I’d like to take you on a journey this morning. As we travel we will stop off at various places, meet different people and hear what is being said. As we travel, I’d like to encourage you to think about similar journeys that you have taken, or maybe that you are on at the moment.
As in Doctor Who, the first stage of the journey is the one that will take us the furthest through time and space, but it’s the one that I am going to spend the least time talking about. Will you come with me back about 2,000 years and 1,500 miles south east of here, to city called Philippi? We land in this Roman colony in Greece, in the street. It’s dusty and hot, there are people everywhere, going about their daily business.
We spot a little group of people, obviously walking somewhere together. Paul and Silas are part of the group, going to the place of prayer. The place of prayer wasn’t a Temple or a synagogue; it wasn’t a special building, but a spot on the riverbank, outside the city, where people gathered to talk together and to pray. They had gone there when they first arrived in Philippi, and had met Lydia, who had believed the message that they had bought, and decided to follow Jesus. Now they were staying at her house and had got into the practice of going back to that spot, to pray and to share the good news further.
But, there is opposition to them going to the place of prayer. Every time they head off to the place of prayer, they are harassed by this girl, shouting after them, trying to distract them.
As we spend time in the city and see Paul and Silas, day after day, heading to their place of prayer, being harassed I wonder what harasses us as we go to our place of prayer? I wonder where our place of prayer is. Is it this building on a Sunday morning, or at another time? Do we have a space at home that is our place of prayer? Perhaps it’s a corner of the bedroom with a chair and a Bible. Perhaps it’s the kitchen. Maybe it’s outside, in a park or by a river. Maybe it’s a public space, a cafe or a library? What is your place of prayer, and what harasses you when you are on your way there?
As we watch, day after day, the same thing happens again and again. Paul and Silas head for the place of prayer, the girl shouts after them. Again and again. Until one day, suddenly, a new thing happens. A new voice breaks through the sound of the one that we have heard so many times before.
"In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!"
Paul eventually reacts with the authority that he has been given by Jesus. He has had enough of being harassed. He hasn’t allowed the harassment to stop him going to the place of prayer, but he has had enough of it now, and so he puts an end to it and frees the girl from the spirit. All hell breaks loose.
Something very dear to the hearts of the surrounding people has been challenged by Paul. Up to now the daily side shows of the girl harassing Paul and Silas has probably, if anything, been generating more fame for this girl, and more money for her owners. But now all that has been dashed by Paul’s freeing of the girl from the bondage of the spirit that was abusing her. The money making of the slavers has been stopped. They are very angry. Our journey continues as we follow the crowd as they drag Paul and Silas to the marketplace. Here they are accused of being a disturbance in the city. The barefaced, audacious, lying of their accusers is breath taking. The girl has been yelling the odds at Paul and Silas for days, today they’ve caused her to fall silent and now they are accused of causing a disturbance! And so, as we watch, they are whipped.
We might find that this happens to us when we take a stand against those things that harass us as we go to our place of prayer. When we finally say, “enough is enough.” When we say to the people who are harassing us when we go to our place of prayer that they have to be quiet now. And that might very well be people at work, or our families, or our friends. When we stand up against those who want to stop us getting nearer to God, and sharing the good news about Jesus, then we should not be surprised if there is a furious reaction. This is especially true if we have been putting up with it for any length of time. We might very well get dragged into a public place, accused of things that we haven’t done and emotionally whipped.
Our journey continues as we follow Paul and Silas from their whipping to the prison. We’ve seen them harassed on their way to pray, and we’ve seen them take a stand against that harassment. Now we see Paul and Silas beaten, in prison and in the stocks. What are they doing?
Well, they were on their way to pray and to share the good news of Jesus. So they pray and share the good news where they find themselves. They thought that the place of prayer that they were going to was with friends, that it was going to be the place that they were used to, but they have been dragged to another place. So they make that place their place of prayer. They will not be diverted from their purpose.
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we find ourselves unable to get to the place of prayer that we were heading for. We get headed off at the pass. Do we allow ourselves to be diverted from our purpose? Our primary purpose on a Sunday morning is not to make it to this building, our primary purpose is to meet with God, to worship, to learn, to pray, to be changed. We can do that anywhere. If we are prevented from getting here physically, do we allow that to stop us from worshipping, learning, praying, engaging with God’s word?
I believe that Paul and Silas’s faithfulness to doing what they had been called to do that day led to them seeing great things. They had been called to go and pray, so they prayed and worshipped in the place that they found themselves.
And what happens as they pray and worship? As they share the good news with the other prisoners, as the prisoners listen, with us, to Paul and Silas’ prayers and hymns? What happens? Miracles happen, one after the other. As we watch, the earth starts to shake, the doors and chains rattle and fall to the floor, but no one is harmed. But not only is no one harmed, no one’s moving. The prisoners are all staying where they are, no one’s making a run for it. The only one running around is the jailor, terrified that they will all have escaped, that he has failed in his task, that his honour is fatally compromised, so compromised that he feels that the only way to salvage anything is to kill himself. As he draws his sword, we hear that voice again, the one that we heard on the way to the place of prayer, the one full of the authority that he has been given.
"Don't harm yourself! We are all here!"
The jailor drops his sword, amazed. How can this be? What is this power? What is this authority? He knows that he has been brought face to face with something bigger than him, that could have been the cause of his death, but has chosen to spare him. He knows that he needs to be saved, to be rescued, but he doesn’t know how. But Paul does, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household."
And so we see the final miracle of the day, the greatest miracle, the salvation of the whole household of the jailor of Philippi.
I believe that when we are faithful and obedient to pray, to worship, and to share the good news, wherever we are, in whatever circumstances, then we also will see miracles, people freed and lives changed. As we pray we see the ground shift in the communities around us, and people freed from their chains. We see those who were the jailors become free themselves. We see people rescued from the darkness and the sin that binds them and weighs them down. As we pray and worship, in the places that we find ourselves, the awesome power of God is released.
And so we follow Paul and Silas on the final stage of their journey today as they are brought into the house. Finally they find themselves brought into a place of comfort, of healing and of restoration. It’s not the place that they thought they were going when they set out. The journey has been full of harassment, pain, and persecution, but it was worth it. They have been faithful and, judging from Paul’s writings he will have considered this a good day. He has seen someone come to a saving faith and everything that he has been through is worth that outcome.
As we leave Paul and Silas, and return to our own time and our own place, what a challenge that is to us. Is the rescue of those around us from the sin and darkness that bind them that important to us?
We have seen the way that Paul and Silas travelled that day, the places they stopped, the people they met, and the things that they said and did. What have we learnt about the way that we travel? Do we have a place of prayer, places where we often go to pray and to share the good news of Jesus? Is there anything harassing us as we travel that way? Is it time for us to say, “enough”? Are we prepared for the reaction when we do? Are we willing to be faithful in prayer, worship, and sharing the good news of Jesus wherever we end up? Are we able to make any place a place of prayer? Is the miracle of lives changed and people rescued by the power of God worth more than anything else to us?