Sunday, May 8, 2016

Chains Unfastened

Preached at Shady Grove Presbyterian Church
May 8, 2016 (Mother’s Day)
Acts 16:16-34
I’m Hannah, the slave girl you heard about in the scripture reading today. I used to be a slave girl. I used to be a lot of things that I am no longer. I thought you might like to know my story. I want to tell you what it took to save me and set me free.
You’ve been told that I was following after Paul and Silas, shouting as they walked along the street. “These men are slaves of the most high God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation!” I knew who they were as soon as I saw them passing by. I’ve always had a gift, the power to see truth, to look at people and see through them, through whatever masks they put on or whatever pretense they adopt. I can see the center where their spirit lives.
And that’s what got me thrown out of the house—even as a small child. My father was unhappy with my boldness to speak, my gift made him feel exposed, threatened by me. He said I had a wild look in my eye, a demon in my spirit. So he put me out on the street. My mother sneaked a blanket and some food to me on that first night. But after that, she was afraid to challenge my father and his awful anger.
Lucky for me, I can sing. I started standing in the market place and singing, long, low laments, deep sounds of sorrow and pain. People threw coins in my basket. They recognized their own suffering in the sound of my songs. People in the marketplace began to come to me for my songs and for my ability to see into their souls.
“What do you see in my future?” they asked and I told them. Some days there was a long line, people waiting to have a moment with me.
Unlucky for me, the sound of my voice attracted two men who had no scruples but a love for profit. One night as I was sleeping on a side street, they chained me, beat me and claimed me as their slave. They could do that. There was no law against it, you know. Or maybe you don’t know that in my day and in my culture an unclaimed woman could be any man’s property. Any one’s slave. I was forced to tell fortunes during the day and the men pocketed the high price they charged for my gift. They chained me to a post every night while their dogs were free to roam. I sang myself to sleep at night.
Always the unscrupulous men were guarding me, making sure whatever I did was of benefit to them. They watched for crowds, dragging me to places where people were congregated and that’s how I came to be in the street when Paul and Silas came along. They were the kind of men who drew a crowd. I could see they had great power, they also had a gift. They told stories about a man who was love, nothing but love for people, all people. I heard what they had to say and I could see clear through it, down to the truth of what they had to say. It was crystal clear. Those men were telling us about something that could make a difference.
Something more had come into the world and they knew how to get in touch with that something more. I couldn’t help but shout! Over and over again! It was that important! I looked around at the crowd of people following those men and I could see how they suffered, how they were hungry for something more and I wanted them to know that something more was being offered! I kept it up for days. The men who owned me didn’t mind since I was drawing attention to myself and getting business for them.
But on the third day, Paul turned around and called out to me. “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ, to come out of her!” He was annoyed. His face was red and furious as he hollered. He looked and sounded just like my father. I felt crushed. I stopped hollering. I stopped seeing into the depths of him or anyone. That angry face robbed my spirit of something alive. I had hoped for something more, the something more that Paul and Silas were talking about. Paul’s anger chilled me to the bone. I just wanted to go somewhere and hide.
But the men who owned me weren’t about to let me hide. They hollered at me too. They insisted that I tell the fortunes of customers they brought to me. But I could not. And so they beat me, they beat me so badly I thought I might bleed to death. I didn’t die and when the men were convinced I could no longer tell fortunes, they put me to work as a prostitute, continuing to collect money for the work that I did.
I heard the men talking. They had accused the men, Paul and Silas, of robbing them when Paul had ordered me to be silent. It was hard for me to think of anything about me as belonging to me. The men took even the few coins people threw into my basket when I sang, low and mournful beside the road. What was left of my voice seemed to belong to them, not me.
I suppose I would still be working as a prostitute. I would still be under the control of those men if it had not been for the jailer’s wife. Sarah. Everybody should know Sarah. She’s thoughtful, smart, kind. And brave too.
Turns out Paul and Silas were beaten and they were thrown into jail for the losses my owners suffered. Sarah told me all about it. That “something more” those men have, that story about a man named Jesus who brought perfect and powerful love into their lives…they were singing hymns about all of that, praising God. The power of it all brought on an earthquake and unfastened their chains! Their chains came unfastened and they were free! The chains of all the prisoners in that jail were unfastened! Singing set them free! Wow!
Paul and Silas went home with the jailer. Sarah cooked for them, a big feast. And when they all sat down to eat, when everyone was talking about all that had happened, Sarah got to thinking about me. Her curiosity was awakened. She has two daughters of her own. Sarah wondered what had happened to that slave girl and she wondered where the girl’s home was, where her mother might be.
It took a few weeks. Sarah couldn’t stop thinking about me and worrying, the way mothers do, you know? And so she came to find me. I must have looked a mess, living like I was and being so mistreated. I was too beat up to work when she found me chained and lying by a trash heap.
But Sarah walked up to me and smiled. Smiled at me as if I were somebody special. She asked enough questions to be sure I was the one she was looking for. And then she found the men who owned me and asked them how much it would cost to purchase me. “What must I do to save her?” she asked.
I’m not sure what it cost to redeem me but Sarah found out and brought her husband back to pay whatever it cost to take me home with them. I am no longer a slave. Sarah adopted me as one of her own, a member of their family. And this is where I live now—washed, well fed and strong again. Gifted too.
There’s an entire community of us, a group of people who have come to believe in the power of something more. We trust the love of Jesus, the kind of love that lives and reigns in a mother like Sarah. Love that can save us all, set us free, unfasten the chains that hold us down.
I can see truth. I can see deeply and I can sing again. Not low songs of sadness but joyful songs of praise! I love to sing about the goodness I see and feel in Sarah, in this community of faith and in the hope I have that one day all of us, all people everywhere, will find their chains unfastened.



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