Today’s disparaging ruling from the South Carolina Supreme Court makes this morning’s New Testament reading from the Daily Office (Acts 16:16-24) seem, in hindsight, particularly appropriate.
As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.
But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.
Astute observers of the present Anglican unpleasantness will recall when, several years ago, Katharine Jefferts-Schori, then Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, turned this text on its head, making the Apostle Paul out to be the bad guy, robbing the slave girl of her “gift.” It was one of the lowest of many low points during Schori’s tortuous nine-year tenure. Such shoddy “exegesis” made her a laughing stock among serious-minded Christians of all affiliations.
Unfortunately, we are not laughing in South Carolina today. As Paul and Silas were dragged into the marketplace and before the magistrates to be beaten and imprisoned, we have been dragged back into the middle of a legal battle we thought had been decided long ago. Once again, we find ourselves tagged as “the breakaway group,” subjected to slanderous accusations of larceny and deception.
This day ends for us as it did for Paul and Silas, locked away in the inner prison, our feet fastened in the stocks.
Tomorrow morning, if you haven’t already read them on the internet, you will read the headlines on the front page of the local newspapers.
Before you read those headlines, however, you might want to read tomorrow’s New Testament lesson (Acts 16:25-34). Then you will know, as the late Paul Harvey would say, “the rest of the story.”
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.
It is often in the darkest moments that the light of the Gospel will shine the brightest.
May the darkness of this day fade rapidly amidst the dawning light of a new and glorious day to which we will awaken and find our Lord Jesus is still on his throne and his Church is still advancing against the principalities and powers that enslave a world so desperately in need of his truth and his love; a world filled with hurting people asking the question, “What must I do to be saved?”