One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. 17 While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, "These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation." 18 She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, "I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her." And it came out that very hour. 19 But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. 20 When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, "These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews 21 and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe." 22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. 23 After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. 24 Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. 25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were unfastened. 27 When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted in a loud voice, "Do not harm yourself, for we are all here." 29 The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them outside and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" 31 They answered, "Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." 32 They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34 He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God. - Acts 16:16-34
In our reading from Acts today,
we hear that Paul and Silas
(While staying in Philippi, with Lydia—one of the first mothers of the Church),
happened upon a young woman, a slave.
And we hear
they happened upon a young woman who was enslaved
not only by her “owners,”
(those who used her, and profited off of her ailment,
while she remained in bondage and suffering), (right?)
but also by a demon.
this young woman was enslaved and possessed.
Her body was under the control of another person,
and she was controlled from the inside
by something that possessed her,
something that seemed to be from beyond herself,
over which she was powerless.
The demonic, wiggled through her crack and broken spirit, through her insecurities,
though her moments of weakness and doubt,
and now dwelled deep within her,
eating her up from the inside out.
It was debilitating.
Demons, scripture testifies, always are.
In this case,
In her case,
hers was a unique kind of a demon.
It was a demon that seemed [to nearly everybody]
to give her magical powers,
she had ecstatic visions, thought she saw the future…
and even other people thought she saw the future
(or, at least, she told “fortunes.”)
but in the end, whatever it did for her positively,
it was killing her.
It was keeping her in chains.
The young woman was chained in body and in mind.
But even through her possession, through her chains,
even in the grips of the Demonic, without and within,
she could hear in the message of the disciples
“The Reign of God is at hand!”
So close you can touch it…
She could hear in their message,
“a new Way is possible, close…”
of new direction,
a chance that even she might be able to be free.
So she followed the disciples around Philippi. And she “cried out” after the disciples.
(Or the demon cried out—it was hard to tell. At this point in her journey it was hard to differentiate herself from the demon a lot of the time).
But she cried out. And she followed the disciples around,
calling them slaves! Shouting after them. But proclaiming that they could somehow bring salvation, a salve, healing… A balm…
It was unclear wether she was insulting them or begging them…
But it must have been quite a seen, and it must have caused quite a stir, (maybe a little too much unwanted attention)
because finally (the text says)… finally Paul got annoyed.
Annoyed, (this is a recurring mood for Paul in the Bible. If you don’t believe me, read his letters)…
Annoyed, and in the name of Jesus, Paul turned around,
and cast the demon out.
And the young woman, once possessed,
But not totally, right?
Her mind and her Spirit were free.
But she was still in chains. Her body was still “owned.”
She was no longer possessed, but she was still a possession.
Only thing is,
without her demons,
(to her oppressors),
she seemed to have lost her “magic.”
The spell had been lifted.
She had changed.
Upon seeing that her mind was liberated,
they immediately knew that she had been rendered useless to them.
She had become (to them) useless.
They could no longer use her.
This is a special kind of freedom.
In the words of the text,
the “owners” “saw that their hope of making money was gone.”
And (so) they were [angry].
So “they seized Paul and Silas.”
They assaulted them, beat them up.
They were violent. (Right?)
And then they “dragged them into the marketplace
before the authorities.”
And “when they had brought them before the magistrates,”
“they [accused them, saying]
"These men are disturbing our city.”
“These men are disturbing our city.”
(notice who is claiming ownership even over the city!)
“They’re inciting riots!”
“They’re participating in mob action!”
“They are a threat.”
This was their accusation! :
“These men are disturbing OUR CITY!”
(and I don’t think this conclusion takes a whole lot of imagination)…
Probably because Paul and Silas had messed with their money.
Probably because Paul and Silas had messed with their money.
By setting free a person, a human being, a sister in Creation
that they (the “city’s owners) had put in chains,
(so they could make a buck off of her),
suddenly the disciples were accused of disturbance!—of disturbing the whole city!
“They healed our slave: They’re disturbing the whole city!” (This is the logic that is at play here).
What’s wrong with this picture?
Q: The ones healing a possessed human being
are the disturbing ones???
Not the ones keeping her in chains?
That what happened. Right? That’s what happens.
Because Paul and Silas took seriously Christ’s call to proclaim freedom to the prisoners (Luke 4:18),
the Romans citizens rose up, all of the slaveholders and city-owners together, and put them (put Paul and Silas) in chains
“they threw them into prison…in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.”
Then “about midnight” (the story continues) “Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.”
[a captive audience…!]
“Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were unfastened.”
Everyone’s except for the jailer’s, right?
His mind (unlike the young woman’s)
was still locked up. In the stocks. In the inner most room.
Because “When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open,” he could never imagine another way.
There was (for him) no way out… No exit…
He didn’t know that God’s Reign was “at hand.”
So, “he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted,” and stopped him.
^^Another Holy disruption, Amen?
And then the jailer
and his whole household
were saved (and quite literally)…
Their lives were turned around. Spared!
Redeemed by their prisoners!
So they too (like Paul, like Silas, and like the unnamed young woman at Philippi) worshipped Jesus, the one
who had proclaimed that he had come to set the captives free!
This is an amazing story, right?
Now, it doesn’t say so in the story
but I like to imagine
that at the same time all of the chains were unfastened by the Holy Spirit in the prison,
the chains of that young woman,
who had cried out from her bondage
in the hope of God’s Reign,
were also unfastened, and that she, too, was set free.
Not in mind alone, but IN BODY!
And that her oppressors, her jailers,
just like those who jailed Paul and Silas,
And she, like Paul and Silas,
went on her way, transformed, spreading this Good News of the freedom of God’s Reign to everyone she would meet,
even to the outer boundaries of her world…
(I hope that’s what happened. But I don’t know).
In this strange time, between the Resurrection, Jesus’ departure, and the arrival of the Spirit…
In this strange time in history, where many feel the presence of an absence, waiting, in longing, or in despair, for something New,
We conclude this morning with just a few questions:
I wonder what does it mean to be possessed, to be in chains?
What does it mean for you, personally?
How are you possessed?
What does it mean that God’s Spirit shakes our foundations, surprises us, breaks our chains;
that God’s Spirit deeply desires you to be free,
for you to be unchained,
“with sighs to deep for words?”
I wonder how that make you feel?
What do you think is holding you back from living into God’s Reign?
What do you think needs to be shaken in your life?
I wonder, did you know that even in our possession we are not here alone? That we’re all here together,
even if we don’t always get along?
I wonder if you think you are you being called to create a disturbance? How so? Who is calling you? Who is the author of your disturbance? The Spirit? The Demonic?
How does that make you feel?
Will we listen for the Spirit of Pentecost?
Will we listen together for the Spirit
who shakes the earth,
who burns as fire,
who blows as wind,
who Resurrects the Body…
Will you listen for the Spirit that dwells in you?
Christ is Risen! (He is risen, indeed. Alleluia!)
I wonder what that Spirit will do.
Hymn of the Day: Break Every Chain