In today’s first reading Paul faces a perplexing problem. On the one hand, it was apparently God who caused an earthquake in order to open the gates of Paul’s prison. On the other hand, Paul knew that if he and Barnabus were to escape, his jailer would probably be killed because he failed to control his prisoners. Paul makes his decision to stay in his open prison and help convert the jailer. In the story, we read, that not only is the jailer converted but, through Paul, the jailor’s whole family is converted to Christ because of this one decision by Paul to be God’s disciple.
This is a story about discipleship, about what happens if you follow God. It is the story of every disciple – every single disciple. Basically, you’ve got to ask yourself. . . If you are a Christian, did God not call you? Has God Himself not set you free? Has God Himself not commissioned you? And ultimately, as God not given you a completely new set of problems because of this?
However, these are the right kinds of problems. Problems, like Paul has today. But, have you ever thought there are problems that God never intended you to have? Right now, there are probably burdens that you are bearing which God never intended you to bear. Those problems may even be consuming your best energies. In my own life I have occasionally faced the wrong kind of problems. Several years back I felt that almost all the responsibility at my work place had fallen on my shoulders. When a problem needed solving, it was Ed that solved it. When a computer glitch happened . . . again, it was Ed that they came to fix it. If a customer had a problem, it was to Ed that he was referred. Over the years Ed did just about everything and made himself indispensable to everyone until one day Ed had to ask myself, ‘What the h–l are you doing to yourself?’ Actually, I don’t think it was Ed who said that. But the voice went on, ‘you can’t sleep, you can’t escape the phone calls, faxes and e-mails, you are working day and night for people who are basically not grateful and . . . you need to quit!’ After which, I can remember, there was what is called ‘a pregnant pause’ on my part. What do you mean . . . QUIT? I’m fifty-five years old…where am I going to go? To which God responded, ‘I’ll figure that out, you just get ready to leave’. And so I did.
There is quote from Paul’s letter to the Romans that states ‘And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.’ I have always known that, but sometimes it becomes a little harder to believe when the rubber meets the road, sort of speak. But, I was so miserable that I thought I would give it a chance, and for six months I worked as if the end was coming, all the while trusting God that He would provide a way out. And I’m happy to report, He did not let me down. The people at my job were in shock for a week when I told them I was leaving, but there was no turning back. Not only did God provide the same job with fewer hours and more help, but also more pay and more time off. The decision was set because I believed that this is what God wanted for me to do. If I hadn’t absolutely believed it, I most certainly would never have done it. I was unemployed for week while I waited for the new job to start. And do you know what? . . . It felt great . . . it felt like freedom. And I think that is what God was trying to get across to me. And I think that is what God tries to get across to all of us . . . that within his love you will find perfect freedom.
This week as the story about the abuse of the three kidnapped women surfaced, I have wondered about the motives behind the mind of the accused perpetrator. You have to wonder why these acts were seemingly, not a problem for him and you really have to wonder why. We who live in a civilized society find violence of this type completely repugnant to our way of life. You have to wonder how this man could be so inclined to perform these acts and yet be a product of a civilized society that embraces freedom and liberty above all else. How is it, I wonder, could he choose to do something so wrong?
You and I, like Paul, are always given difficult choices in life. Some of the problems we get dealt are indeed difficult, but never without a choice. We have the power always to choose life and light, although sometimes it comes at a very high cost. It is reported that one of the men who ‘blue the whistle’ in Benghazi now hides in fear. But, I cannot but think that he did the right thing.
The orthodox churches and dioceses in the Episcopal Church who left for moral reasons and for what they believe some years ago are today, also paying a dear price, through litigation and the loss of jobs, money, and property. Was worth it to them? I really have to wonder.
All of us travel down the road of our lives as free beings made in the image of God. Personally, I really doubt God sees us as Anglicans or Episcopalians, or Roman Catholics, or Lutherans. To God, we are either believers or unbelievers. There is no gray area of ‘almost believer‘ or ‘nearly a believer’.
At each fork in the virtual road of life he gives each of us a choice, and at every fork he asks us to choose life. As desciples of Christ, it is sometimes our pleasure to choose what is right, and sometimes it is in trepidation that we are obliged to choose what is right in spite of our personal thoughts and feelings. What we need to understand is that true discipleship carries with it the burden of courage. And courage is actually faith under fire. Very often we need to make life changing decisions that affect everyone around us. They are not easy to make. They take a lot of soul searching and planning. But, if we believe, (truly believe) that God is in our corner, there is nothing that we cannot face, there is nothing that is insurmountable. This goes for changing a career, having a baby, getting married, getting a divorce, quitting a bad habit or simply starting one’s life over again. Paul and Barnabus knew this to be true, and so did our Lord Jesus Christ when he willingly went to the cross to die for our sakes.
Perhaps Paul explained best in his letter to the Romans when he wrote:
For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s possession. Once we are God’s there is nothing else that matters. Amen