Living Forever in a Dead-End World: 12 Years a Slave

Sermon for the Third Sabbath of Easter

May 3, 2014

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If you haven’t seen this year’s Best Picture, 12 Years a Slave, it would be worth your while to do so.  The film is based on the memoirs of Solomon Northup, a free man with wife and children living in New York who was kidnapped into slavery in Louisiana in 1841 and, through his efforts and those of others, was finally set free in 1853.

The film spends a significant amount of time with Northup at two plantations:  one owned by William Ford (mistaken referred to as William Birch in my sermon) and one owned by Edwin Epps.  Northup is respected and treated very well by Ford, who comes across as a very good and decent man.  But Epps is a brutal and wicked slave master who despises Northup and does everything in his power to break his manhood.

In the Christian faith, there has been an understanding that each human being needs to decide which master to serve:  will you serve Satan or God?  Christians believe that life is a choice between being a slave to sin or a slave to righteousness.  But in the film, Northup, while grateful that Ford treated him well, still knew that he was a slave and begged Ford to set him free.  But Ford said he would not do that, that Northup was his property.  Being a slave for a good master still paled in comparison to being a free person.  Freedom is everything.

Maybe God didn’t rescue us from sin and suffering to make us his slaves.  Maybe God rescued us to set us free.  The true hero of the film wasn’t the good slave master Ford, it was the Canadian laborer Bass, who risked his life to worked for and ultimately achieved Solomon’s release.  The hero is the one who sets the slave free.  Maybe the true heroism of Jesus and the true generosity of God is that, rather than being good slave masters, they have just set us free.  Completely free




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