For a period of five years when I lived in Georgia, I did weekly jail visitations. It began when a teenage member of my congregation shot and killed his friend during a game of “Russian Roulette” with a new gun he had just purchased off the street. His mother implored me to visit him, and thus began five years of weekly visits that also brought other inmates into my life. The guards knew I would come every Monday, and they often greeted me with a list of inmates who had requested a clergy visit. Some weeks I sat in the window-encased attorney/clergy room for five to six hours, listening, praying and serving where the Lord had called me. It was challenging, awful, inspiring and exhausting.
I suppose that is why I love the prison stories in the scriptures. One of the most dramatic stories is found in the book of Acts. Paul and Silas found themselves thrown in prison in Rome because they deprived slave owners of their potential income. You see, these men owned a slave who was a psychic, and made money for them by telling fortunes. When Paul cast the demon from her, they lost their income, so they had Paul and Silas beaten and arrested for disturbing the peace.
What happens next is a Netflix-worthy sequence of events. They spent the night singing hymns and praying, and then God caused an earthquake to open up all the jail doors. The poor jailer woke up, and thinking they had all escaped, almost took his own life. But Paul prevents this, and the jailer took them to his home to tell his family about the Lord.
Acts 16:31-33 “Then Paul and Silas told him and everyone else in his house about the Lord. While it was still night, the jailer took them to a place where he could wash their cuts and bruises. Then he and everyone in his home were baptized. They were very glad that they had put their faith in God. After this, the jailer took Paul and Silas to his home and gave them something to eat.”
It strikes me that perhaps the jailer had been the most imprisoned of them all. His lack of faith was a prison. His fear of reprisal by his superiors (to the extent that he would kill himself rather than be killed) was a jail. The entire oppressive Roman system was a jail. But Christ set him free.
How about you this morning? Are you free? We have a tendency to lock ourselves in prisons of our own making, especially if you are a Grudge Holder. Grudge Holders can live in a bleak cell of self-grudge-righteousness that is a very dark stronghold. It manifests itself in the constant replaying of the injury or betrayal that led to the grudge’s formation. The tape plays over and over in the Grudge Holder’s mind in a continuous loop, at the expense of joy and peace. And worse yet, the person who caused the harm has most likely moved on and hasn’t given you a second thought.
A former Nazi prison camp survivor named Corrie Ten Boom once said,
“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.“
God can open any prison door…….if we just let him. He longs to set you free from yourself. The message today is to be like Paul and Silas, and sing and pray yourself out of your jail. Our communion liturgy reminds us of this truth:
Holy are you, and blessed is your Son Jesus Christ.
Your Spirit anointed him
to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
and to announce that the time had come
when you would save your people.
The time has come. Set us free, King Jesus.
Photo by Michelle Robertson.