7 Easter C—6/2/19
Pr. Scott Kramer
Our church, as you know, is not necessarily easy to find. I like to tell the story of how I got lost the first FIVE times I tried to find it—this was before GPS—and those five times were even before I was called to be pastor here! From a marketing point of view, we are at a disadvantage. We’re not on the main drag, not near shopping and major services. Over the years, I’ve heard of neighbors who did not even know we are here. Tent City 3 and the ARISE men’s shelter have been a tremendous help in raising awareness of who we are and where we are, but getting the word out remains a challenge!
So, imagine that, without warning, some “angel,” without being asked, began advertising Lakeridge Lutheran on TV, radio, internet, newspapers, direct mail, on the sides of buses, light rail. Imagine looking up one fine summer day (like today!) and seeing an airplane dragging a banner above Lake Washington for all to see, and instead of “GEICO” the banner read, “Welcome to Lakeridge Lutheran!” Imagine that this “angel” did all of this advertising…for free!
16One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. 17While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” 18She kept doing this for many days.
Woo-HOO! Free advertising! Imagine being a Christian in the early decades of the Church. Nobody knows who you are. They probably haven’t even heard of this “Jesus guy.” It is a tough slog to get the word out! But one day, someone starts offering free advertising. What’s not to like?
Well, according to our story, there’s apparently lots not to like—here’s how the story continues: Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.
Dear brother Paul, are you out of your mind?? You and your Christian friends need all the help you can get! Why are you turning down free advertising that is, by the way, 100% accurate?? You are, as this girl says, “slaves of the Most High God who proclaim to the world a way of salvation!”
But Paul is not taken in by appearances. He digs deeper than his own comfort and personal advantage. This “free advertising” comes at a terrible price to someone who has no power or freedom at all: We met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling.
Fortune-telling is not the problem in this story. What is a problem is slavery, exploitation of a minor–and for economic gain.
Under the best of circumstances this girl had two strikes against her: Even if she had been at home, surrounded by a loving family, she was a) young and b) female. The fact that she is a c) slave means that she has three strikes against her. She is vulnerable to men whose only concern is economic gain. And because she is completely at their mercy, who knows what other kinds of exploitation she experiences after hours, at night, behind closed doors?
Thank God for St. Paul, who sees what’s going on, who recognizes evil, and sets aside his own self-interest for the sake of justice, mercy, compassion, and standing up for what Jesus calls the “least of these.”
Not much has changed in two thousand years. If you follow the news you know that slavery in the form of international sex trafficking involving children is a huge, multi-billion dollar business. Likewise, labor trafficking and sweat shops at home and around the world generate untold billions for people whose first and only concern is getting rich.
If only today’s story from Acts were about those “bad guys” out there. Instead, as always, the gospel invites personal soul-searching to discern where I might be in the story.
For example, as I take off the jacket I’m wearing this morning, I find that the label says, “Made in India.” I did an internet search on the company that made this jacket and find nothing about the company’s workplace practices. Who are the workers who provided me with their handiwork? How are they treated? Do they receive a fair wage? Who knows!
Do you know where your clothing comes from? Your food? Anything that makes your life possible? Do you know the human cost to your siblings around the world who also were created in the image of God? Ignorance is not the same as innocence. Just because I don’t know about any possible exploitation doesn’t mean that I’m free of responsibility. All of us participate in and support sinful structures and systems.
And yet, the gospel of Jesus Christ does not lead us to despair over what seems to us impossible to change. In the stories of our faith we are led to see ourselves and how the Holy Spirit can empower us minute by minute, day by day, choice by choice, to bring hope and healing to the world.
Followers of Jesus learn from Paul’s example. Like Paul, we are bombarded daily by temptations to self-interest. We are easy marks for leaders who urge us to claim patriotism, military might, political “freedom” and maybe above all, economic self-interest as the sources of our salvation. Paul openly and publicly declared these things to be lies.
There’s a cautionary word here, as well, for all who would choose the truth of Jesus Christ over the lies of powerful men. If you choose Jesus, you will very likely pay a price. Listen again to our reading: 19But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. 20When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews 21and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.”
In this one sentence are listed the chief priorities of privileged people, then and now: Social order, tradition, national identity, and economic self-interest. Nothing here is mentioned about the Christian bedrock of truth, justice, mercy, compassion, or love. And then, we hear what may be the most damning and sobering line of all: “22The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. In other words, it’s often true that evil leaders have only as much power as they are given by ordinary people.
The story continues: 23After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. 24Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.”
Does this sound like an over-reaction? Yes! And, it sounds like the world we live in, in which selfish people retaliate against threats to their power and privilege. On this last Sunday of the Easter season, we find in today’s story from Acts an echo of the trial and execution of Jesus, the ultimate disrupter of injustice and oppression. Most of all, we claim resurrection power: Even after being severely beaten and imprisoned, Paul freed the slave girl. And a jailer. And prisoners, too!
A few minutes ago I invited you to imagine free advertising for our church. Frankly, I’m not sure that unlimited media coverage would make much difference! The story and promise of God’s amazing grace will never be as popular as power, privilege, comfort and economic self-interest.
The best free advertising for Lakeridge Lutheran is the work of liberation for those who are kicked to the edge of society, that many may see and understand who we are and who we follow. May followers of Jesus today learn from the early Church, claim the power of God, and continue the hard and costly work of Christian freedom!