Lent 1A

by Matthew B. Harper

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Psalm 32
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11

Here, at the beginning of our Lenten journey, the lectionary gives us readings on sin, temptation, and the human inability to “get it right.” Later, when Paul will remind us how all have sinned and fallen short, we will look back to these readings. This is where it all begins.

What is it about the human condition that is so beautiful, and so flawed? To be able to walk and talk with God, to work the garden and take care of it, to rejoice in one another – this sounds idyllic. Life created never to end, but always to rejoice in one another.
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Essay: A Fear in the Dark

by Dean Faiello

attica-1As I lined up with other prisoners in a brick passageway, six Attica guards huddled in a group, wearing blue latex gloves and gripping wooden clubs. They stared at us as we waIked in pairs through the sepulchral corridor without speaking, like Franciscan monks on their way to vespers. Heading to a Quaker meeting in the school building, I looked forward to talking with the Quaker volunteers, witnessing their compassion, learning more about Quaker tenets.

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Letter of EB to the Churches

St SilasApostolic 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 .”

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Lectionary: Pentecost C

by Matthew B. Harper

PENTECOST, May 15, Acts 2

Pentecost is marked in the church with celebration and fire. Our clergy dress in red and our hangings use images of fire and wind. Pentecost is drama.

But to the observers of the first Christian Pentecost what was transpiring looked more like drunken excess. Was there ever a miracle of God so poorly misunderstood? Were there ever prophets more unlikely?

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Tuesday, Fourth Week in Lent

by Matthew B. Harper

Genesis 49:29,33 – Then he charged them… When Jacob ended his charge to his sons, he drew up his feet into the bed, breathed his last, and was gathered to his people.

My sentence is very long. A few days after I was sentenced I spoke with my father over the phone. He told me that he might not live long enough to see me again as a free man. That is, to me, a terrifying and sobering thought.

My dad and I have always had a difficult relationship. I am now incarcerated, I am his only surviving child, and strangely we have a better relationship than any I can ever remember. And it is important to me to be in as deep a relationship with him as I can be. I read his books and talk frequently to him and my stepmother when he is in the country. Both of us value our relationship more than we did.

Dad has quit smoking and lost weight, but still lives a high-stress life. I hope and pray that we have time to once again go fishing and hiking; but his father died very young and I fear the odds are not in our favor.

I live my life with a lot of regrets—we all do—but let us not be allowed to regret damaged or broken relationships that can still be mended in the hear and now. As long as there is life for us, there is hope. If there are broken relationship in your life, reach out to heal them. If others reach out to you, accept them. In the Old Testament everybody seems to die peacefully and in the proper time, but in our lives it is seldom that way. You are not promised tomorrow, so make peace today. That will be something you never regret.

That it may please thee to inspire us, in our callings, to do the work which thou givest us to do with singleness of heart as thy servants, and for the common good, We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord” BCP 151

Tuesday, Third Week in Lent

by Matthew B. Harper

Genesis 45:5 – And now do not be distressed, or angry, with yourselves… for God sent me before you to preserve life.

As an Army brat I grew up and knew people who had been shot. But it wasn’t until coming to prison that I knew people who had been shot on the streets of America. Too many of my friends have scars from bullets, knives, or other weapons. One of my friends, an alcoholic drinking 8 – 10 cases of bear a week before prison, will tell you point blank that getting arrested saved his life.

I could never understand Joseph’s feelings until I came to prison. Joseph was used by the Lord, and he was now a grown and mature man, a mature man of God. He saw that God was using him, and he knew God’s purpose was greater than his anger towards his brothers. His forgiveness was beyond what he could have ever offered on his own, it came from God’s greater purpose.

The mother of my victim has forgiven me. When I asked her how she could possibly do such a thing she simply told me “I can’t. It is of God.” That forgiveness is the greatest gift I have ever received.

I don’t know if God saved my life by sending me to prison, but I know God saved my sanity and my purpose in life. And for many of my Christian brothers going to prison probably did save their lives. This isn’t a path that any of us would have deliberately chosen, but sometimes it was the only way that God could salvage the mess we have made of our lives. Prison is not easy, it is a journey of constant suffering, but it is suffering with a purpose, when we allow it to be it becomes suffering sanctified by God.

That it may please thee to bring into the way of truth all such as have erred, and are deceived, We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord” BCP 150

Monday, Second Week in Lent

by Matthew B. Harper

Psalm 56:2 – My enemies trample on me all day long, for many fight against me…

Today in the daily office we read more of the story of Joseph, who was betrayed by his brothers. Psalm 56, also read today, echoes the cry of betrayal and abandonment. And yet we also read Paul, commending himself to the Corinthians as their ‘father through the Gospel.’

Like many men who have come to prison for their crimes, I have been written off and abandoned by almost all of my family, most of my friends, and I lost one whom I loved so very dearly. There are not words for the pain and loneliness that this leads to, or the desperation that I sometimes feel. But the stories of Joseph and Abraham do not end with their pain, and neither does mine.

While it is important to try to understand the amazing pain and anger of Joseph, we are seeing how God used him to save so many Egyptians, his family, and ultimately the nation of Israel. We can identify with Joseph’s anger and fear, but we must also identify with the blessings that came through what he endured. I have many friends that I am closer to now than I ever could have been before, I have better and more honest relationships with the family still in my life, and I have many new and dear friends – on the inside and out.

The world takes, but God gives and restores. Praise be to God.

By thine Agony and Bloody Sweat; by thy Cross and Passion; by thy precious Death and Burial; by thy Glorious Resurrection and Ascension; and by the Coming of the Holy Ghost, Good Lord, deliver us” BCP 149

Second Sunday in Lent

by Matthew B. Harper

Genesis 22:2 – He [God] said, “take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love…and offer him there as a burnt offering…”

The Burnt offering was the offering given at the Temple to pay for the sins that had been done. It was the blood sacrifice given to cover a multitude of sins.

Abraham was a tremendous man of God, but every time I read this I wonder if he was such a great father! The bible is clear, Jesus is clear, that nothing is to come between us and God. Not our spouses, not our parents, not even our children. So I admire Abraham’s faith even if I question if mine would be so strong. Jesus spoke to his disciples about the coming crucifixion. He told them quite openly of his coming suffering and death.

After the resurrection we find Paul writing to the Romans to teach them of how God did give his only son to pay for our sins. Abraham Loved God more than his family, and this was why he was willing to obey God and sacrifice his son. And God loved humanity so much that he was willing to sacrifice his son. God gave Abraham relief, and Isaac was spared; but we did not give God relief, and Paul preached Christ crucified. I can hardly fathom the great love of God, and it leaves me humbled and grateful.

O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from thy ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of thy word, Jesus Christ thy Son, who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen” BCP 166

Epiphany

by Matthew B. Harper

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty’ (Genesis 17:1)

There comes a time in all of our lives when we have to gamble. We have to take the step out in faith, and say: “What if this is all really true?” So we step out over that cliff, and take our great leap of faith, and we are caught in the hands of God. And then the whole world is different and we are reborn a new creation.

During Christmas there are many gifts of jewels and precious metals given. But in order to forge the gold and silver there is a smelting process that it must go through. The metal is heated and melted so that the impurities will rise to the surface. Then the smelter will rake this dross off the surface to purify the metal. The metal is considered pure when the smelter can see their reflection in the metal.

The gold and silver that is given as gifts is precious, but how much more precious are you. When you are caught in God’s hands you will be cherished, and like that metal you will be purified. You may find things rising to the surface, but only so God can deal with them and heal you. You will be worked and purified until you reflect the image of God. Until, when someone looks at you, they see the glory of God.

There is no source of light that is as bright and wonderful as the star that Christmas night. Not just the star in the heavens, but the star that was in the manger. When we have been worked and purified in God, then it is not our lights that shine, it is we who have been able to reflect the light of Christ.

So we must be willing to step out in trust for God. We must be brave enough to take that first step and then be caught. We must work to prepare a highway in our lives, for God shall surely travel upon it, and meet us there.

What star is this, with beams so bright, more beauteous than the noonday light? It shines to herald forth the King, and gentiles to His crib to bring. (Hymn 124)