|Who is our authority? Our jobs are complicated. Our clients demand particular services, our employers set standards, and we answer to multiple power structures. At work, at church, at home, at school. |
Kids struggle to balance expectations of parents and teachers. Summer transitions are challenging. College students return home to find their emerging adulthood in conflict with their ongoing dependence. We are all negotiating authority and freedom.
The fascinating story of Paul’s first visit to Philippi invites us into this conversation. There is a woman enslaved. Her owners profit from her spirit-possession that enables her to predict the future. She follows Paul’s group around for days, shouting,
“These people are servants of the Most High God! They are proclaiming a way of salvation to you!” Acts 16:17 (CEB)
Paul got so annoyed that he finally turned around and cast the spirit out. Which prompts some interesting questions about motivation and outcome. How does someone else’s lack of freedom affect us? What if the words (ours or others’) are true, but the spirit is not? How might freedom disturb the system? Infuriated that they couldn’t use her to make money anymore, the slave owners reported to the Roman authorities that these Jews were causing an uproar.
The crowd joined in the attacks against Paul and Silas, so the authorities ordered that they be stripped of their clothes and beaten with a rod. When Paul and Silas had been severely beaten, the authorities threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to secure them with great care. When he received these instructions, he threw them into the innermost cell and secured their feet in stocks. Acts 16:22-24 (CEB)
The name of Jesus is stronger than an unknown spirit. But monetary gain takes precedence. Law enforcement is driven by the complaints of the crowd. The jailer carries out orders. So many powers- spiritual, financial, legal. Like in our own world, authorities compete for our allegiance.
How do we discern? To whom do we answer? Freedom is our cue. The name of Jesus brings release from oppression. Good news for the woman doubly enslaved. But God’s freedom upsets the status quo. The social order is enforced by laws that often benefit owners and exploit the weak.
But jail time is not the end of the story. Human structures tremble at the power of nature, as creation groans for freedom. Violent earthquakes bring us to our knees. This one freed Paul, Silas, and all the other prisoners. But fear held the jailer captive; seeing the prison doors open, he would kill himself, except for the intervening shout from Paul that all was well.
Lights were brought. Wounds washed. The household believed and was baptized. Meals were eaten. Together. These are the hallmarks of God’s authority. When we speak freedom. When we prevent harm. When we welcome light. When we care for the hurting and bandage the wounded. When our words inspire belief and baptism. When we serve the hungry a meal. When we eat together.
Can this be good news in our work? Can we find this authority in our homes? For ourselves, our co-workers, and our families. Like the jailer, can we be freed for joy?
He was overjoyed because he and everyone in his household had come to believe in God. The next morning the legal authorities sent the police to the jailer with the order “Release those people.” So the jailer reported this to Paul, informing him, “The authorities sent word that you both are to be released. You can leave now. Go in peace.” Acts 16:34-36 (CEB)
Paul’s adventure continued, negotiating the good news with the powers in his world.
May God use our mixed motives to accomplish good. May our authority be inspired by the Spirit of Jesus to bring freedom. May we be bold to confront the systems that enslave. May we be freed from fear to tend the wounds of others. May we eat and be fed. May our belief in God bring joy to our households.
Order of Service: 5/26
Sermon: Praying in the Kingdom
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