Today we celebrate two very important events. In the world of faith, we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus to Heaven – after Easter and before Pentecost. In the secular world we celebrate Mothers’ Day.
But, on a day such as this, with its dual celebrations there is a link that spans both the ethereal and the earthly and it is encapsulated in the words ‘counsellor’ and ‘comforter’.
When Jesus ascended to Heaven, he said he must go in order for the Holy Spirit to come and do her work. In John’s gospel, the Holy Spirit is often referred to as the Counsellor and how many biological and non-biological mothers have been both counsellors and comforters.
If advice is taken up or the love accepted from the counsellor/comforter we can see transformations occur in the receiver’s life – in our lives. Through that interaction we can often be set free from whatever binds us.
In today’s lectionary reading from Acts, we again meet up with Paul and Silas who have travelled from Turkey across to Greece.
In this passage about a slave girl and a gaoler ,and their interaction with the two apostles and the counsellor, we see liberation or freedom achieved in three different forms.
Firstly, the slave girl is freed from the bondage of an evil spirit. After following Paul and Silas for some days – the girl correctly announced the Christ they represented. Paul, perhaps tired of her calling out rather than because she asked for help, frees her from spiritual bondage.
The consequence, of course, is that because of the outrage it caused with her owner and the local authorities, Paul and Silas are flogged and then placed in a cell – in physical bondage. That physical bondage is relieved in two ways:
One is supernatural – the earthquake but
The second one was in a very human way – as the gaoler and his family care for the apostles’ wounds and feed their bodies.
Finally, there is freedom or liberation that comes with accepting a new faith.
We see it first in the faith of Paul and Silas – despite fairly desperate circumstances where they are beaten, thrown into stocks, inside the deepest cell inside a gaol, with a potential trial and further punishment – physically bound one might say- they are free in their faith and the strength that the Spirit gives them. They can still worship God in song and prayer and while doing so, evangelise to the other prisoners.
We then see the freedom that comes with a new faith when the gaoler released them.
[Yes – took them to his house, cleaned their wounds, listened to their message, provided hospitality and ultimately committed himself and his household – as did Lydia in last week’s reading – in the public but dangerous act of baptism].
- Dangerous because Christians were already being persecuted and because he had aligned himself and his family with Paul, who at this moment, is labelled a heretic and a trouble maker.
- Public because in this initiation of baptism, believers were to proclaim their faith, not hide it underneath a bushel.
Jesus and the Holy Spirit offers liberation for all – for the slave girl, for the gaoler and his family, for Paul and Silas and the other prisoners, for the authorities, slave owners and magistrates who poured venom on Paul and Silas, and even liberation for you and me.
That transforming freedom occurs when we hear the word proclaimed:
- It happens when we worship
- Now and then it happens in the laying on of hands and in healing miracles
- It happens when we offer love, support and hospitality in the name of Jesus Christ.
However, as Paul and Silas and so many others, then and today, find out – liberation always has a cost:
- It may come with the derision from others [as Paul often found].
- It may come with personal danger [as Paul often experienced.
- But it may also come with a turned-around life or two [as Paul encountered in today’s reading].
Did ‘freedom’ mean that the slave girl turned to God?
Unlike Lydia’s story or the gaoler’s story – we may never know what the slave girl did, this side of heaven.
Sometimes the light does not turn on for people that it is God who often ‘breaks our bondage and melts our heart’.
I was talking to a wonderful Christian medical doctor – Dr. Ed. Kwan – many years ago. Ed had a healing gift par excellence. One day a lady came to him who had experienced back pain since she was a teenager. She had a rod inserted in her spine to stop further damage but it meant she could not bend her back. She came to Ed on someone’s recommendation – not because she was a believer in the power of Christ’s spirit. Ed prayed with her and got her to bend over and touch her toes.
He told me that years after her healing, she was still not a believer. As she left his office that day, she simply said to Ed, ‘I’ll see you next time I have a problem’. She was liberated from pain, but she continued to be bound in unbelief.
We are all held hostage, or captive, or bound to things that don’t help our cause or things that limit God’s kingdom on earth.
What is it from which you need freedom?
To what are you in bondage?
Do you seek freedom in Christ?
- Read the word
- Pray more
- Attend and participate in worship more often
- Allow your spirit to receive more of Christ’s spirit as we gather the elders around you.
Start today with prayer – in this next moment of silence – then seek out those who can offer love, support and hospitality.
Time of silence