Set the People Free

X GIVE IT AWAYX CAUSE HER LOVE WAS HER LIFEX ANCIENT WORLD BELIEVEDX A BEAUTIFUL MINDX SLAVE GIRL WITNESSED PAULX PLACEBO EFFECTX LIKE REIKI ON STEROIDSX PAUL AND SILAS SET FREEX ALL PEOPLE SET FREEX but oh god how we hate it 2X FAITH SHARINGX PREACH CHRISTX OPPRESSORS WILL REACT WITH VIOLENCEX END HUMAN TRAFFIKINGX GOD CAN SET US FREESet the People Free
SLIDE 3: GIVE IT AWAY
One of the songs we use at the 9 o’clock service is called “Give It Away.” And the last two verses of the song speak to the very special love the followers of the way of Jesus are intended to bring to the world:
We can entertain compassion, For a world in need of care
But the road of good intentions, Doesn’t lead to anywhere.
‘Cause love isn’t love, ‘Til you give it away. You gotta give it away.
There was a man who walked on water, He came to set the people free.
He was the ultimate example, Of what love can truly be.
‘Cause his love was his life, And he gave it away. You gotta give it away.
SLIDE 4: ‘CAUSE HER LOVE WAS HER LIFE AND SHE GAVE IT AWAY
Our scripture this morning is about giving away love in order to set the people free. And since this is Mother’s Day let me first note that one of the reasons we celebrate Mother’s Day in church is because so often a Mother’s love is her life that she gives away so freely to her children, and then she has to set them free. This week our neighbor, Adair Seeman, stopped to see how Elizabeth is doing with her graduation and moving off to Pittsburgh. One of the hardest parts of parenthood is the separating out with children, when they are ready to go make a life on their own. Some of you know Adair because of her involvement in PEO, and Adair and Richard have a daughter, Leigh, the same age as Elizabeth. Anyway Adair was thinking about her mother, when she recalled one of her mother’s proverbs, “If you have kids or pets, you have nothing.” Anything of material value can be ruined by kids or pets. But then that is one of the sacrifices a mother makes in the incredible investment of love she pours into her children.
SLIDE 5: ANCIENT WORLD BELIEVED MENTAL ILLNESS WAS TOUCHED BY THE GODS
Our scripture this morning is about setting people free. Mental Illness in the ancient world was often believed to be associated with the divine. Most of the time mental illness was characterized as demon possession, and the possessed were considered to be evil, or the victims of evil. But other times the mentally ill were viewed more benignly as having been touched by the gods. Often people who are mentally ill can be profoundly brilliant but still disturbed.
SLIDE 6: A BEAUTIFUL MIND
The film “a Beautiful Mind” romanticized paranoid schizophrenia, but it still portrayed the brilliance behind the illness. The mentally ill can be problematical, but their flashes of insight can be truly amazing. Some of the mentally ill in the ancient world were thought to be divinely inspired soothsayers, and that belief could be used to turn a profit. Such was the case with the young slave girl Paul and his companions encountered in the market place in Philippi.
SLIDE 7: SLAVE GIRL WITNESSED PAUL SPEAK AND HEAL
The story in Acts provides little detail. If we are allowed to use our imaginations, we might speculate that the slave girl was present daily in the market place offered by her handlers for soothsaying for a fee. In addition we might suspect that Paul had spent some time in the market place, engaging people with his message about Jesus, and perhaps praying over people with healing affects. The slave girl may have had opportunities then to hear Paul and witness his ministry.
SLIDE 8: PLACEBO AFFECT
`At this point let’s digress for a moment and remember the healing ministry of Jesus. Jesus was a teacher. But teachers in the ancient world were a dime a dozen. What really drew the crowds to Jesus were the healings that accompanied his ministry. Some of the healings credited to Jesus appear to have been the placebo affect engaging the faith of the individual to accomplish a healing. The placebo affect, as physicians testify, is still alive and well among us. One pharmacist claimed that one of his customers complained that the capsules she’d been given weren’t working.
“Oh,” he said, “You’ve been taking them the wrong way. You have to take them so that the green half goes in first.”
The customer stopped by a week later to let him know that her medication was working fine now.
SLIDE 9: LIKE REIKI ON STEROIDS
Jesus encouraged people to credit healing to their own faith, “your faith has made you well.” Some of the healing attributed to Jesus appeared to go way beyond the placebo effect and have something to do with energy transfer, sort of like Reiki on steroids. Also most fascinating and mysterious to modern readers were the healings he performed with those who were demon possessed – exorcism. Before we discount the healing of the mentally ill by Jesus, we should consider that some dramatic experiences can flood the brain with neurological chemicals that permanently rewire the brain. These are in no way ordinary experiences, but truly life altering changes in the brain’s internal structure and brain chemistry. Apparently some of the followers of Jesus received the gift of healing mental and emotional problems. Who knows? It is a mystery. Paul, who himself had received a brain altering, life changing conversion experience on the Road to Damascus had some ability to heal others. Instead of discounting the healing of the slave girl, we might open ourselves to the possibility that Paul did in fact heal the young woman. He set her free from the chains of mental illness. And once Paul had broken the bondage of the girl’s illness, her value as a soothsayer disappeared.
SLIDE 10: PAUL AND SILAS SET FREE
The aggrieved owners took Paul and Silas before the magistrates who promptly ordered that the two of them be beaten with rods and thrown in jail. Property rights down through history have trumped human rights. In prison Paul and Silas prayed and sang, and the other prisoners began listening to them. About midnight an earth quake caused the doors of the prison to come off their hinges, but Paul and Silas convinced the other prisoners to stay in place. The jailer thought everyone would have fled, and he would be held responsible for their escape, prepared to commit suicide. But Paul called out to him and to the jailer’s immense relief, everyone was still there. Overwhelmed by this gesture of good will from Paul, Silas and the other prisoners the jailer made his confession of faith. The jailer, his family, and perhaps some of the prisoners became part of the fledgling community of the followers of Jesus that night.
SLIDE 11: JESUS INTENDS ALL PEOPLE BE SET FREE
What should we learn from this scripture? First, there are many different kinds of bondage. Jesus intends that all people can be set free. We can be set free from political oppression. We can be unbound from physical and psychological abuse. We can be released from our prejudices, fears and anxieties. We can be liberated from our addictions and bad attitudes. And through the loving caring community of faith people can be set free from the isolation and stigmatization that so often accompanies mental illness. There are also spiritual practices that can help to regulate and heal some of the symptoms of mental illness. Next week we will talk about how the spiritual practice of walking a labyrinth has been used in emotional and psychological healing. (People should take their medications when appropriate, but love, faith and prayer are also important.)
SLIDE 12: Oh God How We Hate It
And lest anyone should assume that mental illness is everyone else’s problem. Let me remind you of William Sloane Coffin’s definition of the difference between delusional and neurotic. Someone who is delusional believes that 2 + 2 = 5. They’re good with that. But good healthy neurotics like you and I we know that 2 + 2 = 4, but oh God how we hate it. And in the interest of self-disclosure, I freely admit my struggle with food. When I am tired, or anxious, or afraid, or stressed, which is most of the time, I eat. But I want to assure you no matter what your psychological or spiritual chains may be, Jesus wants to set us free.
SLIDE 13: SHARING FAITH
Second thing we can learn from this scripture, we never know when we will have an opportunity to share our faith. When we pray with and for other people, we are sharing our faith. When we respond in faith rather than fear, we are sharing our faith. When we reach out in love to others we are sharing the faith of Jesus. We don’t always know when our faith is being communicated and others have to be open to receive the faith we extend to them.
SLIDE 14: PREACH CHRIST USE WORDS IF YOU HAVE TO
As the great preacher Fred Craddock said, “Preach Christ — use words if you have to.” I think, however, in an increasingly secular world with more and more unchurched people, we do have some need to share the story of Jesus. We can no longer assume that everyone knows the story.
SLIDE 15: OPPRESSORS WILL REACT WITH VIOLENCE
Third, when we attempt to free people from oppression we can expect that the oppressors will react with anger, hostility, even violence. Just consider the Assad Regime in Syria. If we challenge the bondage of the Empire of Darkness we need to be prepared for opposition and persecution.
SLIDE 16: JOIN WITH OTHERS IN ENDING HUMAN TRAFFICKING
We must also join with others in ending human trafficking in our world today. Just this past week we were reminded that slavery still exists in America. The Global Ministries of the United Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ call upon all of our congregations to raise awareness of the issue of human trafficking. Currently 2 million people are bought and sold annually around the world. Almost half of those are trafficked across international borders. Law enforcement estimates there are nearly 27 million people being held in slavery in the world today. Most of them are exploited as sex slaves. One half of all the people trafficked into the United States are children, and human slavery is a $9 billion a year business. We thought we ended slavery, but not yet. As followers of Jesus we are called upon to set the people free.
SLIDE 17: GOD CAN SET US FREE
In our scripture this morning chains were broken. When you are hot you’re hot. Paul and Silas went to jail and ended up with multiple converts including the jailor’s family. The gospel sets people free. How can we be set free? Are we struggling with addictions, or are we prisoners of bad attitudes? Let’s all pray and ask for deliverance from every attitude, addiction, fear and anxiety that keeps us in bondage. God can set us free.

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