Homily preached by
The Reverend William J. Eakins
on April 14, 2013
aboard the Silver Whisper in the South Atlantic
We are sailing along a dangerous coast, dangerous not because of the pirates against whom our Captain has put the ship on high alert, but because of the history of these shores as the slave coast. From the 16th through the 19th century an estimated 2-3 million African men, women, and children were captured and brought to the slave coast’s castles, like the ones in Ghana some of us will see tomorrow. In these fortresses, captives were herded as animals, sold as slaves to traders, loaded into ships, and sent off on the long voyage across the Atlantic to spend the rest of their lives in hard labor on the plantations of Brazil, the caribbean, and the American South. A large percentage of these people never survived the journey.
The memory of human suffering that haunts these waters and coastlands is poignant and shameful indeed. It should serve as a warning of the inhumanity of which we human beings are still capable. It is a sad fact that slavery still exists today. Estimates of the number of slaves in the world today range from 12 to 27 million. Most of these are people in southeast Asia living in bondage to pay off indebtedness sometimes over the course of several generations. There are also the millions of women and children enslaved in prostitution by the sex industry. Also, there are increasing reports of illegal immigrants in American cities who are enslaved as domestic workers.
Human bondage, however, extends far beyond physical servitude. Bondage takes many forms. Addicts are enslaved to drugs; alcoholics to the bottle. Others are shackled to bitter memories, to regrets or to shame. Some are so afraid of what might happen to them or what others might say about them if they were to be really known that they are helpless to face the future, locked in by the status quo. Some people are so afraid of dying that they are not free to live. These are just some of the many kinds of slavery that weigh down and enchain the human spirit. I imagine that there is not a person here this morning who does not have some acquaintance of them.
The good news for all in bondage is that God is the Great Liberator. “Let my people go” is God’s command and God’s mission in every age. “I have seen the misery of my people...I have heard their cry.” So God raised up Moses to deliver the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt to lead them into the land of promise, a good and broad land flowing with milk and honey. And in the fullness of time, God in mercy sent Jesus to set people free everywhere. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” Jesus proclaimed “he has sent me to proclaim release to the captives ... to let the oppressed go free. That was just what Jesus spent his life doing - setting people free, free from sickness and fear, free from shame and hostility, free from meaninglessness and despair, free to live their lives with peace, joy, and purpose. The continuation of this liberating mission is the great work that Christ has entrusted to the church.
It is daunting to consider what might be done to put an end to the continuing problem of human bondage.
How can we set free the millions of slaves that are in the world today. It is an overwhelming task, yet it is astonishing what can be done by those who, like Moses, know that God is on their side. William Wilberforce, inspired by his Christian faith, was almost single-handedly responsible for putting an end to slavery in the British Empire. Some of you may have heard how the extraordinary “Free the Girls” project is liberating hundreds of African woman today from the bondage of prostitution.
How can an addict ever be set free from bondage to drugs or an alcoholic from bondage to drink? Chemical dependency is a powerful slave master. Yet those who have learned to “let go and let God” testify that with God’s help, the glorious freedom of sobriety is indeed possible.
How can people who are estranged from each other ever find a way to escape the past and build bridges that lead to a better future? The task is indeed formidable. Yet God promises “behold, I make all things new” and those who trust God discover that old hurts can be forgiven.
As God said to Moses, “I have observed the misery of my people ...; I have heard their cry ... I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them.”
And as Zechariah responded, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he has come to his people and set them free.”