Take a Step into Eternity

May 20, 2007

The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor

Montgomery United Methodist Church

 

Acts 16:16-34

 

 

Brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning! The title of today’s sermon is “Take a Step into Eternity.” I’m inviting you to join me today in taking a step into eternity. What does that mean? It means that we have the opportunity to come up out of our everyday thinking, out of our thoughts that grind us down and worry us, out of the negative thoughts that tend to pull us away from the abundance that God has for us, and to take a step into eternity, to that place where we can be empowered by the very power of God.

 

I heard a phrase from the new director of the organ program, the head of the organ department at Juilliard School. He said anyone who plays the music of J.S. Bach or who listens to the music of J.S. Bach takes a step into eternity because, for the last 300 years, people have been elevated by the music of Bach and thousands of years from now, long after we’ve all gone to the Lord, people will be uplifted by the music of Bach. And so, whenever you enjoy it, you take a step into eternity. I’ve asked Dr. Bell to play some music of Bach for us. Dr. Bell, would you play for us?

 

[Dr. Laura Bell speaking]

I’m going to use the harpsichord setting, because in Bach’s time, the harpsichord and the organ were the instruments of the day. Bach was a church organist, so he had to compose the hymns that were used. He’d be told, “Here’s the text – compose some harmony for it.” So, imagine it’s 300 years ago and you’re hearing this for the first time.

[Dr. Bell plays “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”, hymn 286 in the United Methodist hymnal.]

 

[Pastor Tony continues]

Thank you, Dr. Bell. Whenever we hear great music, we are lifted; we take a step into eternity.

 

But I’ve got even more good news! Whenever you pray, whenever you call upon the name of Jesus Christ, whenever you come to church and worship, you take a step into eternity. You join in something that people have been doing for 2000 years and will do thousands of years hence. We lift up our minds to that sacred place where we take a step into eternity.

 

In the scripture reading from Revelation, we hear Jesus say these words: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” When we unite ourselves with Him, when we think about Him, we elevate ourselves to that constant stream of eternity. It’s a wonderful thing.

 

What happens when we do? We not only lift up our hearts, we not only are encouraged, we not only know that we are part of something larger than ourselves, but we can change the circumstances of our outer world when our thoughts are elevated.

 

Let’s see exactly how that happened in this morning’s scripture, the lesson from Acts, when Paul took a step into eternity. Paul and Silas were preaching when something happened to them. A slave girl who was a fortune-teller was following them around. Every time Paul and Silas tried to preach, she would burst in and start to say, “These people are the slaves of the most-high God.” So Paul and Silas had a difficult time preaching. They decided to cast the evil spirit out of this girl, and by Jesus’s name she was set free.

 

That made the slave owner pretty angry. He had Paul and Silas beaten and thrown into prison. How badly were they humiliated? Look at verses 23 and 24. “The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrate had them stripped of their clothing [that is, their dignity] and ordered them to be beaten with rods [that is, given physical pain]. After they had been given a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely [taking away their privacy]. Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.”

 

Now, talk about being in the lowest place of the low! And here’s where we can tune in. If you’ve felt imprisoned or beaten down or had your dignity taken away, you can identify with this story. The difference is, when we have so many things going wrong, we can be tempted to throw up our hands and say, “I can’t get out of this.” But here’s the good news – look at what Paul and Silas did. Even though they were beaten and humiliated and thrown into the lowest of dungeons, they didn’t give up. Let’s see what happened:

 

“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God” -- and that’s where it all turned around. They took a step into eternity. They united their minds with the One who said “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end,” even though they were in the lowest place the earth could hold them, being suppressed by everything and everyone. They said, “No! We are not prisoners. We are going to lift our minds to the high places. We are going to take a step into eternity.” And they sang and they prayed. And let’s see what happens:

 

“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.” Who is everyone? Look at verse 25 again – “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” So those around them were being surrounded by the light, the glow of their prayer.

 

Paul and Silas had lifted their minds to the high places, and the physical world around them, their physical circumstances, changed. And that’s what I want to bring to you from this gospel today. I don’t know any other way to look at this scripture than to see that the thoughts of our minds and the elevation of our spirits bring about changes in the external world. That’s what this scripture is telling us. Their shackles were broken. The foundations of the prison were shaken. The doors were opened, and they were free, because they were first free in their minds and hearts because they had tuned into the frequency of Jesus Christ. When you take a step into eternity, the external situations of your life will change. They just will. God will make it so. That’s what the scripture is telling us.

 

Now, when the jailer saw what had happened, when the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword out and was about to fall on it. He was about to do away with himself. It was his responsibility to see that the prisoners were securely locked up, and now they were gone. His life was over, so he decided to take his own life before anybody else did. But Paul shouted out, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” Look! We’re all here. Don’t kill yourself.

 

The jailer called for a light. He could hardly believe what was going on. He saw Silas and Paul and brought them outside. He said, “Sirs, how can I have some of what you’ve got?” and they answered him – hold onto your hats, what happens next is very interesting – “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Isn’t that an interesting statement? You and your household. I believe what Paul is saying there is that you and your spirituality also shine upon those whom you love, those in your household. There may be people that you are connected with whom you wish had faith, whom you wish had more of the Lord in their hearts. I believe what the scripture is saying here is that the glow of your faith shines on them, too. Now, it will be a good and wonderful thing when they come to the Lord for themselves, but there is something special that happens for them because you are here, because you are in prayer, because you are a person of God. The glow of your light shines on them as well. It is a beautiful thing.

 

“They spoke the word of the Lord to him and all who were in his house. At the same hour of the night [a lot happened that night, didn’t it?] the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. The jailer 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.”

 

See what happens when you take a step into eternity? Your own spirit is lifted; you are set free inside; and the circumstances around you change. So I invite you to take this into the week, my friends. Take courage from this scripture. Know that you are a person of extraordinary possibilities, of extraordinary strength. You can tune in to channel God. You can tune in to that place in your mind where you are one with Jesus Christ. And not only will your spirit be changed, not only will your feelings be happier, but the situations around you will be blessed as well, because God loves you. I do, too. Have a wonderful week. Amen.

 

© 2007 Anthony J. Godlefski