Sunday, May 12, 2013

Graduation Sunday - May 12, 2013 - Acts 16:16-34

First of all, I would like to congratulate you graduates.  Many years ago, when you were quite small, you began something.  Back then, as five year olds, you had imaginations that ran wild and created all kinds of improbable scenarios.  “Look Mom!  This cardboard box that I’m sitting in is actually a spaceship!”  But for all that imagination you would not have been able to imagine today.  Nor would you have been able to imagine these intervening years, full of your particular accomplishments...... and also some things you would change if you could.  There was no way to know what would happen.  It took the living of those years to find out the future.

Have you contemplated your freedom?  I don’t mean to put words in your mouth or attribute thoughts to you that are not your own, but many people at about this time in life are excited at the prospect of freedom.  Freedom from the discipline of parents.  Freedom from the schedule the past 12 years have imposed on you, August through May, day in, day out.  Have you caught yourself thinking like that?

If you have, and I don’t presume that you have, so take it for what it’s worth, you might be disappointed by the freedom that is in store for you.  As you move forward, you will need to work harder.  Work and school will impose more on you, not less.  And the discipline that your parents provided for you might start seeming more like a helpful structure that organized your lives.

That is not to say that there is not freedom to be had.  And this is where I’d like to turn to our lesson for today.  For the lesson from Acts is about freedom.  Paul and Silas have crossed over into Europe from Asia, they are in a town called Phillipi.  They have already met with some success in spreading the gospel, converting a rich woman named Lydia who then offered them a place to stay as they preached in the town. 

As they continued to go about the town preaching, they met a slave-girl who was possessed by a spirit of divination.  She brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune telling.  And she pesters them; it seems this spirit that was in her compelled her to testify about Paul and Silas.  Interestingly she says, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.”

So as our story begins, we actually have all kinds of language that has to do with slavery, not freedom.  The girl does not own herself, she is owned by others.  She does not control her own mind, but is enslaved by a spirit.  And Paul and Silas are slaves of the Most High God.

Well, Paul gets annoyed by this noise coming from this spirit through the girl, so he casts it out.  The girl is set free!  That is what you would expect.  But instead of seeing freedom, instead we see anger from the girl’s owners.  They are so angry, in fact, that they drag Paul and Silas before the town’s judges and stir up the crowd against them.  The crowd attacks them.  The judges have them beaten.  They are tossed into jail and have leg irons put on them.  Our expectations have been turned on their heads.  Instead of more freedom, there seems to be less of it.

Then, as they sit in the jail, their freedom taken away from them, Paul and Silas begin to pray and to sing hymns to God.  And an earthquake rumbled and shook, the foundations of their prison trembled, and they were set free!  This is more like it. 

When the jailer awoke and found the doors open he was going to kill himself for having failed to fulfill his duty, but Paul stops him, assuring him that they and all the prisoners are still there.  He doesn’t need to fear.  Now this is curious.  Instead of obtaining their freedom, Paul and Silas stay put in the jail.

At what point in this story are Paul and Silas free?  They are free the whole time.  What kind of freedom is it?  They have the freedom of Christ. 

{off the cuff}

What is this freedom that we have in Christ?
It is not the freedom to get out of jail free.
It is not the freedom that means nobody will exert their power over us.
It is not the freedom from hardship or obstacles.

It is the freedom from death, the Devil and our sinful selves. 
It is the freedom to give thanks in all circumstances knowing that God is Lord over all and that we are in his care.

As you live into your futures, you might be less free than you expect.  School and work and relationships will impose on you in all kinds of ways.  But the freedom of Christ is available to you in all circumstances.  You access this freedom by giving thanks.  By praising God.  By trusting.

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