- Date: May 8, 2022
- Bible Reading: Acts 16:16-34
- Free Resource: Sing Loud and Proud (Youth, NL)
- Unit Theme (April 17—May 8): Good News Spreads
- The Point: God can even use the imprisonment of the faithful to bring about change in people.
Jesus’ freedom message continues to spread, but the stories of the enslaved woman and Lydia ask us to consider: how are we continuing to limit God’s message and mission?
Conversion, Freedom, and Message
Last week, we read Paul’s conversion story. This week, the Narrative Lectionary shares the story of Paul’s freedom from prison before turning to his preaching next Sunday. Despite the focus on Paul, other people are part of his journey, too. We cannot be Christians by ourselves, and Paul’s own personal journey is intertwined not just with his co-workers, such as Silas and Timothy, but with a myriad of others: converts, conversation partners, and the crowds. Paul’s initial reaction to the woman in today’s story is annoyance (v. 18), but perhaps our challenge is to see the “interruptions” in our own faith journeys as important opportunities for growth and development, rather than distractions.
An Anti-Conversion Story?
Filled with evangelical fervor, it is perplexing why Paul and Silas do not attempt to convert (or free) the enslaved woman in today’s story. Last week, the scales fell from Saul’s eyes in his conversion story, but there may still be limits on his ability to perceive the inclusion of others in the community of Jesus. Questions of ethnic and cultural differences in the early church continue to haunt the story of Acts even after the Jerusalem Council in chapter 15.
Two Women in Contrast
Given our story’s context within the Book of Acts, the exclusion of the enslaved woman from the Christian community is especially confusing. The Narrative Lectionary has selected its readings so that we focus on Paul’s narrative within the book; however, immediately preceding this refused evangelization, we read of another woman, Lydia, who becomes a member of the Jesus movement (Acts 16:13-15). Chapter sixteen tells us that women are part of the conversation regarding Jesus’ message (v. 13), but the larger story forces readers to question which women, in particular, are welcomed and which women are not? Learning for Justice offers a helpful video and other resources for leading conversations about intersectionality and would be a useful addition while discussing the differing experiences of these two women both looking for freedom.
Courage and Citizenship
Paul and Silas display great bravery in their encounter with the jailer in today’s story and the magistrates later in the chapter. Despite this courage, however, their citizenship status plays an important role behind the scenes in our story by protecting both Paul and Silas, as well as their message (v. 38). Although our concepts of citizenship have changed greatly since the early Christian church, this story offers Christians today an opportunity to discuss immigration and what it means to be a citizen in our own contexts (and how that shapes our work as Christians).
Spiritual disciplines are another source of courage for Paul and Silas. The two men navigate their time in prison with the help of spiritual practices. Prayer and singing (v. 25) are their tools for keeping hope alive while they wait for freedom. What are your spiritual disciplines? Art, music, silence, movement, prayer, and reading can all lead us toward the Divine and one another. Discuss and try a spiritual discipline with your participants.
As we read this story today, too many of our neighbors are still in prison. As you consider what Paul’s journey means for your congregation at this moment, I hope you’ll continue to pray and work for all of God’s people in need of freedom.
Rev. Billy Kluttz serves as Associate Pastor at Govans Presbyterian Church (USA) in Baltimore, Maryland where he focuses on children and family ministries, community engagement, and communications. He is also the co-host of the TLDR Bible Show, a humorous Bible summary and discussion podcast, and a Doctor of Ministry candidate at Wesley Theological Seminary.
During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: Sept 12 to June 5), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download a free activity “Sing Loud and Proud” from our youth curriculum Living the Word: Youth (NL) designed to be used in middle or high school faith formation!