Francis Montagu, Evensong sermon                Sunday, 5th May, 2013                       Acts 16.9-24
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Some years ago, All Saints’ went to Lee Abbey for a weekend and, as usual, there was a speaker. He was to give 3 talks – his subjects: Money, Sex and Power. Luke and Acts are written by a single author. He has an acute interest in all three – which is shown, in microcosm, in the story of Paul at Philippi, and in macrocosm, in his two volume work. Let’s start with money. The first disciple in Philippi is Lydia. Luke records not just her name but what she does for a living – she is a trader, a dealer in purple cloth. And then we come to the next incident at Philippi, the girl with the spirit of divination which Paul exorcises. What angers her handlers is that their hope of gain was gone. Two chapters later, when Paul is in Ephesus there is a strikingly similar complaint which leads to the riot in the amphitheatre. The silversmiths who make images of Artemis, the city’s goddess, for sale, protest that Paul is threatening their income by preaching against Artemis. In Luke’s gospel, we find the same interest in money: what does the prodigal son do – he spends his inheritance, saying to his father ‘give to me that portion which belongs to me’; what does the good Samaritan do – he takes out two silver coins and hands them to the innkeeper; what does Zacchaeus do after he comes down from the sycamore tree – he pays back all those he has taken money from. Nicholas tells us that few young people today know who the good Samaritan is - but as Mrs Thatcher reminded us, no one would remember the good Samaritan if he had not had some money in his pocket ! That I hasten to say is not the main point of the parable. In all these stories, there is what has been called an economic element. On to sex. Primarily I mean the opposite sex, but it’s worth saying, first, that Luke doesn’t have a problem with sex. He’s quite frank about it: he tells us the prodigal son wasted his inheritance with prostitutes; Jesus allows a prostitute to wash his feet with her hair; Luke writes it all down. It’s not a coincidence that the two people he write of in Philippi are women - Lydia and the girl. I wish we knew what happened to them. Turning to two well-known passages which appear only in Luke’s gospel. He tells us that Mary Magdalene, Susannah  and others were supporting Jesus and his disciples as they travelled about, out of their own resources – so money again – showing how women and men shared equally in the early days. He tells the story of Mary and Martha – Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet, being taught by Jesus as a rabbi would teach his male disciples. In many other ways he records equality between the sexes – in Athens he names two disciples, Dionysus, a member of the Areopagus, and a woman named Damaris- one man and one woman. And then power. Our reading talks about two sorts of power : the power of God and the power of the state. The power of God is shown in Paul’s preaching and exorcism and later at Philippi, in the earthquake. The power of the state is apparent. Philippi is a Roman colony. Luke gives the proper titles to its magistrates and its authorities - although this cannot come through in the English translation. Paul and Silas are put in prison. In a well-known passage in the gospel, Luke records the powers of the day – “in the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judaea, and Herod Tetrarch of Galilee, in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the Baptist.” It’s almost as if he’s saying ‘who rules the world? - but with the subtext: who really rules the world?’ The power of God and ‘the powers-that-be’ in Tyndale’s expression, come into conflict, and the consequence is the crucifixion, the resurrection  and the coming of the Holy Spirit – ‘Tarry in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.’ It seems that in AD50 money, sex and power made the world go round, as they do today. My final point – which is just as theological or biblical as any of the others, is this, Luke does not teach us directly, the lessons all come out of his story; they are all embedded in it – lessons from life. If he was living today he would write contemporary stories, our stories, and there would be contemporary lessons for us - where our lives, and God’s purposes, intersect and connect.