She lived to be a 116 years old! She was still fishing in the Delaware River at the age of 105! She spent her life collecting stories about Philadelphia and its people. Alice became known in her time as an oral historian.
Why didn’t I know her? Because Alice of Dunk’s Ferry was the daughter of slaves from Barbados and would herself be enslaved for all of her life, and for too long her contributions to Christ Church Philadelphia and to the history of the area were dismissed and forgotten because she was a slave. When she was still fishing in the Delaware River at the age of 105, she was fishing for her master. And yet every Sunday, she would ride her horse from the ferry where she collected tolls to her parish, Christ Church in Philadelphia. She did this at least to the age of 95 if not longer!
Christ Church is now remembering this remarkable woman and her contributions to the parish and to the city. She is their oldest known parishioner. It is a wonderful story but it is also a sad tale of life in this country at its beginning, with a people enslaved for profit. That was true for St. Paul in his day.
Consider our readings from the Acts of the Apostles these past few weeks: it was Jesus who confronted Saul on that road to Damascus and the HS becomes his guide for his ministry; setting him free from hatred to love others as Christ loved him and his name became Paul. Last week he & his companions brought the Good News to Macedonia and Lydia accepted it and it changed her life and the life of her family.
In today’s reading, Paul continues his missionary journey in Macedonia and there he meets:
-a slave-girl (she is without name): spirit of divination (fortune telling), profit source!
-she knows Paul and his companions: Slaves of the most high God! (I’ll come back to that) They proclaim a way of salvation! (She is spreading the Good News)
-Paul moved by the Spirit, for her human right to be free, NO, that’s not right! Paul is annoyed at her constant chatter (for days!), so he casts out her spirit…and she is set free…Paul did the right thing but he failed to see her enslavement.
However the owners cannot exploit her anymore, they have lost their profit and they are angry. Paul & Silas are thrown into jail; beaten for their faith and their teaching.
She is free and they have lost their freedom. They never get to that place of prayer that they were headed too.
-so in jail, shackled and away from others they pray and sing songs to God; prisoners were listening of course - it was midnight, how could they sleep? And an earthquake strikes, the doors open, they are free!
-the jailer is ready to do himself in, he would be blamed…but they are still there - What must I do to be saved? The jailer asks. They answered: Believe in the Lord Jesus.
A simple and yet profound statement…Believe in Jesus.
And the Holy Spirit moved that night; Paul & Silas are free; the jailer brings Paul & Silas to his home to take care of their wounds, to give them food and the jailer and his household are baptized and they believe.
In one night a slave-girl is freed from her bondage, a jailer comes to faith and Paul & Silas learn more about this faith that is in them. Salvation belongs to all.
The salve-girl knows that Paul & Silas are disciples – slaves of God!
What are we slaves of? If someone came up to you, as you exited this Church, and said, You are a slave of…
What would the answer be? God? Do you proclaim salvation (hope, love, joy) in your actions?
Have you brought freedom (salvation) to others? Freedom belongs to everyone.
Because the battle for freedom continues today…
According to the organization, Not for Sale, the modern-day slave trade is enslaving more than 30 million individuals today. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “After drug dealing, trafficking of humans is tied with arms dealing as the second-largest criminal industry in the world.” Why? It is a $32 billion-dollar-a-year industry.
Like slavery of old, there is profit to be made on human beings.
“Vulnerable people and communities are targeted by recruiters, and traffickers and through deception, fraud and coercion are brought into slavery.” Not For Sale website says. “While sex trafficking is often at the forefront of our awareness, slave labor and debt bondage are more common in our world today.”
At this year’s super bowl, there was a lot of talk about the human trafficking that happens around our biggest sporting event and the attempts to curb it. But it doesn’t just happen overseas and then brought here. Just this past week, three missing teenagers were found a decade later, enslaved (kept in chains & rope) in a house in Ohio, they now have their freedom.
William Wilberforce the great English abolitionist once said, “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”
We have our work cut out for us...
To work for the freedom of the Alices of our world. To hear their stories and honor who they are.
To look at ourselves and consider what enslaves us, and ask God to free us, so that we can work like Paul & Silas for the good of others (and have the faith of Alice & the slave-girl)…
Again in the words of William Wilberforce, “Let everyone regulate his conduct by the golden rule of doing to others as in similar circumstances we would have them do to us, and the path of duty will be clear before him.”
May we do unto others as we would have them do unto us, being servants of God to bring freedom to our world. Amen.