June 17, 2018

Sing for joy!

Passage: Acts 16:16-34

Thank you all so much for inviting me to be with you for this Anniversary Sunday! I am so happy to back here at Morewood Presbyterian Church. Hard to believe it has been four years already since I was here for the Pulpit Exchanges we used to do in Presbytery.Time flies when you are having fun! And you haven’t changed a bit!
Those of you who know me know how much I love music. That’s pretty obvious! So, as I was preparing for this Sunday, and was looking at this text, what leaps out at me? Verse 25, where we read “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.”
Think about it in the context of this passage. Paul and Silas had been called by God to go to Philippi to preach the Good News. But instead, because of an act they had done in freeing a slave girl from a spirit, Paul and Silas were unjustly attacked by a mob, stripped and beaten with rods, and flogged before being imprisoned with their feet in stocks!
But how do they respond? They pray and sing hymns to God. And what was the response of the other prisoners? Well, now that I am on the better side of 50, when midnight rolls around, I am usually tucked up in my bed, fast asleep. I don’t think I would appreciate the guys in the cell next door singing and praying and keeping me awake!
But our passage tells me that the other prisoners were not yelling “shaddup and go to sleep!” The guards weren’t running to tell Paul and Silas to “pipe down”. No, our text says, “the other prisoners were listening to them.” And then, of course, we hear the rest of the story about the earthquake, the prison doors opening, the jailor panicking, and Paul and Silas reassuring him that the prisoners were all there. Realizing Paul and Silas’ faith through their actions, the jailor then asked how he might be saved. And he was!
All of this came about because of the power of joyful prayer and song. The ability of Paul and Silas to sing hymns and pray prayers to God in the midst of terrible circumstances is an extremely powerful witness to the jailor and the other prisoners. And you can be sure that, while the Scripture doesn’t explicitly say so, the prisoners and the jailor told others about Paul and Silas’ witness.
So what does this story have to say to us today, as you celebrate your Anniversary? Well, first of all, look at the faith and prayer it took to start this congregation and to build this building! That was a powerful witness back then, and you continue to be a witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ in your community.
And you know, it’s not just the big things, like planting a congregation or building a new building that are examples of your faith in Jesus Christ to those around you. Remember, all Paul and Silas were doing in the jail is singing and praying. Faith is found, not in the mighty acts of heaven, but in the ordinary and everyday acts of doing what needs to be done, responding to the needs around us, and caring for the people who come our way.
And that faith has been displayed, over and over again, through the past 150 plusyears of this congregation. It’s the little, unnoticed things that have been done, day by day, week by week, year by year, that witness to this congregation’s faith in Christ. Things like listening when someone needs to talk. Caring for your kids, and caring about their friends as well. Writing a thank you note to someone who has done a kindness. Helping to lead worship at church. Preparing food for church dinners and potluck lunches. Praying for a neighbour who is having a hard time. Visiting someone in the hospital or who is homebound and lonely. The list could go on.
And that’s the point. None of these is any big deal, and yet, like Paul and Silas’ singing and prayers, are acts of faith. Somehow, an “act of faith” seems like it needs to be significant, or costly or even extravagant to merit God’s attention. Things like an earthquake to spring open a prison. Things like miraculously healing the sick. And today, in our Presbyterian churches, which seem to be getting older and smaller, and the world seems to be ignoring the Good News, being able to bring new people and growth to our faith communities.
God is not calling us to do “big” acts of faith. God knows us better than anyone else, and knows our strengths, our gifts and our weaknesses. But what God does call us to do, like we saw today with Paul and Silas, is to be faithful. And that is precisely what has happened over and over again here at Morewood over the past century and a half. You may think what you do is small and insignificant. I’m sure Paul and Silas thought what they did that dark night in a Philippian jail was also no big deal. But each and every act that has been done over the years, and what you do today, is a prayer, a song, a witness of faith.
When we read the headlines and see news of more shootings, more injustice, more war, more violence it can seem like there is no hope. Yet all around us, signs of hope – of God continuing to love and care for this world – abound, even and especially through the simple, ordinary, even mundane acts of faithfulness you are doing today, and have done through the more than 150 years that this congregation has been here in this community. Contrary to how it may feel at times, you are so totally enough and your faith is so totally enough. So today, as you celebrate your anniversary, I encourage you to have hope, to pray, and, like Paul and Silas, sing for joy! Amen.