Right and Wrong in a Country Town
The story this article reflects of can be found in Acts 16, beginning at verse16. It's the story of Paul and Silas staying put in jail after the doors were flung open in order to save their jailer's life.
I think this is just one of the most remarkable stories. How would you or I feel if we were locked up for doing only good for others and serving God? What would we do if, in the middle of the night, suddenly our cell shook, our chains were unfastened and the doors flew open? How might we interpret what had happened? Surely God had intervened to save us! Surely we should seize our opportunity and make our escape. But that's not what Paul and Silas do. Do they know that their fleeing will result in the Jailer being held responsible, and possibly being killed by the same mob which had imprisoned them, charging him to 'keep them securely'(v. 24).
If this kindness to the jailer was in their minds, they would still have to wrestle with their fears. Here was an opportunity to escape, and to run away to safety. They had done nothing wrong, so why hang around? Well it helps to remind us that, in order to show real love, we must have dealt with our fears.
Rowan Williams, our previous Archbishop of Canterbury, writes that "in Jesus, God interrupts human self obsession". These followers of Jesus have dealt with their fears and anxieties, and so are free to turn from self concern and consider the impact of their actions, (now hear this ― ), even when they are perfectly well in the right, on the other, even when the other is part of the unfair and cowardly society which deals out vindictive punishment to God's followers.
But what does this mean for us? I've sometimes wondered out loud whether one of the things about living in a country town, or a country Parish, is that we are called to a greater integrity, perhaps, than our city cousins are called to, because we are challenged to live with our mistakes. The toes we tread on today might be connected to the legs that go up to the person we have to see in our midst tomorrow. We have to see them because there is no-where to hide in a country town. We cannot afford to careen so recklessly from one set of broken relationships with others to another, always hoping to find a new set of friends to accept us. We will go to the new group, and find that some of the people from the old group we hoped to avoid are part of this new group. And we will be confronted by them. If we are in church we will have to pass the peace with them. St John Chrysostom insisted that, if we cannot pass the peace with someone else, we had better sit communion out, and not take the sacrament. In the teaching of Jesus, God the Father forgives us in as much as we forgive others. I have told you about the farm worker who worked faithfully for the same farmer for thirty years, and faithfully attended the same Anglican congregation for all of his fifty years, and who lived in the same community of a few hundred people all that time. There was a dust up at the footy club where he was a trainer when the other trainer, upon arriving from Adelaide with more up to date remedial massage techniques wanted the club to adopt them. They didn't think these new ideas were very impressive and she was quite cross. He was very wise when he said to me, "Dave, when you live in a country town, you sometimes have to let people think you are wrong, even when you know you are right".
Living with one another is sometimes hard, but it's the way to real life. The alternative, I submit, is much worse. It is a kind of self chosen isolation that alienates us from others, and ultimately concentrates our unchecked selfishness - it might be what is hinted at in the biblical concept of 'hell', that is, being cut off from God, and others.
Whether we are extroverted or introverted, God calls us to live in community. It is not good for us to be alone, not completely alone. His community - the Holy Trinity of Love opens itself to new members. You and I are invited to join.