Summary: The sermon was originally preached by Rev. Steven Simala Grant of Laurier Heights Baptist Church (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada); I have added a point and tweaked others to make it work in my parish.
A SERMON FOR THE INTERNATIONAL DAY OF PRAYER FOR THE PERSECUTED CHURCH
Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Hebrews 13:3)
Remember my chains. Grace be with you. (Colossians 4:18)
• Reading from the Old Testament: Exodus 3:1-10
• Reading from the Psalms: Psalm 7:1-17
• Reading from the Epistles: Colossians 4:7-18
• Reading from the Gospels: Matthew 5:38-48
It’s not a word that we give much consideration. We take it for granted – if we think of it at all. But for those who are lonely or more germane to our purpose today, suffering, it is a word that carries a lot of power and even, interestingly enough, comfort. The word is … “Remember.”
If you happen to be an elderly shut-in or in a hospital, the idea of family and friends “remembering” you can lift your spirits. If you are in chains because of your faith the knowledge that family, friends, and Jesus’ church are “remembering” you can actually bring joy and solace.
“Remember” is not a passive word. In scripture it often implies more than someone or something crossing our mind; it implies action. For one who is suffering it means more than to recall them; it means to actively participate – to be engaged. The words used in Colossians 4:18 and Hebrews 13:3 are in the present tense (it is something you should be doing now) and means to “be mindful of.” As we “remember” we suffer alongside our brothers and sisters; we share their in pain; although much muted and hindered by distance. It means we seek to alleviate their suffering. “Remembering” is intended to move us to action.
1 Corinthians 12:26 says, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”
What kind of action might Paul and the writer of Hebrews have in mind?
1) WE CAN REJOICE WHEN WE REMEMBER THEIR CHAINS BECAUSE THOSE CHAINS ADVANCE THE GOSPEL IN PLACES OTHERWISE RESTRICTED.
In an earlier letter Paul wrote: “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.” (Philippians 1:12-13)
One pastor, we will call ‘Samir’ in a nameless country (ending with ‘Stan’) said, “Who wants to go to the police station and share Christ?” Originally I went to jail for being bad and doing drugs. Now when I go to church on Sunday’s to preach, I prepare two sermons: one for the people and one for the police. They come and arrest me and take me off to jail and ask me, “What are you teaching the people?” So I have a sermon all prepared that I share with the police! Now I go to jail willingly to share Jesus Christ. It has actually worked out well. We are getting to know many police and military and government officials and are able to ‘build bridges’ to them to tell them things about Jesus Christ and Christianity that they never knew before.” This brother sounds like Paul writing to the Church in Philippi. My “chains” are advancing the Gospel.
As with Samir, the life of Paul proves that God can use persecution to advance the Gospel in restricted areas. I can imagine the scene in the Church in Philippi as they heard these words read to them. Their minds certainly reflected back to an earlier time when Paul was visiting the city and was jailed for preaching the Gospel. In fact, they did not have to reflect over it, they could probably glance at the jailer and the family that came to Christ while Paul was imprisoned there.
In Acts 16 (v.25-34) you read this story that took place in that Philippian jail.
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 everybody’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 family 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 family.