The Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

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Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

My grandfather Reid Chilton was a great storyteller in the old Appalachian tradition of starting out with something believable about one of your relatives that suddenly becomes both unbelievable and unbelievably funny.  A couple of those stories had to do with funerals in which the corpse apparently came back to life.  My favorite went something like this.

“Back yonder before the first World War your great Uncle Arrington was preaching a funeral over to the Primitive Baptist Meetinghouse in Dry Pond.  The lady what died, she was like your grandma here, she had the arthritis so bad she was all scrunched up.  Well, when this here lady died, they didn’t have no undertaker around to do things right, so they just stretched here out as straight as they could and then they tied her down with some good, thick twine that we used to use tie up to tobacco for curing.

Well, the day of the funeral come and the lady was laid out nice in the coffin and the lid was open of course – we didn’t used to shut it until we was ready to take the body out to the cemetery.  Your Uncle Arrington got real hot in his sermon, talking about the resurrection day, and how we all need to be ready, and how we need to be ready anytime and anyplace, and about that bright morning when the trumpet will sound and all the dead in Christ will come right up outer the grave; and people were nodding and smiling and shouting “Amen, that’s right!” when, all of a sudden, that woman’s strings broke and her muscles contracted and she sat straight up in that coffin and Lord – people went wild.  They was crawling out windows, and piling up around the door, trampling on each other and pulling each other back whilst they was trying to get out.  And your Uncle Arrington, why he just crawled up under the pulpit and sat there and kept mumbling, ‘Not now, Lord. I didn’t mean now. I don’t want to go now.’”

Two of today’s Scripture lessons deal with miraculous returns from the dead, with unbelievable, incredible stories of corpses being brought back to life through the power of God. Each story has a widow, an only son, and an act of compassion by a man of God.

The Elijah story is a little like Grandpa’s tale about Uncle Arrington – Elijah is a somewhat comic figure.  He too is a bit peeved with God. “What are you doing to me?” he says. And he’s somewhat desperate in his efforts to heal.  It’s almost as if he’s making it up as he goes along.  “I know what I’ll do – I’ll lay down on top of him, maybe that will help?’” But, eventually, the boy is restored to life.

The story in Luke is very clear and straight-forward: A man is dead. A processions is on its way out of the city to bury him. Coming out of the gates of the town, the body is preceded by a group of professional mourners, playing on cymbals and wailing like Banshees.

Jesus and his followers would have been expected to step aside, to clear the way, one last act of respect for the dead and for those who mourn them. But they didn’t. They didn’t because something happened to Jesus, something Luke tells us about in a few spare words – “He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; . . . when the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’”

A sonless widow in that time and that place was facing a life of poverty. With no man to provide for her and no social security or life insurance or inheritance or employability, she was dependent upon the kindness of strangers. Her future looked desperate, perhaps hopeless.

Jesus reached out and touched the funeral platform on which the dead man was being carried. By doing so he broke religious and cultural rules; seriously shocking, scandalizing and confusing all those around. Not stopping there, he broke the rules of science and common sense by commanding the young man to get up, to come to life, to return from the dead; and miracle of miracles, he did.

Throughout his ministry, opportunities for healings came to Jesus but he didn’t go looking for them. Every time he worked a miracle it happened because of those three little words: “he had compassion.”

Time after time in the Gospels, Jesus’ compassion and love spills over and he does a miracle for someone in need. It is a great sadness to me that so many people don’t believe that God is love, that God is forgiving and kind and merciful. Too many people in the world believe that God is eager and willing to send us all to hell. In the story about Elijah, the woman turns on the prophet with the assumption that God has come to her house with judgment and punishment: Verse 18: “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!” In the Gospel lesson, when Jesus worked his miracle, the immediate response of the crowd is anxious fear. The text says “Fear seized all of them . . .” In my Grandpa’s tale, the humor plays off of the contrast between people’s joy at the prospect of a theoretical resurrection and their fear and panic in the face of a real one.

We live in a world full of fear. People are afraid of rising prices and falling incomes, we are afraid of first one presidential candidate and then the other one, we are afraid of failing health care systems, we are afraid of immigrants, and disease, and forest fires, and drought, and drugs, and tornadoes and hurricanes, and terrorists, and, and, and . . .the list is long and growing. And in the midst of all this fear, there are many people who are afraid of God. Or who believe that God doesn’t care what happens to us. Or believe there is no God to help us.

The Gospel for us today is this – into this bog of sadness, cynicism, and unbelief, God intervenes to shatter this cycle of fear and violence with words and deeds of compassion and healing.  God intervened not once but many times in the days of the Hebrew scriptures – through patriarchs and matriarchs, through Judges both make and females, through prophets and seers and women who spoke truth to power, through kings and queens and shepherd boys.

And God in Christ intervened in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Whose words told us who we are and what we are called to do and whose life showed us the way, the way of the cross.

And God continues to intervene through us.  We are invited to join the Christ in having compassion; in overcoming fear with love, in overcoming sorrow with joy, in overcoming death with life. Christ is risen.

And, I do mean now. We should do this now.

Amen and amen.

The Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

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Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

I have lived in several small town and rural places in the South.  In one of those communities I had a friend whose brother was married to Maria, a young woman from Mexico.  My friend was part of a large and close-knit farm family where everybody worked side by side on each others’ farms and frequently had meals together in their various houses.  “Daddy,” the patriarch, didn’t go to the field much anymore and spent most of his days in town, gossiping with other retired farmers on the benches in front of the courthouse.

One night at dinner, after he had spent the day filling up on misinformation, he passed the bowl of potatoes, and with it, this opinion, “This county is just being overrun by “high-spanics.” Feller at the courthouse told me.”  Fortunately, Maria was in the kitchen fetching the biscuits when Daddy said this and my friend kicked her father under the table and said, “Daddy, watch your mouth.”  Daddy was startled and confused and said, “What, what did I say?”  “Hispanics, Daddy – don’t talk about Hispanics.”  Daddy was now even more confused, “Well, why not?”  My friend sighed and said, “Daddy, Maria’s Hispanic.”  Daddy smiled and said, “Naw, it’s all right. She ain’t high-spanic.  She’s Mexican.”

Fear of the foreigner, exclusion of the other, has been a part of human culture forever.  My friend’s father knew and loved Maria, knew and loved her children, his grand-children.  But when someone suggested Hispanic people were a threat, he jumped on board, not realizing they were talking about beloved members of his own family.

We sometimes mistakenly characterize first century Judaism as being closed off from foreigners. This is simply not true.  For example, our first lesson was about King Solomon’s prayer of dedication for the temple.  Three things are of interest here.  1) Solomon himself is the great, great grandchild of Ruth, who was not Jewish, but was a Moabite.  2) In the text itself, Solomon prays for foreigners – specifically expecting them to come and pray at the temple and asking God to treat the foreigners the same way God treats the Israelites, the Chosen People. And 3) This text was written several hundred years after the dedication of the temple.  When the prayer was written down, the temple was in ruins and the people of Israel were in exile, themselves strangers in a strange land, living among foreigners in Babylon.  And yet, through the writing of this account, they expressed an awareness that all people are God’s people.  While it is true that there were some who understood Judaism as an exclusive religion, that was not the norm.  While their vision of inclusion was not our modern one, they were not any more anti-other than any other culture of that time or place.

Our Gospel lesson reflects this culture of interaction with foreigners.  The centurion was a foreigner, a foreigner who should have been hated I suppose.  He was the agent of a foreign military power.  Since there were no Roman troops stationed in the area of Capernaum during this time period it is likely that he was either a part of the Customs Service of the Empire or he was a retiree.  It was the policy of the Roman army to reward it’s retirees with grants of farms or estates in the provinces.  Either way, the centurion was a powerful and important man living in the midst of the Jews. And apparently he had reached out to his Jewish neighbors and had built a good relationship with them. The Jewish Elders were happy to represent him, to speak up for him in requesting that Jesus come and heal his slave. They said, “He is worthy, he loves us, he built our synagogue.”  He had done much for them as a benevolent force in their community and they were glad to help him out.

Yet, while the Jewish elders called this foreigner “worthy,” he calls himself “unworthy.” When Jesus is almost to his house, the centurion sends friends to tell Jesus not to come.  “I am not worthy for you to come into my house. Just say the word and my slave will be healed.”  He adds an explanation for why he thinks this way.  “I command troops, they do what I say.  I assume you command spirits and they will do what you say.  End of story.”  And indeed Jesus does heal the slave.

These two stories model for us a faith that reaches out to and interacts with foreigners, even in the midst of larger conflicts at work in society.  The writers of the story of Solomon’s  temple prayer were the losers in a war that wiped out their country and they were living in the midst of the people who had conquered them, yet they wrote about Solomon  praying that God would welcome the prayers of foreigners.  The Gospel story took place in a time when the people of Israel were under the rule of a foreign power and yet when an important and powerful soldier of that foreign power offer help in the form of building a temple – they accepted his help.  And when he asked for help they were happy to approach Jesus on his behalf.

A friend of mine was raised in a very conservative church.  In the 1960s he went off to college at the denominational college.  There he became a part of the civil rights movement.  One Sunday a multi-cultural group of students walked across the street and up the steps, dressed in Sunday best.  They had notified a newspaper reporter of their plans and on Monday morning there was a picture on the front page of the largest paper in the state, showing the group standing on the porch arguing with the church board, who had barred them all from the premises.  That weekend my friend went home to wash his clothes and eat some home cooking and his mother groused at him over the picture. “I just don’t know where you learned such crazy ideas.”  My friend said, “Why mother, I learned them from you at church, in Sunday School.” “When did I ever teach you such a thing?”  “When you taught me to sing,

‘Red and Yellow, Black and White, they are precious in His sight.  Jesus loves the children of the world.’ I figured if Jesus loved all of us when we are children, he also loves us when we grow up.”

Jesus loves all of us, and Jesus calls all of us to love all the rest of us.

Amen and amen.

Holy Trinity Sunday (Year C)

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Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

About twenty years ago I served a church near Vanderbilt University. IN good weather I often ate my lunch in a park near the campus.  One day as I tore of pieces of my hamburger bun and threw them into a pond full of ducks, I noticed a dad and his five-year-old sitting on a nearby bench.  The dad had his head buried in books and papers on his knees while his son played nearby.  Suddenly, junior got up and stood at Daddy’s knee and asked a question about the ducks or the sky or something.  Without looking up from his papers, Dad answered with a long, rambling, compound sentence full of words and concepts far beyond the grasp of the average adult.  The little boy looked at his father for a minute and then said, “Uh Dad, are you talking to me?”   

The Athanasian Creed is traditionally said on Trinity Sunday – “Uncreated is the Father, uncreated is the Son, uncreated is the Spirit.  The Father is infinite; the Son is infinite; the Holy spirit is infinite.  Eternal is the Father, eternal is the Son, eternal is the Spirit; Yet there are not three eternal beings, but one who is eternal; as there are not three uncreated and unlimited beings, but one who is uncreated and unlimited.”  It goes on like that for a page and a half. “Uh Dad, are you talking to me?”

The Trinity is a difficult subject to talk about and to preach about, mostly because if we try too hard to explain the inexplicable we always make a mess of it.  By the time we have come up with an explanation that makes sense, we discover we have veered off track and said something that’s not actually true.  We have a tendency to say things like: God is one and we experience the Holy in three different ways, or that the one God puts on three different faces (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) depending on our human need – like I’m one person but to my siblings I’m a brother and to my wife I’m a husband and to my children I’m a Dad.  Sounds good, but it misses the point.

As the Athanasian Creed makes exceedingly clear, paragraph after paragraph, there are three persons, separate yet united, all God and yet all one God. Turning that divine reality into something that fits a mathematical or logical model that is easy to grasp is simply not possible.  In Corinthians Paul reminds us that we are stewards of the mysteries of God.  How God can be both three and one is a mystery of God – and I’m okay with that.

For, while I am not able to make complete sense of the life of God in the Trinity – the life of God in the Trinity makes sense of my life in the world.  Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier.  Maker of Heaven and Earth, my Lord and Savior, the Giver of Life.  All these names and phrases and descriptions swirl around in my head and let me know who God is and what God has done in the past and what God is doing now, in this place and in this time.

A number of years ago the Barna Research Group reported a study that asked a cross-section of Americans what one sentence or phrase was the most important they had ever heard.

# 1 – I love you.

# 2 – I forgive you.

# 3 – Dinner’s ready, let’s eat.

The Hebrew Scriptures are the long saga of God’s desire to love God’s people.  If I had to sum up the meaning of everything from Genesis to Malachi, “God says I love you.” would do nicely.  God made the world and God loves the world.  God made us and God loves us.  God the Father, God the Creator, God the Maker is love.  All the trees in the forest and the water in the oceans and the birds in the sky scream out to us, “God is love and God loves you, and you, and you.  God loves all of us.”

But, because God loves us God made us free, made us free to make choices, free to live our lives.  And free people often make bad choices, either through ignorance or from evil intent.  Either way, it is a fact of human existence that we make a habit of messing up a good thing and it is when we have realized our failure to be good that the mere knowledge that God loves us is simply not enough.

Why?  Because paired with our knowledge of God’s love we now have an awareness of our unworthiness, our inability to be the good people we want to be, of our failure to live up to our own standard’s, much less God’s. Ever since Adam and Eve, people who have done wrong have shied away from God, fearful of having their own “sorriness” confronted by God’s holiness.

The only thing that can reach us is such a state is a clear message that God’s love is greater than our failure; that God’s love is so deep and broad and total that it can forgive and defeat even the darkest and most evil act. The cross stands as the centerpiece of a Christian people’s life together; a startling and sobering reminder that God’s love is free but it is not cheap.  God’s love is so complete that God in Christ was willing to suffer and die so that we could be forgiven and live.

We use the word “communion” to refer to the Lord’s Supper so much that we are in danger of forgetting it’s other meanings. It refers to the connection and community of God the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit in the one Godhead; and to the connection and communion of all of us as individual Christians who are yet one Body of Christ in this congregation, and the connection and community of this congregation with other congregations and with the Trinity in the universal, worldwide, all times and all places, thing we call the catholic church.  We gather for the meal which celebrates and solidifies this Holy Communion to remember that we are a community united in Christ that is called to constant love and forgiveness of each other and the world.  That is why the table is always open and inviting to all – calling everyone to the place where God’s love and forgiveness are made real and touchable in the body and blood of Christ.

Elaine Pagels is a New Testament scholar who has readily admitted over the years that she is not active in the church, that she does not believe what the church teaches.  Yet, in her book “Beyond Belief,” she was honest enough to write a personal testimony about the value of the church.  The day she discovered that her young son had a terminal illness, she found herself in the back of a church, not remembering how she got there.  After a while she decided to stay, thinking that she needed to be there, that it was good to be there. She writes:  “ . . .here was a place to weep without imposing tears upon a child, in a community . . that had gathered to sing, to celebrate, to acknowledge common needs, and to deal with what we cannot control or imagine.”

That is who we are.  That is who God has called us to be.  We are a place and people who say to the world.  “You are loved; you are forgiven; dinner’s ready, come eat.”  “You belong here, you are a part of us.”

Amen and amen.

The Day of Pentecost — Year C

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Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

A few years ago, USA Today had a piece about the Connie T. Maxwell Home in Greenwood SC. The Baptists started the home as an orphanage and as times changed they transitioned to serving children in any sort of need. The director told heart-breaking stories about the lives of the children before they were brought to Connie T. Maxwell. The reporter asked how the staff coped with the constant stress of dealing with the pain of others. The director said “You have to keep a sense of humor.” Then she showed the writer a file in her desk where she kept an anonymous collection of cute or funny things the children had said or done. “Whenever I get over-whelmed,” she said, “ I just open this drawer and read a few of these and I feel better.” The paper printed a few of the things the kids had said. My favorite is this, from a 9 year old boy: “Germs, germs germs, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. That’s all I ever hear about around here and I ain’t never seen either one of them.”

That young boy summed up a problem that Jesus addresses in our Gospel Lesson. It is Maundy Thursday,
Jesus realizes that when he’s gone his followers will be like the little boy, hearing and talking about Jesus without ever seeing him. So Jesus promises an answer, a solution to this “Never Seeing Jesus” problem. Jesus promises them the Holy Spirit. In our text he calls her the Counselor and The Spirit of Truth, but it’s the Holy Spirit he’s talking about.

It is likely that the disciples heard those words and looked at each other quizzically and then – nodded as if they understood when they really didn’t,and then – promptly forgot what he said. We are all familiar with this; it’s what we all do when our spouse or boss or teacher or significant other tells us things we don’t understand and don’t care enough about to ask for clarification.

So, they kind of forgot about it, and then the crucifixion and the resurrection happened, and then the hiding out and then there was Jesus’ popping in and out of their lives for a few weeks after the resurrection and then there was Ascension with Jesus’ floating off into heaven and, in midst of all that, who could possibly remember a one line promise about a Counselor. I mean, really, who would remember that?

So, here the disciples are, minding their own little, insignificant, Messianic Christian, storefront ,cult business, singing hymns and praying and still hiding out from the authorities when: WHOOSH! Jesus’ promise of a Spirit of Truth comes true. Noise, wind, fire, voices shouting, movement, out of control religious excitement; of one thing we can be absolutely certain; the first church was definitely NOT Lutheran!

The church was born in answer to the problem of talking about Jesus without being able to see him. “Germs, germs, germs, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. That’s all I hear about around here and I ain’t never seen either one of them”. Though I understand what that young man was talking about, I would beg to differ.
He saw Jesus every day in the very existence of that home, built and supported by the Church. He saw Jesus every day in the people who bathed, fed, disciplined, taught and loved him.

The church is both a place and a people. It is a place and a people where Jesus is not just talked about but is shown to the world. It is not by accident that the New Testament constantly refers to the church as the body of Christ. Too often we think of the church in personal terms, in terms of what am I getting out of it, of how am I being fed, of how are my needs being met, etc. To think that is to misunderstand the nature of the church. It is significant that belief in the church is in the third article of the creed because the third article is the part devoted to the Holy Spirit. The church is a work of the Holy Spirit in the world.

Luther’s explanation of the third article in the Small Catechism says that the church is: “called, gathered, enlightened, made holy and sent” The Holy Spirit is active in the church calling the world to God. We each of us have been called here by the spirit, we have been gathered together not just for convenience sake , not because talking to a lot of people at once is more efficient than talking one on one or because we need more voices to make the hymns sound better, or the more people we have the better we can pay the pastor.
No, we are gathered because it is the nature of human beings to need each other, to need to learn with and from each other, to learn to support and care for each other.

It is in the midst of the gathered community that we become truly holy, not perfect, not ideal, not without problem or moral struggles and flaws, but holy. Devoted to God and aware of God’s presence in us and in others and in the world.

And it is as we have been gathered and enlightened and made holy that we realize that we have not been made those things for ourselves and for our own benefit and for our own personal growth, but for the world. We realize that we have been gathered so that we might be sent, sent into a world that needs love, that needs care, that needs compassion, that needs to see Jesus in the midst of the toxic germs of modern life.

In his book “Red Letter Christians,” Tony Campolo tells of sitting down to dinner in a restaurant in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Seated next to the front window, he looked up from his plate to discover three little boys with their faces pressed against the window, staring at his plate full of food. The waiter came by and pulled down the shade, “Don’t let them bother you, enjoy your meal.” (Campolo, “Red Letter Christians,” P. 24)

There is a world just outside these walls that is starving for what God has to offer. We can be the only Jesus those people ever see. We can be the body of Christ in their lives. Or not. Are we going to pull the shade? Or are we going to get up and go deal with them?

Amen and amen.

The Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year C

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Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

This is Mother’s Day. When I was a kid, my mother said a lot of things to me that I thought were in the Bible. This could have been because she said them with great emphasis and authority. Or it could have been because we only had three types of reading material in our house: Life magazine, the World Book Encyclopedia and the Bible. If it didn’t sound like the magazine or the encyclopedia, I assumed she got it from the Bible.

Anyway, my mother would come into the room my two bothers and I shared, and she would start shaking her head as she surveyed our mess, and she would say, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness,” as she ordered us to get cracking on a clean-up. I looked and looked in the Bible, trying to find that text. It’s not there. John Wesley, who founded the Methodist Church, said it.

Whenever one of her children complained to her about life – she would look at us gravely and say, “God works in mysterious ways.” Sounds like the Bible, right? Well no, turns out to a paraphrase of a hymn by 19th English poet William Cowper, “God moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform.”

If I was on the edge of adolescent despair, facing some obstacle I thought myself totally incapable of overcoming – a term paper, a college entrance essay, a job application – she would look over her glasses at me and say, “Do your best, God helps those who help themselves.” Bible? Not exactly. Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanac.

As a pastor, I have talked with many people who attributed things to the Bible that aren’t there. Most ministers have had similar experiences. One of the worst cases I have heard of was Jewish biblical scholar and Rabbi Rami Shapiro. He had to prove to one of his students at Middle Tennessee State University that the expression “That dog won’t hunt.” is not in the book of Proverbs. (John Blake, CNN.belief.net, 6/5/2011)

There are other common sayings that we have all heard while uncertain of the source. As I thought about the story of Paul and Silas in jail, the line “Stone walls do not a prison make,” came to mind, but I could not remember the source. I knew it wasn’t the Bible, but beyond that, I had no idea. Shakespeare? Franklin? I guessed Oscar Wilde’s “Ballad of Reading Gaol,” but I was wrong. It is Richard Lovelace, a 17th century English poet, from his poem “To Althea, From Prison.”

Biblical or not, the lines “Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage;” really get at the heart of the fascinating story of “the prisoners who would not leave and the jailer who did not die.”
This story take place in Philippi, where Paul and Silas have been meeting with the local believers at their place of prayer down by the river. One day, as the evangelists walk through the marketplace, they are followed by a shouting slave girl who is said to be psychic – so much so that people pay her owners for her services. As she follows them, she manages to annoy the always prickly Paul and he turns on her and performs an unsolicited exorcism, casting out from her the demon that is the source of her visions and, incidentally, much of her owners’ income. They are not amused.

The owners find a way to bring a complaint against Paul and Silas and get them beaten and thrown into jail, where the jailer makes sure they cannot escape by putting them in stocks and a cell in the middle of the jail.
At midnight, while Paul and Silas are keeping everybody awake singing and praying, an earthquake comes and breaks them loose, the doors fall off, the shackles come unfastened. Paul and Silas and all the prisoners are free – but they don’t go anywhere.

Meanwhile, the jailer wakes up and sees the doors open and prepares to kill himself. Why? Well, because he knows he will be blamed for the escape. He knows he will be executed, so killing himself is his best option – he thinks. But Paul calls out, “Don’t do that, we’re all here.”

“Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage;”

Paul and Silas are the people in this story who are in jail, yet they are the people in this story who are the most free. They are free to praise God and sing hymns, free to stay where they are in prison rather than feeling the need to run and hide, they are free to speak God’s truth whenever they wish, wherever they are, and to whomever God puts in front of them. On the other hand, the jailer is not free. The jailer is bound up in chains of duty and obligation, of fear and failure.

“Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage;”

Most of us live within a variety of invisible prisons, things that limit us, that hold us back, that fill us with fear and anxiety, and worst of all, that keep us from experiencing and living out the evangelical freedom that comes from knowing that God loves us unconditionally; that nothing that we do and nothing that we are can possibly separate us from the love of God, which is shown to us in Jesus Christ our Lord.

In our heart of hearts, we want to be like Paul and Silas. We want to be able to praise God and sing hymns no matter what dire circumstances life throws at us. But, unfortunately, most of the time, we are more like the jailer – believing that we have failed, believing that anything bad that has happened to us is our own fault because we didn’t help ourselves, or we weren’t clean enough, or God is mysteriously punishing us for something we didn’t even know we did wrong, or, or, or. Well brothers and sisters, it may not be in the Bible, but it’s still true: “That dog won’t hunt!” Which is another way of saying “That simply is not true.”

“Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage;”

The old Lutheran Book of Worship Prayer of Confession says it best, “We are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.” No we cannot free ourselves, but Jesus can and did. When we find ourselves on the cusp of despair, when we have lost all hope, when we cry out with the jailer, “What must I do to be saved?” the surprising answer is this, “Nothing – Jesus did it all. The earthquake of the cross has broken your shackles, and opened the doors of your heart. As Paul said, all you have to do is believe.”

And that, my friends, is in the Bible – from beginning to end.

Amen and amen.