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Lenten Reflection - Focusing on Christ

Throughout the season of Lent we have been exploring the unexpected (and challenging) place that we find the Jesus of the gospel - and the places he calls us to follow him. In this final week of Lent, we meditate on the story of Paul & Silas in prison. This reflection is designed for use in our mid-week service, but due to inclement weather, the service has been cancelled. This meditation is offered as a starting point for personal reflection on God's call in your life.

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As we come to the end of our Lenten journey, we are confronted by how hard it can be to follow the road when we might have other ideas about where we want to go. On Sunday, we heard Jesus’s response to all of the people clamoring for him to be the savior THEY wanted him to be. He knew that he needed to die in order to bring forth new life, and he prayed, not to be spared, but rather for God’s glory. In tonight’s reading, Paul and Silas are faced with the option to spare themselves suffering, but they chose to stay in prison and bring new life to others.

Acts 16:23-40

23 After the authorities had given Paul and Silas a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. 24 Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27 When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34 He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

35 When morning came, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.” 36 And the jailer reported the message to Paul, saying, “The magistrates sent word to let you go; therefore come out now and go in peace.” 37 But Paul replied, “They have beaten us in public, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they going to discharge us in secret? Certainly not! Let them come and take us out themselves.” 38 The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens; 39 so they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. 40 After leaving the prison they went to Lydia’s home; and when they had seen and encouraged the brothers and sisters there, they departed.

Reflection for Meditation:

The story does not tell us why Paul and Silas stayed in the prison, when they could have easily escaped. They could have easily interpreted the earthquake as divine intervention – God’s saving act to free them from their dangerous and painful situation. Or, they might have just seen a chance of escape and not give a second thought to whether this was God’s will or not. They had been badly beaten and then chained in the deepest hole available. It would have been understandable if they weren’t in the most spiritual mood. Getting out of dodge would have been a much more reasonable course of action than staying put (and somehow convincing all the other prisoners to do the same!). And the story doesn’t explain why they did not do just that!

What it does explain is what they were doing just before the earthquake: praying and singing hymns to God. They had their attention focused on God, not on their bruised bodies or frightening circumstances. And because they were focused on God instead of themselves, they were able to both reach others in need of God’s love, and have their own needs met as well. They were completely committed to the work God called them to, and – apparently – that freed them from anxiety about their own lives.

What kinds of anxieties make it hard for you to see or follow God’s leading?

Who might need your witness, if you can attend to it?

Can you imagine obedience as a source of peace and joy?

Hymn: 572 – Now It Is Evening

Now it is evening: lights of the city / bid us remember Christ is our light Many are lonely, who will be neighbor? / Where there is caring Christ is our light.

Now it is evening: food on the table / bids us remember Christ is our life Many are hungry, who will be neighbor? / Where there is sharing Christ is our life.

Now it is evening: little ones sleeping / bid us remember Christ is our peace.

Some are neglected, who will be neighbor? /Where there is caring, Christ is our peace.

Now it is evening: here in our meeting / may we remember Christ is our friend. / Some may be strangers, who will be neighbor? /Where there’s a welcome, Christ is our friend.

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