“The Uprising of Partnership”
Rev. Melanie Homan
April 24, 2016
The scripture reading you just heard from Beth is just the beginning of a much longer story. But, I didn’t think it was fair to ask Beth to read a bunch of impossible to pronounce city names as well as read a REALLY long story about Paul and Silas and how they ended up in jail. It’s a good story, though, so I’m going to share the rest of it with you!
So settle in – it’s story time! While you listen, think about how this same story keeps getting played out over and over again – right here, right now, in Minneapolis.
Lydia has already experienced a conversion, along with her whole household, and the first thing she does is invite Paul, as well as everyone with him, to stay in her home (which is kind of a big deal, if you think about what it).
One day, on their way to the place of prayer, a slave girl ran into them. She was a psychic and, with her fortunetelling, made a lot of money for the people who owned her. She started following Paul around, calling everyone’s attention to them by yelling out, “These men are working for the Most High God. They’re laying out the road of salvation for you!” “These men are working for the Most High God. They’re laying out the road of salvation for you!” “These men are working for the Most High God. They’re laying out the road of salvation for you!” She did this for a number of days until Paul, finally fed up with her, turned and commanded the spirit that possessed her, “Out! In the name of Jesus Christ, get out of her!” And it was gone, just like that. i
Some translations say that Paul was annoyed. Now, what this girl was saying – it was true. Paul WAS laying out the path of salvation, but he was annoyed by what she said. Maybe it wasn’t the girl so much that he didn’t like, but rather her approach. He’s trying to convince people that following Jesus is for them, but I imagine his approach was a bit different from hers.
He likely knew that walking around town shouting at people wasn’t the best way to draw them to your cause. Personally, I’m a Christian, and I have to say – there are a lot of approaches to sharing good news with people that annoy me to no end. I don’t want any part of it! “Stop! That’s not who I am!” The words might be right, but the approach is all wrong! Anyway, Paul is fed up. It had been going on for a couple of days – her yelling at everyone – and then she’s suddenly silent. It’s a relief.
But then we get the “rest of the story”. We learn that her owners were making money off of her fortune telling gifts. They were exploiting her. They saw that their lucrative little business was suddenly bankrupt, so they went after Paul and Silas – roughed them up and dragged them into the market square.
It doesn’t take a big stretch of the imagination to consider the number of young girls who are pimped out to the crowds and exploited to make money for people who hold power over them today. When Paul silenced her, he also ended her exploitation. How do we respond with Paul today, to economies of exploitation?
The police then arrested Paul and Silas for silencing the girl, and they were pulled into a court with the accusation, “These men are disturbing the peace—dangerous Jewish agitators subverting our Roman law and order.” By this time the crowd had turned into a restless mob out for blood.
Don’t mess with the economic engine or people will get angry!
The judges went along with the mob, had Paul and Silas’s clothes ripped off, and ordered a public beating. After beating them black-and-blue, they threw them into jail, telling the jailkeeper to put them under heavy guard so there would be no chance of escape. He did just that—threw them into the maximum security cell in the jail and clamped leg irons on them.
So, basically, public beatings are not a new thing. People abusing their power?…not a new thing. It happened to Jesus, it happened to Paul, it happened to Silas, and it happens far too often today.
At around midnight, Paul and Silas are in jail, praying and singing a robust hymn to God. The other prisoners can’t believe their ears.
Who, when beaten black and blue and shackled in prison, decides it’s time for a hymn sing?!?!? Paul and Silas. That’s who. They aren’t the only ones, either. In the civil rights movement, singing while wrongfully jailed was a living reminder that you can shackle the body but you can’t shackle the spirit of God.
Back to the story… then, without warning, there’s a huge earthquake! The jailhouse tottered, every door flew open, and all the prisoners got loose. Startled from sleep, the jailer saw all the doors swinging loose on their hinges. Assuming that all the prisoners had escaped, he pulled out his sword and was about to do himself in, figuring he was as good as dead anyway, when Paul stopped him: “Don’t do that! We’re all still here!
Nobody’s run away!”
This sort of reminds me of one of the episodes from “Orange Is The New Black” – when some genius decides to replace a big hole in the prison fence at the time of day when all of the prisoners are outside. The prisoners see their chance to run, and they take it. They know that they won’t really be able to be freed from the prison, but they take delight in jumping into the lake that’s on the other side of that prison fence. And they know joy! You can shackle the body but you can’t shackle peoples’ spirits. Although they didn’t run away, you know that staff were going to get into some serious trouble. We have to wait with anticipation for the next season to see what happens next. The jailkeepers response is understandable.
Now, the jailer got a torch and ran inside. Badly shaken, he collapsed in front of Paul and Silas. He led them out of the jail and asked, “Sirs, what do I have to do to be saved, to really live?” They said, “Put your entire trust in the Master Jesus. Then you’ll live as you were meant to live—and everyone in your house included!”
What does it look like to live as you were meant to live?
The jailer is about to find out.
Paul went on to spell out in detail the story of the Master—the entire family got in on this part. They never did get to bed that night. The jailer made them feel at home, dressed their wounds, and then—he couldn’t wait till morning!—was baptized in the middle of the night, he and everyone in his family. There in his home, he had food set out for a festive meal. It was a night to remember: He and his entire family had put their trust in God; everyone in the house was in on the celebration.
The jailer and Lydia respond to the teachings of Jesus the same way. They welcome Paul into their home without reserve.
At daybreak, the court judges sent officers with these instructions, “Release these men.”
The jailer gave Paul the message, “The judges sent word that you’re free to go on your way. Congratulations! Go in peace!”
But Paul wouldn’t budge!
He told the officers, “They beat us up in public and threw us in jail, Roman citizens in good standing! And now they want to get us out of the way on the sly without anyone knowing? Nothing doing! If they want us out of here, let them come themselves and lead us out in broad daylight.”
Paul is basically saying – we are not going to let you sweep this under the rug. You don’t get to unjustly beat people up and get by with it.
When the officers reported this, the judges panicked. They had no idea that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens.
(Because, of course, it is okay to break the rules when you think the people you are hurting are “less than…” or “not as important as…”)
The judges hurried over and apologized, personally escorted them from the jail, and then asked them if they wouldn’t please leave the city.
The judges probably got the equivalent of their PR staff fast at work to give just the right slant to the story and then tried to convince the men to leave town as quickly as possible.
Walking out of the jail, Paul and Silas went straight to Lydia’s house, saw their friends again, encouraged them in their faith, and only then went on their way.
This utterly crazy adventure in Phillippi, is couched between two home stays with Lydia.
We can draw some conclusions from the story – we can make some guesses about what we don’t know, based on what we do know. And we know that Paul and Silas left. So, the judges were probably relieved. But, Lydia was still there. The jailer was still there.
And they and their households maintained their faith. They stood as witnesses against what Paul and Silas went through so that what happened couldn’t be swept under the rug. They were part of the early church. And part of being the church meant standing against the injustices that happened around them just as much as it meant opening up their homes and welcoming in the stranger until they were friend.
There are lots of ways that churches try to live out “being church” right now. There are also a lot of ways that we might find annoying, especially if they involve a lot of yelling and condemning. It doesn’t work for us. But what does? What way of “being church” works for us?
That’s where we look to Lydia and to the jailkeeper. I learned that traditionally Lydia is viewed as the first European convert to Christianity. Lydia was not likely her actual name. Rather, she was a “woman of Lydia” or a Lydian woman because Lydia was a geographical region that is now Europe.
For many of us, she is the founding saint of our ancestors. And yet, a lot of faithful people in our tradition interpreted the great commission to mean “go out and convert the masses, no matter the cost”. Our instinct is to run as far from Christian colonialism as possible. But, that makes Lydia all the more important, for she provides a model of building up the church that we can embrace today – radical hospitality, plain and simple. “Welcome to our home.” Welcome into our home here! Invitation, welcome, food, and shelter were provided. That’s what she offered, and the ecclesia, the church in Phillippi grew because of it.
That was my message for this week. I typically write on Thursdays. And, in the midst of my writing, my Facebook feed became full of reports that Prince had died. Like many of you, I was shocked and saddened, and one Prince song after another went through my head until I finally tuned in to The Current to listen to their “All Prince, all day” show. I then started seeing the ways Prince fits into what I’m trying to get at with Lydia.
The woman from Lydia, the Lydian woman….was also called “The woman of purple”. It was her honorable and extensive calling to “sell purple’”.ii She sold purple cloth – likely to royalty.
We know that if people were named today the way this woman was named back then, that we would have our own man of purple, our own royalty, go by the name “Minneapolis”. Prince/Minneapolis… one and the same. The woman of purple cloth and the man of purple cloth…separated by centuries, but bound together in their common practices of faith!
I was reading about an interview that Prince did with Chris Rock for VH1, and he talked about the song “Let’s Go Crazy” and basically it was an articulation of his Christian ethics and beliefs. Prince said, “Let’s Go Crazy” was about God and Satan (his words, not mine). He said, “I had to change these words up, but ‘de-elevator’ (in the song) was Satan. I had to change these words up cuz you couldn’t say God on the radio. ‘Let’s go crazy’ was God to me. Stay happy, stay focused, and you can beat de-elevator.” iii
I kind of like the idea that “let’s go crazy” is just another name for God! It totally changes the way I hear that song. Prince starts out the song like this…
We are gathered here today
To get through this thing called life.
Electric word life
It means forever and that’s a mighty long time
But I’m here to tell you
There’s something else
The after world
‘Cause in this life
Things are much harder than in the after world
In this life
You’re on your own
And if de- elevator tries to bring you down
Go crazy, punch a higher floor.
Tell me, are we gonna let de-elevator bring us down?
Oh, no! Let’s go! Let’s go crazy.
iv The Minneapolis man, the man of the purple cloth…his answer was God. His calling was to “sell purple”, and he sold it well. His “Let’s Go Crazy” slash (God) song ends with this gospel music inspired guitar riff that resembles the intensity of the Spirits’ movement through speaking in tongues,v followed by the words, “Take me away”. That came true in an elevator far sooner than we wanted.
As so many grieve his death this week, I hope that you’ll remember what some of these song lyrics meant to him and that you’ll think of God the next time you hear those first words “Dearly beloved…we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.” Because that, indeed, is the reason we are gathered here today. Just like Lydia opened her home to strangers, just like Prince opened up Paisley Park to the masses, so we are gathered here today to open ourselves and our doors to welcome and to sustain one another in this thing called life. May it be so. Amen!
Prince is going to offer us our benediction from worship this morning. This is probably more than you want to know – but oh well. The next time you go to a Twins game at Target field, when a Twins player hits a homer (and we certainly hope that increases quickly!) you’ll notice this is the song that is played. As you stand in your seat and cheer and do a little dance, and then start to sing along, every time you get to the refrain remember that Let’s go crazy means, “God! God!” Praise be to God! (Go out to Let’s Go Crazy”)
i Acts 16:11-40, italicized words come from The Message by Eugene Peterson, a modern paraphrase of scripture.
iii prince vh1 interview with chris rock let’s go crazy
v As referenced in Musicologist Griffin Woodworth’s 2008 dissertation, I would die 4 u: Why Prince became an icon by Toure. Page 119.