Chaplain Mel O’Malley
Brooke Army Medical Center
May 8, 2016
Mother’s Day Sermon
Have any of you watched the movie San Andreas? Last weekend, Greg “made me” watch it with him. As you might guess, it takes place in California, where all the real earthquake movies happen, and a place I never need to go again after watching the movie! Besides being a super dramatic two hours of earthquake action, with impossible rescue scenes and special effects depicting tsunamis and shattering skyscrapers, it also tells a story about the human condition. Some people are willing to help others out even in the midst of a crisis while many are only interested in taking care of themselves. Some look outward and others look inward. There is one scene where the local mall is being looted because the power has gone off, the cash registers are not working and everyone has fled in fear. The looters are stealing these huge flat screen tvs and other valuables. Of course, we know that this kind of behavior doesn’t only happen in the movies. We have seen this type of behavior on the news. Whenever chaos or disaster strikes, there are many who hope to profit from other people’s misfortune.
It’s no wonder our prison guard reacts the way he does in this morning’s story from Acts. In the middle of the night, a violent, powerful earthquake shakes the foundations of the prison, breaking open the prison doors and unfastening all of the chains, which were holding the prisoners inside; the guard assumes the worst. He assumes that his prisoners, the ones who he has been entrusted to guard, will escape, and he will be blamed for the loss. He is so worried about losing control of them that he draws his sword, ready to take his own life rather than deal with the humiliation of being the guy who let the prisoners get away.
It is a reasonable assumption on his part. Most prisoners, if given the opportunity to escape, will escape! Paul and Silas have double the reason to use this opportunity because they have been falsely imprisoned. Furthermore, because of their faith in Jesus and their willingness to profess their faith out loud, they are in even more danger than the average Roman citizen. Their survival instinct should have come into play here. Paul and Silas really had no business staying in that prison.
But, when the opportunity arises, Paul and Silas don’t escape prison. They stay right where they are. They allow themselves to remain in a dangerous position. It doesn’t really make any sense. In fact, their choice to stay in prison is so extraordinary that it revolutionizes, transforms, the prison guard right there on the spot. Rushing in and trembling, he brings Paul and Silas outside, exactly the place he was afraid they would escape to, and he asks them, “What must I do to be saved?” This guard goes from being so afraid that Paul and Silas would escape that he was willing to take his own life to being willing to free them and bring them into his home, take care of their wounds, and give his life to Christ. He was going to take his life but when he witnessed their behavior, instead he freely gave his life to Jesus.
There are many remarkable conversion stories in the Bible, but what strikes me about this one is that this prison guard’s faith is sparked through witnessing someone living life differently because of their faith. So many of the famous conversion stories reported in scripture stem from a profound encounter with God. Saul being converted on the road to Damascus is perhaps the most notable of all. God makes his presence known to Saul in a blinding light and a voice from heaven saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” I don’t want to take anything away from Paul, but most of us would have also been transformed, too, if God had done the same dramatic thing to us.
What is so remarkable about our story today is that the prison guard is brought to faith in Christ, not by a blinding light or a voice from heaven, but by witnessing Paul and Silas live their lives differently from other people because of their faith in Jesus. Paul and Silas didn’t share the gospel by telling the guard anything or talking about Jesus or even through a healing or a miracle. They witnessed to this guard through their integrity to stay put even when an opportunity to escape presented itself, through their courage to continue facing the danger of being a Roman prisoner, and through their concern for the guard’s life. Their chief interest wasn’t for themselves but it was for others, even for this guard whose job was to imprison them.
We talk a lot in the church about what it means to evangelize, to share the good news of Jesus. Even in the chaplaincy sometimes we struggle about how to share the Good News. Some people insist they must pray in Jesus’ name or feel like they need to pray each time they meet with a soldier. Today, we learn a lesson about evangelism. We are reminded that the way we live our lives, day to day, really matters. It’s not just about whether or not we go to church or don’t drink too much, but it’s about how we live and love and interact with others no matter their backgrounds or circumstances, what we do with our money, whether or not we are willing to share our time to help others. And, just like the prison guard in our story, people are watching to see just how our following Jesus changes us, changes the way we live.
A few years ago one of my favorite chaplains, Father Erik, said something in a sermon that I continue to reflect on. He said, we don’t just talk about the Good News or preach about the Good News, but we become the Good News. So, that whatever is going on, wherever we go, people will see us and think, “Good news is here.”
When one of our Eucharistic ministers visits a patient upstairs, bringing communion, or just a simple visit, Good News has arrived. When our volunteers go back and forth between families and the Operating Room, making sure that loved ones have the latest information and feel supported, this is becoming the Good News. We are the Good News, when we sit quietly with someone whose life has been turned upside down. We are the Good News when we listen to a friend who is struggling. We are the Good News when we love and when we are willing to give ourselves away. And, when we are Good News, people notice. Like our jailer from today’s scripture, an encounter with the Good News changes them, too.
Hallmark would never let any of us forget that today is Mother’s Day. But long before this day was about cards and flowers and breakfast in bed, it was actually a day to come together for peace. Julia Ward Howe, who also wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic, wrote a proclamation for Mother’s Day. This was a response to the devastation of the Civil War and encouraged all women who had hearts, all women, not just those who had given birth or raised a child, but all women with hearts to join together for peace. She said, “Let women then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each bearing after their own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.” She was reminding them that they needed to be Good News in a world wrecked by war. She was reminding them that, just like Paul and Silas, they were called to become Good News by living their lives differently than what was expected.
It may be Mother’s Day but it is not just women who are called to become Good News. All of us are invited, are called by God, to embody the Good News. And when we say yes, we live our lives differently. And, in doing so, we reflect the light of Christ in a world filled with shadows. So, wherever we go and in whatever we do, may we be Good News, trusting that God is always with us, working in us, and providing all that we need. Amen.