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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Wednesday, June 5, 2019              

Today’s Scripture Reading | Acts 16:16–34

One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God. (NRSV)

Uruguayan literary icon Mario Benedetti, who lived in exile for twelve years during a dictatorship in Uruguay, writes a poem revealing the liberating power of song. It begins like this:

If each hour brings death
 if time is a den of thieves
the breezes carry a scent of evil
and life is just a moving target
You will ask why we sing . . .

The Roman magistrates imprison Paul and Silas as they travel and share the gospel. They’ve agitated the owners of an unnamed slave girl, who insist the magistrates arrest Paul and Silas. While imprisoned, what can they do but sing? They have an unfathomable hope that lifts their souls, fuels them forward, and finds a way out of no way. Song lifts them. Song becomes a medium for the Spirit’s power.

Song gave power and hope to the community Benedetti writes about—and his words continue to inspire, particularly in Latin America. Songs played a powerful role in the South African anti-apartheid movements, the US civil rights movements, and more communities than we could name and count. I bet all of you reading this devotion right now could think of a song connected with liberatory movements or even songs that make you feel free, confident, and alive.

From Paul and Silas’s resistance to empire and their undying commitment to the gospel, we see that song is a timeless tool for tapping into the Spirit’s presence. In the struggles that bind you to empire and the ways of death today, may you find a song that lifts your soul, empowering you to hold on to hope. And may these songs infiltrate our world for the way of Christ’s liberating gospel.

God, thank you for the gift of song. Let your Spirit seep into us through music, for the sake of your kin-dom on earth. Amen.

Written by Abbi Heimach-Snipes, former Pastoral Resident

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