Today's Lectionary Text
Acts 16: 16-34
One day as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a female slave who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” 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.
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. When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men, these Jews, are disturbing our city and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us, being Romans, to adopt or observe.” The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 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. 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. But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They answered, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 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.
We are not too far removed from our 4th of July celebrations, where we celebrated our independence from Great Britain. Many choose to equate this holiday with freedom -- freedom from just about anything. I like to preach about freedom and liberation -- what it is and what it isn’t at least to me. The scripture I’ve chosen happens to have a lot to do with the subject of freedom -- freedom from slavery; freedom from mental problems, inner demons, addictions and fears.
The story begins with Paul and Silas winding up in Philippi on their journey through Macedonia. It is here that they meet a young slave girl who has the gift of divination -- and this ability to see the future is called a Spirit. Her owners do not use her gift for good, however, they use her to make money for them as a fortune teller -- she is enslaved to them and making money for them. However, when she meets Paul, she doesn't predict the future, so much as she declares the present. She announces that Paul and Silas are “slaves of God and that they proclaim a way of salvation.” One might expect Paul to appreciate the publicity -- but in today's terms, I guess it was overkill. Paul orders the Spirit to come out of her. And though Paul does this out of irritation, he gives us our first example of freedom. The text implies this spirit isn't good for the slave girl, so Paul can be said to be freeing her from her inner demon.
However, Paul's act of liberation gave Silas and himself a one-way ticket to jail. Even though they lose their freedom to move about, Paul and Silas demonstrate another kind of freedom. Deep into the night they pray and sing praises to God, showing their freedom from fear -- the fear of being beaten; the fear of jail; even the fear of death. As they demonstrated that spiritual freedom that no one could take away from them, an earthquake hits the town. The jail was shaken off its foundation; the doors were opened and the chains broken -- the prisoners could go free! The jailer awoke, saw the ruins of the jail, and immediately he thought he may as well kill himself. But Paul called out to him, letting him know the prisoners had not escaped, thus freeing him from his worst fears. The jailer realizes something incredible has just happened -- something life-changing -- and he asks Paul who was just responsible for his liberation "What must I do to be saved?" Paul answers clearly “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will find salvation, transformation and eternal freedom.” Paul says it again and again in his ministry -- the things we think are freedom often put us in chains and being a slave to Christ is the only real freedom. You and I both hold the key that unlocks all the chains that bind us and it is belief in and obedience to our Lord Jesus Christ.
--Rev. Galen Wray, retired elder
Prayer for Reflection
Liberating God, we thank you for your freeing love which both unbinds us from our fears and addictions and transforms us into your servants. Amen.
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