Provoking Promise: A Sermon on Acts 16:16-35
Title: Young Black Lives Matter: Provoking Promise preached at Mount Level Missionary Baptist Church's Annual Youth Revial in 2015
One day, on our way to the place of prayer, a slave girl ran into us. She was a psychic and, with her fortunetelling, made a lot of money for the people who owned her. She started following Paul around, calling everyone’s attention to us by yelling out, “These men are working for the Most High God. They’re laying out the road of salvation for you!” She did this for a number of days until Paul, finally fed up with her, turned and commanded the spirit that possessed her, “Out! In the name of Jesus Christ, get out of her!” And it was gone, just like that.
When we see the first part of this story, there are some things that give us pause. We are introduced to a slave girl, unnamed, who is apparently possessed by a demon. Seeing that her oppression could be marketed, her masters begin to enterprise on her position, giving fortunes. We don’t know the circumstances of her possession or even how long she maintained in this state. All we know is that this young slave girl has been subjected to bondage, both spiritually and economically. Her pathway towards deliverance was blocked, denied because the Empire benefited more from her brokenness than her wholeness. This was her reality until she ran across Paul. Now Paul had entered the town of Philippi, coming in hot from a victory with the Council of the Apostles and his recent conversion of Lydia, a prominent businesswoman in town. Paul was getting ready to advance his ministry within the region of Macedonia but he heard this girl, trailing behind him and his crew, crying out, “These men are working for the Most High God. They’re laying out the road of salvation for you!” I can imagine that Paul and his companions’ first thought that this was great advertising. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, was coming to share the message of God to the people of Philippians. I can imagine that at first, Paul smiled and nodded at the slave girl, eventually waving her off. However when her cries did not subside, Paul’s modesty and patience wears thin. I imagine that as the girl followed him down the square, people whispered, “Is the girl with the demon announcing the coming of Zeus or Yahweh?” “Isn’t that so and so’s slave girl who tells fortunes? Why would these holy men be mixed up with the likes of her?” For days, this woman followed behind Paul and his crew declaring their ministry. For days, Paul couldn’t be bothered. After days of agitation, Paul, irritated and over this girl finally gives the girl the freedom she so desperately needs. How could Paul not hear behind the girl’s cries? Why did it take Paul getting irritated before she could be set free? Why is it so hard for a slave girl to get free?
Before we jump down Paul’s back (which is so easy to do), we must reckon with the fact that we are complicit in ignoring the same cries of young black girls. We are here in revival, declaring that black lives matters. Rev. Brickhouse told the youth that we belong here, but how many times do these messages get coded for little black boys. No slight to the young boys in the building tonight but since it is ladies night, I thought I would talk about what it means for ALL young black lives to matter. In our present society, we talk about the preschool to prison pipeline for our African American boys. We talk about the New Jim Crow and the cries of Black Lives Matter often deal with the male-centered hashtags that have drenched our timelines. But this slave girl points to the reality of little black and brown girls in today’s American Empire. If we are not deemed worthy of respect like Lydia was, our cries for help are merely agitation rather than hearing them for what they really are, reminders that we are entitled to the good news.
So, here we are, we have a girl who has provoked her deliverance and freedom from demonic oppression and economic exploitation and her owners are officially angry. I mean if they can’t profit off her brokenness, what good is the girl anyway? The American Empire has benefited off of our young girls. They have taught us to be ashamed of our bodies and our attitudes. They capitalized on our fractured identity and then attempt to market to us, cartoon versions of ourselves. At no point is the Empire interested in young black girls getting free. Furthermore, how many times have we ignored the cries of our girls in the pews? We ignore the cries for freedom from our young girls on our ways to the pews because they seemed to be possessed. How often have we looked passed the needs of our young girls merely threw at them salvation as a way to get the girl off the back without actually working on the system that created the problem.
Now what I am talking about is no easy task. Even Paul and Silas suffered because they dare to embody the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The scripture says,
“When her owners saw that their lucrative little business was suddenly bankrupt, they went after Paul and Silas, roughed them up and dragged them into the market square. Then the police arrested them and pulled them into a court with the accusation, “These men are disturbing the peace—dangerous Jewish agitators subverting our Roman law and order.” By this time the crowd had turned into a restless mob out for blood. The judges went along with the mob, had Paul and Silas’s clothes ripped off and ordered a public beating. After beating them black-and-blue, they threw them into jail, telling the jail keeper to put them under heavy guard so there would be no chance of escape. He did just that—threw them into the maximum-security cell in the jail and clamped leg irons on them.
Being invested in the wellbeing of black girls is risky business. The burden of being both black and female constantly puts us in the clutches of oppression and those who stand alongside us can bear the weight of such consequences. But we serve a God who took on all our oppression, sin, and shame. If we take the Gospel message of being Good News to the poor, no matter what the consequences, we got to remember our young women when we are fighting the fight against Empire because they are not forgetting about us. Young women and girls are out here marching in the streets of Ferguson and Baltimore, doing the work of liberation for Black folks everywhere.
And it is evident now more than ever, young black queens are disrupting the status quo, evoking the kingdom of God here on Earth. Black lives matters were founded by young black women tired of seeing injustice in their communities. During the Civil Right eras, young girls did the sustaining work of the movement, some without any recognition. Even now, young black women are speaking up and speaking out in our churches, reminding us of our mission of what it means to be Church. And uttering those truths take us to precarious places. For the leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement, it has landed them in the same place that it lands Paul and Silas.
However we are no strangers to the experience of imprisonment of the body, mind, or soul. We serve a
God who dared to subject himself to the bowels of Empire and resurrected with all power. We serve a God who specializes in the breaking of chains and tearing down of stronghold. I believe the story says,
Along about midnight, Paul and Silas were at prayer and singing a robust hymn to God. The other prisoners couldn’t believe their ears. Then, without warning, a huge earthquake! The jailhouse tottered, every door flew open, and all the prisoners were loose.
What we are shown is that if we dare to help a black girl get free, we eventually will be freed ourselves. We serve a God who works in the depths of our midnight and frees us all. The beauty of this story is that the freedom that was granted to the prisoners was extended to the jailers. In the end, all lives were freed from the bondage that held them captive.
So to my young queens in the building tonight, I empower you to keep pushing, keeping fight, keep pressing for your freedom. I want you to remember the slave girl. Remember the fact that it was the fact that she kept speaking out that evoked her freedom. It was her freedom that led to the prisoner and the guards to be free. There is such power and strength in your voice. Your power lies beyond how you dress, the way you wear your hair, or what’s between your thighs. You are more than body parts and attitude. Your voice has strength and power. We stand on the shoulder of moment makers and nation builders. I need you to remember that your voice is needed to change the world and the church.
For my young kings, I invite you to join us in the struggle. When you see your sisters being exploited or subjected to cruelty stand up and fight with us. We need you to join with us, not lord over us. We need to you to hold your peers and nation accountable. For every black male that is lifted up, make sure you say her name too. You are necessary because our struggles our connected too. To the larger family of faith, let us not be blindsided like Paul. Let us not ignore the cries for deliverance. Let us not be stingy with the liberation of the gospel. Let us not be too busy to hear the cries for freedom. We are the bearers of the greater works on Earth. We must always remember and act like it.
So on ladies night, let us remember to All Black Lives matter. Like Rev. Brickhouse reminded us yesterday that we, as young people, belong here. Let us not lose sight of our young women. They belong here too. They matter too. They deserve freedom just as much as anyone else. Because our struggles are connect. If my girls get free, eventually we all get free. So come on and let’s get free together.
In the name of the One who freed us from sin and shame, Amen.