Breaking out

This is Rev Sue’s sermon from Wednesday 26 April.

Have you ever noticed a change in someone and wondered what had happened? The person who recently had been quiet and preoccupied suddenly seems much happier and without a care in the world. Perhaps they had been worried about a diagnosis and been given the all-clear or had passed the exam they were really worrying about, or had fallen in love. Once you found out the reason, it all made sense. If you were in church on Sunday you will have heard Carol preaching about the disciples cowering behind locked doors, confused and fearful after their beloved master and friend had been tortured to death in front of them. Who could blame them for keeping a low profile. Yet in today’s reading we have those same disciples, in the same city, irrepressible in their desire to share their faith.

Peter and John had been preaching about the resurrection and were so persuasive that 5000 people had joined the embryonic early church. The religious leaders were jealous of their success and instructed them to stop preaching – Jesus’ name must not be mentioned. The disciples ignored the ban and carried on teaching in the streets, so they were thrown into prison. But during the night an angel came and released them, commanding them to carry on telling the people the message of Jesus’ resurrection. The next morning the temple police were confused and amazed to find them once again teaching in the temple. The prison had not held them, and the threats had not silenced them. The real miracle was not escaping from jail, but the transformation that come about turning a band of frightened and disheartened men into bold and articulate preachers.

Again, in Sunday’s gospel that is printed on the service sheet, you can read that Jesus breathed on his disciples in the room where they were hiding, saying “Receive the Holy Spirit”. The joy of the truth of the resurrection, and the power of the spirit combined to turn their lives upside down. Or, perhaps I should say, the right way up.

The story about the release from prison isn’t just an account of the power of God at work 2000 years ago. It is also a metaphor for the way God changes lives today. One of the great promises of Jesus to us is that the truth will set us free. But what does that mean? Free from what?

The answer, of course, differs from person to person. We all have something that binds us, that imprisons us, that stops us fulfilling our potential as the people God created us to be. We might be crippled by fear or anxiety, afraid to leave our comfort zone or we might lie awake at night dreading the things that might happen in our personal lives or in the external world. We might escape from those worries by addictive or compulsive behaviour. Addictions can be serious and life threatening, like alcohol and drugs, or they can be more subtle like an unhealthy relationship with food, or a compulsion to hoard. Anything that it’s not in our power to stop. We might be deeply unhappy with ourselves, ashamed or guilty, feeling unworthy or unloved. Or any combination of all these or other hindrances to our happiness and well-being.

During Lent we reflect upon ourselves and our weakness, and in Holy Week we can throw ourselves on the mercy of the one who died for us. But now it is Eastertide, and we can claim for ourselves the victory over sin and death that is the resurrection. The battle, of course, continues, but we know that it has been won for us. As the slaves came out of Egypt and into the promised land, we too can be freed from slavery to the habits of thought and the patterns of behaviour that bind us. The truth sets us free, because the truth is the knowledge that God’s power is greater than our fears and our demons.

Inner healing is not usually something that happens overnight, but it can begin at any time. The angel that opens our prison door invites us to believe in both the love and power of God, to save and to heal. It’s up to us to choose to walk through that door. And we do not do that alone, but in the company of those flawed, fallible, wonderful people, every one of us, the children of God.

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