Title: "Singing at Midnight"
Associated Readings: Acts 16:19-25
Date: 28 May 2017
Place: Market Street Mission in Morristown, NJ
Theme: Market Street Mission, founded in 1889, serves as a shelter and support network which helps individuals to overcome homelessness, addiction and poverty through a Christ-centered life. Leading worship for those sheltered there, I preached on the "midnight song" in Acts. My primary theme is that in the darkness of our lives our songs of faith are at their most authentic, and an authentic faith liberates us from the oppression of the darkness.
Click "read more" for a transcription of the sermon.
Paul and Silas are two early apostles of the Christian church. They lived at a time when Christianity was a very small fringe movement – and, to many, it was seen as a growing threat.
As our text begins, Paul and Silas are being accused of doing and saying things which disturb the city and are seen as a threat to the city’s way of life.
So, the people of the city beat them, hurl insults at them, and throw them into jail.
And, yet, our reading ends with Paul and Silas sitting in prison praying and singing hymns.
It’s kind of like what we’re doing here tonight.
It’s no secret that most of us here tonight have stories to tell. Stories of pain. Stories of loss. Some of you, I’m sure, have stories about people insulting you, marginalizing you, putting you in jail or on the streets or in uncertain situations.
But, yet, here we are: praying and singing praises to God.
I don’t think it’s any mistake that the writer of Acts would specifically say that it was midnight when all of this happened.
Midnight. It’s the darkest time of the night.
And I wonder, what is the darkest time of our lives? What is the darkest moment of your life?
When – in your life – are you locked up at midnight? Is that moment right now? Is it behind you? Ahead of you?
Scripture is reminding us that in the darkest moments of our lives – when it is midnight, when we are in jail, when we are hurting or humiliated – it’s in those moments when our prayers and songs are most real.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Paul and Silas were in great pain. I’m sure they were upset that they were in jail. I’m sure they felt like their world was collapsing – heck, they might have even felt like their ministry was being stifled.
But still they sang to God.
Still they rejoiced in Christ.
Still prayed with joy.
But here’s what we didn’t read. Here’s what comes next. After Paul and Silas pray and sing in jail at midnight – let me read it to you – “suddenly there was a great earthquake, so the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all of the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened.”
Scripture is reminding us of an important and fundamental truth: God liberates.
God liberates us from the shackles that we find ourselves in.
God liberates from imprisonment. From despair. From addiction. And from whatever shackles we have on our lives.
Glory be to God.
But look. Before that liberation happened – before God shook the walls of that prison and opened the gates – the apostles first needed to go through the beating of the crowd.
Or, let’s think about Jesus: the cross had to come before the resurrection.
Look, I know that many of us here aren’t living the lives that we thought we’d be living. I know that we had different plans for ourselves.
But what I can assure you is this: you are living the life that God wants you to live. Our God is not one to make mistakes, and so in the suffering of this present day God has placed you here so that you might see the Lord more clearly – and so, like Paul and Silas, you might sing and pray at midnight.
And when you do, O Lord, the liberating Spirit of God will be on you and in you. And you’ll be made new…free in Christ.
I want to talk about crowds. Because I don’t think you can understand today’s passage without first taking a look at crowds.
We have this idea today – and they had it back in the times of the apostles, too – that what the crowd believes is right and true. We think the same way here in our modern world. We so desperately want to believe that what is popular or dominant must be correct.
But this text – and so many others – are screaming out, “No!”
Christ is truth.
But here, the crowd doesn’t want to acknowledge that. They’re fighting against Christ. They’re living lives unfaithful to God. They might have power. They might have numbers. They might have strength – but this crowd…this crowd doesn’t have truth.
But you know who does have truth?
Paul and Silas.
Paul and Silas have truth. They have truth when the crowd beats them. They have truth when they get thrown into prison.
And because they have truth, they can’t help but to sing!
And so, look, you’re gonna walk out of these doors and go out into this world. You’re going to go out into a world that thinks you’re wrong. A world that doesn’t see your beauty, your love, your skill, your worth. You’re gonna go out into a world that thinks they know better than you.
But here’s the thing, friends. The crowd out there doesn’t have truth on their side. They might be able to say nasty things to you. They might be able to oppress you or hold you down or hurt you. But they can’t steal the truth from you.
You have Christ in your heart. You’re a disciple. An apostle. No matter what this world throws at you, you are free in Sprit.
You know, when I write sermons I often read and re-read Scripture. I pray and think. And, oftentimes, God unfolds Scripture for me. God helps me to see the layers of meaning that are in the Word.
And that was true as I looked at today’s Scripture as well.
What the Spirit led me to see what not a simple case of two apostles suffering for the Lord – although that, alone, would be worthy of admiration.
Rather, what I began to see was that Paul and Silas were always free. Maybe not physically – they were in prison with injured bodies – but spiritually. They were free men the whole time. But, by contrast, the crowd – while they were not in prison nor injured – they were the unfree ones. They were shackled up by hate and idolatry. They wore chains of despair and hopelessness and injustice.
The popular opinion and the source of physical and political power were the ones who were truly shackled and unfree. Paul and Silas weren’t just singing in prison because they had faith, they were singing because through faith they were already free.
They were singing because unlike the crowd they were free from sin.
They were free from want.
They were free from idolatry.
They were singing because unlike the crowd they could rest easy knowing that the Lord was present with them.
Jesus turns the world upside down, does he not?
Those who think they are free, aren’t.
Those who think they are rich, are poor.
Those who think they strong, are weak.
We call Christ “redeemer” and “savior” because that’s exactly what he is. In this mixed up world, all we can do is sing Christ’s praises and fold our hands in prayer. And like Paul and Silas, we do that with great joy – in spite of the difficult world around us.
And so let us pray…