Moved to do the right thing

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May 12, 2013
7th Sunday of Easter
Acts 16:16-34
Shera Nesheim, D.M. 

She was probably tired from a long
day of work as a seamstress at a local department store, and when she got on
the bus that day, she thought, “great, it’s filling up” as she sighed and took
a seat. Her feet were throbbing and her back ached. But she was more than just
physically tired. She was tired of giving in. So when they were only a little
ways into the long trek to her bus stop and a white passenger came on board
looking for a seat, she knew what she was supposed
to do. The bus was now full and she was supposed to stand up and offer her seat
to this white person. But she was annoyed.
She was there first. She was just as tired as the person next to her, and she
did not want to stand up for the rest of the trip. So, she didn’t. And the
police were called and she was arrested for being an African American woman,
who would not give up her seat for a white person.

Soon all across the city of
Montgomery, Alabama, a boycott began which soon launched a nationwide effort to
end segregation of public places. This woman, Rosa Parks is quoted as saying, “At the time I was arrested, I had no idea
it would turn into this. It was just a day like any other day. The only thing
that made it significant was that the masses of people joined in.”
One
courageous action started a HUGE chain reaction that no one could have
expected – it amplified and pioneered the Civil Rights Movement. 

It’s easy to say now, after these
years have passed, that she did the “right” thing. That the “right” thing was
obvious and should have been done. But 1955 was a different time. It was a time
when women knew “their place” in society. And people believed that African
Americans should know “their place.” What Rosa Parks did, took the expectations
of the society and culture at the time, and turned them upside down!

Two times in our reading from Acts,
Paul and Silas do the right thing. And not without consequences. It also
started with a moment of being annoyed.
Paul and Silas were annoyed by the fact that they had a slave
girl-fortuneteller following them around like a parrot, telling the world what
they were up to. They were also annoyed that her horrible owners were using her
abilities so they could make a lot of money and enslave her. So Paul and Silas
decide to heal this slave girl who was bound by a spirit that caused her to
deliver fortunes. They do the right thing – they free her from the spirit that
possessed her. She was healed. But because of this, her owners lost their way
to make lots of money – and they got very upset with Paul and Silas.

For healing someone in the name of
Christ and doing the right thing, Paul and Silas are dragged to the authorities
and accused of breaking Roman laws. The crowd even participated in attacking
them. Paul and Silas were stripped naked and beaten with rods. Then they were thrown
in the dark, cold depths of a prison and tightly shackled.

Yet Paul and Silas don’t blame God.
God didn’t put them in jail. They knew they had done the right thing. Even in
the darkest of night, midnight, they were praying and singing hymns to God. Everyone
was listening, even the other prisoners. Maybe they couldn’t believe that these
men, who clearly didn’t belong in jail, or deserve to be imprisoned, were still
praising their God. And little did Paul and Silas know, but their one small
action, started a HUGE chain reaction

Suddenly, there was an earthquake.
Could this be God’s version of a jailbreak? Were they now set free? Released
from captivity? Getting the freedom they so deserved? You would think so. You’d
think Paul and Silas, and all the other inmates would run for the hills as soon
as the walls came crumbling down. After the terrible shaking ended in the dark
of night, the jailer thought he had lost all of his prisoners and was about to
kill himself, for that seemed like a better option than being punished by Roman
law. But just as he was about to draw his sword, Paul shouted from the darkness
– “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.”

The jailer couldn’t believe his
eyes. Every prisoner was still there. He then asks Paul a HUGE question. “What
must I do to be saved?” The man who once held the keys to Paul’s freedom, is
now asking Paul how he can be set
free. We do not know what caused his change of heart. Was it the prayers and
songs and devotion in time of need? Was it the integrity of Paul and Silas to
do the right thing, to stay in the prison and serve their sentence, even though
they could have escaped? Was it because the other prisoners stayed too? Perhaps
it was God working through all of these things to change the jailer’s life. It
wasn’t the earthquake the moved this man, it was the actions of people in his
life that changed him. And not only his life was changed, but the life of his
entire family. Paul and Silas were able to speak a word of the Lord to them and
they were all baptized. I find this amazing!

And it’s even more astonishing that
the jailer washes the wounds of Paul and Silas. He cares for them, and they
share a meal together. The man who might have been beating them with rods, or
at least worked with the ones who did, was now doing the right thing, extending
a deed of kindness and washing the bloody wounds of his former prisoners. God
takes everything you would expect in this story, and turns it upside down.

In Luke and Acts, the word “saved” is
more than just a free ticket to heaven. It means “being released.” The girl is saved from a spirit that bound her.
The slave owners are released from their temptation to use and abuse this girl
for money. The jailer identity is radically redefined as friend, and host, as
well as child of God. His family are given new life in Christ, their old life
is now gone. Even the power of God’s Word is set free into the community
through the shaking of earth and crumbling of walls. The Roman officials tried
to stop it by shackling it, but the Word of God cannot be bound. The Word of
God releases and saves. People’s lives are changed in huge ways because of
God’s work in their lives.

So many times we are faced with
making a choice to do the right thing. And often times, it is easier to ignore
it or take the easy path. We may not end up in jail for doing the right thing,
but it can be a painful decision. Often times it takes effort, even courage!
Whether it is standing up against bullying, being honest when it’s easier to
cheat or tell a little white lie, going the extra mile for someone you may not
think will ever repay you, or even making the choice to stay positive when the
world around you is negative. Each day we can make choices to do the right
thing. Sometimes we’re just plain annoyed at the ways of the world, or we feel
like we are passionate about a justice issue. Whatever the case, the right
thing isn’t always clear and easy, but it’s something we are challenged to find
the courage to do.

Ultimately, doing the right thing
frees us. Even in the midst of suffering, doing the right thing can release us
from evil, from negativity, from guilt, or from any shackles that might hold us
or hold others in our life down. The Word of God continues to push and prod us
to do the right thing, so that we might live and be free.

As Rosa Parks once said, “I would
like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free… so that other people
would also be free.”