Rev. George Miller
May 22, 2022
Today concludes our “Unknown Trilogy.” It began May 1 with the unnamed girl who was enslaved, continued with Paul’s comment about the unknown God, and ends with a letter Paul wrote from an unknown jail.
During this Unknown Trilogy, we learned more about the history of Haiti, America, and 4 women who reshaped half of the world.
Last year’s Haitian Flag Day inspired me to investigate my own ancestry. There’s German, Hungarian, Scottish, Romanian, possibly gypsy and Jew.
While doing research, I came across something that’s filled my spirit with great pride- the Romanian Resistance, which took place May 16, 1944.
Here’s their story- In 1939 the Nazis deported all Sintis and Romanians from the Third Reich.
In 1942 the Zigeunerlager Camp was set up, with 6,000 children, women and men imprisoned together.
On May 15, 1944 they received word that the Nazis were coming to execute them all in the morning.
600 of the prisoners broke into an equipment shed, arming themselves with hammers, pickaxes, shovels; dismantling their bunkbeds to create weapons.
On May 16 the Nazis came with automatic rifles, but the 600 had barricaded themselves, ready to fight, with pipes, sheet metal, rocks.
Though some were shot, on that day, not a single child, woman or man died.
This act troubled the Nazis so much that they feared a prison-wide revolt.
3 months later, half of the Romanians were sent to another camp; the remaining 3,000 were gassed to death.
This courageous revolt of May 16, 1944 is not the only time a camp fought back. On Oct 17, a 14 and 19 year old girl organized a revolt, sneaking out gunpower in sardine cans. This fight for life and what is right would become known as the Romani Resistance Day.
No doubt the Tigress of Haiti and the elderly Marie Sainte De’Dee’ Bazile would be smiling.
No doubt Judith, Shiphrah, Puah would’ve been proud.
It is an honor to share this story. This is the blood that runs through my veins; there may be a cousin, an uncle who was amongst the 600.
It’s empowering to know this story, and to tell this story.
It means I come from a people who in the name of life and humanity will take apart their furniture and fight to the death for what is right.
How empowering to know this tale, this piece of largely unknown history.
No wonder there are those in power who don’t want full, uncensored history taught in the classroom.
Imagine if we taught girls that they could’ve been Lieutenants in Haiti.
Imagine if we told oppressed or bullied boys that they can be their own superhero, dismantling their bed and fighting the enemy.
We like to say that “Freedom Isn’t Free”, but what if we taught that “Freedom is Achievable by Anyone”?
That’s part of what we witness in today’s reading, a letter written by Paul during a challenging time in his ministry.
Paul is in jail. We don’t know where, when or why, but we know that Paul has been so busy turning society upside down that he’s been locked up.
The authorities, government, religious leaders, money makers, enslavers, all think they can put an end to Paul.
They think they can silence his voice, negate his influence by locking him away.
They assume they can kill his joy, extinguish his light.
But since Paul is a man of the Word, and in the beginning was the Word, as long as Paul can speak, mime, write, draw, sing-
he is going to make that Word known.
And make known, Paul does.
Today’s letter is written by Paul to the people of Phillippi while in jail.
You’d expect such a letter to be a downer, sad. Instead it’s filled with joy- “Grace to you and peace- I thank my God every time I remember you.”
Paul goes on to say that he is using this time to let the imperial guard, wardens and inmates know about Jesus.
Holy heck! Who is this man!
Others would say “Shoot, I’m in jail.”
Paul looks around and says “Aha! I have a captive audience” and away he goes, sharing the Good News, talking about grace, exalting Christ.
There’s something whimsical about today’s reading.
We’re not making light of his situation or suggesting that we should all act the same way, but here we have one of the founding Father’s of our faith, who is faced with a loss of freedom, and we witness what he does about it.
In Haiti, Sainte Belair saw the loss of freedom for her people, so she joined the army, shouting “Liberty!” with her dying breath.
The Romanians experienced a complete loss of freedom and used whatever they could- shovels, hammers, bunkbeds.
In some unknown place, Paul experienced a complete lack of freedom, and he used it as a time to share Christ with others and offer them freedom, if only in their soul.
Just like Judith, Martha, and Mary, we can now add Paul to the list of our spiritual ancestors we can look too, we can emulate, we can call our own.
Paul becomes one of our spiritual fathers who reminds us how powerful our words are;
how what we say and how we act does matter;
how sometimes our faith is the only thing that gets us through.
Now, we don’t know if Paul felt this joyful, this peaceful all the time. There were probably hours, days, weeks, where his situation took a toll. We will never know.
What we do know is that Paul shows us that when we do what is right, we do what is good, Christ is made known.
Paul shows us that in Christ there is a way to be free, a way to be complete, a way to be whole.
There are days the world will try to stop us. There are days we will feel that situations have gotten us down.
Paul’s faith, his words, his letter from 2,000 years ago empower us to discern-
How can we face the things that seem unfaceable?
How can we react when the world wants us sequestered away?
How do we find an ounce of freedom even if it looks like we are not free?
What does liberty in Christ really look like?