Breaking ChainsPosted: May 8, 2016
SLIDE 3: YOU WILL KNOW THE TRUTH
In the eighth Chapter of the Gospel of John Jesus said, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The truth will set us free from all manner of forms of false consciousness, and spiritual bondage, that is the promise of Jesus. In our story from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, Paul confronts several forms of bondage in the City of Philippi, that have a remarkably contemporary ring to them.
SLIDE 4: HUMAN TRAFFICKING
The first form of bondage Paul faced in this story was good old fashioned slavery — human trafficking. Like most people of the First Century Paul sort of took slavery for granted, it was ubiquitous, although in his Letter to Philemon, he made clear that Christians should not hold one another in slavery. And this is not an issue that has gone away. I want to thank Jackie Milhorn for trying to raise our congregation’s awareness about human trafficking in our modern context. It is estimated that 24 million people worldwide have been coerced into slavery mostly for sexual purposes. In this country because of its busy airport Atlanta is recognized as one of the primary centers of human trafficking in the United States. Homeless youth are most frequently targeted by human traffickers in the United States. The United Church of Christ has joined with other religious groups around the globe to help fight modern slavery. There is an interfaith tool kit about human trafficking you can down load at http://www.uccfiles.com/Interfaith-Toolkit-on-Human-Trafficking-2016.pdf, and there are a few copies available outside the sanctuary this morning.
SLIDE 5: MENTAL ILLNESS
The second form of bondage Paul faced in this story was mental illness. The slave girl in the market was subject to some kind of fits of hysteria. The ancient world believed that people who were mentally ill had been touched by the gods, and so they were often valued as fortune tellers and soothsayers. The girl attracted to Paul’s message of freedom and salvation, perhaps even witnessing a healing, began following Paul and Silas around the market place commenting on their work. According to the text, Paul became so irritated, he turned to the slave girl and yelled: “Out! In the name of Jesus Christ, get out of her!” And the girl was healed. Just goes to show that goodness can sometimes result from mixed motives.
SLIDE 6: ADDICTION & SUBSTANCE ABUSE
Mental illness especially if we include addiction and substance abuse as forms of mental illness, is the most common disease in America. And given all of the prejudices in our culture about mental illness it is one of the most difficult ailments to treat. Many people suffering from mental illness are unwilling to recognize their disease. And again as Jesus said, “When you know the truth, only then can the truth set you free.” The first and most important step in the treatment of most mental illness, maybe any form of sickness is acknowledging the disease.
SLIDE 7: RECOVERY
Rabbi Rami in his book entitled Recovery writes:
Addiction is a disease. . . (But) the real disease from which almost all of us suffer is the disease of playing God, of thinking we are or, should be in control. . . As long as we maintain the illusion of control, we are fine, but eventually and inevitably life slips out of our control, and we are faced with a difficult choice: Quit playing God, and abandon the delusion of life’s controllability, or find some way to escape reality and maintain the illusion that we are in control.
SLIDE 8: WE MUST ACKNOWLEDGE WE NEED HELP
We are fortunate today that we now have a broad array of medications for helping to treat mental illness. But physicians and medications are ineffective unless we seek treatment, unless we are willing to acknowledge our need for help. The truth cannot set us free unless we are willing to embrace the truth about ourselves and our need for help.
SLIDE 9: GREED
When the girl’s owners discovered they could no longer exploit the girl as a soothsayer, they had Paul and Silas dragged before the magistrates accusing them of disturbing the peace as Jewish agitators. The owners of the slave girl were enraged because Paul and Silas had ruined their profit center — the bondage of greed.
SLIDE 10: HIDING MONEY
Greed still holds our society in bondage whether it is corporations manipulating markets for their own benefit, global companies seeking to suppress wages and benefits by outsourcing jobs and products to the developing world, drug traffickers laundering their profits, or wealthy individuals escaping taxation by depositing huge sums of money in off shore bank accounts. Apparently according to the Panama Papers greed is international not just an American phenomenon. The list of people hiding money in off shore accounts includes six current and former heads of state, nine Prime Ministers, numerous cabinet members from around the globe, several Russian Oligarchs friends of Vladamir Putin, no less than nine officials of the World Soccer Federation, numerous entertainers including Jackie Chan, Simon Cowell, and Stanley Kubrick, and a list of hundreds of world business leaders. The world economy is rigged.
SLIDE 11: SPIRITUAL RESOURCES TO COMBAT GREED
Greed seems to be as old as human nature, and how we can address our love of money and stuff and learn to seek the general welfare instead of our own narrowly defined self-interest is a challenge. Most of the world’s great spiritual traditions have sought to break the bonds of greed. “What will it profit you to gain whole world but forfeit your soul?” — Jesus. “The most ignorant one is he who does not learn from the world’s changes. The richest one is he who is not trapped by greed.” — Mohammed. “The Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.” — Mahatma Gandhi. “Greed makes man blind and foolish, and makes him an easy prey for death.” — Rumi.
SLIDE 12: SIN IN THE PARABLES
In her book Short Stories by Jesus, Amy Jill Levine, asserts that the purpose of the Parables of Jesus was to prompt his listeners into rethinking their lives in order to break the bondage of greed. “Sinners are not ‘outcasts,'” she writes. “They are not cast out of synagogues or out of the Jerusalem Temple. To the contrary, they are welcome in such places, since such places encourage repentance. The Gospels generally present sinners as wealthy people who have not attended to the poor. That is a dandy definition of the term. Thus, in a first century context, sinners, like tax collectors, are individuals who have removed themselves from the general welfare, who look to themselves rather than to the general welfare.” I believe this definition of “sinner” is still quite applicable today and speaks to the bondage of greed that seeks to enslave our entire global economy.
SLIDE 13: ABUSE OF POWER
The last bondage addressed in our scripture is the abuse of power exercised by the magistrates of Philippi. The greedy owners of the slave girl whipped up an angry mob, who attacked Paul and Silas as foreigners Jews (maybe even Muslims, although there were no Muslims then), and dragged them off to the magistrates, who without even allowing Paul and Silas to speak, had them beaten and thrown into prison. The subversion of justice by those with an economic stake in the outcome is an old theme that still surfaces even today.
SLIDE 14: ABUSE OF POWER IN MADISON
The “Black Lives Matters” movement attempts to point out the problem of racism in the administration of our justice system. Here in Madison, an elderly Indian man was man handled by a policeman, who was then acquitted, and now the police chief has been placed on leave accused of having tampered with the witnesses. Abuse of power sometimes seems as ubiquitous as greed.
SLIDE 15: ABUSE OF POWER ATTORNEYS
We can witness our court systems being used as an instrument of greed in the public solicitation for clients around medical and pharmaceutical suits. The other day I got a robo-call at home telling me that a blood thinner that had been prescribed for me after my hip replacement had been implicated in deaths and injuries due to bleeding. Well of course blood thinners can cause bleeding, that is why we have to be careful. I found myself getting nose bleeds, when I was on the drug and had to back off from some other medicines in order to stop the inappropriate bleeding. And maybe there are too many uninformed patients, who do not understand the potential dangers of the medication they are taking. But how did they get my name? And robo-calling people, who have been given a medication seems to me like carrying ambulance chasing to new heights. Abuse of power is not new, and probably is not going away, but we can resist the bondage of injustice by insisting that our courts and police are not used to abuse the rights of others.
SLIDE 16: PAUL & SILAS FREED
The story of Paul and Silas ends on a positive and gratifying up-note. They were placed in chains in a maximum security cell, but like the Civil Rights protesters in the 60’s Paul and Silas began leading the other prisoners in singing hymns. Then in the middle of the night God showed up. An earthquake shook the jail. The chains fell out of the walls and the doors of the cells were knocked off their hinges. The jailer came running into the prison ready to commit suicide for fear that he would be held responsible for all the prisoners escaping. But Paul and Silas had convinced everyone to stay. As a result the jailer and his family were baptized and joined the fledgling church in Philippi.
SLIDE 17: CHAINS BROKEN BY THE LOVE OF CHRIST
The jailer also went to the magistrates and informed them that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, and they were in big trouble for having beaten and jailed Roman citizens without a trial. This was not the last time Paul would play the Roman citizen card. Afraid the magistrates let Paul and Silas out of jail on the condition that Paul would get out of town, while Silas remained behind for a time to shepherd the Philippian Church. And so the chains were broken — human trafficking, mental illness, greed and abuse of power. Those in bondage were set free. Let us pray that the love of Christ can free all of us.