injustice, for an assortment of reasons that might seem good to us but really, they’re not good for the people of suffering.
In fact, Jesus told a parable or two on the same subject. Our prayers do not always get answered, he said. But keep praying.
So this poor slave girl kept shouting, and FINALLY, Paul did something.
He set her free from the spirit that had her wrapped up tight.
So I’m for persistence.
“Never give in,” Winston Churchill said. “Never,
Except to convictions of honor.”
He also said “except to good sense” but hey, what was the sense in doing something that would get you beaten and thrown into prison?
So if YOU are in a situation of injustice, don’t give in.
And if WE- God’s church- ignore a situation of injustice, then shame on us.
Because time and time again, the God of the Bible HEARS the cry of the oppressed, and does something.
And when that God does something THESE days, that something usually involves SOME BODY
And if we are God’s people, that SOME BODY ought to be US.
Listen- a holy spirit is alive and at work within us and among us and THAT Holy Spirit is laboring to FREE all people, not to enslave them.
So when enslaved people- people under the thumbs of powers and principalities and systems of prejudice- when they CRY OUT, we need to hear.
And when God nudges or shoves or kicks us in the behind, we need to act.
I might have said this once, but I was dancing to a song one time and I burst out laughing, because the crooner sang these words: Get up off your big fat rusty-dusty.
So that’s what they did, Paul and his friends. Let it be an example for us.
Now, what happened next?
They got dragged before the judge, and stripped of their clothes, and beaten with sticks, and thrown into jail.
There’s a message there for us: The plans and purposes of God are not always- some would say not often- especially appealing to those who have a say in the way the world operates.
So just because you get in trouble, that doesn’t mean it was a bad idea. In fact, it might mean it was the right thing to do.
Maybe. You need to pray about that and have your friends pray with you too.
But lots of good disciples- God-fearing Christians every one- have been very unpopular with the law and with their neighbors.
That doesn’t mean they’re fighters or bigots or hateful. It just means that they love their neighbor in such a way that it challenges the owners of prejudices slave girls, and people with the governor’s ear.
So they went to jail, and who knows what MIGHT have been about to happen next- or how long it might be before their case was heard.
So what were they doing? At midnight they were praying, and singing hymns.
That might be- it could be- a sign that they were content, that they were feeling good.
Or it might have been- it PROBABLY WAS- a sign of a different sort.
It was a method, they thing they did to remind themselves that the powers and principalities that crucified Jesus did NOT have the last word- a method they used to remind themselves that God was the one in charge of ALL circumstances, no matter how grim they looked. It might have been a method they used to help themselves to HOLD on, until God resolved the situation.
Because they DID hold on, and God DID resolve the situation.
Help is on the way was the name of the song they sang, and they sang it until help came from God.
What are your circumstances?
Chances are they are something awkward, or painful, or even unwinnable.
And the song that Luther wrote is very, very true- “For still our ancient foe / Does seek to work us woe / And armed with cruel hate / On earth is not his equal.”
It’s easy to give in. but the slave girl didn’t, and the spirit that held her down was cast out, and the spirit that sets us free lift was allowed access to her life.
And Paul and his friends did not give up. Naked and bruised and bound in chains, they prayed and sang to God.
And a violent earthquake shook the prison walls and the doors were sprung open.
And the prisoners forgave their captors, and the captors dressed the prisoner’s wounds, and everyone in the house was baptized and they ALL became brothers and sisters in Christ.
It sounds like a fairy tale, but it’s not. It’s the Gospel, it’s God’s plans for this crazy earth, and WE-
WE- you and me and the candlestick maker- WE are part of that plan.
Friend, take out your bulletin and read with me the little verse that’s up at the very top:
“I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”
Yes, God will, and we will be part of it. We already are. So get up off your rusty dusty, skinny or otherwise, and get out there!
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.