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Locked up!

Posted by Lucy Moore on 07 Oct 2020

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A God who shakes things up

A small group of Messy Church leaders met online to spend time with God and each other. We took the story from this month’s Get Messy! - the account of Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail (Acts 16:16-40) - to focus on and think about what God might want to say to us around being ‘trapped’, ‘imprisoned’, ‘freed’ and ‘liberated’; and, in the light of the earthquake, what might need ‘shaking up’ or indeed, keeping locked behind closed doors in Messy Church or in our personal lives. It was surprising how much we found in the passage in just 45 minutes.

Being trapped or freed

I thought about all those who were set free - not just Paul and Silas, but also the female slave, the other prisoners, the jailer and all his family. Others are affected when we receive freedom. We have to experience and understand imprisonment before we can be set free. I looked up freedom in a thesaurus - liberty, release. emancipation, deliverance, discharge, pardon, amnesty, privilege.

I thought about the fact that everything that was proclaimed was LOUD! Paul commanded the spirit to come out, Paul and Silas sang hymns, they shouted to the jailer, they baptised with joy, they were not willing to be set free quietly but wanted an official escort from the prison, they went on to encourage the believers in Philippi to be brave. Freedom is not something to be done quietly, apologetically or conservatively! We are set free for a reason. Fat and Frantic: ‘Freedom is a sweet word, a taste to savour, say it LOUD!’ Graham Kendrick: ‘Say it LOUD, Say it strong. Tell the world what God has done.’

Why did Paul and Silas wait to help and free the slave girl?

There was a backlash when the girl was set free.

The freedom of the slave girl, the other prisoners and the jailor all came at the cost of Paul and Silas being beaten and imprisoned!

There is a need for restitution and restoration not just freeing and running away.

I hope Lydia took care of the slave girl after her ‘usefulness’ was removed.

Trapped in present church situation but wanting to move on to something new; trapped in the limbo land of waiting for solicitors, estate agents, etc; trapped by only being able to see our grandson on Facetime; trapped by being in a lovely big house but not really able to have people round for meals at present; trapped by not being able to socialise in the way I would like to

Free to have a more flexible daily schedule; free to spend more time with God in Bible reading and prayer; free to spend more time outside walking, at the beach, etc.; free to have more time to reflect (not always a good thing for me…!)

Read the passage and notice what springs out at you.

I was intrigued by verse 21, ‘By advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practise’, and wondered what these customs were. Apparently, if religion failed to receive Roman approval it was considered religio illicita and Judaism had legal recognition at this time, but Christianity did not. However, it was by doing things that were considered religio illicita that Paul and Silas bought new life and freedom to the jailer and his family. I sometimes still feel that Messy Church is considered as religio illicita in some quarters, and yet it is at Messy Church that so many people find new life and freedom

Verse 34: ‘He [the jailer] was filled with joy.’ Despite the very difficult, potentially life-threating circumstances the jailer found himself in, he was still filled with joy when he and his family were baptised. This reminded me, somewhat forcefully, that despite the difficult circumstances we find ourselves in at this present time, we can still be filled with joy and should indeed be looking out for joyful things to celebrate.

Prisons are places of sensory deprivation: dark, cold, smelly, silent, tasteless, restricted movement. They could be part of a villa (someone unhelpfully chipped in, ‘Pentonvilla?’), underground cell, place of awaiting punishment or trial or slavery.

The jailer and his whole household joined in this new church and began with baptism, washing wounds (compassion) and a meal.

What's the role of the earthquake? What other Bible stories feature earthquakes or something being shaken?  Do they shed any light on this one? 

  • The resurrection; Jesus calming the storm; the wise and the foolish builders, Isaiah, Revelation, Psalms, Job, Samson and the temple of Dagon, Elijah on Mount Horeb, signs of the end times in Matthew, Mark and Luke. ‘We are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken’ (Hebrews 12).
  • Storms of one kind or another seem to precede fairly (or very) monumental events – a demonstration of God’s power and ultimate authority over all things of human origin?
  • Earthquakes seem to be a work of God that brings freedom and release: Peter from prison, walls of Jericho, Paul and Silas.
  • More than one reaction to earthquakes: freedom and victory or freezing and paralysis.
  • How do we help the 'frozen chosen'?
  • The early church was always being shaken up to become a cross-cultural community that took in the Lydias, the slavegirls, the Pauls and Silases, Mr and Mrs Jailer (ex-Roman soldier? All the little jailer children, slaves, clients?). Young, old, rich, poor, slave, free, men, women, Gentiles, Jews: shaken out of complacency and possessiveness.

What needs shaking up, setting loose or unchaining in Messy Church at the moment? In your own life?

  • Shaking up - maybe our privilege - relevance of BLM during the lockdown time.
  • Setting free - liberty for people to use their giftings, release for new team members to take ownership.
  • Unchaining - emancipation and deliverance from set ways of being church, consumerism of church.
  • Singing seems to have been the means by which God’s power was released: how much are we missing out on by not being able to sing together in worship at the moment?
  • The change from Regional Coordinators to teams is a shaking and a setting free.
  • Structure/process/procedure should be like a skeleton that helps the body to move not a strait jacket.
  • Learning that we are human beings and not human doings - we have value by just being vs a worldly philosophy of valued by our ability to produce.

What needs to stay controlled behind locked doors?

  • Unnecessarily critical words
  • Any form of gossip
  • Things confidential
  • We need to lock up (guard) our values
 
  1. Paul and Silas made a big decision! Did they heal the slave clairvoyant and bring the authorities down on them or did they continue to ignore her? It was a tough call. Eventually Paul decided to respond. The slave girl's freedom was bought by the apostles' punishment and imprisonment. And, of course, this is the gospel. It's an imitation of what Christ did for us. Paul and Silas chose 'lockdown' for the sake of demonstrating the power of the gospel. I wonder what new risks we should be taking with Messy Church to demonstrate the gospel more clearly?
  2. And their lockdown really hurt. Apart from the severe beating, they were in chains, in the dark, in need of medical attention and had suffered unjustly: they had every reason to feel sorry for themselves! And yet they felt so connected to God that they could pray and they could praise, even in these circumstances. My experience of lockdown has been so privileged compared to this and to that of many today. I wonder whether I could still pray and praise like Paul and Silas did, under more trying conditions?
  3. The text does not say God sent the earthquake, but clearly God used it to further the gospel both in the prison and in the city. God has not sent this pandemic but it can be used to prune/refashion the church and our lives and show us how to come back to what is really important about faith.
  4. The earthquake brought freedom for everyone in that underground prison. And yet no one escaped? There must have been something about Paul and Silas and what they said, in their songs and prayers, that touched everyone deeply, opening up their minds and hearts to the idea of a better, deeper, lasting freedom which was worth waiting for. I wonder what seeds of faith this pandemic has sown and whether we are watering those seeds in our conversations and through our intentional witness?
  5. The jailer must have heard what Paul had been speaking about in the city before the two were arrested. Something about their faith under trial must have impressed him. He was terrified of course of the consequences of losing his prisoners - even suicide would be preferable to being held responsible for that. His cry for help isn't necessarily a deeply spiritual cry - he just wants a way out of this mess. God uses our natural instincts for help as a way to bring us closer to Godself. Maybe the fears around the pandemic are having a similar effect on people? Are we alert to the opportunities for mission in this context? Maybe Messy Churches and the church in general should be more concerned about getting back to new creative mission rather than just getting services started again in church?
  6. The jailor's house can't have been far away - maybe a house for duty above the prison? The jailor's family came to believe in Jesus. There was no time at all to explain the gospel fully and certainly no opportunity for a lengthy Alpha course! Baptism for this jailer and his family was actually the start, not the end, of their 'Christianity Explored' course, which Paul left Lydia to run! Maybe this has some lessons for us about how different discipleship can be for different people, particularly for Messy Church families, who like the jailer, can come from nowhere and just need help out of the mess they're in.
  7. Paul uses his Roman citizenship to his advantage, demanding an apology but also thereby, presumably, protecting the newly converted jailer and his family. He doesn't just want an apology for his own sake, but on behalf of the brand-new Philippian church.
  8. And what a story they had to share with Lydia when they got to her home. When Paul tells them to be brave, he's already lived out this advice for them to follow. 
  9. What an amazing start for this tiny church, which couldn't have had more than a dozen members including the slave girl, Lydia (and friend/relatives) and also the jailer and his family. And what a mixture of people they were - all ages, backgrounds, social status and experience of life. We need to challenge the idea that small group church can only be created by those with similar interests, ages or experience of the faith. How can we encourage small home group Messy Churches? Just six people is church.
  10. And I wonder what Luke was doing while all this was going? We know he was there and this is an eyewitness account; in fact it was possibly his first experience of seeing Paul in action! What an impact that must have had.
  11. Like the church in general, Messy Churches have been shaken this year. Some have stopped and may not start again. Others have bravely soldiered on, finding creative ways to keep in touch with families. Starting Messy Church again isn't as simple as putting on a service with people sat at a distance with masks. It only goes to emphasise how different Messy Church is from its traditional counterparts. Maybe the shaking is helping to reveal this, as well as Messy Church values and specialness, more clearly, both to the established denominations and to outsiders.