Staying Put

May 11, 2014 Acts 16:16-34

Her voice rang out in the city, announcing Paul and Silas and God.

These men are slaves of the Most High God,

who proclaim to you a way of salvation.



It sounds like this girl annoyed them with all this announcing.  It annoyed Paul so much that he healed her and therefore silenced her.  I wanted her voice to ring out into this sermon and into our lives.  Because she was right on.

issaquahcampusIt was 2001 and I was at Trinity Lutheran College just outside of Seattle, Washington, interviewing potential camp counselors. It was lunchtime and I was at a table with a handful of other camp directors.  Suddenly, there was a sound like maybe a semi was about to hit the building.  I happened to be sitting across the table from a woman who was from California.  She yelled, “earthquake! get under the table!”  It’s all a blur, of course. The noise of the earthquake. The floor and the entire building shaking. The noise of a busy cafeteria changing from easy-going conversation to scraping chairs and gasps and diving under what you hoped were sturdy, sturdy tables. 

20 seconds or was it 20 minutes later, the shaking of the earth and its accompanying roar stopped. Then it was quiet.  A few moments went by and we collectively let out our breath. Slowly we began to emerge from under tables, talking quietly as we left the building to stand outside while they could assess damages.  My traveling companion had inexplicably gone toward the windows to watch and exclaimed, “the ground was rippling like waves!” We were stunned and relieved.

Could you hear and feel the earthquake in today’s story? Only Paul and Silas weren’t enjoying an afternoon meal in a sunlit cafeteria in thePeacekeeping - MINUSTAH Pacific Northwest.  They were in, as the scripture said today, an innermost cell of the jail.  Don’t picture tv and movie ideas of solitary confinement or jail yards or jail cells.  These jails would be dug into the ground. They were pits. No light. Dank and dark and dirty. Their feet in wooden stocks.  And they were jailed only after being severely beaten.




These men (?) are slaves of the Most High God?!

who proclaim to you a way of salvation…


 So before the earthquake hit, and after the imprisonment on false charges (disturbing the peace), after their severe beating, they are singing praise to God. You know, like you do. It’s incredible, isn’t it?  Because they’re really isolated being in the innermost cell of the jail, deep in the ground, they are singing.  Perhaps it’s to encourage others who are jailed. Perhaps it’s to keep their own spirits up, remind them why they are there in the first place. Perhaps it’s so their voices might reach those outside the jail, echoing the slave girl’s hollering from the beginning of the story.  Perhaps they know this suffering is not lost on God, and they know God is with them. Perhaps it’s all of these reasons.

barn-door-broken-hinges-merton-allenSo what were those moments like just after the earthquake stopped?  I imagine it was a deafening sound. It shook the foundation of the jail, it rattled the doors open, it shook them out of their stocks.  It had to of kicked up plenty of dust.  Those first few moments after the earth settled down must have been stunned silence, with their ears still ringing.  And then the dawning realization that their feet were free, that the doors were open, that the jail had been destroyed.

It’s the open doors that I hear.  Swinging ever so slightly on its ruined hinge, creaking and clanging and thumping, no longer keeping anyone secure, imprisoned.  The creaking wood of the stocks now being pushed in the dirt by newly freed feet.

It’s this sort of stunned silence I hear, with just the inanimate objects moving and re-settling, making just a bit of noise. And these things that now no longer serve their purpose reveal a stunning thing.  The prisoners didn’t make a break for it.


These men(!) are slaves of the Most High God,

who proclaim to you a way of salvation.


Did they start to sing again?  Were they checking on each other, to make sure they were all ok?  Maybe they heard the guard gasp as he came to.  Had he been knocked out?  It probably didn’t take him long to look around and see the condition of the jail to assume his prisoners had escaped.  Maybe he groaned and moaned as he prepared to take his own life.  That was the price he would pay as the guard- his higher ups, his keepers would see to it.

But they call out to the guard, they tell him, hey! we’re still here!


These men are slaves of the Most High God,

who proclaim to you a way of salvation.


The guard’s life is rocked.  The very foundation of his life is rocked.  Because the prisoners should have been gone.  They should have left.  No, but not these men. Not these prisoners.

Their staying instead of running away after the jail has been utterly destroyed is witness enough to him to wonder how he can be like them, these slaves of the most high God.  This man, who held the key to their imprisonment now can see that these slaves of the most high God are quite free.  They are the most free thing he’s ever seen.

So he -their captor – takes them and he washes their wounds.  This guard, maybe even one who participated in beating them up – he tends to their bloodied feet and hands and heads and backs.  He washes them.  And then, he is baptized. He is washed. Once and for all.

He is freed and now belongs to Christ. He too is a slave of the Most High God.

It is a pity that Paul healed the slave girl from the beginning of the story.  He silenced her. Even if her words were cloaked in sarcasm, they still pointed to the truth.  And this truth was revealed not just in the holy act of baptism at the end of the story. This truth, that Paul and Silas belong to Christ, are slaves to Christ, was revealed in their not running when they had the chance.  This truth of who Jesus Christ was to them was revealed in their saving of the guard’s life, calling out to him that they were still there, that they had not fled.

So much of the Christian life is not about earth-shaking revelations.  Most of being a Christian is simply showing up or staying put.  Most of being a Christian is about offering water and attention to heal the wounds of those who’ve been hurt.  Most of being a Christian is about offering someone something to eat in a world that would rather make you work for it, earn it, or take it away.  Most of what being a Christian involves is not running away when the going gets tough.

What it really means to be a Christian, to truly follow Jesus is to blink into the stunned silence, hearing that (annoying) girl’s voice call out to you:

You are a slave of the Most High God,

who proclaim to you a way of salvation.  

You are free in Christ!


That’s who were called to be.  We’ve been announced in the city square who we belong to. And because of who we belong to, who we serve, we are called to show up and not flee. We are called to stay put when it gets tough and to give voice to Good News, not the news the world spits at us. And when the forces of this world threaten to lock us up – grip our hearts in fear or zip up our lips – it is our belonging to the Most High God that frees us to speak, to act, to love, to heal. To live our lives as slaves of the most high God. We are called to go out and to stay put.

And we say,

thanks be to God.