Friday morning I enjoyed a few hours of the not-so-scorching hot temperatures and weeded. (It’s amazing how those things start to take over when you’re gone for 10 days.) Most of the time, I’m able to just scoot around on my rear and pull up the plants I don’t want there. But there were a few this time that I had to get up off my rear and use leverage to pull them up. Their roots had dug in! And, of course, I have to get the roots up or else they’ll just grow back. Trimming off the top is fine for a quick fix, but to really ensure that particular weed doesn’t grow back, you have to do the work to remove the root.
So funny how the simple act of weeding becomes a life lesson. In order to ensure that a particular problem doesn’t reoccur, we have to do the work to find and remove the root.
Later on Friday, Virginia Beach was reminded that we are not immune to a mass casualty event. In a sense, we were shown that the ugly weed we liked to think only grew elsewhere, a mass shooting, could grow and surface here, too.
And so, how do we respond? What do we make of it? Are we ok with the weed being there or would we like it gone? Do we continue to scoot around on our rears and hope we get most of it? (Which works in a pinch) Do we look for and do the work of removing the root? (which keeps us weed-free longer)
You can probably guess which one I’m going to suggest...getting up off our rears and going for the root. We may disagree on what the root is, though. I’ll ask for you to hold your judgment till the end.
As of early Friday, I had today’s sermon 95% done and ironically, I think the same message still holds. It’s the message of freedom.
Admittedly, there are a lot of themes in today’s Scripture and a lot of unanswered questions. Was the girl’s gift truly divination and telling the future? How did she get into the situation of being a slave? Did her parents sell her into it or was this a family business? Why was Paul annoyed with her - because she was being loud or she was interrupting him or she was blowing their cover or he couldn’t stand that she was enslaved? What happened to the girl after she was “freed?” What happened to the jailer after the prisoners were free? Did he lose his job or threatened?
I have no answers for you to those questions. They are for you to play around with in your thoughts and conversations later. You’re welcome.
Freedom, though, is where we will focus in our Scripture today.
This girl that was interrupting Paul and others on their way to prayer was enslaved. Scripture literally says that she brought her owners a great deal of money - she was not benefiting; her “owners” were. She was a slave to this talent she had for fortune telling and she was a slave to her owners.
Paul, after being annoyed by whatever it was in this situation (there was a lot to be annoyed with!), orders the spirit out of her. And she is freed. We don’t know if she is financially freed from her owners, though, we can certainly hope.
This act of freeing the girl from the spirit means imprisonment for Paul and for Silas. Physical imprisonment, but apparently not spiritual imprisonment. They pray and sing songs together, and the jail cell is miraculously opened. Then, they are physically freed as well.
Freedom. We hear this word a lot in our culture - in the United States we talk of living in the land of the free. However, we are certainly not free from everything.
We’re slaves to our context - for instance, we cannot read a piece of Scripture or hear a news story without our lens of culture and background influencing what we pick out of the story.
We’re slaves to worry and anxiety - over finances or safety or future.
We’re slaves to our past, if we refuse to learn lessons and move forward from them.
We’re slaves to shame, perhaps if we are unemployed or our spouse leaves us.
Kathryn Matthews (ucc.org) states, “One of the most powerful captivities of our age...is the way fear can imprison us in our convictions and our desire for security, making us unable to open our hearts and minds to others, to events, to the God who still speaks through them.”
This is the reason why addressing emotional freedoms matters. When we are imprisoned by our fears, our worries, our “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts”, our “can’ts”, and our unworthiness, then we are more likely closed off to the people and the events that God will use to speak through and to help others.
When we are slaves to our context and can only see the problems in front of us, then we need freedom from that so we hopefully see other solutions we haven’t thought about.
We need to be freed from so many thoughts and fears and emotions that are controlling our actions.
Perhaps freedom from thoughts that convince a person there is no other way out of shame or anger than through death.
Perhaps freedom from thoughts that hold a person back from acting in such a way as to help get to the root of the problem for another person.
Whatever the thoughts and feelings are that are keeping us, as the beloved children of God, from living in harmony with one another - THOSE are the thoughts we need to be freed from.
Our physical and our emotional or spiritual imprisonments are not necessarily parallel. Nelson Mandela’s quote reminds us of this...he was physically freed AND he recognized that he would not be truly free unless he left behind the bitterness and hatred. Likewise, Paul, in prison, was physically imprisoned but not spiritually bound. On the flip side, we may not be physically imprisoned, but certainly may be spiritually or emotionally bound.
We have to decide that we want freedom from anger or shame or feeling unworthy.
Debie Thomas says it very well…”I know exactly what it’s like to say I want out, to say I want freedom, to say I want healing — and not quite mean it. I know what it’s like to cling to brokenness because it’s familiar. I know what it’s like to make victimhood my identity. I know what it’s like to benefit from the very things that cause me harm. I know what it’s like to sink into self-pity. I know what it’s like to assume that everyone else has access to a magic pill I’ll never get my hands on. I know what it’s like to decide that I’m doomed to sit at the very edge of healing for the rest of my life, and never attain it.” (https://www.journeywithjesus.net/essays/2225-the-question-that-hurts)
As Christians, we look to God for encouragement and inspiration and wisdom in life. How do we have God help us be free so that we can help others? So that we can pull up a problem by the roots?
Matthews reminds us that Paul answers the jailer’s question of how to be saved with “believe on the Lord Jesus.” (ucc.org) Easy peasy, right? Sometimes that phrase starts to sound like the “magic pill” answer….like the blue pill that will take you into the Matrix of an alternative world and you’ll forget the complexities of it all..
But think about the phrase and the filled out truth is there: yes, believe on the Lord Jesus, because when we do, we learn the things that Jesus taught:
we learn that all people are worthy
we learn that compassion and understanding are key
we learn the spirit of generosity
we learn the tools needed to cope with anxiety
we learn that Jesus prayed for a world without violence
When you’re a passenger on an airplane, in the event of an emergency, they encourage you to put on your oxygen mask first before helping someone else. Likewise, we should do the work to find emotional and spiritual and mental freedom SO THAT we can help others find theirs.
If we are free from our pride, maybe we’ll listen to one another’s opinions better.
If we are free from feelings of unworthiness, maybe we’ll better see the worthiness of others.
If we are free from our worries or fears of failure, maybe we’ll be able to speak up on behalf of someone who can’t.
Scripture: Acts 16:16-35