Acts 16:16-34; Luke 24:36-48

3rd Sunday after Easter: 8am

St Barbara’s 14.04.2024

Rev Tulo Raistrick

Today we rejoin our series on the book of Acts, the book in the Bible that tells us about what the disciples did after Jesus rose from the dead, and how the church began. During Easter season for the last two years we have been following the story, and our reading from Acts today picks up with two followers of Jesus, Paul and Silas, arriving in a town in northern Greece, called Philippi.

It is a very exciting time because it is the first time that the good news about Jesus has been taken into Europe. And everything is going well. A wealthy merchant called Lydia has become a Christian, and she has opened up her home for Paul and Silas to use for Christian gatherings.

But then Paul, as we’ve heard, upsets some businessmen, although businessmen may be too generous a word for them. These are men who own a slave girl who is making money for them by prophesying about the future. This girl is being exploited, used, to bring financial gain to her owners.

It is a sad state of affairs and after a while Paul can’t stomach it anymore. He orders the spirit out of the girl. She stops her prophesying, and the men suddenly lose their easy income. She ceases to be an object of their exploitation. They are furious, and so wind up the crowds to the extent that Paul and Silas end up getting beaten up.

Inspired by Jesus, Paul is prepared to do what is right, no matter the cost. He is prepared to set the girl free from her exploitation, even though he and Silas get badly beaten up as a result.

They follow in a long line of others in the narrative of the Bible who, inspired by their faith in God, were prepared to do what was right, no matter the cost.

  • Noah who built an ark despite the ridicule of his neighbours
  • Moses who challenged Pharaoh, despite the threat to his life
  • Elijah who challenged King Ahab, despite the king threatening to kill him
  • Daniel who prayed to God, despite knowing that he would be thrown into a den of lions if he did so
  • Stephen who chose not to deny his faith, even as he was being stoned
  • And, of course, Christ himself, who was willing to do his Father’s will, dying on a cross.

It may be that modern-day examples come to mind too – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela.

But knowing what is right can often be hard. Situations are often complicated. We need wisdom to unpick and discern what is right. Had Paul fully thought through the implications of his act? What would become of the slave girl now that she was no longer of use to her owners?

But if we are not careful, we can become paralysed with fear, unable to do anything. There are times when emboldened by righteous anger we just need to act, and accept the cost of doing so. 

I wonder, are there any situations where we are being called to do the right thing, even though that comes with a cost.

Paul and Silas were willing to do what’s right, no matter the cost. They were also willing to praise God, no matter the situation.

Things are pretty bad for Paul and Silas. They have been beaten up; they have been flogged with whips; they’ve been thrown into the deepest, darkest part of the prison; and they’ve been put in stocks.

And yet what is their response? They pray and sing hymns to God.

You would think they would be moaning, crying, feeling very sore and sorry for themselves. Instead, they are praising God at the top of their voices.

A few years later, Paul is to write to the church in this city where he is now in prison: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again, Rejoice!… I have learned the secret of being content in every situation.” (Philippians 4:4,11)

Here are Paul and Silas in a terrible situation and yet they are choosing to praise God, to give thanks for all his love and goodness.

Life can feel pretty tough at times, whether that is through illness, through worries and concerns for loved ones, whether through economic hardships and struggles to pay the bills, whether through relationships that have broken down.

And yet we can still choose to praise God and give him thanks. That may not necessarily be by singing at the top of our voices. It may be by a simple listing of those things we can still be grateful for and a whispered “thank you”; or it may be by simply breathing in the scent of a flower and being grateful.

Within mental health research there is growing recognition of the role that encouraging gratitude in life can help to play in addressing issues of depression. It is often not the circumstances of life that make us happy or unhappy; it is how we choose to respond to them that matters.

And as Christians, who know God as the source of all that is good, and who know his gift of love to us, how much we have to be thankful for.

We’ve thought about how Paul and Silas chose to do what’s right, no matter the cost, and how they chose to praise God, no matter the situation. Their story in Philippi shows us something else too. That anyone can turn to Christ, no matter who they are.

Paul turned to Christ, even though he had been one of the chief persecutors of the Christian faith. When they arrived in Philippi, Lydia, a wealthy businesswoman, also turned to Christ. And now the jailer, a rough, tough, hardened man no doubt, and his whole household, come to faith too.

This man was as unlikely a follower of Jesus as anyone you could ever meet. Jailers weren’t known for being gentle and compassionate, or particularly religious. And yet so amazed is he by what happens, so impressed by how Paul and Silas act, that he and his whole household believe and get baptised, right there on the spot!

Whoever we are, Christ welcomes us too. And whoever we know that seems so far from accepting God’s love, they too are welcomed by Christ too. His invitation is for all.

May Christ help us to choose right, despite the cost; to praise God, whatever our circumstances; and to accept his love, whoever we are,