Matthew B. Harper
A Sermon for Epiphany 4B
1st Corinthians 8:1-13
Sometimes I think that perhaps life is simply safer and easier in prison than out. Life in here can be difficult, painful, and violent, but there is a clarity and honesty to it. The outside world, one I’ve only seen on TV and in glossy magazines for 20 years now, seems to be consumed with acrimony and judgment. Rather than bringing us closer together, new technology is just documenting how we are splitting ourselves into tribes, and casting our anger at others. We are a world in need of a savior.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: What follows is a sermon for December 21st, the longest night of the year. On this night many churches have a “Longest Night” service for those who are struggling to find joy this Christmas, often due to grief. This sermon was shared at St. David’s Episcopal Church, Richmond Virginia, in 2017.)
“The Longest Night”
A Sermon by Matthew B. Harper
The longest night of the year. A time when darkness comes early and stays late, when night feels unexpected and interminable. Tonight we gather to acknowledge that darkness, and to dwell in it quietly; we know it exists, and it’s okay that it does. “Merry Christmas” may not feel all that ‘Merry,’ but it is Christmas and we know the light of dawn is just over the horizon.
Our friend Matthew Harper reflects on a recent thirty-day stint in solitary confinement.
Grace and Peace to you all.
Sorry I’ve been incommunicado, I spent the last thirty days in segregation. Someone had been urging our band to do the Humble Pie song “Thirty Days in the Hole,” but we put it off. I guess I should have played the song. Instead I did the thirty days.
1 Peter 1:3-9
What is your message?
This should be the time of year that we should reflect and reevaluate our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. We have just finished celebrating the event that our faith hinges on: the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord. I see and hear preachers push prosperity-heavy ministries and say that if one is not living a prosperous lifestyle, then you’re not worshiping the Creator the right way. I’m sorry, that’s a bunch of bologna folks. Continue reading
Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9
Scripture affirms to us that Jesus sympathizes with our weakness. He himself felt weakness while on earth to pay the ultimate penalty for the sins of the whole world past, present and future. He was sinless and at the time the only one who had brought back anyone from death. Now He was faced with doing the Father’s will and dying. I met a man who claimed he was locked up wrongly for a crime. Out of curiosity I asked if he had ever done that same crime any other time and not been caught. He actually bragged he had. The fact that Jesus committed no sin really sunk in my mind after that revelation.
by Terrance “Lil Bear” Plummer
This is the instructional video that God gave to Moses and Aaron to give to those He calls His own (the congregation of Israel). These are the things that needed to be done to gain their freedom. As with Israel, God is often giving us instructions for our lives, things to be done, to set us free from the thing or persons that have us enslaved. When God hears our cry, we must be ready to move out to the places God wants to take us. Continue reading
by Matthew B. Harper
Prison, with a sentence of any length, is a death. It is one of those experiences that changes you forever. Even if your sentence is short, whatever comes next will be touched by your time in prison. This death is more profound when you have a longer sentence, as I do. Coming to prison meant that my old life, and the plans and dreams I had, all died. Acknowledging that was a long and painful grieving process. It felt like the end of my world, and in a way it was.
Jens Soering, a German citizen currently serving two life sentences in Virginia, is the author of numerous articles and books in both English and German. His English books include The Convict Christ: What the Gospel Says about Criminal Justice, Church of the Second Chance: A Faith-Based Approach to Prison Reform; and The Way of the Prisoner: Breaking the Chains of Self through Centering Prayer and Practice. His latest book is his account of the events that led to his imprisonment. You can find more information on all of his books at http://jenssoering.com/publications.