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April 22, 2018, 12:00 AM

Baptized All Who Confess

Today's text from the book of Acts of the Apostles is one that is often quoted for the questions of what would you be willing to suffer for your faith? It is also one often quoted for those who want to show how almighty and powerful God is and what God can do for you in your hour of need. After all, having an earthquake to release you from jail is truly awesome. You only infrequently here them put together though, with most people quoting the awesome power of God to save you and not exploring why God might have been willing to act.

So, the story really is that Paul and Silas had been sent to what is modern day Greece to plant some new churches. A young lady possessed by a spirit of divination had been hanging around them for a couple of days. This is an evil spirit and after a couple of days, Paul in what I see as a very human moment, tired of her incessant calling out, which to us reads innocently enough but the commentaries remind me would have been seen by those around as her attempt to tie Paul, Silas, Luke and Timothy's work to spirits similar to the one possessing her and Paul has this very human moment and in his anger cures the lady of this spirit. Well this did not please the men who had been making money by selling the “powers” of this fortune teller. And so they had Paul and Silas, but oddly not the whole gang, arrested and then charged them, not with ruining their business, but instead proselytizing or working to convert people to the faith.

It is thought that this could have been shortly before or even after the time when the Jews were evicted from Rome by Claudius. The evidence of this is the charge half way through that they were doing what was not legal for a Roman. Either way it was illegal to evangelize Romans to either Judaism or Christianity and may have been illegal to acknowledge that you were either Jewish or Christian. So, the first question is fair about would you go someplace that Christianity is illegal and share your faith, even at the risk of being beaten and arrested. I have also heard this phrased in terms of how much do you trust God. And while all of this is fair, it also ignores the reality that even of those converted by Paul, to an illegal religion, most decided to practice and share quietly with others and were not using Paul's announce it widely methodology.

The reality in our world today is that so many have taken to the television, radio and street corner that Paul's method may not currently even be the most effective. As an exercise in faith building among Christians all of these question are fair and good and you can start to see how easily you get wrapped up in them and never quite get to the other pieces of the story that might be interesting for us today.

So, let us consider for a moment the singing that Paul and Silas did. Paul and Silas were singing hymns praising God through the night. Now we are not told anything else about these songs but what we do know is that Christianity came out of Judaism and Judaism gave us Psalms and that psalms are hymns.

Now this is interesting in this context because Paul due to his training as a Jewish scholar and zealot would have been well trained in the scriptures of his people and thus very familiar with Psalms. In Psalms there is a common thread that we often do not look at and that is that no matter what the beginning of the Psalm says the end of the Psalm praises God, So they would have no doubt had lots of material to work from, even material that talked about I am persecuted and still would have ended up with and you are God and to praise be to God.

As they were singing away the earthquake released them from their bonds and so in theory they could have just walked out but they did not. I can only imagine what sort of internal dialogue went on or what dialogue with the Holy Spirit kept them in the prison even after their bonds had been released but it worked as an evangelism tool. And that is where I want to pick up the story for us today in a liturgical church setting.

The guards were about to kill themselves, I imagine believing the fate they would suffer would be even worse if it were found that they had let the prisoners escape. Paul cried out to them that they should not harm themselves because contrary to their expectation that an open prison door implied escape they were instead sitting in the cell. And so the jailer called for lights to be brought and to see if this was true. Indeed they found it just as Paul suggested with the doors open and the shackles off but also with Paul and Silas sitting their waiting for what would come next. While this is again good preaching fodder for how far are you willing to go I want to continue instead.

The jailer wanted to know from this what he must do to be saved. Now we do not know what combination of fear and awe were in the Jailers heart and mind at this moment but one can imagine. And what they want to know is how they can be saved, Paul is willing to oblige them and responds that they must believe or have faith in the Lord Jesus. It is really very simple the only thing they need is faith in Jesus the Christ as Lord. Some of you may have had the opportunity to witness this sort of conversion in another person or may have at some juncture in your own life had one and if you have you will no doubt know how awesome it is to witness someone come to faith in Christ.

What comes next is interesting to me. We are so used to individual conversion but what we see here is that this extended to his whole family. We are told that the Apostles then went to the home and spent time explaining the faith. This leads the family to make a profession of faith. (and then they went to catechism classes, learned the ways of the faithful, and were properly formed so they could be welcomed into the church.) No friends I am afraid to tell you but what happened then and all of this it appears happened before dawn the next day, so likely in less that a twelve hour period, is that Paul called for water to be brought that they might be baptized. Yup, that is correct, there was no mandatory waiting period to make sure the faith stuck or that they were sincere or that they held the correct doctrine beyond Jesus the Christ is Lord that we can tell, instead they were baptized on the spot.

And here is the interesting thing, baptism is one of the most transportable rites of the church. We accept that you were baptized, regardless of the tradition in which you were baptized when we welcome you into the Lutheran and in fact when you are welcomed into the majority of Churches whether protestant, Roman Catholic or orthodox. I am not suggesting there are not exceptions, but simply that it is the majority of churches which all accept each others baptism and that Baptism is the major and universal rite for entering the body of Christ and thus the church. But not baptism with lots of making sure that all was perfect and they would serve in a life long capacity, No simply baptism because they said they were believers and that is where I think we could stand to spend some time in question for our modern church. We would like to see how we can convert the baptisms we do into regular attendance and other similar concerns and while that is OK, we need to keep going with providing for all who appear in any way shape or form ready and present themselves and then let the spirit of God work out the rest. So, we read, “At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay.” Maybe the correct answer is provide the sacraments to all that ask, profess the basic belief in Christ and all with out delay so we can do as they did when we read, “He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.” So let us profess our faith, join in the sacraments and then eat together as we rejoice.

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