This sermon has also been recorded and posted as a podcast in the Retelling the Bible podcast.
Click here find and listen to the Podcast episode: 3.6 She was nobody
Hespeler, 2 June 2019 © Scott McAndless
Acts 16:16-34, Psalm 97, Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21, John 17:20-26
he was nobody, really. She was just low-level employee, another cog in the machine. She didn’t even have a name – well, I mean she had a name, it’s just that her name was so insignificant and she was so unremarkable that she might as well not have had a name.
I tell you this because you need to understand just how unimportant she was, how unimportant she was constantly reminded that she was. And, because she was so insignificant, when ithappened, she tried to convince herself that there was no point in even trying to do anything about it.
The man who had done it to her was really important, you see. Everyone said that he had the entire company on his back. He was the one who would make them profitable again. He was the one who demanded and received that top salary and the million-dollar bonuses together with lucrative stock options. He was also the face of the company and if anything at all happened to tarnish his reputation well, let’s just say that the stockholders were not going to be very happy. In all truth she told herself – she kept trying to tell herself – she should have been flattered that he had even noticed her much less put forward that… proposition.
Somehow, she had managed to scrape together enough self-respect to actually go and talk to the human resources committee and they had actually tried to be (what’s the word?) helpful. In fact, they had very helpfullysuggested that she must have really misunderstood everything. She was young and naïve; she had just taken it wrong. Of course, he would never have meant that. She was just being hysterical (which is kind of a modernized way of saying, I suppose, that she was possessed by a demon). “Either way,” they soothed her, “it’s not your fault but it really wouldn’t do anybody any good – least of all you – to do anything foolish like file a formal report. There is no point in putting you through all that aggravation and paperwork when it doesn’t really accomplish anything. Maybe if you would just dress a bit more… conservatively he wouldn’t be distracted, and everyone will just get along so much better.”
So, she had just gone along. She had put her head down and gone back to work and told herself, again and again, that everything was fine. Of course, everything wasn’t fine. It was around that time that her relationship with her boyfriend fell apart. He said that he couldn’t take it, the way that she would jump every time he even touched her. The chronic depression set in soon after. She was referred to various counselors and therapists, but effective therapy usually depends on the patient being able to talk openly and honestly about where the problems came from. She dared not speak of the real causes of her depression so there was no help to be found in therapy. At least the pills helped to keep things under control a little bit. And that became her life – the long daily struggle with the demons that seemed to be multiplying inside her as she just did her best to try to keep it all together.
And then her world fell apart all over again. Nobody planned it; it just happened. She overheard two new employees in the company – their names were Paul and Silas – as they were talking one day with a few friends. They were talking about another friend of theirs who didn’t work at the company – a man named, uh, Jesus, but they liked to call him “the anointed one” too.
The woman had never heard of this Jesus before, but once she had heard only a little, she knew that she had to hear more. It wasn’t hard. She was really good at not being noticed and so all she had to do was make a point of sitting at the table next to Paul and Silas every day. They never really talked about anything other than this Jesus. And so she learned from Paul (who usually had much more to say than his friend Silas) that if anyone was in this Anointed One of his, that person was a new creation and everything became new. He also said that when people were in the Anointed One, old categories like Jew and Greek, male and female, employee and management didn’t even mean anything anymore. He spoke of change being possible – change that was so radical that it was like you had died and been born again to an entirely new life.
He spoke of all this and more with such conviction and eloquence that she was totally swept away by the very ideas. She didn’t yet understand all that he was talking about, didn’t understand how it was that one came to be in this Anointed One of theirs. But she still couldn’t stop thinking about what they were saying. It seemed to offer her a path out of the darkness that she carried with her every day. She began talking about it all around the office to anyone who would listen and even to those you had no interest in listening. It became a distraction and, honestly, an annoyance to many. No one was more annoyed than the two men that she was talking about: Paul and Silas.
Please understand that I am not trying to paint Paul as a hero here. He was really only thinking of himself and the trouble she was causing for him. So one day he just pulled her over to a side table in the lunchroom and laid it out for her. He told her that she was a child of God and that this Jesus he was always talking about was a real person – a real person who had lived and died and, most important of all, had been raised from the dead. He told her that all she had to do was to trust that that was true. If she would put her trust in Jesus, he would raise her up too and that any regrets or mistakes or burdens she carried from her past would never have to drag her down again.
He said all of this and more. And his motive in saying this, as I say, was a little bit selfish. He wanted her to calm down. He wanted her to leave him and Silas alone. And it kind of worked. What she had really wanted was to better understand what they had been talking about. So, it did soothe her to understand it all better. She resolved to get to know this Jesus of Paul’s and to learn to trust him. She found a certain peace and that did help to stop the disturbances that she had been causing.
But, in some ways, it may have worked too well. The more that she learned about this Jesus and the more that she learned to trust him, it also made her see herself a little bit differently. She saw herself as a child of God, created in the image of God and, even better, recreated in the image of the Anointed One. She reasoned that, if Jesus had died for her and had been raised for her, then she must matter. Her feelings and her thoughts and her memories could matter.
That is what gave her the strength one day to tell Silas the story of what the executive had done to her and how it had made her feel. Silas was horrified and, though he knew that it would only lead to trouble, realized that the only way she would find the full healing she needed would be if she was able to tell the whole story of what had happened to her.
Two weeks later, the entire company was in turmoil. When the accusations finally came out, they were part of a major investigative report in a prominent newspaper. The journalist had gone digging and discovered that, once one person had come forward, many other of the same man’s victims over many years also began to speak out. There was a flurry of hashtags on Twitter. It was bad, and yet the board was not willing to do anything for fear of tarnishing the name of the man on whom they had staked so many of their hopes for economic success. The stock price went into free-fall and the stockholders were furious that their hope of making money was gone.
The very best public relations firm in the country was brought in and their advice was clear. Everyone was angry and the person who they felt was to blame for all of this chaos was the woman who had dared to talk to the press. But the PR people warned the company that they could not take any action against her; it would only make a very bad situation look so much worse.
Nevertheless, an internal investigation was started to find somebody to blame for everything that was going wrong because, I’ll tell you, the executive and the board were not about to accept any blame at all. It really didn’t take very long for someone to point out that a couple of new employees, Paul and Silas, had been talking about all sorts of radical ideas at the water cooler and in the lunchroom. In particular, they were sharing the crazed notions of some person named Jesus. They had heard that this name had caused disruptions in other workplaces in similar ways. Workers had gotten all “uppity,” because they were told things like that they mattered or that they had inherent value. (I mean, really!) Many other places had also seen things happen that affected their profits negatively as well.
So, it seemed, management had their scapegoats. A Human Resources process was quickly arranged. Of course, they could hardly charge Paul and Silas with inciting someone to make a harassment complaint. That might make things worse. That is why the official complaint said, “These men are disturbing the workplace; they are advocating customs that are not part of our corporate culture.”
They didn’t want to fire them, that might attract the attention of the press. But they did transfer them to lowly positions in the Information Technology department in the deepest basement. There they would labour away in windowless rooms under the harsh light of fluorescent tubes while the computer hard drives spun and the servers blinked. It was the corporate equivalent of jail. Best of all, of course, they would be far away from everyone else and would have very few opportunities to infect other employees with their insidious ideas.
I can’t begin to tell you how frustrated management was when they discovered that Paul and Silas didn’t really feel like they had been punished at all. The reports that came back from the deep sub-basement were that Paul and Silas were actually enjoying their shifts. Rumours were that when people went down into the depths of the building, they could often hear them singing. I mean, can you imagine that? Nobody had been caught singing at work in decades!
But that was exactly what Paul and Silas were doing late one afternoon when the disaster struck. The server crashed, the database was corrupted and the entire IT system went down. The supervisor, who just happened to be away from his post on a well-deserved break at the time, came rushing back, but it was too late. There was nothing left to be done. He would have to rebuild almost everything all over again. He cried out in despair; it was like his career was over. But then, when Paul heard him, he cried out in response: “Fear not, my brother. You are not alone. We are still here, and we will help you.”
But the IT leader was not overly comforted. “What can you do for me,” he said. “What can I do. There is nothing that has been backed up. What hope is there if nothing has been saved,” “Ah,” said Paul, “now saving is something that we know a few things about. Have you ever heard the name of a person called Jesus?”
So goes the story in the Book of Acts. It is not just an ancient story with elements, like demon possession and slavery that seem so unfamiliar to us. It is a shockingly modern story, a story that still plays out to this very day and that is because it is a story of the name of Jesus and how powerful that name truly is for transforming people’s lives.