I love our brother in Christ, the Underground Pewster, and can’t for the life of me understand why he’s intruded the brutal Lenten discipline of engaging Presiding Bishop speeches into his Easter feasting.

His latest post lit me up.  I think that last Sunday’s lesson (RCL) from Acts is one of the Bible’s best for preaching the liberating power of Christ.  It is a passage that even progressives should find inspiring on several levels.

+ Luke expresses the dehumanization of the woman prior to her exorcism.  She’s been reduced, by demonic oppression and human exploitation, to labels and functions.  She’s just “slave girl” and “her owners’ hope of making money.”  The name of Jesus releases her from all that.

+ The slavers retaliate on the apostles by appealing to public intolerance.  “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.”

+ There’s violation of human rights and dignity as the apostles are publicly stripped, beaten and jailed.

+ When God intervenes to rescue Paul and Silas, the jailer is ready to kill himself, since he would be executed for losing his prisoners.  But Paul and Silas stay in his custody, preach Christ to his household, and choose brotherhood over enmity by baptizing his family.  The jailer is set free from both temporal and eternal death sentences, by apostles willing to set aside their own temporal freedom to help him.

Obviously, the unifying message is that the apostles are sharing the life and work of Jesus, down to the most humiliating details of his passion and up to the glory of his power.

But whether one chooses to preach the apostolic gospel or go with the more limited application of the good we are to do in Jesus’ name, it is a rich text from which to work.

Unless you are the Presiding Bishop, who sees the complete opposite.  Instead of liberation, there is confinement.  Instead of Christ’s glory, there’s just squalor.

“But Paul is annoyed, perhaps for being put in his place, and he responds by depriving her of her gift of spiritual awareness.  Paul can’t abide something he won’t see as beautiful or holy, so he tries to destroy it.  It gets him thrown in prison.  That’s pretty much where he’s put himself by his own refusal to recognize that she, too, shares in God’s nature, just as much as he does – maybe more so!  The amazing thing is that during that long night in jail he remembers that he might find God there – so he and his cellmates spend the night praying and singing hymns.

“An earthquake opens the doors and sets them free, and now Paul and his friends most definitely discern the presence of God.  The jailer doesn’t – he thinks his end is at hand.  This time, Paul remembers who he is and that all his neighbors are reflections of God, and he reaches out to his frightened captor.  This time Paul acts with compassion rather than annoyance, and as a result the company of Jesus’ friends expands to include a whole new household.  It makes me wonder what would have happened to that slave girl if Paul had seen the spirit of God in her.”

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