I would consider myself an avid reader, but not a fanatic reader, as are some who seem to devour books. My two sisters, both of whom are teachers, keep their local libraries in business over summer vacations, reading nearly a book a day for weeks on end. I’m not that kind of reader, but I do like to read and have a propensity for “true” stories. Against the back wall in my 5th grade elementary classroom, for example, was a bookshelf containing nothing but magazines. In particular, there was a stack of Reader’s Digests (many of you remember that diminutive-sized periodical). In every issue, there was a feature called “Drama in Real Life.” These were tales of harrowing escapes or near-disasters, individuals braving the elements or overcoming great odds to live to tell their stories. During free time, I remember bringing a stack of Reader’s Digests to my desk and reading only the “Drama in Real Life” feature in each one, carelessly disregarding whatever else might have been in this issue.
Today my reading tastes have matured, but I still enjoy true stories. Moreover, I like ones that present real obstacles and conflicts that aren’t easily resolved. I don’t mind the main character suffering great pain, for that is the stuff of life for all of us, but I do appreciate an ending that is hopeful and shows how characters are stronger, wiser, and “better” people for having endured whatever it is that lay behind them.
I doubt that I am alone. We, as a society, have always enjoyed happy endings to our stories – be they in print or film, big screen or television. We want the “good guy” to win in the end and for good to triumph over evil, and I do not believe this is by accident. We want to know there is justice in the universe. We would be without hope, were the things we suffer not part of a higher plan or purpose. Our faith depends on a God who is ever-powerful and all-mighty, choosing, in the end, that the good and the just will prevail over all else.
That is the theme of the final sermon in our Miracles Happen sermon series this Sunday. Acts 16:16-23 gives us a parable that translates well to our 21st century ears. A young woman is held against her will in a situation we would rightly call human trafficking. She is used by her captives because of an ability she has which they manipulate to make themselves money. It is a sophisticated form of prostitution, but it is prostitution nonetheless. The Apostle Paul, acting on behalf of Jesus Christ, performs a miracle and sets her free. As a result, the girl’s captives bring suit against Paul for costing them money, but cloaking their public complaint in ways that make themselves sound noble, while at the same time stirring up prejudice among the masses. In the end, God wins. Good wins. Justice wins. Because the miracles of God not only bring immediate benefit to their primary recipients, they restore our faith in a God who forever stands on the side of justice and never on the side of those who would misuse and mistreat others for whatever reason, let alone their own personal gain. It is a story in scripture that is easily overlooked because it stands directly between two more popular ones, but it is an important one that should not be forgotten, as it is a story of our time – for all time, and I look forward to looking at it more closely with you this Sunday.