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Sermon August 18, 2019

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1408

August 18, 2019 Acts 16.16-40

Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)

 

“Believe in the Lord Jesus”

 

 16 As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” 18 And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. 19 But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. 20 And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. 21 They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” 22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. 23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. 24 Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. 25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, 26 and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone's bonds were unfastened. 27 When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God. 35 But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.” 36 And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.” 37 But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.” 38 The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens. 39 So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. 40 So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed.

 

  • God’s Economy

 

Today’s reading begins with a slave girl, a spirit, and the economy. This slave girl makes money for her owners by telling fortunes. She does this by the power of a spirit of divination. Divination is associated with things like witchcraft, sorcery, and fortune telling. But, she apparently was having a slow week of work. The story says she was annoying Paul and his companions, continuing to disrupt things by yelling out that they were servants of God and proclaiming salvation. I trust that it was a mocking chant seeking to disgrace Paul and she kept at it for several days. It was the spirit/demon, spirit of divination within her that was making all this racket, because Paul commands the spirit to come out and it comes out! It appears that the mocking has stopped and what’s more the spirit of divination that gave her the ability to tell fortunes was also gone. This infuriates the owners. Their cash making enterprise is ruined.

This story reminds me of Mark 5 when Jesus drives the demons into the pigs who then sprint down to the river and drown. Not long after that, the chamber of commerce tells Jesus to get out of town. The same happens here with Paul and Silas and the others. In these kinds of stories we see God’s power to transform life – her demonic psychic power is driven out. How do the people react to her new found freedom? They drag before the marketplace leaders to have them punished.

Just imagine the scene of Paul, Silas, Luke, and probably several more in this group of evangelists who are walking to a place of prayer. As they walk through the town, there would be people walking around, going from place to place, buying and selling in the streets. As they walked around, this girl began to follow them. Everyone probably knew who she was and what she did. For several days, she shouted out how Paul and the gang followed God and preached the way to salvation. Paul gets irritated, annoyed, fed up with her. She has been screaming out things about them, they are servants of God! They bring news of salvation, but it is obviously a mocking of Paul and Silas and even of God. It is not unlike the mocking we sometimes see in the Psalms like 42.10 “my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, ‘Where is your God?’”

The slave girl, I believe is also taunting Paul, “Look over there, look at the slaves of the Most High God. They’ll pave the road to salvation for you! Nannie nannie boo boo!” This went on for several days as they walk around the town. “Lookie here at the God men telling you how to get saved!” “Here they are, the servants of the Most High, giving you the way to heaven.” Finally, the story says, Paul became annoyed with her; he just got fed up with her taunts. The mocking would have to end…Another version says that Paul acted in "a burst of irritation" (Phillips).

Paul drives out the demon in the name of Jesus. Jesus had done the same for the Gerasene demoniac in Mark 5. In both stories the people with vested economic interests are not happy with the exorcisms. With Paul, he has threatened the profit margin of the slave owners. Jesus disrupts income for pig herders. Just imagine how angry people with vested interests in today’s psychic networks would be if we drove out the demons from their workplace! Imagine if we drove demons out of the businesses and corporations that exploited others for profit. Imagine if, in the name of Jesus, we prayed for the exploited people who served to profit others. Do you think that would cause a reaction against the Christians?

You can’t go around disturbing commerce! If Paul goes around casting out demons, how will the market economy be able to survive? How can any market survive without the demons of greed and exploitation? If we all started acting with sanity, the whole market might fall apart within a week!

So the Philippian Chamber of Commerce steps in to take action against these anti-economic growth trouble makers in Paul and Silas. You can't mix religion and economics. You can’t run a business by Christian principles. This girl who was bound by a spirit and slave owners is now free in Christ, but instead of rejoicing, there is condemnation. The slave owners don't mind a little religion as long as it is kept in its place.

God’s economy works very differently than the world’s. In the economy of God a person’s soul, a human being, is priceless. In the economy of God everything is turned upside down and those who everyone who first seems to be free is a slave to something. Those who think they are free outside of Christ are in bondage to something else.

The Church and the world conflict because we set values on people in different ways. We determine worth by totally different standards. What we produce or how much we make  like a psychic slave-girl  does not determine our worth. Education, status, or achievement does not determine our worth. Our worth is found in God. We are created by God and loved by God and that is what makes us worth God even sending Jesus to die for us, because God’s economy deals with human persons, with salvation and wholeness. Paul did not see this slave-girl as a commodity to be bought and sold. At the time he saw her as a pest, but he also saw a child of God who was in bondage. God sets our worth, not what we do, but on who we are and whose we are. We belong to God. That makes us worth more than the world could ever imagine. The world only values our net worth in terms of money. In the economy of God it is only those who are in Christ who can know true freedom.

There are forces in this world who want us in bondage to debt, to consumerism, to government, to what ever might keep us from being free in Jesus.

 

 

  • Real Bondage

 

What is at stake with this story of the slave girl and the arrest and jail time? It is about who is bound and who is free. Who is in bondage with this story? At first the slave girl is in bondage both by the spirit and by her owners. Certainly the owners of the girl are in bondage to making profits by exploiting others, both her and her customers. The magistrate is also in bondage to making the economy work no matter what methods are used. The crowd in bound as well, slaves to the marketplace. The rulers, the police, the jailer, all in bondage to the social construct and economic structures.

But we are also called to step out of the story here to see that we, as readers, are also people in bondage. We have our own sin to deal with, our bondage to addictions, to consumerism, to exploitation. It is difficult to go against the grain of our culture and society and break out of the patterns that give us endless desire to look out for ourselves. It’s hard for me and for all of us. Every time I go down to the basement I wonder how we have accumulated so much stuff. Wouldn’t life be easier if we could minimize the clutter from our lives and cut back on the constant need to consume more than we need? Enough stepping on toes!

 

 

  • Real Freedom

 

What is at stake is also who is really free in this story. Even though they are jailed at one point, Paul and Silas are always free. Nothing disrupts their faith, not even being beaten and jailed. Not an earthquake that gives them opportunity to escape. Everything is taken as an opportunity to proclaim the gospel. They are free because they are in Christ. The jailer and his family are set free. The jailer sees in Paul and Silas men who are so free, they are even free when in jail. This is what he wants, this radical freedom that brings something greater than just being free to move about, more than just being out of jail. And of course, the slave girl is set free. We don’t know anything about what happens to her after this encounter, but I cannot help but think that she knew there was something about Paul and the others and the word they were proclaiming. Her mocking was turned to thanksgiving. I like to imagine that she, like others who were set free, believed in Jesus and became a part of the growing Christian church.

 

 

  • Believe in the Lord Jesus

 

What is the way out of bondage? Believe – there is a way out of bondage, a way out of consumerism, a way out of addiction, a way out of sexual confusion, a way out of sin, a way out of despair, a way out of any bondage, visible or invisible. Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved. That is what the entire Bible is about, deliverance from bondage. The main narrative in the Old Testament is the exodus from bondage to Pharaoh and the main narrative in the New Testament is the deliverance from sin through Jesus Christ by His death and resurrection.

The slave girl got it right in that Paul and Silas were servants of the Most High. But the incredible irony is that being in bondage to God in Jesus through the Spirit is the most freedom we can ever experience. John 8.31-32, “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’”

 

Jesus is still meddling in the works of governments and economies and lives by the power of inversion and healing and miracle and by giving the gift of freedom. A radical freedom that turns the world of economics upside down; a radical freedom that turns burdened, bonded lives loose to sing; a radical freedom that threatens the ways of the world.

This freedom disrupts us, because it leads to salvation for those enslaved by economics, circumstances, or demons. Salvation is possible for all in bondage and for those who would bind us. The radical freedom of Jesus Christ makes us free even if in physical chains, free to sing, free to serve, free to say no to the world, free to stand alone if necessary for justice and righteousness, free to be God's own, the baptized community of faith.

We too often act as if we are afraid of this freedom, frightened at what others may think of us, afraid to be different than the social fads, fearful that being people of faith may appear odd. But Jesus can deliver us from bondage to fear as well. Our freedom is in the person of Jesus Christ alone. And in that freedom we will stand and fall and live and breath and die and rise because we have known the truth and the truth has set us free. In this freedom we find our worth. Our freedom in Christ may bring us to conflict with social practice, with economic greed, with nationalism, with all sorts of forces that seek to bind us. May our freedom and our worth always be defined by total devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the good news and the news we need to hear over and over again – Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved. Amen.