Isiah Thomas, Leonard Cohen, & Learning to Sing in the Dark: A Sermon on Acts 16

Today’s reading is from Acts 16:16-34.

16 One day, when we were on the way to the place for prayer, we met a slave woman. She had a spirit that enabled her to predict the future. She made a lot of money for her owners through fortune-telling. 17 She began following Paul and us, shouting, “These people are servants of the Most High God! They are proclaiming a way of salvation to you!” 18 She did this for many days.

This annoyed Paul so much that he finally turned and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to leave her!” It left her at that very moment.

19 Her owners realized that their hope for making money was gone. They grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them before the officials in the city center.20 When her owners approached the legal authorities, they said, “These people are causing an uproar in our city. They are Jews 21 who promote customs that we Romans can’t accept or practice.” 22 The crowd joined in the attacks against Paul and Silas, so the authorities ordered that they be stripped of their clothes and beaten with a rod. 23 When Paul and Silas had been severely beaten, the authorities threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to secure them with great care. 24 When he received these instructions, he threw them into the innermost cell and secured their feet in stocks.

25 Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 All at once there was such a violent earthquake that it shook the prison’s foundations. The doors flew open and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 When the jailer awoke and saw the open doors of the prison, he thought the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword and was about to kill himself. 28 But Paul shouted loudly, “Don’t harm yourself! We’re all here!”

29 The jailer called for some lights, rushed in, and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He led them outside and asked, “Honorable masters, what must I do to be rescued?”

31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your entire household.” 32 They spoke the Lord’s word to him and everyone else in his house. 33 Right then, in the middle of the night, the jailer welcomed them and washed their wounds. He and everyone in his household were immediately baptized. 34 He brought them into his home and gave them a meal. He was overjoyed because he and everyone in his household had come to believe in God.

Grace to you + peace from God our creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ, Amen.

I was reading an interview recently with Hall-of-Fame basketball player Isiah Thomas. He grew up learning how to play basketball on the playgrounds of his Chicago neighborhood. He would go anywhere with a basketball hoop to practice his jump shot. He would stay out there all day and even into the night. There were no lights on the playground, but even after dark he would stay out and practice his shot. He knew he’d made it if he heard the chain link net *clink* as the ball went through.

Here’s what he knew… If you can make a jump shot in the dark, you can most likely make it in the light as well.

Paul and Silas on their way to pray when they meet a slave-girl who is possessed by a demon. The demon makes her owners a lot of money and so they continue to reinforce this spirit inside of her — as slave owners are want to do. Anything to make a few extra bucks, right?

So Paul and Silas meet her and she starts following them for days shouting that these are men of God. Finally, it says Paul gets so annoyed that he turns around and heals her on the spot. And the demon leaves her body.

But now the slaveowners economic opportunity is gone. Remember, the slave girl isn’t a person. She holds no value to her owner as a person. She is merely an economic opportunity. But now that is gone. So they do the only sensible thing.

The throw Paul and Silas in jail. But not just any jail.
They chain their feet to the floor of the innermost cell of this prison.
They’re in the pit.

Then later on that night, around midnight, they are still praying at singing hymns to God. They are praying and singing so loud that every prisoner could hear them.

All of a sudden, the earth starts to shake. But this wasn’t just a small tremor of an earthquake. It was so violent that the very foundations of the prison were shaken. The doors flung wide. The shackles around their feet broke open.

They were free.

Now this tells us a little something about God. Even in the darkest night, even in the innermost cell, even when your feet are chained to the floor the spirit of God will shake the very foundations of your captivity and move you into freedom.

God will take even the sturdiest of shackles made of the strongest iron and bolted to the firmest of concrete foundations and God will crack those very foundations until you are released.

So, my brothers and sisters, whatever is shackling you today — whether it’s addiction, perfectionism, anxiety, whether it’s racism, sexism, and or any other ism that divides and separates, whether it’s longing for the past or fretting about the future — when we pray and sing to God, God has a way of cracking the foundations of what holds us captive and leads us into freedom.

One of my favorite Leonard Cohen lyrics is from his song “Anthem.” He writes:

“Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There’s a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.”

Cohen LyricMy brothers and sisters, when we sing songs that compel us to “let this house proclaim from floor to rafter” that all are welcome, our hold on this community cracks open to let the light of God shine just a little bit brighter. In just a couple minutes we’ll sing praise to “the One who breaks the darkness with a liberating light.”

When we sing these songs we can feel those shackles start to crack. We can feel the solid ground in which those chains are held start to give just a little more.

There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.

So next time you are chained the floor in the innermost cell at midnight and you don’t know what to do, remember that we worship a God who brings life out of death and light out of darkness.

We’re not in the perfection business. We’re in the business of showing up — showing up in all of those times when we don’t have it figured out, when things are messy and we don’t know what to do so we throw up our hands and say, “Well, I have absolutely nothing figured out, but I’m here.”

And slowly the presence of God begins to chip away at our need to feel like we have it all together.

There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.

Brothers and sisters, may you be blessed this Easter season to see the light shining through the cracks of your captivity to lead you into freedom. And may we then remember to go — GO — therefore into this world to shine the light of the risen Christ to others when they are shackled to the floor, in the innermost cell at midnight.

May we do so with glad and joyous hearts, singing “Thanks and praise to God.”

Amen.

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