This Sunday I ended the sermon halfway through my prepared script. I suspect that only the people who follow along with their printed copies of the sermon would have known the difference. This edition of the fifth page follows this weeks sermon blog entry, which can be found at: http://wp.me/2WJ8e
Our choices are important. In Lord of the Rings, not even Galadriel’s magical mirror can show exactly what will happen in the future, because events are shaped by choices people make.
We heard another tale this morning from the Book of Acts. These adventure stories were preserved feature some of the heroic figures of the early Christian movement. These early followers of Jesus were on a quest to spread the word about Jesus to all who would listen. The stories were passed on to remind people that God’s work did not stop when Jesus was no longer seen walking the earth.
Paul, one of the first Christian missionaries, travelled the Roman trade routes all the way to Europe. In a town in ancient Greece called Phillipi he taught about God’s love, and offered baptism, and many people chose a new path for their lives.
One day Paul was walking with companions to a place of prayer. They were met by a female slave who earned money for her owners as a fortune teller. She began following Paul and the others, 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.
The fact that Paul commands the spirit of prophecy to leave the young woman reflects the belief that such a gift was evidence of demonic possession. Paul did an exorcism. He commanded the spirit in the name of Jesus to come out of her.
We don’t know what happened to the young woman, except that she no longer seemed to have fortune-telling ability. Her owners were not very happy about that! Paul’s act of exorcism sets off a whole chain of events that perhaps not even the fortune-telling slave girl could have predicted. The story says,
19 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. 20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”
22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 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. 27 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. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”
29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. 34 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.
I wonder if those who were baptized that day, more than two thousand years ago, could have imagined that in our time, we would still be doing what they were doing. Looking for God’s presence, and God’s light, to help us as we move from our present towards the future. Amen