Lectionary: Easter 7C

by Matthew B. Harper

Acts 16:16–34
Psalm 97
Revelation 22:12–14, 16–17, 20–21
John 17:20–26

We are in the seventh week of Easter, and our extra readings from the Acts of the Apostles are drawing to a close. But before they do, we read this wonderful account of God shaking the very walls of prison. It is a fitting place to read for this Prison Lectionary.

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Lectionary: Easter C6

by LA

Revelation 21:10-22; 22:1-5

Easter 6C RevThere I was at the Commissary window, a friend of mine, an inmate worker who is himself a self-proclaimed Christian was there helping the cashier by bringing everything I had ordered to the register to be rung up. I noticed that instead of my usual order of 24 spicy vegetable ramen noodles he had brought me 24 of the new Cajun shrimp. A substitution that he made of his own initiative. I politely objected to this change in my order. I asked my friend to please replace these shrimp ramen with any other flavor. I did this because I observe the dietary laws of Scripture. My friend does not.

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Monday, Fifth Week in Lent

by Matthew B. Harper

Exodus 4:10-11 – But Moses said to the Lord “O my Lord, I have never spoken eloquently”… Then the Lord said to him “Who gives speech to mortals… Is it not I, the Lord?”

Moses had the same reservations that many of us have when we are called out of our comfort zone to serve the Lord. We are fearful and nervous. Our fear and our calling seem to be at war with each other. But, as one of our chaplains in here constantly reminds us “The Lord does not call the equipped, he equips the called.”

All to often we underestimate the gifts that we have been given, and we are afraid to step out in faith when we feel called. One of the greatest joys I have been a part of is when the leaders of the church can gather and discuss how to raise up new leaders, new teachers, and new readers. Many men feel called by God, but until we have a chance to call them forward, they remain silent. We underestimate the comfort and strength of the Lord that can speak through us.

And we underestimate how bad things can get. As a people we underestimate our ability to suffer, and we underestimate our ability to endure suffering. We do not realize what great strength we have to rely upon in the Lord.

God’s power isn’t coercive in our lives. God will call us, we must answer. In the Book of Revelation, Jesus tells us he is at the door knocking, but it is still we who must open the door and invite him in.

So when God calls you out of your comfort zone, trust and rely upon the Lord. When God calls you, God equips you.

That it may please thee to have mercy upon all mankind, We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord” BCP 152

Poem: “When the Concrete Speaks”

“When the Concrete Speaks”

by AMN

Shhh, did you hear that?
There it goes again,
that sound makes the noise of a thirsty
And you can only hear it when the
concrete speaks.
The concrete only speaks of these cruel
and hardcore streets.
This wretched beast has no conscience,
it just devours souls with rage and violence.
It quenches its thirst from the blood
of the fallen.
It doesn’t matter whether they be innocent,
or his savagery be justifiable.
One day you will unveil the voice
of these wicked streets.
And you will see that it is the voice of the Devil’s advocacy.
So play if you will and roll the dice,
But always remember that on the Devil’s table,
The dice always land on the snake’s eyes.
Many continue to ask if that sound will
ever cease,
But that sound will never cease
until that Hellish Beast,
Is put on his thousand-year leash.
So, I advise you to never have a seat,
nor enjoy those foolish treats,
because it just might be you,
in the next edition of the concrete speaks…


Tuesday, Third Week in Advent

by Matthew B. Harper

Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20)

God is at your door knocking, always, everywhere. Feels kind of like ‘Big Brother,’ huh? Not exactly.

In prison I am under constant scrutiny. I am constantly checked, interrogated, and searched. It is seldom that I go more than a few hours without having to justify myself to a guard and be touched and searched. When I am not in front of a guard, I am often on a security camera somewhere. And much worse than that is the scrutiny that comes from other inmates. We watch each other constantly.

In prison, it has often been said, in a parody of the slogan of the army, that you can ‘be all that you can pretend to be.’ I cannot count the number of times when men in here, often young and scared, spin tall tales of how famous, dangerous, and rich they were. We often joke that there are no drug addicts in here, just drug dealers. There are no prostitutes in here, just pimps. But under the watchful eyes of other prisoners, true character always comes out.

I long to go to a place away from society and just be quiet and alone for a while. But until that time comes, I use the presence of scrutiny as a chance to witness. I love to study apologetics, and I love to talk and argue; but God needs more witnesses, not more lawyers. Every relationship that we have, in every situation that we find ourselves, there is a chance to model Christian love. There is a chance to witness Christ, even without ever speaking a word.

Surely Christ is always watching us, just as Christ is always with us, and inviting God in will transform every relationship, every interaction. Be a witness today, because somebody is watching you.

Come, O Father saving Son, who o’er sin the victory won. Boundless shall your kingdom be; grant that we it’s glories see. (Hymn 54)

Thursday, Second Week in Advent

by Matthew B. Harper

Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested. (Revelation 2:10)

Prison is horrible. Prison is a deeply and profoundly negative experience that wounds and damages people. But not all people. As much as it is difficult, for some people prison is a test, and an opportunity. Prison can be a chance for society to seek healing and punishment for the penitent, and for the penitent to seek wholeness.

But that does not happen without the presence of God. Prison has often been likened to a church or monastery, but it isn’t. Church lifts you up and directs your gaze towards heaven; prison crushes you down, and grinds you to the depths of pain and longing. But yet, when God is present, it can be transforming.

In this barren desert a highway can be formed. In the barrenness of a concrete cell, on the arid stone of a human heart, something blooms. When nothing else works, where nothing else can go, then we notice God’s presence.

Each of us must discover on our own who Christ is. Each of us must be willing to meet Christ, and if we are willing to invite God in then we must be ready to accept what God is offering. C. S. Lewis once said that God accepts us as we are, but loves us too much to leave us as we are. When Christ is here, then everything is different.

Any time can be a test, and God is here with us. With God’s constant presence then every moment and circumstance can be transformed. This simple presence is the greatest gift we could imagine. In prison the presence of God, and the presence of loved ones, is the greatest Christmas gift there is.

Give the transforming gift of your presence this year.

The King shall come when morning dawns and light triumphant breaks: when beauty gilds the eastern hills and life to joy awakes. (Hymn 73)

Wednesday, Second Week in Advent

by Matthew B. Harper

When I saw him I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand upon me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one:” (Revelation 1:17-18)

I have feared the courts, the judges, and the authorities. I have feared the condemnation of my friends and family. I have feared the pain of my victims, not just the direct victims of my crimes; but also so many collateral victims. Everybody who has been touched by my crimes, even police, judges, and the prison guards are victims. When I first saw the movie ‘The Passion” I was captivated not just by the graphic portrayal of what Christ endured, but by the unspeakable pain on the faces of the two Mary’s. I see the pain on Jesus’ mother’s face, and I think to the painful cries from my mother and fiancé on the day that I was sentenced. I think of what my parents endure everyday that I am in prison. They are my victims in new ways on every missed holiday, on every missed birthday, on every day.

The pain of Mary before the cross was not just the pain of a mother seeing the torture of her son. She, better than any of us, knows the amazing divine identity of Jesus. She sees not just the infant she nursed and raised, but she also sees her God abused and crucified. It is her faith, her hope, and her God that is hung on the cross and killed.

But it was allowed by God, and only for a time. Fear not. Christ is the Living One. Holy. Eternal. Resurrected Savior. The Christ born this Christmas is beyond time, before it and after it, eternally reigning with the Father; he died and conquered death.

Christ hung on the cross for all the crimes that I have done, but Christ came down to live with all of the victims, and to bring healing to them and to me. Fear not Mary; Fear not us, Christ is here.

Herald, sound the note of judgment, warning us of right and wrong, turning us from sin and sadness till once more we sing the song. (Hymn 70)