To Get Out of Solitary, Old First Sermon 05.12.13

To Get Out of Solitary, Old First Sermon 05.12.13

Acts 16: 16-26 and Acts 16:27-34

In last Sunday’s sermon,
speaking about Paul’s missionary journey to Macedonia,
I said:

“God’s counting on us
because we’re Christians
to go places we can’t foresee,
to speak with someone who we aren’t sure of
and we certainly don’t really know,
to say or do God knows what
in order to make some profound difference in their lives,
in order to meet that other’s need…

…and even with all those question marks,
it actually works out more than we can imagine,
but not exactly because of us,
but because God is with us,
or works through us, even in all the fog.

That sounds pretty much like ‘real life…’”

I was suggesting that the story of Paul and Silas and Timothy and their fool’s errand to Philippi captures a missionary aspect that’s supposed to be part of any Christian’s life.

Two of you shared reactions with me that have stayed with me all week and that I want to share with everyone else now.

One person said, “Michael, your description of ‘real life’ sounded more like my experience of parenting.”

“God’s counting on us
because we’re Christians
to go places we can’t foresee,
to speak with someone who we aren’t sure of
and we certainly don’t really know,
to say or do God knows what
in order to make some profound difference in their lives,
in order to meet that other’s need…

…and even with all those question marks,
it actually works out more than we can imagine,
but not exactly because of us,
but because God is with us, or
works through us, even in all the fog.

That sounds pretty much like ‘parenting…’”

Touche’. Yes, that is often what parenting is like.

Happy Mother’s Day. We all had mothers, even if they were unknown to us.

But since some kids don’t have a mom,
and some kids have two dads,
and since our Sunday School will be in recess before Father’s Day,
as I said during the Community Life announcements,
we’re celebrating today as “Parents’ Day.”

May we who are parents understand our role as ministry, and
May we who are sons and daughters give thanks
for whatever our parents have been able to give us.
(Part of growing up is certainly coming to grips with the humanity of our parents…)

The second comment that grabbed me, and won’t let go:

Someone said to me on Monday,
“Michael, I listened to the sermon last Sunday closely.
And I’d love for God to go someplace to someone I haven’t yet met and
find I have something to offer that really helps.

The problem is, I’m so stuck where I am.
It’s like I’m imprisoned,
maybe by myself.”

That’s quite an insight.
One’s being stuck in place, perhaps by oneself.

It was really haunting because it was shared with me right after I had read this week’s lectionary readings, in particular the Acts passage in two parts which served as our readings in worship this morning.

Immediately following the record of Paul and Silas and Timothy finding and sharing the Gospel with Lydia in Philippi, comes today’s episode– where Paul and Silas are imprisoned, ironically, for freeing a slave girl from the demon that possessed her.

I wonder how often, and in how many ways we are stuck, imprisoned, even possessed if you will, without hardly even realizing it.

There is, we know, a blessing in recognizing one’s captivities and knowing one’s captors.

Even as the promise of the Gospel is that we can be set free…

I got a kick out of the intro. to the 2nd reading.
It said that no one took advantage of the jailbreak to gain their freedom.
That was true in a more literal sense,
but the story can also be understood to be about people profoundly grabbing their freedom… So free in fact are Paul and Silas that they didn’t need to leave the prison. So freed is their jailer that he seems to walk away from the prison.

Our meditation for the seventh Sunday in Easter
includes this well-known passage from the book of Acts.
Paul and Silas were imprisoned and caused to suffer a great deal
because of their faith and
their steadfast proclamation
— or actually, their living out of — the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Despite their mistreatment and false arrest,
Paul and Silas transformed the minds and hearts of their captors and
others who were imprisoned,
through their deep sense of faith and, most especially their concern for others.

This passage reveals not only the magnitude and degree of change
that is possible in human life,
but also how intentional we as Christians must be in working to be agents of change.
If there is anyone here this morning who is feeling stuck, or imprisoned or possessed, and who doubts he or she can be changed,
the story invites them to let God change them.
The Gospel promises that we can be changed in order
to help God change others and our world.

As Christians we are called to a ministry of reconciliation,
transformation, and

Our own behavior,
our willingness to be changed and to effect change is made,
we believe as Christians,
… made possible by our relationship with the risen Christ.
By our organizing our lives around the resurrected One as our heart,
the center of our lives.

The capacity to become and be different…
to act differently…
the reality of transformation
is one of the best ways to share the Good News.

Our commitment to recognizing and appreciating the best that is possible
in ourselves and in others
reflects the best qualities of what it means to be truly human.

And yet, as disciples of Jesus,
we all find ourselves captive and imprisoned and beset by a number of challenges
that separate us from our true selves, from one another, and from God in Christ.

We may be imprisoned by fears,
anger, and
a multitude of other feelings and reactions that swell up,
especially during times of stress.

There are also external prisons —
physical barriers and social divisions
that oppress and hold us captive.

I want to end my sermon this morning with
a suggestion on how one might stride towards freedom.

It’s fairly simple.
One all our 12-steppers will be familiar with.
One we first recognize the need for as small children.

But one which we often short-change ourselves of
by not availing ourselves of its power and transformation.

This suggestion, or insight, it’s not my idea,
but something I read once by the Christian author Frederick Beuchner.

He pointed out:

That we all know words like
repression, denial, sublimation, defensiveness…

As they’re used psychologically,
they all refer to one form or another of the ways human beings
erect walls to hide behind,
build ourselves shelters we see as self-defensive,
places of protection from the harm others could do us,
and more ironically protection also from ourselves.

We repress the memories that are too painful to deal with.
The ways our parents, for example, failed to meet our needs,
and how those hurts and losses still haunt us.

We deny our fears and our realities that threaten to overwhelm us.
Everything from the weight problem we can’t seem to get control of
to the failures we hope no one notices.

We sublimate some of our sexual desires and energies
by channeling them into other forms of activity
that are less threatening and more socially approved.

We conceal our senses of inadequacy
behind defensive bravado or
under cover of finger-pointing at what’s wrong with others.

And so on and so forth…

Human beings are fragile creatures,
easily hurt and hard to heal and carrying injuries and scars for the rest of our lives.

The inner state we end up living with is often
— this is how Beuchner said it —
a castle-like affair,
of defenses and embattlements:
of keep, inner wall, outer wall, moat,
which we have erected
sometimes consciously,
sometimes without realizing,
in hopes of creating a fortress for keeping the enemy out, or at least at bay,
but which turns into a prison
where you become both your own jailer as well as the prisoner.

Think of that irony: trying to defend yourself,
only to become your own enemy.

It reminds me of James Baldwin’s insight:
“Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without,
and yet know we cannot live within.”
Because living behind the masks and
in our self-constructed fortresses can be a lonely and wretched place.

You can’t be what you want to be or do what you want to do there.

People can’t see through all the walls we put up…
Can’t see through the mask to who you really are.

Sometimes, you’re not even sure you can see
who you truly are,
you’ve been walled up and masquerading and cut off for so long.

Fortunately, there is that Love, capital “L” that Baldwin spoke of.

And there are two words that we can utter trusting in the Love.
Two words that offer a way out,
or at least the beginning of the way out.

They begin to break down walls.
Or at least are the sound from the other side
that warns people, lets them know, someone is in there.
Someone who might be sought and found.

They are two of the simplest words, and yet
they can be the hardest to say.

But we all know them,
even when we can’t quite dare to mouth them.

What are they?
…sounding now almost magical,
like an encantation.

The two words are simply:
“Help me.”

Help me.

Help me.

Not always easy to say — we have our pride after all, and all those fears.

I mean are we even sure there’s anybody we trust enough
to hear and respond,
even trust enough to say these 2 simple words to?

But, church, the Gospel promise is Love.
So those two words, they’re always worth saying.

Practice saying them.
to yourself in the mirror.
Or in a crowded room.
Or when you are with someone.

Say them, even if no one hears or responds.
Especially when you are afraid there’s no one to hear or respond.

Just say them.
Say them to yourselves, even if it sounds illogical.
But think about it — “helping ourselves” doesn’t sound as ridiculous.

Say them to another human being– whether friend or stranger.

And say them to God who is, in the words of the 54th Psalm, “surely our helper.”

I think ultimately, it doesn’t matter who you say them to,
because saying them, finally it comes to the same thing.

They’re a prayer.
A confession.
That I can’t do it all alone.
Can’t be self-sufficient.
Can’t protect myself.
Or earn my own worth on my own strength and accomplishments.

“Help me.”
A voice from inside the mask.
Opening a door through the walls.

At least, uttering them signifies a hope,
reaching out in trust,
that you don’t have to be alone and go it on your own.
At least they mean you want to be heard.
Because you long to be remembered, reconnected, helped
not to be alone any longer.

For as Paul writes in his letter to the Romans,
Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ.
But that’s from God’s side.
In the meantime, we let so much fear get in the way.

“Help us, Lord. Amen.”
The simplest prayer.