Summary: A Memorial Day sermon with a strong anti-war message - while trying to be sensitive to the memory of those who lost loved ones. A sermon that shows how Christ at work in us runs counter to the culture.
The Reformed Church of Locust Valley Easter VII May 27, 2001 Acts 16:16-34
Christianity is nothing but trouble. Ever since Jesus started his work he has done nothing but cause trouble. The leaders of his day were aghast at him. Jesus was a threat to them and it seemed to them he was threat to all that was godly. The only solution for someone who spoke and acted like him was the death penalty.
But getting rid of Jesus did not solve the problem at all. In fact, it just made matters worse. Jesus had gathered a bunch of followers, and when Jesus was finally killed and put out of the way, they were just as bad as he was. All they did was create problems.
They finally had to be thrown out of the Temple, and out of synagogues. The followers of Jesus themselves were an incredible nuisance and they were thrown in jail time and time again. They were beaten repeatedly. But it did no good at all. Finally, most of them had to be sentenced to death too.
But that didn’t solve the problem either, because today Christians number in the hundreds of millions. Christianity is nothing but trouble.
Or is it? I’m pleased to report to you that many, many Christians have been tamed. Churches, which used to stir things up, have become very respectable. In many places, Christians have learned to behave themselves. In many places, the church doesn’t go against the culture, or the government, or public opinion. In fact, in many places, the church just puts some sort of a holy stamp of approval on whatever society deems is right, or the government, or public opinion.
If we want to check and see how authentic our faith is, here is a good test. Have we stirred up any trouble lately? Has society been called to account for what it does by our churches? How would we stand up in the test? Are we counter-cultural, or are we just more of the same?
If you want you see troublemakers, look at the apostles. Everywhere they went, they made a mess.
So they went to Philippi. And they were looking for a place of prayer. That’s nice. Prayer is fine. Just don’t interfere with anyone else. Or as I like to say, “Your religion is just fine – you pray YOUR way, and I’ll pray God’s way.”
On the way, a slave girl accosts them. She could tell fortunes and her masters made lots of money from her. And brother, if that’s sounds ancient and far-fetched to you, then you haven’t been watching TV with all the displays of the strangest people – “Teenaged men who date married women who look their best friend.” You know the type of program. Then there’s Judge Judy and divorce court. Watch enough of that stuff and you might long for the days when men owned soothsaying slaves!
Anyway, this girl is following the apostles wherever they go and saying who they are, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” They start to annoy Paul. Just between the two of us, I don’t think it was hard to annoy Paul. I, on the other hand – unlike Paul, would have loved the free publicity. Go figure. Anyway, Paul casts out the demon that causes this problem, and in the process ruins her ability to tell the future, thus depriving her owners of their livelihood.
Do you see what’s wrong here? If the apostles had gone around asking for donations for Mental Health, no one would have minded. But instead, they start messing with the economy. They deprive some people of their way of making a living.
So the owners of the slave girl go to the police, who come and arrest the disciples. They beat them with rods, and not lightly either, then throw them in the pokey.
“Come on, Paul. You SHOULD have met with girl’s owners first, tried persuading them to let you heal her. They might have listened. You probably could have worked it out. But you rush in there and just heal her, and now everyone is mad, your in jail, and what good do you think you’ve done your cause?”
“Do you have to disturb the peace?”
How many churches would ever be accused of disturbing the peace because of their work? Or of being rash in service?
Well, as much of a mess as they made of things, at least one person comes out ahead – the slave girl is now freed of her mental illness. I guess that’s something.
So they go to jail and they do what the church always does – they sing hymns and pray. In jail. Singing hymns and praying. In deepest part of the prison they are together, feet and hands in stocks, singing hymns.