Singing with Paul and Silas – June 2, 2019

Singing with Paul and Silas

A Communion Meditation by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

Acts 16:16-34

June 2, 2019

Main Idea: God hears us.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

Today is Music Appreciation Sunday, one of my favorite Sundays of the year.  Music and singing are foundational to my faith and to my very being.  It is more than ironic, perhaps it is providential, that as I prepared for today, I also have been dealing with a bad case of laryngitis.  In fact the last time I could sing or even speak loudly was last Saturday’s worship service in which we sang 12 hymns.  (Too much of a good thing, perhaps…)  My lack of voice this week, reminds me in a deep way, of the power of singing, and speaking, and crying out to God.  God hears us and empowers us to faith and service.

In this season of Easter we are spending time with people from the early church, in those heady days when the experience of the Risen Christ was a new and wondrous reality.  And when the Holy Spirit was powerfully at work transforming a small and grief stricken group into a committed community of believers who share the Good News of God’s love to all of the known world.  This morning, on the last Sunday of Easter, we will explore a story about Paul and Silas, and unnamed slave girl and jailer, whose songs and cries are heard by God.

After Paul’s conversion, he traveled all over the Roman Empire.  The book of Acts could perhaps be called the Perils of Pauline because over and over again he and his companions are driven out of town by those who did not appreciate their message.   In today’s text, Paul was in the city of Phillippi where he had helped start a house church in the home of Lydia, who was a dealer of purple cloth.   Now also in Phillippi was a slave girl possessed by a spirit which could tell the future.  Whenever she saw Paul and his companions, she would cry out, sing out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.”  She recognized who they were and she evangelized for them, over and over and over again!  [My daughter likes to sing a song that goes like this “I know a song that gets on everybody’s nerves….and it goes like this.]  She sang out the truth of the gospel but for some reason, she got on Paul’s nerves.  He cast out the spirit and she called out no more. 

Paul’s action got him in trouble with the slave girl’s masters who were livid that their means of making money has been silenced.  They grabbed Paul and Silas, and with trumped up charges had them brutally beaten by a mob and then thrown into prison.  They were put in the innermost cell and their feet were locked up in stocks.  

In these dire circumstances, Paul and Silas were not silenced by worry or fear,  instead they started to sing! They sang all through the night [I know a song that gets on everybody’s nerves….]. They sang all the hymns they knew, settings of the psalms, and praise songs they had learned on their travels.  They sang of God’s love, and Christ’s power, and the liberation of the Holy Spirit.  They sang their faith and all who were imprisoned with them listened.

Suddenly, an earthquake rattled the prison so that the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened.  The jailer was horrified that those he was supposed to contain would now be freed. He was responsible for their imprisonment and he was expected to pay with his life if anyone escaped.   But Paul called out in the dark, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” (16:28).  The jailer came to Paul and cried out “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (16:30) How do I get out of this predicament? How do I survive it?  How can my life continue?”  The jailer cried out the question that we all ask when faced with a deep dilemma.  [The author Anne Lamott says that there are 3 essentials prayers and the first one is Help! (the other two are Thanks and Wow)] This is what the jailer prays, “Help me!  Save me!”

Paul’s answer to the jailer’s cry is an answer to us all. “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”  Believe in the truth that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection shows us the heart of God.  Believe in the power of God’s love to change our lives, to save us from all that oppresses us.  Believe in the grace of the Holy Spirit which sustains us at every moment. Believe that God hears us and empowers us to faith and to service.

As we affirm that God hears us, let us not forget the slave girl who sang the truth of God but who remained enslaved to the oppression of the day.  It is a failing of Paul that he did not recognize the girl nor free her.   It is unfortunate that the story does not tell us what happened to her after she was of no more use to her masters.  We can hope that she was able to join the home church of Lydia because God heard her too.

As we prepare our hearts and minds and bodies for the Lord’s Supper let us sing out to our God who hears us.  May the songs we sing remind us of our God who brings us peace, who calls us forward, and who loves us always.  Our hymn of preparation is

His Eye is on the Sparrow which is an insert in the bulletin