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Sermon Acts 16 9-15 take II profession

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Who are you?

If you were asked to identify yourself, what would you say?

I once sat in a circle of other pastors and their spouses.  We all introduced ourselves in terms of the places we served: I’m Harold and I am from Trinity CRC in St. Catharines.  Then we got to Rev. deBolster.  He introduced himself as Coby’s husband.  He was being funny, but also trying to make a point about his identity: describing who he was.

What about you?  How do you introduce yourself?

·        in terms of family?

·        your schooling?

·        your job?

In the events of Paul and Silas preaching and going to jail in Philippi, there are many details that catch our attention and imagination.  It’s a story that is relatively well known – it’s an old Sunday School favourite. That makes sense, the events will catch anyone’s attention: riots, beatings, prison, earthquake, baptisms . . .  Yet in the midst of all this action there is a calmness and purposefulness in Paul and Silas that is rooted in their identity – their connection to Jesus. 

As they were preaching, a slave girl bothered them by hollering, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.”  This demon is following the same strategy as demons did when they were face-to-face with Jesus – they try to gain the upper hand by naming the threat.  While this fortune-teller is correct about their identity and mission, all the noise she’s making doesn’t let Paul and Silas tell about the way to be saved – at least, it makes things really difficult. 

After several days of this, Paul gets fed up.  In Jesus’ name and authority, this slave is released from the demonic activity.  The girl resumes her own identity and personality, no longer having knowledge beyond what a normal person should know.

Of course, while this is good news for the slave girl, her owners aren’t too happy.  They were making a lot of money off her.  Now that the evil spirit has left, they can’t make money off her anymore.  So they have Paul and Silas arrested. 

Did you notice that the charges have nothing to do with healing the slave? 

Paul and Silas are arrested for being Jews who disturb the Roman customs of Philippi – a fine Roman town.  With all their hollering and accusations, the slave owners attract a lot of attention, and other people join the attack.  Even the magistrates order  a beating for Paul and Silas.

They are locked in stocks in the inner room of a prison as dangerous criminals.  That’s the image that stands out from the Sunday School papers – Paul and Silas in the stock chained like criminals.  But what kind of criminals are they? 

As they sit in the stocks and their backs ache and throb from the beating, their groans give way to prayer and even songs . . .Who can sing and praise God after treatment like that?

It is only possible because they don’t forget who they are.  These followers of Jesus Christ did not forget their identity in Christ.  Not even in the pain and darkness of the prison can rock their assurance of God’s love and care for them – the other prisoners could only listen in surprise.  Through their prayers and songs, Paul and Silas showed that they are confident in Jesus that

neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,  neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.[1]

Yet for all their certainty, no one else seems to know what to make of them.

What about you?

Who are you?

Nate, you are a young teenager, but you’re growing up fast.  You’re in that in between time: you aren’t a kid anymore, but you aren’t an adult yet either. You are in that time of life when you learn a lot about yourself.  You are figuring out who you are and who you want to be:

·        Choosing courses at high school;

·        make choices about jobs and careers,

·        learning what it means to be a friend with other guys and with girls. 

There is so much in life that is up in the air, things to discover, paths to explore.

In this past year, you and I have discussed a lot of topics, mostly centered on your identity as a believer in Jesus Christ.  But it isn’t a new topic for you.  You’ve learned a lot from your parents, family, Sunday School teachers, Cadet Counsellors, youth leaders, teachers and friends.  As part of a larger community, many of them gathered here, you are exploring and discovering who you are.

Your identity is something that has been under development ever since you were born – even a baby like my Abigail is discovering who they are.  Like her and other covenant children, you have a unique identifying mark on your forehead. 

As a child of believing parents, you were baptized in the name of our God.  The water of baptism symbolized your inclusion into the covenant family of God through Jesus’ blood.  That day marked the beginning of your identity as Christian.  Our heavenly Father reached down and claimed you, saying, “You are my child.”

Now  that you are growing more mature, you are able to respond to God’s claim on you.  As you learned about who you are and who God is, you have accepted God’s promises in Jesus.  Today you stood up publicly and agreed with your Creator and Redeemer, “Yes, I am your child.”  That is your identity.  Your life is wrapped up with Jesus’ life death and resurrection.

As your family and church family, we hear your profession of faith with great joy. As a church our biggest responsibilities are to make disciples, to baptize, and to teach.  So we rejoice that you are a disciple of Jesus Christ and that you want to keep growing and learning what it means to be a child of God.

But we can’t be naive about our identity and faith either.  See, your identity as a believer in Christ creates tension in a world that has been stained by sin.  Many people get caught up in characteristics and attributes that aren’t really important:

The Philippian slave-owners were all caught up in their identity as Roman citizens – anything that threatened their identity and customs could spark a riot.  Later on in this trip, Paul had a similar experience in Ephesus.  His preaching offended the silver merchants who sold idols of Artemis – it sparked a riot in the theatre where people didn’t know what the problem was, but they stood and chanted for hours, “great is  Artemis of the Ephesians.”

The disciples of Jesus were a threat to the people of Philippi and Ephesus, because it challenged their identity, their religion, their economy, their way of life.   So it is not easy to be a follower of Jesus. 

You’ll get called out by people like the slave girl – identifying you and focussing attention on you.  You’re values will clash with the economics of your culture – some people, like the slave owners will really resent it – some business owners in the church face that rub.

Now when I say there is conflict and tension there, I don’t mean Christians are supposed to be unfriendly, judgement, or try to stir up trouble.  We’re told in God’s word,

18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. [2]

But as we find in this passage, it is not always possible.  When you are walking out of step with the culture around you, it is only a matter of time before you step on someone else’s foot.  And they probably won’t appreciate it.  But if there is conflict, remember who you are, remember who you represent.


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[1] Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)

[2]Romans 12:18 (NIV)

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