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Freedom: Freedom

By William H. Willimon
"Oh, the women kept meeting. The government is not yet strong enough to do much about it."

"But what will you do when the government becomes stronger?"

"Well," he said, "we shall keep meeting. The government does what it needs to do. The church does what it needs to do. If we go to jail for being the church, we shall go to jail. Jail is a wonderful place for Christian evangelism.

"Our church made some of its most dramatic gains during the revolution when so many of us were in jail. In jail, you have everyone there, in one place. You have time to preach and teach. Sure, twenty of our Methodist pastors were killed during the revolution, but we came out of jail a much larger and stronger church."

And, as if seeing the drift of our questions, Bishop Carvalho said, "Don't worry about the church in Angola, God is doing fine by us. Frankly, I would find it much more difficult to be a pastor in Evanston, Illinois. Here, there is so much, so many things, it must be hard to be the church here."

The earth heaves, the prison shakes, the doors fly open and everyone's chains fall off. The jailer wakes and when he sees that the doors are open, is horrified. Knowing what happens to jailers who permit their prisoners to escape, he draws his sword and prepares to do the honorable thing for disgraced jailers.

Just having the key to someone else's cell doesn't make you free. Iron bars do not a prison make.

Paul shouts, "Don't do it. We're all here, just singing."

The jailer says, "But you were bound in chains, now you were free to escape."

Paul says, "No we prisoners are free to stay and you, our jailer, are chained to your sword but now you can be free to escape."

And the jailer asks, "What do I have to do to be saved? Prisoners, what do I have to do to be free?" And he was baptized.

What is freedom? By the end of Luke's story, everyone who at first appeared to be free -- the owners, the judges, the jailer -- are shown to be slaves. And everyone who first appeared to be enslaved -- the poor girl, Paul and Silas -- are free.

Jesus does things like that to people.

Who pulls your strings?

Speaking at a conference on women in the church, someone rose and said, "The federal government has done more for the cause of women in this country than the church ever thought about. At last, because of government help, women are enabled to be on an equal level with men in the workplace."

And I had just heard, on the radio, that for the first time in history, the rate of lung cancer among women is as high as it is among men. The rate of hypertension, heart disease, and other stress-related diseases is climbing among women and some feel that, in not too many years, the lifespan of the average American woman shall have shrunk to that of the average American man.

You've come a long way, to get where you got to today?

There is freedom and then there is freedom. Earlier, Jesus had said, "If you continue in my word, you are my disciples and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (John 8:31).

They stiffened their necks, held their heads high and answered, "What is this 'will-make-you-free' business? We are descendants of Abraham, and have never been in bondage to any one. How is it that you say, 'You will be made free'?"

They lied. The ones who spoke so pridefully of their freedom spoke with the heel of Caesar upon their necks, slaves of Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, and now Rome, anybody big enough to raise an army and blow through town. In truth, they were not free. Their boasts of freedom were but the rattling of their chains.

And Jesus said, "If the Son makes you free, you will be free" (John 8:36).

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