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Sermon for the sunday after Ascension Day

Sermon for The Sunday after The Ascension

The Epistle:  Acts 16:16-34

Our Acts reading this morning tells of a fascinating story.

Paul and Silas were on their way to pray in Philippi when they were met by a slave girl who had some spirit controlling her which gave her the ability to predict the future. I suppose we might say today that she had some sort of clairvoyant ability. There is another whole debate here about whether we would regard someone who has that ability today to be possessed by a spirit or whether we might see it as a gift. Certainly orthodox Christianity has no time for meddling with the occult and with the spirit world. Anyway, as some clairvoyants do today, she earned money by fortune-telling and her owners obviously had a great deal of vested interest in her. She was being exploited for her ability – wherever it came from.  We read that she was following Paul and Silas around for several days shouting out that they knew the way to be saved and were servants of the Most High God. Not an antagonist message by any means, and its interesting how Paul and Silas didn’t take action immediately. Maybe she was giving them some good publicity. Finally, though, they had had enough of her calling out – they discerned that a spirit was causing the trouble and they drove it from her in the name of Jesus.

Not surprisingly, the owners of the slave girl – there must have been a gang of them- were not happy bunnies – their source of income had gone and they seized  Paul and Silas and dragged them before the Roman magistrates, accusing them of acting unlawfully against Roman customs. The crowd got agitated and the magistrates ordered them to be beaten and stripped.

We read that the two men kept up their spirits by singing praises to God. Even such a disastrous set-back did not crush their sense of God’s purpose in sending them on their journey. Instead, imprisonment became an opportunity to proclaim their faith.

You will remember the story – an earthquake followed, the doors flew open, everyone’s chains became loose – an image taken by Charles Wesley in one of his hymns – How Can it be – and the jailor was so distraught that he was going to kill himself. But Paul stopped him and the jailor was converted – along with all his household – and he was filled with great joy.

What a story!

Not long before in Acts we read of how a woman, Lydia,  a  trader  of purple cloth had been converted by Paul. Now it was the turn of a Jailor – thus the first two people in Europe to be converted were hardly people who it would seem would add prestige to the Church.

But the story of Paul and Silas reminds us that Jesus so often was found spending time on the unimportant or the marginalized. Jesus placed a value on everyone equally, regardless of their wealth, status or gender.

Paul and Silas took up that challenge, and we have the same duty to proclaim the Lord in our own age. The era is different but the message of love, forgiveness and joy remains the same.

There is a story   that some of you might have heard before – it reminds us that we now are the body of Christ here on earth, people who have the guidance and the energy of the Holy Spirit within us, charged with sharing the same message that Paul and Silas acted out in their lives and words all those years again.

This is how the story goes how Jesus sent back to heaven after his time on earth. Even going to heaven He bore the marks of the cross. As the angels talked with him, Gabriel, always inquisitive, said to Jesus: “Master, you must have suffered terribly for those people down there.” ” I did,” Jesus said. “And”, said Gabriel, “do they all know about how you loved them and what you did for them?” “Oh no,” said Jesus, “not yet.” Just a few in Palestine know.” “What have you done,” said Gabriel, “to let everyone know about it?”

Jesus said, “I have asked Peter, James, and John and a few others to make it their business to tell others about me, and the others to tell others and others and others and others, until the farthest people on the widest circle know what I have done.” Gabriel was less than convinced that this would work.

He said to Jesus: “What if Peter, James, and John and the others get tired and forget and fail? What would happen if way down the years – say  in 2010 –  people just don’t tell others about you? Are there no other plans? …No back-up strategy?” Jesus replied: “I haven’t made other plans. I’m  counting on them!”

When Jesus ascended into heaven to be with his Father, he left the church with us. We are His body. He is counting on us! There is no alternate plan. It isn’t  always easy – and when we hit hard and troubled times, as Paul  and his friends often did – its good to remember  Charles Wesley’s words: “ Be of good cheer”  and to be patient in times of struggle and setbacks.

May this time of Ascension and approaching Pentecost be one of renewal for each of us.  May it be a time of breaking down any boundaries we may have erected between ourselves and God’s love and between ourselves and those who are searching for God’s love but have not yet found it within our church communities. Amen.

Sorry I havent got a source for the picture – how do you feel about it?

( Some wit said to me yesterday that it was fortunate there wasnt an ash cloud problem at the time of the Ascension!

May 17, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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