St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Overturning Intolerable Systems”
Collect: O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, ‘These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.’ She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And it came out that very hour.
But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market-place before the authorities. When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, ‘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.’ The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
When evening came, the boat was out on the lake, and he was alone on the land. When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the lake. He intended to pass them by. But when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’ Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the market-places, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.
I want to hold up two pictures from today’s readings. They both have something in common, which one might not notice at first glance, but could not be more important or more needed, then and now.
I want to talk today about Intolerable Systems, things set up to uphold the subjugation of individuals or groups. Unjust or Intolerable Systems are still here, and as long as humans run things, I am not sure they will ever go fully away. Just said the poor will always be with us as Jesus said, and that is a perfect example of an unjust system. Then and now.
When we see Paul and Silas in our Acts reading, they are preaching and an annoying enslaved girl who had a demon who told fortunes was hounding them. Out of spite, it seems, he casts out her demon. A good thing. Right?
But then Paul and Silas are drug to court, accused of disrupting the status quo, and beaten and shackled in jail. Now, they overturned a corrupt, unjust, and intolerable system. They kept a girl from spiritual and corporal enslavement. When they confronted the system, they took everything they had to crush those that worked against the “way things ought to be.”
When we confront unjust systems, the response will often be the same. “The church has no business in this subject.” Or, “You ought to stay in your lane.” The problem is that our culture has become SO POLITICAL that it confuses the Church being the Church (a.k.a. the force for justice, liberation, and peace in the world) for politics. (This came out a few hours after I wrote this, but is a perfect example of what I am talking about: link.)
When Jesus upset an unjust situation, much like the one Paul and Silas upset, he had a similar response. In Mark 5, we recently read about the Gerasene Demoniac. If you remember when he cast out Legion, the army of Demons, the man was excited by the people there asked Jesus to move on. But notice the response when he came back.
When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick…
Without the fear and kickback of the initial response, we now see that the system that first asked him to leave is now actively and positively responding. They are flocking to him, and encouraging him to do what at first was so scary to them and the status quo.
We are now sitting on the other side of history on so many things we see as unjust. Slavery. The subjugation of women. The 40 hour work week. Public Education. What was once crazy and subversive is now the norm and expected. And in most of these areas, religious leaders were at the forefront making things “on earth as it is in heaven.” And we have so far to go. When we attack the systems that persecute, take advantage of, or enslave others we will have a heavy price to pay. We are afflicting the comfortable, and hopefully, comforting the afflicted. But once we stay the course and overcome the powers that be, we will be welcome and celebrated and our ministry will abound. Amen