On Thursday at the ECW luncheon, we heard about God’s surprise agents. The women of the bible who far too often have been “trapped in dry and dusty literary caskets for centuries. While a few women, such as Mary, Sarah, Elizabeth, and Mary Magdalene, are familiar, many of the women who speak in the Bible have long been ignored. Yet their words are part of God's Word, the Bible, for a reason. Through these women, God spoke, intervened, changed, illustrated, and proclaimed the story of redemption.”
These words are from the work of the Episcopal priest Lindsay Hardin Freeman who reminds us that we need to pay attention to the scripture stories and listen to the voices of girls and women whose presence and voices often change everything.
Consider our readings from the Acts of the Apostles: Last week Paul & his companions brought the Good News to Macedonia and Lydia accepted it and it changed her life and the life of her family and her family offered hospitality to Paul & his companions.
In today’s reading, Paul & Silas continue the missionary journey in Macedonia and there they meet:
-a slave-girl (she is without name): spirit of divination (fortune telling), profit source for her owner!
-she knows Paul and his companions: They are slaves of the most high God! (and she should know!) & they proclaim a way of salvation! (She is spreading the Good News)
-Paul moved by the Spirit, for her human right to be free, well, NO, that’s not right! Paul is annoyed at her constant proclamations (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 come to 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! & she was right – they proclaim salvation in the name of Jesus that sets one free!
As the Rev. Freeman puts it, “This girl has gone mostly unnoticed in the 2000 years since she rather briefly appeared in scripture. Yet she symbolizes the heart of the Gospel: that those without power or status or even name are particularly beloved by God, and have a great role to play in the world’s redemption.”
The same theme of slavery, profit to be made on human beings, was part of our story in America too. And yet, there were those who in the midst of such a sinful practice who by their life, were God’s surprise agents and played a role in America’s redemption & helping set people free.
I think about the abolitionist who will be on the front of the new $20 bill.
Harriet Ross Tubman was born in 1820 in Maryland. “She was deeply impressed by the Bible narrative of God's deliverance of the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, and it became the basis of her belief that it was God's will to deliver slaves in America out of their bondage, and that it was her duty to help accomplish this. In 1844, she escaped to Canada, but returned to help others escape. Working with other Abolitionists, chiefly white Quakers, she made at least nineteen excursions into Maryland in the 1850's, leading more than 300 slaves to freedom. During the War of 1861-5, she joined the Northern Army as a cook and a nurse and a spy, and on one occasion led a raid that freed over 750 slaves. After the war, she worked to shelter orphans and elderly poor persons, and to advance the status of women and blacks. She became known as "the Moses of her People.” (James Keifer)
She died in 1913. This is one of her quotes: “But to this solemn resolution I came; I was free, and they should be free also; I would make a home for them in the North, and the Lord helping me, I would bring them all there. Oh, how I prayed then, lying all alone on de cold, damp ground; 'Oh, dear Lord,' I said, 'I ain't got no friend but you. Come to my help, Lord, for I'm in trouble!'”
Such a faithful witness and abolitionist. We remember her on July 20 on our calendar of saints.
God’s surprise agents; “those without power or status or even name are particularly beloved by God, and have a great role to play in the world’s redemption.”
On this 7th Sunday of Easter, as we remember & celebrate the Ascension of Jesus, Jesus departure from the disciples after the Resurrection, his ministry is entrusted to them, their God given calling.
And they would go out and proclaim just as the slave girl helped Paul & Silas do that; as Harriet Tubman helped those enslaved and so many others.
On this day, Jesus calls us to continue his work — work that has been vindicated and perfected in the Father’s raising him from the dead. We who have seen and heard the story of Jesus are now called to bring that hope into the lives of others and into the life we share as families, as the Church, as the human community.
We have a role to play in the world’s redemption! For in every kindness we offer, in every word of encouragement and comfort, in every moment we spend listening and supporting and helping set people free, we proclaim the salvation of the Risen Jesus.
Our calling is clear, for every good work that we do — however small or hidden — is a sign of Christ in our midst and another step towards that glorious liberation of us all. Amen.