Taking A Holiday From The Life Of Faith
Paul and Silas had a lot to be mad about. In our text for today, these two missionaries of the early church had been put in a Philippian jail for all sorts of ridiculous reasons. If you simply follow the story as told in Acts 16, at least three unbelievable reasons for imprisoning them are given – they were accused of disturbing the city of Philippi, undermining the Roman Empire and worst of all, they were accused of and arrested just for being Jews which incidentally is an egregious act that appears to be gaining traction again today among some.
Further, Acts tells us that they were not only jailed, but, they were also beaten which was legal at the time and which involved a bundle of rods that had been fitted together that were in turn lashed against the convicted person’s exposed back a specified number of times. If jail and a beating were not enough, Paul and Silas were also put in the stockades and placed in the innermost cell of the jail. To say the least, Acts doesn’t describe a scene reminiscent of Otis in the Mayberry jail. Instead, what happened to Paul and Silas was awful, deadly and vicious.
Again, they had every right and every reason to be upset, angry, frustrated with God and to lash out others in return. To say it another way, Paul and Silas had every reason to take a break from their faith, set their regular ethics or peace loving morals aside, and give their captors a piece of their mind and a dose of their own medicine.
It sort of reminds me of a fella I once knew who loved to share tale tells. Some of them were not stories that would be appropriate for the pulpit. He would come by the church where I was serving at the time, lean up against the doorframe in my office and say, “I got a good one for you, but, we better go out on the parking lot and I’ll tell it to you out there. I probably shouldn’t tell it in the church!”
Now, don’t get me wrong, he was a great guy, I enjoyed a lot of his jokes and he was a wonderful part of our church at the time. Yet, in that little tongue and check statement, “I’ve got a story for you that I should tell you out on the parking lot” he was communicating something that a lot of us think. We convince ourselves that there are justifiable times where for a variety of reasons in both fun or in frustration that it is okay for us to suspend our loyalty to Christ, set aside our faith and deal with an issue, use language or respond to someone who has wronged us in the ways of the world not in the way of the faith because in this particular moment – that is what is merited. We believe that we can take a break from being a believer from time to time just like we can take the day off from work for a holiday like the majority of us will all do tomorrow for Labor Day.
Honestly, I want to buy into this from time to time just like all of you do. Unfortunately, this is not really the option that God gives us as his followers even when it feels so justifiable. This is where Paul and Silas are so instructive. In the very moment where they have every right to set aside morals, manners and mature faith they refuse to take the bait. When life was at its worst, they were at their Jesus’ following best and it is at this very moment where they make the greatest difference.
Ann Marie and I have some dear friends who go all the way back to our college days. Part of their story includes the loss of their firstborn son. In only a few days, he was diagnosed with spinal meningitis and admitted to the hospital before dying a short time later at the age of seven. The amazing part of the story is how they handled it. Like Paul and Silas in that Philippian jail, they had every right to be angry with God, with people and with life. Instead, they didn’t take the easy out. They were at their best, when life was at its worst.
Throughout the ordeal, they did not get angry with God. Yes, they prayed for God’s help and for a miracle. When no miracles came, they continued to pray and trust though they certainly did not understand. In a marvelous way, their faith remained strong and that is what allowed them to touch so many lives. In fact, at least one or two of the doctors who cared for their son eventually became people of faith. A faith that they attributed to the way that our dear friends kept the faith and staid on course with being the same followers of Jesus they had always been even when they had every reason to go down another road.
Life is full of hard places, doubt, anger and disappointment. The temptation to take a break from faith, our ethics and the Jesus way in those moments is so hard to resist and truth be told at times is a temptation that we can’t resist. At times, I succumb to it just like you do telling myself all of the way that in this situation it is justifiable. It is easy to take a vacation from God. It is hard not to let our Christian lives but put on hold or taken off the clock in such moments. Again, this is true whether the times are hard places or even when the moment is a fun time in which we simply want to enjoy or experience some aspect of life that we know is probably not best for us or in keeping with our faith. But, I must remind all of us, that it is in such moments that the truest since of who were are in Christ is seen.
Again, that is what happened with Paul and Silas. Instead of getting angry, lashing out or shaking their fist at God, Acts 16 says that they sang hymns, prayed and remained the same people they had been before all of the injustice came their way. Even in the dark of the night when an earthquake shook the jail and they had the opportunity to escape, they refused to take the open door. In the end, their example through how they acted in the worst of times, led the Philippian jailor to confess faith and his entire house to be baptized.
Some of you will know the name Isak Dinesen. Isak Dinesen was the pen name of the Danish writer Karen Blixen who gave the world the famous book Out of Africa. The book is Blixen’s memoir of her experience on a coffee plantation in Kenya where she lived for seventeen years with her husband. One of the figures in the book is a boy named Kitau who in the book quickly becomes a fine and trusted servant of the family. Interestingly, after only three months of working for the Blixens, Kitau surprises the family one day by saying that he has decided to leave and would like a letter of reference. Ms. Blixen offers him a raise and does what she can to try to convince him to stay. But, Kitau is resolute. He has decided to move to Mombassa to work for an Islamic family.
As they continue to talk, Kitau shares something with Ms. Blixen that she had no knowledge of until that moment. He says that he has been wrestling with faith and that he is in the middle of deciding if he will live his life as a Christian or as a Muslim. In fact, he admits that the real reason he had come to live with the Blixen family as one of their servants was so that he could spend an intensive period of time, observing Christians up close and personal. He says he has been watching their every move for three months and now he will go and do the same with an Islamic family. Once that time is over, he will make his decision to follow the path of Christ or Muhammed.
Ms. Blixen is flabbergasted to say the least and she insinuates the obvious. If she had only knew that was what Kitau was doing, she would have acted differently. (As referenced in Home By Another Way by Barbara Brown Taylor, Cowley Publishers, Boston, 1999, page 190.)
The problem for us is the same. We never know what, how and when others are watching us. But I have a sneaky suspicion that when life is at its worst for us that more people are paying attention to how we respond than we might want to believe. For, it is when we rise above it all and are at our best when life is at its worst that we make the biggest impression of all. Which of course is a reminder that as followers of Jesus we simply never get a vacation or a day off from our faith. Amen.