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Liberating Resurrection -- Acts 16:16-34 (7th Sunday in Easter)

Updated: May 31, 2022

On June 9, 1963, civil rights matriarch Fannie Lou Hamer and others were travelling back home from a voting-rights training.[1] They’d been to South Carolina to learn how to help others confront and get past the voter suppression efforts that had been set up to keep Black Americans from voting. On their return trip, after riding through the night, at about 10:30am on a Sunday morning, their bus stopped in Winona, Mississippi for a rest stop. Fanny Lou Hamer and others were arrested – for no apparent reason, other than being Black – taken to jail – and badly beaten. After the beatings subsided that night, a haunting silence settled on the jail. But the next day, something happened. June Johnson, who was in jail with Hamer, said that Fanny Lou Hamer started to sing – they all started to sing:

Paul and Silas was bound in jail, let my people go.

Had no money for to go to their bail, let my people go.

Paul and Silas began to shout, let my people go.

Jail doors opened and they walked out, let my people go.

At some point, the jailer’s wife came by and gave Hamer a drink of water – it was what I might call “the least she could do.” Fanny Lou Hamer said to the jailer’s wife, no doubt with some irony, “You must be a Christian.” And in their conversation, Fanny Lou Hamer gave the jailer’s wife two scriptures and asked her to go home and read them. The first, Proverbs 26:26: “The hate you do in secret will become known in the whole congregation.” And Acts 17:26 – a Scripture Fanny Lou Hamer quoted often: “From one ancestor – from one blood – God made all the peoples that they should inhabit the whole earth... For in God we live and move and have our being. For we are also God’s offspring.” The jailer’s wife wrote the scriptures down, but we don’t know what happened to her after that; she never returned to speak to Hamer. We can be fairly sure that Fanny Lou Hamer went back to singing.

This morning’s Scripture is the story of an enslaved woman, of Paul and Silas bound in jail, and of their jailer. It is a story of enslavement, silencing, violence, incarceration, and complicity. Last week, we left Paul and Silas by the river with Lydia, in the quiet of their prayer. This week, Paul and Silas have ventured back into the city, into the complexity of the world – into what we have come to call the intersectionality of the world.

Intersectionality is a concept named years ago by scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw.[2] Intersectionality conveys the sense that there are always multiple forces of oppression and work in the world. Each one of us lives, with our own particularity, whether harmed or privilege, at the intersections of those powers – where racism, and misogyny, economic injustice, and every other type of violence converge. To understand how power works – and how people and systems might get free – we have to name how the intersecting powers work together to hold people down – and how they must all be dismantled if any of us are to get free. As we move into this story, let’s look particularly for the intersections of how power-over is at work, in multiple, complex, interrelated ways.

This is the story of Paul & Silas bound in jail, but before it is Paul’s story it is the enslaved woman’s. Paul and Silas settle in to Philippi, and as they go about their work – bringing the Good News of Christ – they encounter an enslaved woman, whose enslavers make money off visions that she has. Thinking intersectionally: This woman has the least amount of systemic power in the story – she is a woman in a patriarchal world; she is enslaved; and she may be struggling with mental illness. Every time she sees Paul and Silas, she shouts out: “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who are telling you how to be saved.” And Paul gets annoyed. Very annoyed. And finally he snaps. He turns to her and says to the spirit giving her visions: “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” And she falls silent.