Sermon for May 29, 2022

My Chains are Gone
Acts 16:16-34

I am sure that you heard about that prison break in the news recently. Vicky White had been a model deputy within her department for 16 years, and she became involved with a murder suspect, Casey White (no relation to Vicky). He who was serving a 75-year prison sentence for attempted murder (and other charges) and awaiting trial for the deadly stabbing of a woman in 2015. It was this person that Vicky escorted out of the prison, but they were far being free. Indeed, they traveled only 300 miles, before a massive manhunt caught up to them. Vicky then shot herself dead as police closed in. Casey was taken back into custody, and everyone else was left wondering why.

Most of the time when you think about those in prison it is not so unfair to conclude it is best for prisoners to remain in prison. We do not usually cheer prison breaks. A person can be physically free, but free to do what? I am also thinking about the most recent school shooting in Texas. An 18-year-old kid took the lives of 19 children in a fourth-grade class and two teachers. All of this after shooting his own grandmother. Words to describe that kind of evil are hard to find.

Sometimes I think that we need more people praying that we might be delivered from evil. This is one of the lines in the Lord’s Prayer that we pray every Sunday. “Deliver us from evil.” These words are a truly necessary prayer. Evil is an imprisoning force within our world. Evil is the lust that would cause a deputy to give up her occupation and life to free a convicted murder from prison. Evil is certainly at the heart of anyone whose goal is to kill young children in a school. Evil is in the lies that we hear and yet consider them to be true.
I would ask, What is true freedom and what truly places us in captivity?

Well, let us consider our story. It is filled with images about captivity and freedom. The Apostle Paul eventually arrived in Philippi because of a vision that called him over to Macedonia. Philippi was an important Roman city, a commonwealth. In other words, even though it was on foreign soil, the city was considered a part of Rome. Here Paul struggled to connect with people, and then a captive slave girl began following Paul and his colleagues announcing, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” This statement is ironic. On one hand the message is basically true, but if you are paying attention, it is also untrue.

First, she was calling these apostles “Slaves or servants of the Most High God.” In Romans 6:22 Paul did use this idea, — “22 But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life.” However, there is a difference in being a slave such as this woman was, whose sole duty was to make money for her owners, and Paul’s concept of allowing God’s righteousness to rule in your life; for which the reward is holiness and eternal life. One concept takes the life right out of you and the other places abundant life within you. So, she was actually twisting Paul’s message. Secondly, she speaks of the Most High God. This was the same address that Jesus heard from the demoniac when he cast out a legion of spirits into a herd of swine. “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? (Mark 5:7) Again if Jesus and Paul represent the Most High God, is this not to infer that there are lesser gods. There are those, and those things that we unrightfully raise up as gods, but in truth there is but one God. So again, the message here is being twisted. Finally, the woman proclaims that Paul is telling people a way to salvation. Again, how many ways are there? Jesus proclaimed that he was the way not a way.
After a while Paul had enough of this woman’s interference and subtle lies and cast this spirit of divination out of her. Now she was truly spiritually free and fell silent. This was good for her spiritually but bad for her physically, because those who owned her became infuriated that she was no longer a source of money to them. So, they had Paul and Silas stripped, beaten, and thrown in prison. The jailer stuck them in the inner cell, and fasten their feet in heavy blocks of wood. These were dark times –pain and misery. We might be inclined to say that Paul and Silas were now truly the prisoners in our story. They were the victims of injustice and evil intentions. They were oppressed for doing what was right and true. This is the image of life gone wrong. The apostles jailed. The true message of God silenced. Evil in the world able and free to keep operating. Who is free and who is the captive? What makes for a prison or for that matter a prison break?
In the night were Paul and Silas –beaten, wounded, sore, naked, and extremities pinned with heavy blocks of wood. It does not get to much worse, but even in this state Paul and Silas still knew something about freedom and the freedoms that exist even when a person is beaten down and trapped. Regardless of their physical state some freedoms are much harder to take away.

They began to hold their devotions for the evening. They went to that from which they had always drawn strength and direction. I think that they didn’t pray so much for themselves as they prayed maybe for the woman whom Paul had healed. They prayed for those around them who had been locked up in that prison longer than themselves. I think they prayed that they might forgive those who had beaten them and for the jailer who had imprisoned them. They prayed that God might make a difference in their lives –that God might heal them and that they might have the opportunity to again tell others about who Jesus is. They prayed and then they said amen and picked out a hymn to sing. They lifted up their voices. Maybe they were good singers and even harmonized. Paul and Silas picked a song of praise and reassurance, because they wanted to lift their spirits and those around them. The people in the jail listened. Whether Paul and Silas were aware of it or not, I think that the Holy Spirit was using them to speak to those around them and to that jailer.

Maybe some were ready to laugh at these Christians all beaten and chained up the way they were, and then suddenly an earthquake hit, and the doors and chains sprung free. The earthquake could be argued as normal part of life, but the doors and chains breaking free was definitely supernatural. Earthquakes usually drop buildings on your head they don’t break chains and pick locks. Now suddenly there was freedom for many; even those that probably should not be free. It was God’s prison break. All were free now, except for the jailer.

He was ready to kill himself, because once it was discovered that the prisoners were free on his watch; apparently, he was as good as dead. Their escape meant his life. Maybe he would be crucified just to serve as an example to others about failing. It was not such a great job to have, but Paul stops him, and the jailor is confronted with a profound message and a profound miracle. What is more notable, the prison being opened, or the fact that none of the prisoners ran out? Suddenly the jailer realizes that he is not in this life alone. What does he do? He falls on his knees and gives his life to God. He and his family were baptized and rejoiced greatly having come to believe in God. Now all of them truly are free in a way that moves past fear, chains and bars, and beatings.

Jesus said he came to set the prisoners free. Our story is the example of that truth. It is the example of the many things that can often imprison us -Demonic possession, lies, greed, power, the abuse of power, violence, mob rule, physical pain, emotional pain, and fear. There are many things that bend life in the wrong direction and makes life and living worse. The lust that drives a person to free a murderer. The anger and despair that sends a young person into an elementary school with a gun. What chains seem to be on your life? What imprisons your heart and soul and life?

Lord, deliver us from evil, we pray. Into the darkness, in the midst of prayer and praise, God breaks the chains that bind us and burst open the doors and locks that block our way. We may not always simply avoid the pains of life. Paul and Silas did not, but God is a delivering God. God will honor your faith and perseverance. God does hear your prayers. God will not forsake you in your troubles. God will deliver and bring life eternal in ways to our daily lives that we cannot even imagine.

Your chains are already gone. You have been set free because Jesus died for you. God has and will set the prisoners free. Therefore, practice living in the hope that God gives. Practice lifting up your voice in thanksgiving and prayers to God. Be the one who shares a message of hope to all, and I believe that you will see the darkness of bondage, give way to the light of life. Amen.

Published by Rev. Russell

Pastor at the Lake City United Methodist Church in Lake City, Michigan.

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