Friday, May 18, 2007

C, Easter 7 - Acts 16:16-34 & Revelation 22:10-14 "Actions of Being"

 
A common misnomer in our thoughts these days is this: If it gets the job done then it’ll do. This seems to be the bottom line in doing what one must do to survive. Unfortunately this type of rationale pays little to no respect for right and wrong. In fact one might be tempted to believe, if it gets the job done then it’s justifiable, no matter what the means are of getting there.
As Paul and Silas walked through Philippi on their way to a place of prayer each day, a slave girl possessed by a spirit, repeatedly but rightly points to these men as “servant of the Most High God!” She was not wrong in what she said even though she was a noisy nuisance and others were making money out of her prophesies. Surely this might be used as a means of doing God’s work; after all she was proclaiming the Most High God?
Surprisingly though, Paul tired and troubled by her daily ranting, turned and said to the spirit in her, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her. (Acts 16:18)
After Paul took this action, he and Silas were seized, flogged, and thrown into jail. One would imagine they would have been sorry and sore. But instead, they sat up singing hymns and praying past midnight. Suddenly and unexpectedly an earthquake shook the prison, the doors flew open and the chains came loose.
To the horror of the jailer, he awoke at the commotion, thinking his worst nightmare had come true. Believing the prisoners had escaped he reached for his sword to end his life, but Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” (Acts 16:28)
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. (Acts 16:29-34)
What must I do to be saved? The question “what one must do?” is perhaps a very natural response for humanity. The jailer faced death, because the prison had become unsecured under his watch. He was frightened, humiliated, and his immediate response, before Paul stoped him, was to take his life.
In this account from Acts, we’ve just heard of two responses to two situations. They seem to be knee jerk sudden responses, with little thought to what one must do. The response of Paul and the jail keeper were natural responses according to who they were. They were immediate responses from their beings, they didn’t have to stop and think what to do!
In the core of Paul’s being he was troubled by the spirit filled girl and in an instant he turned and cast out the spirit. The Jailer was troubled in spirit too, and in an instant he turned to take his life. Both men acted according to his being, they acted as according to whom they were called to be. The difference between them is this: Paul’s being was led by something or someone external, whereas the jailer’s being was led by his internal being or will. And this was leading him to death.
The difference between the prisoners and the jailer doesn’t end there either. In fact, ironically, the prisoners act as free men, singing hymns and praying, way after midnight; whereas the jailer acts as a prisoner, and Paul needs to stops him from killing himself. Then in desperation the jailer asks, “What must I do to be saved?”
As Christians we often place ourselves back under bondage, as did the jailer. Instead of our freedom in Christ allowing us to be who we are called to be, we get caught up worrying what we and others must do to be Christian – what we must do to be saved and save others. However, “being a Christian” is exactly that, “being” rather than “doing”. When one faces the question of doing — failure, depression, and death follow hot on the heels of our defective human deeds. It’s not so much a question of “what I must do to be?” but rather, “my being in Christ allows me to do what he wills for me.”
From Revelation Jesus says to us, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near. 11 Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy.” (Revelation 22:10-11)
Here we are told not to bind up the words of Revelation because the time is near. In fact Jesus is near; the Kingdom of God is near. When Jesus returns to usher in his Kingdom, those who have appeared to be in bondage will be shown to be free while those who seem free, and bind others with their human judgements, will be bound in eternity. Those whose being is dependant on what they do will reap their wage; their means for getting the job done despite God’s way, will be paid for in full. Whereas, those who allow God’s means to make them holy, so that their being is holy, will also get their reward.
Jesus continues, “12 Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. 14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.” (Revelation 22:12-14)
We all must ask ourselves, “What have I done? Am I doing what God wants me to do, or am I doing something else? What must I do to be saved? How do I wash my robes that I might have the right to the tree of life?”
It’s at this point we must turn away from the deathly deeds of our own rationale and understanding, and be continually drawn back into God’s word. In fact, just like the jailer which Paul saved from death, we must be led away from meditating and trusting in our deeds, and our desire to try and put things right by our own action, lest we too die from our futile and failing deeds.
Paul and Silas acted according to their being. They were not focused on what they must do. If they had they might have moaned and agonised over the actions causing their arrest. They may have grizzled like victims, “what have we done to deserve this?” But instead they worshiped God with joy knowing their fate and suffering, was about who they were called to be in Christ, rather than what they had done.
Likewise, Paul and Silas acted according to their being, when the jailer pleaded, “What must I do to be saved”? They pointed the man to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, speaking God’s Word of truth and grace, so the Spirit could implant faith in his heart too. So in hearing this word, our crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus was planted in the jailer by the power of the Holy Spirit, as he and his family were baptised. He no longer had to do anything to believe, belief and being were given as a gift, and the work of being a Christian, moved him to immediately cleanse the wounds of Paul and Silas, take them into his home and feed them, and live in joy that he had come to believe in Jesus Christ.
We like the jailer have been captured in baptism, so we might remain in Jesus Christ, receiving all the gifts of his deeds, living as free holy beings of God, who have a right to the tree of life.
The grace of the Lord Jesus is with us, because God’s people have received the being of Jesus, through his gracious means of the cross and baptism. And therefore, the last word in Revelation, the last word of the bible for us — is this: The grace of the Lord Jesus “be” with God’s people. Amen.