Seventh Sunday of Easter, June 2, 2019

The Holy Gospel according to John, the 17th chapter.

Glory to you, O Lord.

Jesus prayed: "I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 "Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

The Gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ.

Sermon Easter 7

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Today we hear stories about captivity and freedom and the power of Christ who prays for us.  

A young girl is a slave to men who sell her skills for their own profit.  Paul and Silas are slaves of the Most High God.  They are held captive in prison stocks along with the rest of the prisoners.  The prison guard is captive to his vocation, believing it defines his life.  

Freedom came to all of them through the power of Christ who prayed that all people may be one. That all may have healing, wholeness, and unity in their lives. 

The first story is about the young slave girl.  She was probably a teenager.  She is not named in the story because she is a slave.  She is the property of some men who are taking advantage of her, exploiting her for their own profit.  Luke tells us that she has the “spirit of divination” which is a translation of the Greek words that mean the spirit of a python, or a snake spirit.  

Unlike Harry Potter, she can’t talk to snakes.  What she can do is tell fortunes.  And she is good at it.  Her owners are making a great deal of money charging for her fortune telling skills.  

Now, I don’t believe that there are people who are really able to tell your fortune.  I like to think of this girl as someone who is very perceptive, like people who earn money with fortune telling today.  She is good at reading people’s faces.  She knows what they are hoping to hear, and that’s what she tells them.

She had been paying close attention to Paul and Silas, listening to them preach.  She sure had their number.  She knew exactly who they were and what they were doing.  She was telling everybody all about it.  Everywhere they went she was calling out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.”  

We don’t know why she was doing that.  Perhaps it was a way of showing her fortune telling skills, a form of advertising to drum up business for herself.  Perhaps she was intrigued by their message.  Perhaps she, herself, was looking for the way of salvation.

I wonder if Paul and Silas appreciated it at first.   She must have been drawing a crowd for them.  After a few days, she became really annoying, though.  So, Paul, through the power of Christ, healed her of the demon that had possessed her and allowed her to tell fortunes.  She was set free from the thing that was being used to exploit her.

Interesting, isn’t it, that Paul and Silas can preach all they want, but once they upset someone’s ability to exploit someone else for money, they are arrested.  They aren’t arrested for preaching the good news.  They are arrested because their preaching and healing has become an economic and political issue.  

The slave owners could have pressed charges against Paul and Silas under Roman property law for depriving them of the ability to make money from a slave.  That’s not what they did, though.  They made it a political and ethnic issue. The first thing they do is point out that Paul and Silas are Jewish.  Then they complain that Paul and Silas are subversives.  That they were undermining Roman order with Jewish customs.  

Instead of a straight forward matter of Roman property law, the slave owners make Paul and Silas out to be enemies of the state, the most dangerous of all criminals.  Not unlike what happened to Jesus.  Not unlike what can happen to minorities, especially religious minorities, today. 

Could it be that when the church challenges unjust economic systems, we will be accused of political offenses?  

Paul and Silas are convicted by the magistrates and the crowd.  They are stripped and beaten with rods and locked in prison with their feet in stocks. But, Paul and Silas know they serve the Most High God even when they are locked up by the Roman magistrates.  

They know who their real Lord is, even when the government tries to lord its power over them.  So, as slaves of the Most High God, Paul and Silas are singing hymns and praying all evening, and they don’t care how late it has gotten.  The other prisoners seem to be enjoying the music and the message.  

Then the Most High God intervenes.   God sends an earthquake.  All the chains are broken and the doors were opened to the prison.  Don’t you think the prisoners would have jumped up and run away?   The guard sure thought that's what they had done when the earthquake woke him up.  

The guard was captive to the idea that his job defined who he was.  He thought that his life was no more that what he did for a living.  His meaning in life came only from his profession.  When he thought he had failed miserably at his job, he tried to take his own life.  

Isn’t it ironic that the ones who were shackled in prison were really the ones who were free in Christ.  And the jailer, the guy with the keys, was the one shackled to his duties.

Through the power of Christ, the guard was set free from his captivity. His life was no longer defined by his vocation.  None of the prisoners had escaped.  Paul and Silas were just sitting there. The guard is spared dishonor and shame.

This jailer knew his life would never be the same.  He knew he had been saved from death and he knew it was because of divine intervention.  He went to Paul and Silas and asked what he needed to do to be saved. 

The jailer believed in Jesus Christ as the Lord who had set him free and saved his life. He and his whole family were baptized. Violence and confinement used to define his life. Now they are replaced with freedom and faith. 

In the beginning, there were three types of captivity.   The girl is a slave to the spirit of divination which makes her a target for exploitation.  Paul and Silas are locked in prison because they are slaves to the most high God. The jailer is a slave to his sense of duty and nearly takes his own life when he feels he has failed at it.  

In the end they are all freed, freed by the power of Christ.  They are all healed and made whole.  They are given unity.  There is no longer Jew (Paul and Silas) nor Greek (the magistrates and the slave owners).  There is no longer slave (the girl and the prisoners) or free (Slave owners, magistrates, jailer). There is no longer male nor female.  

Freedom came to all of them through the power of Christ who prayed that all people may be one. That all may have healing, wholeness, and unity in their lives.  

Freedom comes to all of us as well. God answers prayer, through the power of Christ who still prays for us, that all people may be one. And that all may have healing, wholeness, and unity, in this life and the next.