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Freedom: Freedom

By William H. Willimon
You see, there is freedom, and then there is freedom. And our problem, in this matter of freedom, is that we may not even know what true freedom is.

The Book of Acts tells wonderful stories. Luke, master-artist, tells a story, then lets you make up your own mind. Today's lesson from Acts tells some stories about people who were in bondage and people who were free. Listen and tell me who in this story is free.

Paul and Silas were going to church one day and were accosted by a slave girl. Because this girl could tell peoples' fortunes, her owners made lots of money hiring her out to read palms, provide entertainment at business conventions. She was possessed by a demon (mentally unbalanced, we would say). She took to following Paul and Silas around, shouting at them, saying things about them.

Here is a picture of enslavement. If you have suffered through the torment of mental illness, if someone whom you love is in the grip of schizophrenia or terrible depression, you could tell us about bondage. It is as if something has you, something you can't shake, some dark, uncontrollable force which you are powerless to hold back.

Paul has enough of the young woman's raving and, in the name of Christ, cures her. Thank God, she is free!

But no, she is not free, because she is a slave, someone who is not a person but a piece of property, owned by someone else. And some of you, back in your own roots and family tree, had great-grandparents who were bought and sold. A slave -- can there be a more vivid image of human bondage?

Luke says, "When her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the rulers." Let's hear it for the business community!

One day Jesus healed a mentally-deranged man by casting his demons into some swine (Luke 8:37). For this act of charity, Jesus was promptly escorted out of town by the local Pork Dealers Association.

Later, at a place called Ephesus, Paul had a big revival and many were converted and it was all wonderful -- except for the members of Local 184 of the International Brotherhood of Artisans of Silver Shrines to Artemis. They didn't like it at all.

A student of mine at the Divinity School led a crusade of his church to clean up his community. Good! Clean up the town, throw out the dirty books and the beer joints, make it a better place for children and families. No, bad. How was he to know that one of his prominent church members owned the convenience store on the corner across from the high school?

My friend, John Killinger was pastor of Lynchburg's First Presbyterian. In a sermon, John criticized Jerry Falwell. None of his church members attended Falwell's church and none of them agreed with his theology but, to John's chagrin, he learned on Monday morning how many of his church members had loaned Liberty Baptist money or had large accounts with Falwell's enterprises.

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