April 22

by Pastor Jim Bangsund
But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son,
born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who
were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
Galatians 4:4-5
… or adoption as daughters, of course.
We hear these words most often at Christmas.  After centuries of preparation, when God judged that all was prepared, and that the proper time had come, he sent his Son Jesus into the world.
But it’s that word “redeem” I want to look at today.  It has become one of those “churchy” words that has sort of lost its meaning in today’s culture.  But Paul never used “churchy” words.  He used street language, words and phrases which everyone knew and which awakened one like a cold splash of water in the face.
Take the word “justification.”  Another “churchy” word?  Today, perhaps; not then.  Justification was what happened when, in court, the judge proclaimed, “Innocent!” and you were free to go — even if you had really done the crime and should be doing the time.  Paul looked at that and said, “That’s what happened to me!  Jesus took the penalty and I, in turn, was set free — justified!”  Too bad what’s happened to that word today.
And then there’s “redeemed.”  In the slave market, at times a friend or family member would step forward and pay the price to set free a slave standing on the auction block.  At that point, rubbing his ankles and wrists, bruised from the chains, the slave could declare to the world, “I’ve been redeemed!”  And, again, Paul said, “That’s what Jesus did for me.”
It was on the spice island of Zanzibar that Judy and I ran into the most graphic example of “redemption.”  Zanzibar, just off of the coast of Tanzania, was the heart of the East Africa slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries.  The brutal center of this activity was the Zanzibar slave market with its auction block.  Countless families were ripped apart on the mainland, with men, women and children hauled to Zanzibar and forced aboard ships on which a high percentage died at sea before ever fully entering into slavery.
In the early 19th century, to bring down this evil trade, the Anglican Church and William Wilberforce took on the most powerful vested interest in Great Britain, the West India Lobby of British plantation owners and their bankers.[1].  In the early 1830s, they finally prevailed in getting British Parliament to act.  The British Navy was sent into the coastal waters of Tanzania and Zanzibar and the slave trade was broken.
And then the Anglican Church made a move that resounds to this day.  They bought the former Zanzibar slave market and built a massive cathedral right on top of it:
The altar was placed precisely where the old auction block had stood:
And on the bottom step, as you approach the altar, you will find a brass disk marking the location of the whipping tree — where slaves were whipped to see if they were strong enough to be allowed to live and be sold.
In the back on the right is the baptismal font …
… placed on a spot where many children, too small to be sold, were put to death.
It’s a grim memorial — but also a triumphant planting of the flag of Christ and, yes, the flag of redemption.  The church has made many mistakes over the centuries, and is sometimes slow to act.  But this was a time when they got things right; a moment in which the voice of the Gospel, after decades of struggle, prevailed in the face of unspeakable evil.
Redeemed.  Yes, you and I have been redeemed — set free from bondage to sin, death and Satan.  May we make that fact known even as did Paul.  But there is more.  May we also, like William Wilberforce and the Anglican Church, be driven by what we have received in Christ to reach out to and provide for others who — especially today — may be struggling.
We may feel helpless — or frustrated, or even angry — in the face of Shelter in Place.  We may feel there is nothing we can do. But we who have been redeemed can begin our “giving back” by giving thanks to God for what we do have, then praying for those who don’t have, then perhaps calling someone who is alone.  And if we have resources to share … well the Internet and newspapers are full of ideas from sending funds to Second Harvest of City Team to making masks and so on.
Redeemed.  Think on that word, on its history, on what it says about who you are today — and then let your thankfulness to God seek ways, even in the face of today’s limitations, to be part of God’s redeeming outreach to others.

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