Live your witness of peace and hope, even in suffering wounds for your faith; others will see, and ask, and you can say, “It’s yours if you want it.”
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Seventh Sunday of Easter, year C
Texts: Acts 16:16-34; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
What in the world happened to that jailer?
Working for the Roman authorities in Philippi, one night he goes to bed as usual, and before sunrise, he and his entire family are baptized Christians. Joining Lydia and her friends in the newly born congregation.
What happened? You know the basics: Paul and Silas in prison, singing hymns at midnight, an earthquake, all the cells opened, chains unfastened. The jailer sees open doors and despairs. Taking his own life would be preferable to what punishment awaited him for failing his duty to Rome.
Paul and Silas’ assurance that all are present and accounted for should end the story. He secures the chains, relocks the doors, and wipes his brow in relief.
But that didn’t happen. He fell trembling before Paul and Silas, brought them outside, and called them his masters! “Masters,” he asked, “what must I do to be saved?”
What did he see in Paul and Silas, in this bizarre early morning, that prompted that question?
You need to remember once again what his question means.
The word translated “saved” means “saved.” But it also means “rescued, healed, kept from harm.” We’ve got centuries of practice restricting our hearing of the English word “saved” to life after death. We’re so deeply ingrained in seeing salvation exclusively that way that our gut reaction to this translation rarely opens us to a deeper reality. This is often just told as a story of someone saved from damnation.
But here’s something absolutely clear: Nothing Paul and Silas show this jailer speaks of life after death. This time they’ve been beaten and jailed for disrupting the local economy, not for their theology. Freeing an oppressed slave woman from being the organ-grinder’s monkey for her owners led the owners to get Paul and Silas arrested. Paul took away the goose that laid their golden eggs.
The jailer knows nothing of their theology. He didn’t even hear their midnight hymns; the earthquake awakened him.
“Masters, what must I do to be healed, to be rescued?” can only refer to one thing: what he sees in that moment in Paul and Silas. That tiny glimpse of their lives makes him say, “I want what you have.”
And what did they have?
As the jailer comes onto that broken-open cellblock, and hears Paul saying, “Don’t hurt yourself, we’re all here,” he sees two beaten, bleeding men at peace, calm, and somehow in control of all the other prisoners.
Do you see how remarkable this is? Paul and Silas respond to an illegal beating and jailing with prayer and song that mesmerized the other prisoners. How much pain must they have been in, and yet, their trust in Christ led them to beautifully and calmly sing hymns during the night.
Somehow, their peace and calm radiated to the others even after all the doors were opened. Paul speaks for the prison now – “we’re all here.” He’s in charge, not the jailer. They took control of the prison without whips or rods, keys or chains.
And no one ran. That’s nearly unimaginable.
The jailer hasn’t ever experienced anything like this. Anyone like these two. All his rules about how people act, all his confidence in his office and authority, even all his fear at being accused of dereliction of duty, fall at his feet like the prisoners’ chains. Here is true authority, these two bleeding men standing with hope and confidence, everyone following them.
Of course he said, “I want what you have.”
Can you imagine being such a witness to God’s love in Christ?
Not witnessing by trying to convince others of something you believe. Witnessing by your very trust and confidence in the midst of your great suffering. The jailer saw peace and faith and hope in Paul and Silas he never imagined was possible.
Can you imagine living your faith in such a way that you disrupted a local economy of oppression and servitude? Can you imagine living your faith in such a way that you got pushback from the authorities, and even suffered? Can you imagine living your faith in such a way that without you saying a word, people noticed, and wanted what you had?
What would it take for someone to come to you and say, “I want that. What do I need to know, what do I need to do, to find such healing and peace, rescue and freedom?
This is the result of following Christ: the love we know from God is known in us.
This is what Jesus prays today, that we be so joined into the love of God we have known in Christ, so joined to the life of the Triune God, that our lives witness even without words to this inner hope, this inner peace, this inner love, that is ours regardless of circumstances.
Maybe you won’t be beaten for your witness, lying wounded in a prison cell, your feet chained. But you will be wounded for your witness of Christly love, in other perhaps less visible ways.
That’s the time to sing your hymns. To pray. To rejoice in the Spirit of God that is with you always, no matter what. To live in praise and hope. Not so others will notice. But like Paul and Silas, because that’s where your heart is. Filled with the peace of the Spirit of God, so you live that, radiate that.
And even if you don’t do it for others to see, it’s very possible someone might come to you and say, “How can I get what you have?”
And then here’s your joy: you get to say what Paul and Silas said.
“If you want it, it’s yours.” That’s it. No test for the jailer’s theology. Trust in Christ Jesus and you’ll find a life we know, they say. The jailer will even learn to trust that this life won’t end with death. But for now, all he needs is to trust Christ and he will know the life Paul and Silas know.
Today we heard the very last words of the Bible, the final witness: “Let everyone who is thirsty come. Let everyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.” There are no exclusive rights to the Tree of Life, no rules for who is written in the Book of Life. The Spirit and the Church simply say, “Come.” It’s yours.
That’s evangelism worthy of the word. To live a life of faith and trust that causes others to recognize their own thirst and ask for a drink. And then to say, “Come, it’s all yours. Come, find life.”
Pray this happens in you, in us. So everyone knows this life is theirs now and forever.
In the name of Jesus. Amen