May 12, 2013 Acts 16:16-34
Long ago, a man and a woman were put in a garden to look after it, to keep it, and to prosper in it.
In this garden, they were allowed to eat freely from the plants and the trees that they tended and cared for.
This man and this woman were given dominion over this new creation. Every plant yielding seed and every tree with seed in its fruit was given to them for food. Every beast with the breath of life was given green plants; and it was not just ‘good’.
It was very good.
And the culmination of this creation with its abundance of food, the pinnacle of this delicate balance came the following day.
The day of rest.
The seventh day of creation was the day of enjoyment, and wholeness, and peace.
It was a day when creator and creation could simply exist together, and enjoy each other’s company.
The seventh day of creation was blessed by God…not cursed.
It was made holy because on it the creator simply enjoyed his creation and did not seek to improve upon it; for it was very good.
Fast forward a few thousand years, and this delicate balance, this restful rhythm of creation and enjoyment of creation…it had been broken.
The creator’s rhythm was thrown off kilter.
Some people learned how to profit from other people’s work instead of simply enjoying and being compensated for their own.
Something important was lost, as money replaced the age-old practice of simply enjoying the fruits of creation and living into the rhythm of rest.
And over the course of time, people kept inventing new ways to become richer from other people’s work.
Eventually they failed even to recognize the humanity of certain other people, and so slavery was born.
In slavery; instead of doing work that directly benefits the worker, the slave does work that directly benefits the slave-owner.
So it is that slavery is maybe the oldest form of that which is both anti-God and anti-human.
So in this chapter that we’ve heard read this morning, we meet a slave-girl who was making her owners very rich.
It’s a picture of this breakdown I’ve been describing.
Her inherent worth was broken down into a profit margin. She was only as valuable as the money she brought in for her owners.
Not much is said about this slave-girl.
All we really know is that she had a spirit of divination, which meant that her owners could charge people to hear their fortunes.
Now there are a couple of interesting things about that, as well.
As many of you know, Christine and I recently took a trip to Indonesia.
We traveled by land, air, and sea to finally arrive at our destination.
And on our trip, for about the full 2 weeks we were gone, we drank only water that had been purchased; mostly bottled water that we paid dearly for in airports, or filtered water from a big, 5-gallon jug that had been purchased in Indonesia at the home where we were staying.
Water is something we all need to survive, and it’s abundant in that part of the world…we’re surrounded by the ocean.
Why would we pay so much to ensure that we had safe drinking water?
Because even though there is plenty, much of it is not ‘safe’.
In other words, access to safe drinking water is restricted to those who can pay for it…thus mainly benefiting the people who control the access to the resource.
If you can’t restrict access, you can’t make any money.
It’s the same dynamic with this slave-girl and her ability to tell fortunes.
The only way the owners could make a profit, was by restricting access to her ability…making people pay to hear what this spirit would say through her.
So it’s interesting, isn’t it, that when she meets Paul and Silas, access is no longer restricted!!
It’s like this is the story of a conflict between two systems; the system of slavery on one side, and the system of salvation on the other.
And slavery is no match.
She follows Paul and Silas and the others, and she keeps crying out this line: “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.”
Remember, her owners would only profit when someone would pay to hear their fortune: that is, when access to the spirit she carried was restricted.
But when confronted by those who bear the gospel, access is broken open to anyone with ears to hear.
She’s still possessed; she’s still a slave…but the system of slavery is rendered impotent by the gospel!
All this happens without Paul or Silas or anyone else doing anything!
They were just going about their business, taking the gospel with them.
Never underestimate the power of simply going about your business in a Christian manner.
Never underestimate the power of simply treating people as infinitely valuable and beloved children of God.
It might mean they start to follow you around and annoy you to tears, like what happens in this story…but isn’t it worth it?
She annoys Paul to the point that he casts out this spirit of divination without her asking him to do it, and much against her owner’s wishes.
That’s the last thing we hear about this slave-girl.
It’s safe to assume her life took a radically different turn, and that freedom from this spirit would have its own challenges, responsibilities, and opportunities.
But the story continues in a pretty unpredictable way.
To paraphrase the rest of the story pretty loosely…we could just say “when you take away a slave-owner’s slave, you better buckle up and hold on tight.” J
This confrontation between slavery and salvation is taken to a whole new level.
Slave-owners aren’t gentle people.
When they see what Paul and Silas have done, they haul them to the marketplace, they man-handle them up before the magistrates; the big-wigs, the authorities.
And this is an important scene too.
It’s fitting that the seat of power is in the marketplace; where the institution of slavery kind of feeds the entire economic system.
The marketplace is where people make profits (again, by restricting access to cheap goods which can be marked up and sold for a profit). How are the goods made cheaply?
I’m sure there are a variety of ways…but one big one is slave labor.
So they’re hauled into the marketplace, into the seat of power, into the place where the odds are stacked against them…and before they even have a chance to defend themselves they are stripped, severely beaten, and thrown into the inner-most cell of a dank, dark, dungeon.
Their feet are put in stocks and they’re left to themselves overnight; naked, bruised and bleeding;
And they sing.
And they pray.
And the earthquake that came; I think it was just an echo.
The real earthquake started when Paul got annoyed and the girl found freedom.
That’s the event that started this shift, you know?
Slavery and Salvation cannot co-exist.
Wherever they meet, it’s going to be like two of those tectonic plates that push against each other until one gives way; and an earthquake results, throwing open the prison doors and setting the captives free.
Unless, of course, the captives are more interested in a broader salvation that extends even unto the jailor who put them in the stocks himself.
It’s easy for us to forget that we worship a God who loves even our enemies, who offers salvation even to the people who beat us, who throw us in prison, who falsely accuse us and disregard our rights and our humanity in their quest for power over us.
It’s easy for us to forget that the God who created the world and all that is in it, wants for all of his children to enjoy the fruits of their labor and the fruits of this creation!
He is not a God who restricts access; he is a God who freely gives.
We are the ones who put limits on the grace of God.
We are the ones who take something that was ‘very good’ and make it simply ‘good’.
But God isn’t content with that.
His desire is to see his creation rejoicing over the abundance that is offered; to see balance restored between the creator and the creation.
Let the Earth rejoice in our humble footsteps as we each do our part to restore the rhythm of rest.