Toorak Uniting Church

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Unexpected Freedom

Acts 16: 16 – 34
Rev. Ian Brown
23 May 2004

I’d like to share a vivid memory with you about freedom and this very text from the Acts of the Apostles.

It was 1981, I was involved in helping to lead a youth mission – running a coffee shop in an old guide hall, it was summer holiday season in Echuca and the program was full of loud music and talking, full of hanging out together and getting to know locals and holiday makers. I don’t remember what spurred this idea on in the first place, but somehow the team had decided it would be good to try reading the Bible in the coffee shop as a part of the entertainment one hot summer’s night.

I ended up with the job and I remember choosing this story of Paul and the Philippian jailer. I stood there, Bible in hand, feeling a little awkward and proceeded to read the story – as you would know, I have a liking for stories, but then, who doesn’t really? I read to 60 or so young people who stopped to listen and not far into the story I remember being astonished by the hush and the attention that was focused on hearing this ancient story.

I came to the end, the jailer and his family all happy, all new followers of Jesus and as I closed the book applause broke out all over that hot guide hall full of teenagers.

A slave girl found freedom where she was not looking for it,
Paul and Silas found freedom from their imprisonment.
The jailer and his family found new freedom in the face of sure death.

This old text found a new freedom to be proclaimed, as somehow an ancient tale of the gospel being lived in a provocative, radical, trusting and open way.
Seemed to find a new audience, a new home and a new impact for itself.
All the story seemed to need was the freedom of some space and a to be taken seriously.

It leads me to wonder, "what space, what freedom do we allow these gospel stories of new life and new beginnings to take root in our lives?"

I wonder, as you heard the story of Paul and Silas, the slave girl and the jailer, were there points of connection there for you?
Did the story make you think some experience you’ve had?
Somewhere you have felt bound and then released?
Somewhere you have seen faith turn a whole circumstance on it’s head?
Somewhere you experienced unexpected freedom?

Is there a character you feel a connection with in this story?
Like Paul who gets so annoyed with a groupie girl who always follows him.
Like Paul and Silas who are accused out of malice and beaten for no good reason?
Does the experience of the slave girl who is used for her owners profit speak to you of something happening in our world today?
How about the jailer, faithfully doing his unattractive duty and finding his life at terrible risk, through circumstances totally beyond his control?
Or the jailers family perhaps, who find themselves caught up in a story of release and new beginnings?

All these, all of us in fact, are caught up by the surprising power of resurrection life. The unexpected freedom of the gospel breaks the power of the demon over the slave girl, breaks the chains of the prison, releases Paul and Silas, releases the jailer and his family and there are many situations we could point to in our world today – but it would be unfair to say that this freedom is always going to bring release or relief in our time.

These events in the bible and in our lives are signs of resurrection life, new life begun in our times, but they aren’t the fulfilment of all our hopes or the consummation of God’s new kingdom. These are more a fore taste, a sign of and revealing glimpse of a new reality.

Freedom in present might be for us a freedom despite chains and prison bars, freedom to work for an end to all oppression, freedom to see the world as it should be and then to do something about making it more real.
Like letting an old story speak to a new generation,
Like letting an old house take on a new use – both JMC and Kinross House!
Like looking for more just and humane treatment for refugees, like offering a helping hand to frail or lonely people around us – in so many ways we can all bring about new glimpses of the surprising and freeing power of resurrection life. In us and through us, to God’s glory. Amen.

© Rev. Ian Brown, 2004

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