May 5-8, 2016
Luke 24:44-53
Ephesians 1:15-23
Acts 1:1-11
Psalm 93

What Is a Life Worth?
Easter 7

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Mary Austin
In the lectionary passage from Acts for Easter 7, Paul and Silas are followed for several days by a slave girl with “a spirit of divination” who “brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling.” When Paul calls on the name of Jesus Christ to rid her of the spirit, he’s deprived the girl’s owners of a lucrative income -- and Paul and Silas find themselves facing retaliation from entrenched economic interests. Yet this merely serves as a prelude for the remarkable account of an earthquake releasing Paul and Silas from the prison they’ve been taken to... whereupon they calm the panicked jailer and proceed to baptize him and his entire household.

In the next installment of The Immediate Word, team member Mary Austin suggests that this is much more than merely a dramatic story about God’s transformative power completely reversing the dire situation facing Paul and Silas. In addition, she points out, it also illustrates the contrast between the way the world often values people (in economic terms) and the manner God sees us -- as all having infinite worth, no matter our station in society or previous history. The owners of the slave girl and the jailer’s superiors see each of them only in terms of their usefulness, and seem all too willing to discard them when convenient. Yet Paul and Silas treat them much as God treats us -- releasing us from our shackles and bringing new life in places and ways that are often completely beyond our imagining. Here’s a preview:

What Is a Life Worth?
by Mary Austin
Acts 16:16-34

Insurance companies and attorneys routinely calculate the value of a life lost, in order to make reparative payments to loved ones. Higher earners are “worth” more, since there are more lost wages to account for. Younger people are “worth” more, since more years of life have been taken away. In Cleveland, the family of 12-year-old Tamir Rice will receive $6 million in compensation for his death at the hands of police officers. Last year, General Motors spent $595 million to compensate people who lost loved ones (or were injured themselves) in auto accidents caused by faulty equipment. In Afghanistan, the death of 42 people at a Doctors Without Borders hospital last year equals paper reprimands for 16 military personnel involved in the mistaken airstrike.

In this Acts text, Paul and Silas see the value of a slave girl’s life, and then the value of a jailer’s life. We measure the value of a life in different ways -- education, earning power, similarity to us -- but Paul and Silas see worth in both the slave girl and the jailer. For both of them, encountering Paul and Silas changes their own sense of worth. Both of their lives take surprising twists when they meet these two.

Paul and Silas seem worthless to some -- in the words of the slave girl, they are also slaves. And yet they have a mysterious ability to change people’s sense of their own worth.

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Immediate Word Team
(Click on photo
  for author's bio.)

George Reed

Mary Austin

Ronald H. Love

Dean Feldmeyer

Leah Lonsbury

Chris Keating

Robin Lostetter