Ascension Day/Easter 7C
Sunday May 16, 2010

Broken Chains
Acts 16:16-34

Friends, we hear of a young girl, a civil servant, some men on the take, an angry urban mob, some bigoted city counselors, Paul, Silas, Luke and others, a magistrate and a family and wonder where we ourselves might be in this account of the Spirit of the risen Christ on the move in people’s lives.

We are still in Philippi, with Paul and others as they plant the gospel in that Roman place, with great help from that new convert, Lydia.

In pondering all these people and what happens, and what Luke, the writer, is wanting Christians people of all time to receive in this eye-witness account, it seems to me that there is one common thing that holds all of the people in these events together. It is chains. All of the people of whom Luke speaks have various chains – literal and metaphorical, holding them down from the heights they could experience in God’s Spirit who is definitely on the move in their town.

That young girl is in chains – the chains of oppressive practices of the men who are using her and her special talent to rip plenty of other people off for profit.

But she is not alone. Even Paul and Silas seem to be chained in something. When Paul , Silas and the others are confronted by this girl and her special talent for seeing what many cannot see – the spiritual realm and the future (at least in part), Paul gets angry. He is “very much annoyed” because this girl keeps announcing to everyone who they are and what the Lord is doing – day after day she just keeps yelling out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” Good message, but very annoying if you are wanting to talk to people and say a little more or less than that depending on the situation….. Or, very thorny to the ego when you are the one who is supposed to be the great fount of all hope and missionary!

Paul shows he is capable of impulsive behaviour – not shopping, but exorcism! “Come out of her!” he yells to what is obviously an evil spirit, as far as Paul can see. The evil spirit comes out and that’s all we hear. One wonders how the con-men who owned this girl would have reacted to this, and where this girl would now end up without her “special power”. (We hear next how they respond initially at least).

It may be that Paul is in chains here. He is the chains of a driven life. He “on a mission from God” to tell everyone what is right! Has he forgotten about compassion and care and love? Are the chains of drivenness so tightly attached to him that he has forgotten what he is really here for and what Jesus is all about – not being right or saved but loved?

Has he got carried away with his own special power and forgotten that his every breath is a gift from the Giver of all good gifts, not a right to use as he wills; especially to have power over other people when they get under your skin?

Then we hear of those angry con-men bent on pay-back. In not time there is that angry mob spurred on by angry con-men who owned the girl. They feel they have been robbed by these “Jews”. Yes, the old chestnut of human bondage comes out to play – prejudice; specifically, anti-Semitism. We have a recent history of that. We know where it leads. We have an Australian history of this kind of deep prejudice and we see where that leads in our own country and life-time. The chains seem unbreakable and the damage unlimited and unstoppable……

And then there is this jailer. Even though is the dealing in chains, he himself is under chains of the spirit. The great bondage of fear is all over him. As he guards Paul and Silas, who are beaten up and thrown in shackles in a dark, damp cell with other chained crims, he has the worst nightmare that a prison guard could have.

The prisoners are freed of their chains and either kill him or escape. Either way, his life is over because the punishment for a Roman guard when a crim escapes is death! Abject fear abounds….

We have mentioned a few chains. Any of them lingering around you?
We have all got them. We long to be unfettered and free in our love, understanding, our job, relationships; yet we experience chains that hobble us and limit our ability to love and be loved – by others and God.

If you were standing in a familiar room, a room you love and it got dark and the darkness exposed luminescent words on the walls and the words were the things that are troubling you, limiting you, hurting you, chaining you, what would the words be….

Look around the walls….
The words are the things that get you down…………………….

The words are the things that hold you back from being who you know you really are…….

The words are the things that make you fearful or shameful……..

When that earthquake strikes and that worst fear for this particular man is released in this fear-filled man he heads to what so many of our young Australian men head for – suicide. He is on the edge of the great darkness. But his world is radically interrupted by the sound of prisoners not escaping!

“We are still here!” yells Paul. “Don’t do it!”

• Yes, “Don’t do it”, friend. Someone thinking of your well being, someone is saving you from the edge.
• Don’t listen to that voice inside your head and heart that keeps putting you down.
• Don’t keep heading toward self-put-down and shame.
• Don’t keep believing that you hopeless or of no value to anyone or not good enough in their eyes.
• Don’t believe that you are owned by anyone or that he or she has a right to own you.

Don’t do it. Don’t do it. We are still here. He is still here. Chains do not have to be lived in or with. They can be broken by Him. He longs to break them because of his love for you. He has the power and authority to break them and release you.

Oh, what a relief! I don’t have to go on killing myself, shaming myself, letting others do that.

“How can I find freedom?” How can my life be salvaged? The grateful jailer asks. “How can I be saved from this fear and those words on my wall? Who will loose the chains and let me be what I know I can be?

“Turn away from the words and the walls and the going to them all the time”, says the Spirit of Jesus.

Believe in the One who speaks different words about you
Beloved, son, daughter, bride, sheep beside still water, precious one, righteous one, child of the Most High, loved, ….

Friends, let him wash your wounds and patch you up and let him set your place at his table now.

Gather with the whole family and let your joy out and enjoy the moment, enjoy your baptism and all he gives in it, for you have “become a believer in God”, unfettered and free in his love and hope.

He enters our room and says those words that begin and end Easter – “Peace be with you”.