Jailhouse Rock

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					-1Rockin’ at the Jailhouse Rob Hinman - First Presbyterian Church of Lenoir (NC) May 24, 2009 The New Testament Lesson: Acts 16:16-24

Tomorrow is Memorial Day. It won’t be quite the same as our children have a snow make-up day instead of a holiday. As we remember those men and women who have given their lives in the defense of our country, I hope that we will remember that they paid the ultimate price to protect our freedoms. This church has given its share. It is one of our great joys that we live in a country where freedom is prized. Yet increasingly, a mockery is being made of our freedoms. Freedom of speech is misused to justify slander. Freedom to worship almighty God is misused to justify almost anything as a religion. And the more we abuse our freedoms, the more we must tighten security, and the more security we demand, the more freedoms we lose. But as a citizen of the Kingdom of God, I know that true freedom is not dependent on earthly powers. There is more to freedom than having permission or being unencumbered. In fact, living in Christ, I can see that what may appear to be freedom may actually be enslavement. True freedom is found only in Jesus Christ. This is the lesson of our text from Acts. The New Testament Lesson: Acts 16:25-34 Rockin’ at the jailhouse. It’s another story of how God will shake up our lives in order to draw more souls to His Son. Paul and Silas are missionaries hard at work spreading the Gospel message. But then a distraction comes along that turns everything upside down in order for souls to be saved. For several days, their missionary efforts are disrupted by a slave girl who is a soothsayer, a palm-reader, or as we'd say, one of those folks at U-R-PSYCHIC.COM! Her psychic gift is due to a demon who owns her soul, and it is that demon who ridicules these men of God. Paul finally has enough. Like Lady Macbeth, he shouts, "Out, damned spot.” Well, actually, he commands the demon in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of the girl. And of course, the demon flees and the slave is free, at least of her tormentor. Now everything is topsy-turvy. Paul and Silas have a real disruption on their hands. The slave girl is freed of that demon voice, but she is also suddenly of far less value to her owners. And her owners were angry. In driving out the demon, Paul knocked a big hole in their cash flow. And they sued Paul for damages. The two are beaten and flogged and thrown into jail to await trial. Now most people, if they had been Paul and Silas, would have been pretty unhappy by this point. Who is happy when they’ve been beaten and slapped in jail? Paul and Silas, and many more like them down through the ages. Slapped into shackles, what do they do? They have a God-party that's so rockin’, it literally brings the house down. They started with a prayer, moved to a hymn, and then God finished it with an earthquake. That’s worship. We bow our lives to Him and He brings out the big surprises.

-2What would we do if during our final hymn, an earthquake hit and God flung open the doors of this church? I hope we’d do what Paul and Silas did – they gave a witness to Jesus. Paul and Silas are just happy to be alive in Jesus. But the jailer isn't happy. He knows what happens to guards whose prisoners get loose. They give their life in exchange. He's so unhappy; he's ready to end his life immediately. But Paul stops him with a witness to the saving grace of Jesus Christ. And the jailer believes. Now the jailer is happy. It’s a story filled with twists and turns. Who’s free, who’s not. And what is true freedom anyhow? The key to this story is to look past the marketplace setting in which it takes place, past the slave girl and her owners, past the judicial system, even past the jail. We have to see this story through Paul and Silas to understand what it means to be truly free. The only ones in this story who know true freedom are those who are bound to Christ. Paul and Silas are free no matter what the circumstances because they are forever bound to Jesus. This is  why they preached with boldness  why they sang when locked in prison  why they did not leave, even when doors were opened True freedom is a life bound to Christ. And in this true freedom, we find the purpose of our life –worshipping God as we tell others the Good News. That is the heart of evangelism, living our lives in such constant worship of God, that in our words and deeds, people see Jesus. That’s what the rockin’ at the jailhouse was all about. God did not throw open the doors of the jail to free Paul and Silas. They were already free and worshipping Him. He opened the doors so that the jailer could see how un-free he was and hear the Good News Paul and Silas shared. Paul and Silas were in prison so that they could witness about Jesus to the Jailer and set him free. Then he witnessed to his family and this whole story has witnessed to billions through the millennia. We can’t imagine how many have come to faith in Jesus because of this rockin’ jailhouse. Freedom in Christ does not mean we’re free to do as we please. It means we’re free to share Jesus with someone whose jailhouse is being rocked by God. I wonder; as your pastor I wonder, to what jailhouses is God taking you? And are you ready and willing to witness? The story is told that the only jail cell the great escape artist Harry Houdini could not get out of was one whose door was unlocked the whole time. Because Houdini thought the door was locked, he never tried just pushing it open. That’s how it is with too many Christians. They’re free to walk right out and share about Jesus but something keeps them from believing that’s possible for them or right or proper or whatever and they miss so many chances to be used of God to share the life-giving, life-saving Good News of Jesus. God is rockin’ at a jailhouse near us. Are you telling folks what they have to do to be saved, to be truly free? What witness must you make so someone else can be freed and feel the joy of Jesus. Paul and Silas knew they were freed to make a witness, not to get away. God is rockin’ at your jailhouse for you to make a witness, not get away.

-3God’s been rockin’ at the jailhouses of First Church. People are being set free in amazing ways. Whole families have experienced the leadership of God’s Holy Spirit as never before. Not only have people been released from the demons of their past, but they have come to faith in Christ. But friends, we’re not being set free for our own happiness. God is setting us free to serve Christ and bear witness in word and deed. All this rockin of the jailhouse may make some of us nervous. Believe me, I know that when God is rockin’ at the jailhouse, the shaking ground can get pretty scary. Spiritual change is the toughest kind of change to be a part of. But it’s the most exciting, too. It can be scary as all get out, but faithful endurance in the moment brings freedom to others. Have faith. God may shake the very order of our lives, but He is still in charge and He is still using us. In Christ, He has set us free for service, to share Good News with those who are headed to death. During World War II, Edward Treski served in the U.S. Army in the Philippines. He had no idea how God was going to rock his life when in May of 1942, he and the others in the 31st Infantry were forced to surrender to the Japanese. For the next two years, three months and 15 days, the brutalities he faced as a POW are beyond telling in church. This statistic says much: in Europe, 4% of POWs died. In the Pacific, 27%. But then it got worse for Treski. In late summer of 1944, this 23 year-old 2nd Lieutenant was tethered with the other POWs and forced to march without rest. By nightfall, they came to the port of Davao and were packed into the hull of an old freighter. The conditions were worse than those on most slave ships. After 14 days, the prisoners were transferred to another ship, the Shinyo Maru, to throw off the U.S. submarines. On September 7, 1944, torpedoes from a U.S. sub slammed into the hull of the unmarked Shinyo Maru, and the prisoners tried to swim out of the sinking ship. The Japanese, safe in their life rafts, bayoneted or shot the POWs in the water. Emaciated and exhausted, Treski, while helping others, managed to swim the three miles to shore. Of the 750 prisoners on board that prison ship, only 82 survived. Treski was one of them and he lived to be 87 years-old. As he recounted the events of 1944 to his grandson last January, he described how his faith held him. “During the six months of fighting I believed, during the prison camp I believed, and the time on the prison ship I believed. I believe today and I’ll believe forever.” Such faith is the result of knowing that God has set us free to serve in Christ’s name. Treski’s grandson wrote in reflecting on his grandfather’s experience, “Could it be that God allowed Papa’s peaceful, generous life – that somehow managed to flow out of those horrific experiences - to stand as a tribute to His grace? Was he allowed a rebirth in that hell ship so that he could live a life on Earth that reflected Heaven?” God has given us new life in Jesus so that we can share heaven with others. God is rockin’ at the jailhouse so we can go tell someone about Jesus and they can be set free. It’s our joy to go and tell. It will be their joy to hear and believe, and be free for evermore. Amen.

-4“Rockin’ at the Jailhouse”
Rob Hinman - First Presbyterian Church of Lenoir (NC) May 24, 2009 (8:45 a.m.) The New Testament Lesson: Acts 16:16-24

True freedom is giving up what we may want in order to touch the life of another for Christ. You're a 19-year-old kid. You're critically wounded, and dying in the jungle in the Ia Drang Valley, 11-14-1965, LZ X-ray, Vietnam. Your infantry unit is outnumbered 8-1, and the enemy fire is so intense, from 100 or 200 yards away, that your own Infantry Commander has ordered the MediVac helicopters to stop coming in. You're lying there, listening to the enemy machine guns - you know you're not getting out. Your family is half-way around the world, and you'll never see them again. The world fades in and out; you know this is the day. Then, over the machine gun noise, you faintly hear that sound of a helicopter, and you look up to see an un-armed Huey, but it doesn't seem real, because no Medi-Vac markings are on it. Ed Freeman is coming for you. He's not Medi-Vac, so it's not his job, but he's flying his Huey down into the machine gun fire, after the Medi-Vacs were ordered not to come. He's coming anyway. He drops it in, and sits there in the machine gun fire, as they load 2 or 3 of you on board. Then he flies you out through the gunfire, to the doctors and nurses. And, he kept coming back...13 more times. He took about 30 of you and your buddies out, who would never have gotten out. Ed Freeman, died on August 20, 2008 at the age of 80, in Boise, ID. But those he saved never forgot what happened in 1965. They remembered and 2001, President Bush awarded Ed Freeman the Congressional Medal of Honor for his service in WWII, Korea and Viet Nam. Freedom always costs. We should never forget that in this country so filled with freedom and too willing to forget what it cost. As Christians, we have been set truly free, and we must never forget what that freedom cost Jesus. Paul and Silas never forgot. Jesus had set them free to serve the Lord. They dedicated their lives to spreading the Good News; missionaries going where the Holy Spirit led them. Whatever circumstances they faced, they kept sharing Jesus. Let’s finish the story Amy started: The New Testament Lesson: Acts 16:25-34

What strikes me about this story is that Paul and Silas never lose sight of the Lord and their mission work for Him. Against a backdrop of people enslaved and imprisoned, set free from demons and jailers, they keep telling us about true freedom. True freedom that comes only in Jesus Christ who set us free to witness to His Father’s glory. Take the girl, a slave to greedy men and demon-possession. Paul released her from the demonic grip on her soul, but was she free? We’re never told if she met Jesus in this moment in which her whole life was turned upside down. The owners. They were in control of the moment, but how free were they? When their economic well-being was threatened, the only god to whom they could turn was Rome.

-5And the Philippian jailer. He was free to torture the prisoners; he was the holder of the keys to that tiny jail. But the minute his life was rocked by the hand of God, his only hope was to take his own life before someone took it for him. But Paul and Silas were free. They were free to preach boldly, to drive out the demonic, to threaten the status quo, to endure torture, to praise God even when shackled in prison. Not an earthquake nor the prospect of getting out of jail free could make them forget that they were free for one purpose, and one purpose only, to witness to Jesus. And God never stopped leading them. And using them to change lives. So, I wonder, how is God rockin’ you these days? Are you a slave to something or someone and God is trying to show you the way out? I know we no longer buy and sell people, but I’ve noticed that there are still a bunch of people willing to sell themselves out to a future that is no more certain than what a palm reader sees. And God is rockin’ your world, trying to set you truly free. Maybe you’ve been certain that your dividends would never end. But suddenly some part of your economy has vanished and you’re hoping that Rome, I mean Washington, has the answer? You’ll never be free with a bailout. But God would love to show you the way to true freedom. Maybe you’re just doing your duty. Living a good honorable life. But then the earth moves under your feet and the next thing you know, you’d be better off dead than face the shame of your changed circumstances. But before you give up hope – stop – look – listen; and hear the Good News of Jesus. His people are sticking with you as certainly as Paul and Silas and the other prisoners stayed with that Philippian jailer. How is God rockin’ your jail? What doors is He throwing open for you to step through into true freedom? And to whom will you witness as you do? For true freedom is never ours to horde. God gives it to us so that we will spend the rest of our lives witnessing to others, praying that they will ask, “What must I do to be saved?” Will we be there to tell them, in that moment of crisis, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” Amen.

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