One of my favourite stories comes up today: Acts 16:16-34. Paul and Silas in prison, earthquakes while they are singing and rejoicing, chains fall off, gaoler goes to kill himself because he has lost control, Paul reassures him. This is one of the few examples in the Bible of how someone changes when they become a Christian. There are lots of examples of big changes: people walking, or seeing, or being able to stand up straight, for the first time, but what then? Matthew gave away money to those whom he had cheated, but what then? Mary Magdalen anointed Jesus’ feet, but what then? There are few accounts of Christian behaviour subsequent to their conversion. In historical record, there are many and various examples of how people changed when they were overcome by Christianity. Some are inspirational, like St. Frances of Assisi or St Caterina of Siena. Some are frightening like St. Thomas Moore and his burning of protestant heretics.
Paul, in this story, shows how different he had become from the fanatical Christian-hunting Jewish zealot. He was joyful to be suffering in the name of Jesus. He was kind to the gaoler, who had not been kind to him, and he was inspirational to the gaoler and to his family, as well as to the assorted felons who shared his dungeon.
What changes can we report? How are we joyfully suffering on account of loving God, loving our neighbours, and loving the world of which we are stewards? Or do we just exploit them for our own advantage? I do know people who expect God to keep them and their families safe, to cure their illnesses and to maintain their lifestyle and income. I do know people who invest money careless of the suffering caused by those exploited by the industries in which they invest, so long as they get a good return on their money. I do know people who buy food from exploitative farms in which animals suffer and soil is eroded. I know that some of these people call themselves Christians. I know that I have done all of these things too , whilst calling myself a Christian.
We should all really be expecting to suffer some deprivation to ensure that God’s other children have enough to sustain life. We should all really be expecting to live less luxuriously to ensure that we use less fossil fuels and less single-use plastic. We should all really be eating less to ensure that we pay enough for food that is grown sustainably. I cannot imagine any life different from this that deserves the title of Christian.
How has our conversion to Christianity affected us? What is now different? Do we still travel to a church in a car to pray for the environment? Do we still fail to inquire where the pork and eggs come from that supply our Easter breakfast? Do we mind where the palm oil comes from in our Easter eggs and chocolate Santas? Do we pray for the poor and then vote for austerity? Do we give to foodbanks and then object to paying taxes?
Let us pray that our Christianity will change our lives in the sort of dramatic way it changed Paul’s. Let us pray that this comes to us in time to set an example to those who are not Christians, so that we may save the environment for future generations. Time is running out. Our world is burning. Christ can save us, Christ can save the world, but only if we consent to change.