7th Sunday of Easter – June 2, 2019
– Acts 16:16-34
– The Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas –
We must acknowledge that Paul’s reason for freeing the enslaved girl of her demon was not that he had compassion for her affliction, but rather that her constant harassment of him finally reached the point where he could no longer tolerate her annoying presence. So, he turned to her and demanded of the demon, “I order you, in the name of Jesus Christ, to come out of her.” (Acts 16:18) And we are told that she was freed of her spiritual imprisonment that very hour.
But the story doesn’t stop there. It further reveals that this girl was not only spiritually enslaved, but economically enslaved as well, owned by masters who profited from her demonic possession, making them as evil as the demon Paul exorcised. However, the apostle quickly discovered that ridding her life of the annoying presence of her masters would not be as easy; for not only did they profit from her affliction, but the community profited in that they were entertained by the demeaning antics of this girl. So, robbing both the masters of some income and the community of an exciting show landed Paul and his disciple, Silas, in jail.
In just a matter of moments this story moves from spiritual imprisonment to economic imprisonment to legal imprisonment, all of which are entwined about the fundamental realization that when the soul of a people is possessed by the evil of selfish profit, then every expression that proceeds from that soul will reflect the evil of its source.
Now this is not a sermon against profit, nor is it a sermon against capitalism. It is, however, a sermon against profiteering motives that degrade to the level of profanity when the accumulation of capital becomes void of compassion. When we are controlled by a need for capital over compassion, then we are a people demonically possessed in need of spiritual liberation.
The story goes on to tell that while Paul and Silas were serving jail time, they sang hymns and prayed, and God responded with an earthquake so violent that it shook the foundations of the prison opening its doors and shattering the chains that bound its captives. And when the jailer, so caught up and conditioned by this demonic culture, discovered that his reason for being was gone, he drew his sword determined to kill himself when Paul intervened with an offer of another way. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved,” he said. (Acts 16:31) And the jailer rejoiced with his entire household that they had believed in God.
Sisters and brothers, the prophet Isaiah said that you will know the Spirit of the Lord is upon you when you are compelled to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, and to set at liberty those who are oppressed (Isaiah 61:1)
Economic slavery remains a menacing blight among us. Despite the fact that slavery has been outlawed in every nation of our world, nearly thirty million people throughout the world, mostly women and children, and in our country mostly illegal immigrants, are forced into service as domestic laborers, door-to-door solicitors, migrant workers, unwilling wives or prostitutes under threat of deportation, imprisonment or physical violence if they fail to comply. Some of the refugees that wind up here in Vermont may be fleeing such slavery.
Yet in some form or another we are all refugees fleeing or having fled regions of oppression that attempt to diminish or distort our humanity. We are men trying to flee from chauvinist behavior that pushes its agenda by brute force and intimidation. We are women fleeing the confinements of sexual stereotypes. We are people of different racial and ethnic histories and sexual orientations seeking liberation from bigoted perceptions that cause others to fear and hate us, and us to see ourselves in low self-esteem.
What would happen if God shattered our prisons freeing those unjustly imprisoned? What would happen if God shattered and exposed the un-incarcerated criminals of multinational chemical corporations and pharmaceutical companies who knowingly poison our land and water and afflict our lives with fatal addictions; who enslave their workers with unlivable wages while padding their already grossly excessive incomes? What would happen if the prisoners were set free to face the free who should be imprisoned?
Christian faith infuses us when we are compelled to confront the demons that oppress our lives and victimize others; when we are so outraged that we must declare with the intolerance of the apostle Paul, “I order you, in the name of Jesus Christ, to come out!” Christian faith, sisters and brothers, comes with the revelation that God has entered your prison cell, the most vulnerable and wounded region of your soul, and there has created a temple in which to abide, making you strong, beautiful, beloved, blessed and glorious.
Only then will you hear the voice of God saying, “You are free, no longer a pawn of profane prejudice and profit, but a possession of God’s precious love, through Christ.”