The Query of an Obscure Stranger (Acts 16:16-34)

In 2013, World Council of Churches took the call for unity to task by writing a historic document, The Church: Towards a Common Vision (TCTCV). Their objective, highlighted in their 2012 bylaw, suggests that they exist

to serve the churches as they call one another to visible unity in one faith and in one Eucharistic fellowship, expressed in worship and common life in Christ , through witness and service to the world, and advance towards that unity in order that the world may believe.

Simply, it is this “mutual calling” that serves as an urgent push to embrace perichoretic moments that seek to stabilize the church.  Exactly, what are perichoretic moments? (I am glad you asked.) A pericherotic moment represent episodes when “we are tolerable but yet celebrative, for one another, giving one another open life-space for mutual indwelling. Each person is indwelling and room-giving at the same time.” (You have the room to be yourself in all your fabulousness and I have the room to be myself, in all my fabulousness) Ultimately, what the WCC is hoping for is that the church enters into  a weighty call to attend, the needs of the stranger.  Paul Collins writes, “The ‘Other’ may be seen in terms of the difference as in stranger/foreigner, whom ‘we’ might welcome or reject. Another might be in the terms of the opposition of friend/foe. This in turn leads to the drawing of borders or boundaries and begs questions of how the ‘Other’ is to be assimilated…The question of the relationship of the church to the ‘Other’ also impinges upon the theology of the church itself…”  (So how we treat strangers is akin to how we see God.)

Dr. Mitzi Smith of Ashland Seminary denotes in her defining of other(ness) as a “description of interaction.”  Difference is constructed in order to distinguish ourselves from proximate others. Our constructions of the other generally function to subordinate the other to us.”  When I am not seen as being different than you, I have the potential to challenge you for your power and position. By highlighting difference, now I do not have to share my place of power, privilege or space. I just have to accentuate that you are different- the other, the stranger. In the kingdom of God, we are all obscure strangers that have been allowed a sit at the table.

In Acts 16: 16- 34, two examples of strangers are introduce to us.  The first examples are Paul and Silas and their companions. As they are moving through the city on their way to the “place of prayer”, they are met by a slave call. This girl being possessed by a pythonian demon begins to follow Paul and Silas. While following them she begins to shout these men are the servants of the Most High God., who proclaim the way of salvation. As she continues fellow them for many days, the apostle Paul becomes annoyed and commands the demon to come out of her. Once the demon leaves, the owners of the slave girl take Paul and Silas to court for interrupting their corrupt money making scheme. Through the medium of the demon the slave girl was able to tell fortunes with these great abilities. These abilities provided her owners with wealth that has now be brought to a halt by Paul. So, the owners take Paul and Silas to court and accuse them of being Jews and disturbing “our” city. The very use of “our” indicates a boundary –this is mine and not yours; I am an insider and you are an outsider. Even in our contemporary setting, it is quite astounding to see the reaction: when outsiders start to delve into insider business.

As with Paul and Silas, they are accused of being Jews when in actuality they are Roman citizens. So, even when you are an insider, if you choose not to follow the rules of the other insider nation…you may be considered an outsider.

The rest of the story continues, as Paul and Silas are convicted, beaten and thrown into jail. While in jail they are praying and singing hymns to God which is followed by an earthquake. The earthquake breaks open the jail cell from which the prison guard assume they had escaped. When he begins to take his sword out to kill himself, Paul screams out to him not to harm himself. From this ordeal the prison guard ask what he must do to be saved. The guard and his household were saved that night as Paul and Silas shared the word of the Lord.

 

The second example of a stranger is the slave girl. We have talked about her story but let’s take a closer look at a few things. First she is a slave. She is the property of others but she possesses an ability that produces wealth for her owners. When Paul and Silas arrive she follows them and broadcast throughout the city they are servants of God, which eventually brings Paul to a place where he commands the demon to leave her in the name of Jesus. As stated before the owners are furious because their money making scheme is over. Ironically, the welfare of the slave girl is non-existent. Honestly, she is not mentioned again after her brief introduction into the story. This slave girl stands as an obscure stranger. Yes, she had been freed by the Apostle Paul but forgotten in the story. We do not know whether she was ever saved like Lydia and the prison guard. We do not know whether she ever got another job because now she is unemployed. This is all speculative and leave much for us to ponder: What ever happen to the slave girl. But there is one thing that we can be certain about…that God loves the stranger.

 

We were all what Ephesians 2:12 calls “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”  We were all in a place where we were the outsiders. But thanks be to God that we have been allowed a seat at the table. We have been invited to partake of the feast called communion. As obscure strangers of God, we are given the grace to be a part of the beloved community if faith. What a beautiful privilege to be able to take everything to the Lord in prayer. What a beautiful privilege it is to be able to kneel at the alter with other strangers and partake of the meal of Christ. Yes, at the table of Christ we are all strangers, outsiders, and sinners displaying thanks for a continual well of love that has been pour out toward us. Thankful that God did not set boundaries that would isolate us from the promise.

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