2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
“Being reconciled to God”
This is the the gospel message: fixing what keeps us apart from God, be it a follower of Christ Jesus or not. Continue reading
Apostolic Letters from Prison
In the book Ministry with Prisoners & Families: The Way Forward, Madeline McClenny-Sadler writes
“What would the apostle Paul do if he heard about the mistreatment of brothers and sisters who return to our congregations and communities after being released from prison? I think we know exactly what Paul would do. Paul would write a letter!” (140)
Thus, McClenny-Sadler offers a “Letter to African American Churches Concerning the Saints Coming Home from Prison.” It uses “the hybrid style of a Pauline epistle and a scholarly article” as a call to action (ibid.)
Inspired by her letter, several PrisonLectionary.net contributors take up the same task. The first comes to us from “EB .”
2 Corinthians 4:8-9– We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;
If there is a theme song for our community church it is the praise song ‘Trading My Sorrows.’ The bridge for the song is based on this passage “I am pressed but not crushed, persecuted but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed, I am blessed beyond the curse for the promise that endures that His joy will be my strength.” That is such a beautiful assurance.
Our culture tells us over and over again to simply ‘be happy’. But I have wasted many years trying to be happy, and it is a totally false preoccupation. It always requires something to be happy. Happiness comes from an external source. In prison our lives are almost totally devoid of the things that would make us happy. Yet we sing this song with great joy and abandon because we agree with every word. The feeling that allows us to be ‘struck down but not destroyed’ comes from the Holy Spirit that dwells within us, not from stuff.
As a child of God we should be in search for a reason for happiness. We have all of the stuff to live, but often nothing to live for. My reason is that deep from within I know the joy of the Lord, and that joy is my strength.
As the verse of that song goes “I’m trading my sorrows, I’m trading my pain, I’m laying it all down for the joy of the Lord.” I’m trading my search for happiness; I’m trading it all for the joy of the Lord.
That it may please thee to forgive our enemies, persecutors, and slanderers, and to turn their hearts to you, We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord” BCP 152
2 Corinthians 3:12 – Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness.
Jesus didn’t pull any punches. He spoke with great boldness of a gospel message that defied all conventional social laws. He denounced the corrupt and the blind, and he offered them a way to God.
It is such an amazing thing that we may call God our dearest father, our “abba.” And this is no less than how Christ referred to God. It is from this relationship that our boldness should spring. We must, out of our hope and our great love, be willing at times to speak the truth regardless of the risk of offending someone.
We have great hope in Christ, and this blessed assurance should empower us to be bold, but often it doesn’t. We are shy in our love, be if for humans or God. We will proclaim our love for our favorite sports team on our clothing and we will espouse political doctrine on the bumpers of our cars, but we will be quiet about God.
I do not suggest that everybody should suddenly become a “Bible-thumpin’-Christian” but simply that we need to be bold about who we are when the chances present themselves. St. Francis of Assisi once said we should “proclaim the Gospel always, use words only when necessary.” If you are not bold in your speech, be bold in your lifestyle, and always be bold in your faith.
“That it may please thee to strengthen such as do stand; to comfort and help the weak-hearted; to raise up those who fall; and finally to beat down Satan under our feet, We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord” BCP 152
2 Corinthians 3:3 – …you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
In prison, we are often moved between institutions. Such movement comes without warning. The officers simply show up and tell a man to pack up, and within 24 hours he very may well be on the other side of the state.
In our Christian communities here these very words take on special new meanings. I have good friends at my institution, and we work to preach and minister to each other, but we may also leave at any given moment. We work hard to prepare each other as a letter of Christ. When a young man comes to the faith, we rejoice. But we know that what we are seeing is a turning point on a journey that started long before we entered into the young man’s life. And when this same man is sent away, we have to trust and pray that wherever he arrives, his new faith will be ‘watered’ by the Christian community there.
This is no different from what all of us experience in all of our lives, and no different from what parents go through when their children grow up and move out. I have felt terrible frustration in my life when I worked to teach and minister to a man, only to see him transfer, or be released, still on a path of destruction. I can only trust that I might have been able to sow seeds that will be watered by others, and harvested in God’s time.
So we must simply commit ourselves to working for God everywhere and with whomever God places before us, at all times, in all places.
“That it may please thee to give us true repentance; to forgive us all our sins, negligence, and ignorance; and to endure us with the grace of thy Holy Spirit to amend our lives according to thy holy Word, We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord” BCP 152
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
In 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Paul is writing to early Christians of a first-century Greek church but he might as well be writing to contemporary believers on my own prison gallery today. It is of the utmost importance that we understand that once we know Christ spiritually and claim him as our Lord our lives are no longer our own, but his. Bought with a price. Too many of my fellow inmates who claim to be followers of Christ never really follow him anyway or in anything consistently.
In verse 20, Paul states that we are “Ambassadors of Christ.” We need to act as such. Our old self is dead. We are New Creatures in the Lord. It does us no good to be claiming Christ and still be doing the same old things and acting the same old ways as before we accepted him. This is an important concept for all believers the world over, but it is even more vital in a prison environment where everyone watches everyone else, at all times.
Anyone can talk the talk but people in here want to see if you walk the walk. Our Christian walk is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal. I personally must always be mindful that the eyes of those who would do the will of our infernal adversary are always on me. Watching and waiting with baited breath for my stumble and their chance to advertise it as an argument against the veracity of the Gospels.
In a place of abounding darkness such as this the Christian prisoner must be the light in dark places. Only by our good example will others be drawn to ask us about our Lord. As believers in Christ, the whole world holds us up to a much higher standard and rightly so, for if gold rusts what should iron do?