"MISSION TO THE ENEMY"
A SERMON PREACHED AT THE MINT ON SUNDAY 13 MAY 2012
BY THE MINISTER, REV ANDREW SAILS
CIRCUIT WIDE PREACHING ON MISSION IN ACTS:
WEEK 3 OF 4
START OF CHRISTIAN AID WEEK
A slave girl with an ability to tell fortunes is exploited by unscrupulous men,
Paul and Silas take pity on her and perform a miracle
taking away her fortune telling powers.
Her owners discover that their investment is now worthless,
so they turn on Paul and Silas and have them thrown into jail.
But Paul and Silas are not deserted by God
Indeed an earthquake frees them from their prison cell.
Then in a further twist, the prison gaoler asks for help -
He has allowed his high profile prisoners to escape and risks punishment or even death for dereliction of duty.
Paul and Silas- far from seeking vengeance on the jailer, help their former captor – they tell him about Jesus and bring him to faith.
What can we learn from this story?
Firstly, when you really live the gospel of love peace and justice,
you tend to upset the powers that be,
who use their clout to make life hard for you.
We may wonder why the Church in the UK today is not persecuted more than we are. That’s something the Wednesday discussion group following up this week’s theme might like to ask -
Is it because we simply no longer a threat to the evil powers in the world??
The Book of Acts is clear: we should expect persecution, ridicule, hardship- And when we are persecuted, we should respond not with vengeance or bitterness but with love and acceptance and forgiveness ,
looking not for ways to pay back our enemies but ways to free them
from the hatred and evil threatening to blight their lives as well as ours.
Remember how Nelson Mandela followed in the footsteps of Paul & Silas:
At his inauguration as President of South Africa,
Whom does he invite to be part of the celebration?
The man who was his gaoler on Robben Island.
Do you recall the story told by a character in The Brothers Karamazov
Jesus returns to earth and once again
he teaches and heals and blesses the people.
But Jesus has returned in the midst of the Spanish Inquisition,
and the ancient Cardinal, the 90 year old Grand Inquisitor,
has Jesus arrested as a danger to true religion and thrown in a dungeon.
He begins to interrogate him. But Jesus replies not a word,
but simply looks gently in his face of the old man.
Then at long last Christ approaches the old man in silence
& softly kisses him on his bloodless, aged lips.
That was his whole answer
The old man shudders. Something trembles at the edge of his lips.
He goes to the door, opens it and says to him,
‘Go. And come no more. Come not at all. Never. Never.’
And he lets him out into the dark squares of the town.
The Grand Inquisitor - for all his worldly power -
is no match for the power of the love of God.
Being Christ-like creates a backlash from the powers of evil
How difficult it is to love those who attack us –
but what a world shattering transformation when we do!!
At the height of the Civil Rights Movementin the American deep South,
a crowd gathered outside Ebenezer Baptist Church in Selma
They heard that the notoriously brutal racist Sheriff Jim Clark
had ordered the brutal beating of a group of black college students.
A ripple of rage flows through the crowd,
until a pastor steps up to the microphone,
"Do you love Martin King?" he sings out.
The crowd enthusiastically sang back,
"Certainly, Lord. Certainly, certainly, certainly, Lord."
The minister goes on, naming leaders in the Civil Rights Movement.
"Do you love Medgar Evers? Do you love Charles Steele?
Do you love Rosa Parks?"
Each time he sang a name, the crowd sang back,
"Certainly, certainly, certainly, Lord."
He goes on, "Do you love Sheriff Jim Clark?"
"Cer-Certainly” – a few reply -
Do you love Jim Clark? Stronger now: Yes Lord.
So the pastor continues - "It's not enough to defeat Jim Clark.
We need to convert Jim Clark.
If we hate our enemies, we're no better than them.
We've got to love them until they change."
Does love promise that all will at once be well?
Well no, not necessarily at once in that simplistic way.
Those who were in the UK in the 1960s will remember the awful racist Enoch Powell speech about Rivers of Blood – an object lesson in how enmity can reinforce itself in a spiral of mistrust and phobia.
But there is a much more powerful speech from Gandhi in the 1940s
“It may be that rivers of blood will have to flow before we are free,
but it must be our blood, not the blood of others.
Suffering is a much stronger force than the law of the jungle;
for suffering can transform our opponents too.”
Taking up the cross often means going to the cross,
as many of the saints bear witness.
When Fr Maximillian Kolbe was in Auschwitz, one of the prisoners in his cell block escaped. In retaliation, the Camp Commandant had all the prisoners lined up and then 10 were chosen at random to be placed in the starvation cell – to be left without food or water until they died.
One of the men chosen was called Franz Gajowniczek,
a man with a wife and two small children.
As he was picked out, Fr Kolbe stepped forward and asked to take his place. So it was that he, no 16670, replaced Gaiowniczek in the starvation cell.
Did an earthquake release him?
No Fr Kolbe led the singing of hymns from the bunker until on he and one other remained alive. The guards could bear it no longer and entered the sealed cell to administer a lethal injection.
No earthquake, no simplistic victory – no miraculous escape for Kolbe.
Yet who had the power, where was the victory in that story?
We see how the powers of evil may do their worst, yet cannot comprehend or conquer love and faith.
Yes they may kill the body – but what is that set against
that sure and certain hope that either in this world or the next,
even the very gates of hell itself will ultimately crumble and fall
when faced with the love and power of God.
Then finally a brief but important link to Christian Aid Week.
The first thing Paul and Silas did in our story
was to turn to the dispossessed and exploited slave girl and help her.
They freed the girl from economic slavery, but in so doing
they provoked a backlash from the injured self interest
of the economically powerful
But Paul and Silas just kept on going –
simply loving the needy and loving their persecutors.
So in Christian Aid Week, we are called
- to help the poor,
those exploited by the unjust and downright evil and exploitative
economic systems of our word.
- but also to love those who exploit them or ignore them-
showing love and compassion for the fat cat bankers and all those chasing illusory happiness in stacking up wealth
So when you go door to door collecting for Christian Aid
and someone abuses you and shuts the door in your face,
when someone sneers or take advantage of us or persecutes us for our faith
maybe that means we are doing the right thing –
For we are called – come what may - to stand up for the poor and the needy, to love them, and love those who persecute them.
Maybe there is no earthquake – but don’t underestimate the power of love to shake the foundations of evil and selfishness in others.
Never forget this – when we work for a fairer juster world,
when we fight to alleviate hunger and deprivation,
we are working for King of Love,
who promises us a Feast in his Heavenly Kingdom to which all are invited – every needy outcast and every sinner too.
That is the promise of God –
that is what the power of his love will finally deliver.
But meanwhile, we need to start laying the feast table today, confident that our love can start even now to shake the foundations of our selfish world.
You have a red envelope. Fill it up -
or if you have time as well as money, go collecting for us this week
This is the evil attacking,
life affirming, earth shaking
ultimately victorious work of the Kingdom.
We have heard the call – what are we waiting for?