Message Based on Acts 16:16-34

Reading from the Acts of the Apostles: Acts 16:16-34 (NIV)





Will others looking at you notice that you are with Jesus?

Slide1 "What must I do to be saved?…" asked the Jailer. At one time or another, all of us have asked a variation of this question.



What must I do to overcome what hinders me? … What must I do to accomplish my goal?… What must I do to learn what I have to learn, to adapt where I have to adapt, and adjust where I have to adjust in order to deal with the situation at hand? … What must I do to be saved from what destroys me? What must I do to be saved from my particular burden, my addiction, my emptiness, or my pain?


The way we answer such questions affects our lives and the lives of those around us. The answers to these questions influence our interactions with our neighbors and our mission. The way we live out our answers to these questions tells a story of our relationship with God. We spend a lot of time telling and listening to stories.


Slide2 When families gather for a special occasion (birthday, funeral, wedding, graduation, holiday) everybody shares stories. When the meal is over and dessert plates are stacked in the middle of the table, everybody gathers in a central place and memories begin to flow.


Each memory is a story and each story has a meaning that goes beyond words. Each story is intended to convey or to teach something important (at least in the mind of the person who is telling the story). Each story has a cultural connotation; the same story will be interpreted differently in different regions of the world or by people with different socio-economic, political or ethnic backgrounds. Meaning is found at the intersection of our stories.


Slide3 The value of these stories goes far beyond entertainment. These stories define what we believe to be right, true and beautiful. These stories have meaning and power beyond anything that we can easily recognize or define. These stories reveal our understanding of who God is and the way the world works. These stories reflect what is important in our lives and what is not. Stories our grandparents share affect us today. The stories that we share today will affect our mission in the world today and influence countless future generations through our actions.


Slide4 The reading from Acts 16:16-34  tells one such story. It is a story of exorcism, healing, and outrage. There are mob scenes and courtroom drama. It is a story of liberation and celebration. In this story Paul is at the center of the action, and God very busy at work in the town of Philippi. The story that today’s reading from Acts brings us is nuanced with meaning; the way we understand and interpret today’s reading from Acts depends on what we hold to be important, right, true and beautiful in our lives.


Today’s reading from Acts is about our need to give ourselves permission to ask the question, "What I must do …" and also gives us permission to take corrective action in our lives.


The young woman was possessed by an evil spirit. The men who used her were possessed by their greed. Paul was annoyed and angered by the young woman who heckled him and he – Paul – was possessed by narrow thinking (he healed the woman but not because he had her best interests in mind, but because he was annoyed and tired of listening to her). The men who judged, flogged and locked up Paul were possessed by fear and a hunger for power. The Jailer was possessed by the jail to the extent that when he thought that the prisoners had escaped, he wanted to kill himself.


Paul healed the possessed young woman of her demons, but he did nothing to free her from being a possession, she remained a slave. Did he have the courage to ask the question, "what must I do…?" in relation to the slave girl. We don’t know. The Bible tells us nothing about Paul’s connection to that young woman. However, he did ask this question and do the right thing when the prison doors opened, which resulted in helping the Jailer to recognize the living God.


In response to Paul’s actions, the Jailer had the courage to ask the question, "what must I do…". I can almost hear the Jailer saying, "Paul, I like your courage and your confidence; what must I do to be more like you?"


What can we take from this reading from Acts and how can we apply it to our lives?


Slide5 The reading from Acts teaches us that when we ask "what must I do…", sometimes we get so focused on the obvious answers that we miss the right answers.



When Paul healed the young slave woman, her owners were upset about their loss of income. Loss of income is NOT what they charged Paul and Silas with when they dragged them to court. Their charge was, "These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice" (Acts 16:20-21 NIV). There is nothing about loss of income in the charge. When they asked themselves, "what must we do about the loss of our income?" their response was focused on suing Paul and Silas. Wouldn’t it have been much more productive for them to use their energy to find new ways of earning income?



Presentation1 {ILLUSTRATION} The oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico that started the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on March 21. Eleven lives were lost and our hearts go out to the families who lost their loved ones. A terrible ecological disaster ensued in the Gulf of Mexico. That disaster will affect ALL life on Earth for decades, if not centuries, because the Gulf of Mexico is a hatchery for many marine species that serve as a part of the food chain for other marine species, as well as for humans. Humanity is in a vulnerable spot and humanity is struggling with the question "what must we do in response to this disaster?" How we answer this question depends on our understanding of God’s presence in the world.


These days, much of the news coverage is centered on "who is responsible and who is going to pay for this ecological disaster in the Gulf of Mexico?" This question has nothing to do with understanding what really happened or what we need to do differently to prevent it from happening again. A much better question to ask would be "how do we develop energy that is more eco-friendly and less disaster prone?"


Slide7 Although our challenges are much less drastic than the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, all of us face challenges. Socks are lost and toast is burned every day. We face challenges in our personal lives and we face challenges as a community. Today’s reading from Acts challenges us to ask what must we do, how must we adjust, adapt and change as a response to the changes and challenges that we are facing.


The way we respond to the challenges in our lives can bring us closer to God and demonstrate our connection to God. The way we respond to the challenges in our lives defines our mission, our actions and how we live as Christians.


When the young slave woman saw Paul and Silas, the spirit inside her recognized them to be "servants of the Most High God."


Will others looking at you notice that you are with Jesus?

My hope and prayer is that when our neighbors see how we live our lives, how we respond to our challenges, how we live out our Christian mission they will recognize us to be servants "of the Most High God"?


My hope and prayer is that when our neighbors recognize us to be servants "of the Most High God" they would want to ask one of us "I like what I see. What must I do…?"



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