We Are Still Here
We Are Still Here
What does it mean to be a part of a community? To care for one another, be present with one another and ensure that each other thrives. Through a simple act of grace and compassion, Paul demonstrates how community is formed.
Scripture: Acts 16: 16-34
If you have ever spent any significant time around young children you are probably familiar with the phenomenon of them pestering you for something. Perhaps they want you to play with them. Perhaps they want an ice cream or some other treat. Maybe they need to show you the art project they crayoned onto the wall. Whatever it is, young children have as a character trait persistence. They don’t give up, they follow you around, tug on your pants and ask for your attention.
Paul and Silas are experiencing something similar in our passage from Acts today. Rather than a young child it is a slave girl who we are told has the gift of divination. She’s a slave and her owners make money from the fortune’s she tells. She starts following Paul and Silas around, and not just for an hour, we are told she did this for many days.
Eventually Paul has had enough, he’s annoyed, and he commands the spirit come out of her. If we are honest, we’ve all felt as Paul did, been annoyed by someone or something. Perhaps we’ve even told the individual to leave us alone. There are a variety of ways we might do that, I trust you did it with grace.
However, in taking this action Paul sets of a series of events. The passage from Acts that we read this morning is full of images that we could ponder and explore. Far more than just one sermons worth. What quickly becomes apparent is that there are systems of oppression at work here. These systems ultimately fail, and grace is revealed. Let’s dig a little deeper.
There are many individuals who are slaves to systems of oppression in this story.
- The slave girl who tells fortunes is enslaved to those who would use her gifts for profit.
- The owners of the slave girl were slaves to an economic system that sacrifices people for profit.
- Paul and Silas are arrested on false charges for their act of healing and are subsequently beaten.
- The jailer was enslaved to a corrupt imperial power that used violence to enforce its will.
We could talk about any one of these things. We can also look at what comes out of this situation: salvation, baptism, grace. Any number of themes, but I wonder if in light of many of the things going on in the world if we shouldn’t be focusing our attention on one tiny act of compassion.
I had the opportunity to attend the Festival of Homiletics last week. It’s a festival on the art of preaching. Nadia Bolz-Weber delivered a sermon on this passage and what she highlighted was very profound and one of the simplest acts of grace we find in scripture.
In her sermon she focuses on the jailer. This is a man who placed Paul and Silas in shackles and locked them into the deepest darkest part of the dungeon. When the earthquake happened, and the jailer thought all the prisoners had escaped he drew his sword and was about to kill himself.
What must have been going through the jailer’s mind during that moment? What was he so afraid of, so enslaved by that he was driven to the action of suicide? What kind of society says that the jailer should die because an earthquake destroyed the prison?
But what I want to focus on is Paul’s response. Paul says, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.”
Do not harm yourself, for we are all here. What a statement of grace.
Paul reaches out to the jailer. The individual who has shackled him and thrown him into the deepest dungeon. Paul reaches out and says “Do not harm yourself.” Paul tells the man in charge of his incarceration not to harm yourself. Hold that up against the stereotype that we often see in the media of guards and prisoners.
I have to imagine that the jailer was going through a degree of mental anguish that the only thing that he felt he could do was take his own life. Into that situation Paul says to him, “Do not harm yourself.” Harm, self-harm, and harm-reduction are topics or words that are used when we are helping those battling mental health and substance abuse issues. Paul says, “Do not harm yourself.”
It’s a comment that says that the life of the jailer has value. That this man who is responsible for ensuring Paul is kept in prison, has value. He has value to his family and as Paul will later demonstrate he has value to Paul and the wider community. He has value because he is a human being, and he is alive. Paul lets him know that the jailer’s life has value.
What times have we been present for those that might have wanted to harm themselves? How have we been present for individuals going through a difficult time?
One of the groups that uses the church building is the AA. A group that recognizes certain activities as harmful and wraps its arms arounds its members and says “Do not harm yourself.” We’ve been home to the AA for many, many years. It’s one way that we say to the community that we are a part of “Do not harm yourself” your life has value.
For we are all here. For we are all here.
Paul doesn’t just stop by saying, don’t harm yourself. He then invites the jailer into community. For we are all here.
This simple act of compassion moves the jailer to ask how he can be saved. And Paul says, believe in Jesus and you and your household. The act of grace extends beyond the individual and includes their whole community.
What I love about this passage is that there is no morality lesson here. We don’t then receive a teaching or a sermon about the situation. What we see is a human being who is hurting so deeply, troubled so greatly that they are willing to take their own life. Another human being reaches out and says, “Do not harm yourself, for we are still here.” Grace sets the tone.
We can talk about a lot of things here: salvation, baptism, mercy. Any number of themes, but I wonder if in light of many of the things going on in the world if we shouldn’t be focusing our attention on tiny acts of compassion.
Do not hurt yourself. We are still here.
We are still here. We, the church, St. Andrew’s Cobourg, we are still here. Oh sure we look a bit different post-pandemic, but we are still here. We are still here for the community that we have been called to serve. We are still here for one another, our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are still here to offer a gentle hand of mercy and to say to those whom we love, those whom we encounter, and to those who have hurt us: Do not harm yourself. We are still here.
And by the grace of God we will remain, as a light, a beacon of mercy, embodying the promise of love found in Christ Jesus. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.
St. Andrew’s supports the gathering of community agencies, providing space for the Affordable Housing Committee. Rev. Ellis’ voice is key in advocating for improvements in awareness, empathy and action on key determinants such as housing, income and food security.
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