“Freedom Comes with Responsibilities.”
Acts 16: 16-34, June 2nd, 2019
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Listen to this reading from the book of the Acts of the Apostles, chapter sixteen, verses sixteen thru thirty-four.”
16 One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. 17 While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most-High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” 18 She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. 19 But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. 20 When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews 21 and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” 22 The crowd joined in attacking them and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. 23 After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. 24 Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27 When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34 He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.
“Having heard this amazing account of Paul and Silas while confined in prison, let us consider how this pertains to us in our current time.”
“Freedom Comes with Responsibilities.”
I promised you that the writings in the Acts of the Apostles are a fascinating read and today’s reading once again has us riveted to the story line! Kate Matthews says it so well: “The adventures of the apostles continue in this colorful story of exorcism and outrage, mob scenes and courtroom drama, liberation and celebration, with Paul at the center of the action, and God very busy at work in the town of Philippi.” Which quickly lead to Paul and Silas being thrown into jail! Their “Imprisonment then lead to a remarkable conversion story about a jailer who is himself imprisoned by the powers that employ him.” /Kate Matthews/ The actions of the Apostle Paul and Silas are packed with drama and inspirational accounts of their ministry as they spread the gospel accounts of Jesus. The hardships and humiliation they endure is frightening at times, and yet, only their profound acts of faith are recorded for us to ponder. How can we not be inspired and filled with hope when we hear about such men as these?!
There are several story lines and there are multiple avenues for learning in this account. Kate Matthew’s writing’s take us in a line of thought that urge us to discuss those things that hold us captive. She sights all the various addictions that we whom live in the Twenty-First Century know way too much about! Certainly, worthy of discussion. As we talk about the addictions which we moderns have in our society, we must also consider the avenues of faith that offer freedom from so many things and forces which are far beyond our control. When we follow such lines of conversation, they shall inevitably lead us to the responsibilities which come with freedom. So, let us journey onward.
In our reading we hear how an earthquake of some sort shook the jail where the disciples were held. Mystically, their chains fell off and the doors were opened. Imagine, if you can, being locked up in a prison with your hands and possibly your feet bound in chains after having been severely flogged. Makes my stomach clench just saying the words of such a dreadful situation. Many of us can perhaps say how hard this is to even imagine. We are the fortunate ones. Sadly, the evidence of such cruelty, even to the innocent, is heavily documented throughout history. Such things are still happening in the world we live in today. Even with this said most of us, in this country, are still sheltered from these harsh realities. Thank God! Yet, what of those who are not so fortunate?
Yet, the shackles which ensnare so many are not always made of iron. Once again, our retired theologian, Kate Matthews, names snares which entangle so many in our own culture. “In our personal lives, we may struggle with the chains of addiction, loneliness, depression, poverty, and violence in our own home or community.” /Kate Matthews/ Those whom are so enslaved often suffer in silence and with no way out. Others, thrash and smash and make chaos of their lives and the lives of those they touch. One could write a full dissertation on any one of these which would take me hours to simplify down to a two-day lecture to properly address! Yet, I shall assume for now that most of us have a nodding acquaintance of at least a few of these.
For simplicity, let us choose just a couple, loneness and depression. I believe many of us have brushed shoulders with these once or twice. Loneness is something we oftentimes seek to hid, yet it still is. Ever been in a crowded restaurant, by yourself? When the waitress finally waits on you – your day shifts more than you want to admit! As she or he takes your order you realize how good it felt to speak aloud for the first time today! Have you ever experienced that feeling? Some folks live alone and the only person they chat with is the yard guy or the delivery gal that drops off a package or their groceries. Then there are the business folks that seem to have it all together, they go to the office, say good morning to a few co-workers then sit down at a desk that holds them captive for the day. They know what we are talking about as their day ‘drags’ on and on! I am here to tell you – people can be lonely and depressed standing at a buffy table, while at a splendid banquet!
Didn’t identify with those, so what about an addiction to caffeine or chocolate? Or is it prescription drugs? Or is it that someone you know is hooked on something that everyone, everyone but that person, seems to clearly see? No, I truly believe we all personally know or know of someone whom identifies with what it is to be addicted to something! These are the chains that bind us or those we love! Surely, we can identify with the feelings of these men in our scripture lesson, whom, after having been beaten are locked away with no escape! Freedom is something we all long for! Even the well-rounded social butterfly in our midst has something or someone she or he yearns to be free of! Whatever it is, even if it is just the responsibility to be somewhere, for something or someone, on a certain day of the month, you may want to be freed from that responsibility now and then! Furthermore, if you are not yet free from that which binds you, consider these words from Frederick Buechner. “Fortunately, there are two words that offer a way out, and they’re simply these: Help me.” /Frederick Buechner/ Help comes more readily to those whom willingly ask for that which they need.
This past Tuesday morning, Adrienne and I got to chatting when we were talking on the phone, about the bulletin for this Sunday, and she said: “even when we retire and are freed from our job or from a long lasting career, we learn that – we are still responsible!” She went on to say, “we realize at such a juncture we must now volunteer to be helpful in other ways.” She implied that with freedom comes responsibility! Thank you, Adrienne! Of course, she had just typed my sermon topic into the computer. This takes us back to our scripture lesson. Because of the earthquake that rattled the prison that night, Paul and the other prisoners could have easily escaped, yet they did not! Why? Why didn’t Paul and the others run off? The answer is simple yet powerful! They were not afraid because they knew God would take care of them. This gave them the freedom to be compassionate to the jailer for he was about to kill himself; rather then to face the consequences of being held accountable and ultimately responsible for the prisoner’s escape!
This is the heart of our lesson today. Recognizing, like Paul did, the responsibilities that come with our freedoms! Having just celebrated Memorial Day and the sacrifices of others for our freedoms, we need to take on the responsibility of preserving the freedoms which others have long since fought and died for; we need to live into the role of being responsible for other’s freedoms. That is a responsibility that all Americans, all citizens of these United States of America must accept, if we are to continue to be “the land of the free and the home of the brave!” /The Star-Spangled Banner/ Likewise, as Christians we need to take on the responsibility of passing on the gifts, the freedoms which God has bestowed upon us, one and all, just as the Apostle Paul and Silas did!
A theologian from the fifth century BCE (Before Christ,) a man from Athens Greece, an Athenian historian named Thucydides, said these words: “The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage.” /Thucydides, 5th century B.C.E/. As we grapple with the impact of these ancient words – consider the words of this man to whom many referred to as ‘the most trusted man in America,’ during the 20th century, Walter Cronkite.” “There is no such thing as a little freedom. Either you are all free, or you are not free.” /Walter Cronkite, 20th century/ From these historic statements we must take up the cross of courage as we accept our freedoms and use them to ensure the same for others. As citizens, this is true, and even more so as Christians. For the gift of the Spirit of God’s grace is a responsibility that we cannot, and we must not, ignore!
The Apostle Paul gave up his freedoms so that others might come to know of Jesus, the Christ. So did many others like Silas follow in his footsteps. We, whom are true followers of Christ, we too have gained the freedom which Christ offered to all those whom came to believe. Our responsibility is to continue to pass on to others – this priceless gift.
Thanks be to God! Amen.