Philippians 3:4-16 “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” I continue our theme of letters from prison with, not a letter, but a prose epic written in prison, which you might say was his “letter” to a nation in distress.
John Bunyan wrote, during a 12 year prison sentence in England, The Pilgrim’s Progress which was published in 1678. Bunyon was John Eliot’s approximate contemporary, 20 years younger. When Eliot was here in Roxbury, Bunyan was in England during decades of religious violence there. He was in prison for preaching without a license, an act strictly prohibited by the Church of England, but he was an evangelical dissenter who would not be deterred. Bunyan had no formal education and his family were artisans with no standing in society of that time. But Bunyan was a brilliant speaker and writer--with a great imagination.
The Pilgrim’s Progress, written as an allegory, was conceived and presented as a dream he had of a man on a journey. The man’s destination was a reunion with God. The moral was to “keep your eyes on the prize” (Philippians 5). Now, today's journey is a cliche, when the journey amounts to going from job to job, from relationship to relationship, from city to city--like an accidental tourist. What Bunyan had in mind was the life journey that is chosen intentionally, a pilgrim not to a geographical destination but to a state of being.
Bunyan reports that his dream began with the sight of a man, in rags, stooped under the burden of a very heavy sack and reading a book. The book, not named, was the Bible, and the burden on his back was his sins. He is desperate to get relief from his sins, which Bunyan portrays as more grievous than any other kind of adversity like natural disasters, pandemics, disease or poverty. He can’t persuade his wife and three children to escape with him from the “City of Destruction,” so he leaves without them. Alone and lost, he encounters “Evangelist” who advises him to seek “The Celestial City” where he will find God and the forgiveness of sins. What follows is an extraordinary account, like Dante’s Divine Comedy, of a harrowing journey beset with all kinds of trials (the Slough of Despond, the Hill of Difficulty, Vanity Fair, the Valley of Humiliation). Christian, as he is named, was hampered by well-wishing but useless companions along the way (Pliable, Obstinate, Simple, Sloth, Wanton, Faithful, Ignorance). But the moral was, to keep his eyes on the prize throughout.
Bunyan’s purpose was to encourage the beleaguered Non-Conformists. In a religious world where religion was taken mortally seriously, Bunyan sought to provide a path other than the intellectual controversies and the ritual formalities facing people of that time. He proposed a path of the heart, not of the head or the prayer book. It was a strict Calvinism, shared by Eliot too, teaching the hopeful message that God will relieve the burden of your sins. We are descendants of Bunyan and Eliot, without the asceticism and self-mortification, but believing in the forgiveness of sins.
Remember the MONOPOLY board game? One of the possible cards you could draw was, “Get out of jail free.” What a joke to think about today! If only there were such a thing! There are Presidential pardons, of course, but only a small percentage of those who apply receive clemency and, in some presidential cases, only for political purposes.
In this country, we have too many people in jail with long terms for minor drug offenses. They don’t see any Get Out of Jail Free cards, although that has been remedied lately, slightly. In this country, we have too many people in jail unjustly, including on death row. They seldom see any Get Out of Jail Free cards. But thank God for Brian Stephenson. Thank God for the Innocence Project. Thank God for the Partakers College Behind Bars program. Thank God for seminary projects that bring education and inspiration from the Bible to prison inmates. They go in, they attempt rescue operations either through legal maneuvers or biblical education.
Get Out of Jail Free is a bad joke, more like Get Out of Jail Broke. None of the projects I have named can prevent the stigma that sticks permanently to former inmates throughout their subsequent lives as free men and women, especially the many who are Black and Hispanic. You’ve probably read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow by now and know all about that.
The prison is one of “civilization’s” most awful inventions. The prison conditions of 18th century England inspired the prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment” in our Bill of Rights. But very little changes, because prisons keep prisoners “out of sight and out of mind.” The sun never shines on the abuses within the penal system.
Prison punishes by deprivation, then adds cruelty--lives lived entirely in concrete and steel, white and grey, no color anywhere, no rugs, no curtains, nothing remotely natural, regimented schedules, lines and line-ups, deprived of privacy and family and caring touch, having to navigate sub-sub-cultures, deprived of safety, outright threats to their safety and the integrity of their bodies, and solitary confinement being the principal means of discipline--bestial!
I am asking a spiritual question now. What is the effect of a prison sentence? What happens to a man or woman incarcerated? How do they cope? What resources can they tap there? What hope greets them upon awakening every day?
One of the most remarkable evidences of such lives are the letters that come out of prison, like the one we heard read by Doug this morning from Ryan Post. There are other, more famous ones, like Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s autobiographical short story, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s letters, Oscar Wilde’s 60-page letter from Reading Gaol, and John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. People share remarkable things when they write from prison. Prison letters, the great ones that get published and all the personal ones that never see the light of day, make a claim on our attention because they are written in extremis. Confinement, isolation, boredom, danger, dehumanization--these conditions would turn anyone’s thoughts sharply inward, revealing the depths of the human soul.
I listen to that letter of Ryan’s and marvel at his composure, his insight. I wonder that the sensation of God’s generosity could ever have reached him. He attended Bible study, I know. I wonder if the other inmates have any inkling of the abundance of God’s love. I wonder if they ever see the stars, or the moon even, and realize the part they occupy in God’s miraculous creation. I wonder if they realize they are part of God’s universe, moreover that God’s universe is in them, that their beating heart and the chemistry of the endocrine systems and the yearning of their souls mimic the giant, monumental suspiration of the universe. I wonder if they feel any freedom in the simple knowledge that God made them. Could that alone sustain an incarcerated woman or man?
And further, do you suppose there is any chance that the deprivations they suffer make more room for the expansion of their souls--would there be anyone to show them how to take that spiritual step there? Or is this just foolishness on my part? I am asking a spiritual question now. Religious people voluntarily stripped themselves of comforts. Inmates have that forced upon them. Religious people find freedom in their austere practices, then sing hymns about it. It is a stretch to think a prison experience can be turned inside out and made into the opposite of its intention, to turn punishment into fulfilment.
But here precisely is the gospel message to us. God is saying to everyone who lives under absolute constraints, who live at the limits of endurance, living in extremis: you may just have to find your freedom there, and you can. It will take the spiritual equivalent of an earthquake to bust out of jail as if free, as happened to St. Paul. The story tells a kind of parable--the gospel of forgiveness knocks down human walls. There is so much to forgive, and to be forgiven for, it could require a prisoner’s term to make amends, including for the crime involved. The same applies to us. You may not walk out of the literal prison rubble as Paul did, but inmates can walk around the prison like a free man or a free woman, and the same applies to our prisons. Now, we can’t claim to live like someone in a prison anything like Walpole or Rikers Island or the Cook County Jail. And yet, some of us are locked up inside and need our earthquake, too. An earthquake experience awaits everyone in God’s world, like the earthquake that set Paul and Silas free, for anyone at their limits, in or out of prison. Christ’s gospel of forgiveness unlocks human locks.
Why be sad--that's my question to myself. Sad is a big nothing.
Why be sad--sad goes nowhere--when you can be mad--it’s so much more satisfying. There’s plenty to be mad about--let me count the reasons--I’m mad at Texas, I’m mad at the US military-industrial complex (which we were warned about). Mad is good, mad is an emotion I can express.
Why be sad--sad stews in its own juices--when you can be worried. There’s plenty to be worried about--parents juggling kids and work, parents with special needs kids who can’t get special services, families sleeping at the borders under viaducts, refugees arriving with no secure landings, evictions of people already living paycheck to paycheck. Worried is good--worried is only natural to feel.
Why be sad, when we really want to grieve. We feel grief over the losses not only of lives but also of culture and community. Where can we go to weep--if we don’t we haven’t marked the day.
Why be sad--sad is a cop-out--when you can be disgusted. There’s plenty to be disgusted about--public leaders who lie, public leaders who won’t take responsibility--the ONE PERCENT. Disgusted is good--if you aren’t disgusted, you’re not paying attention.
Sad is a kind of limbo, a non-state, a malaise that suspends your animation. I’m not talking about SAD--Seasonal Affective Disorder--that is a real condition--chemical imbalances caused by decrease in available sunlight--for that there are treatments. Sadness, on the other hand, is un-real, a situation of sluggish arrest of the emotions.
Sadness is not so much an emotion as it is a mood--how do you express a mood?--you can’t. That’s dangerous because indifference slips up on us and then leads to anomie--a disregard for self or others--an ethic-erasure. Sad is a choice of those who won’t accept negative emotions, like anger, worry, and disgust.
Don’t be sad--there are alternatives--find the joy--look for it--it’s in there--it’s native to your nature--you are a creature of God--you live in a universe of divine abundance. Jesus was accused of committing joy--they said the disciples of John the Baptist fast, but your Jesus can be seen eating and drinking like they were at a wedding.
You came to the right place today--you came to church--Sabbath is basically a mental health day--you can sing here, you can listen, pray silently, you space out, you can daydream--it’s free time. The main thing is we don’t have to deny our emotions here. You should take away from a Sabbath service that you can be outspoken, you can be energetic, you can be real, you can be alive to your neighbor and to those you think are your enemies--what that permits, what that inspires, is JOY.
You entered a place of joy and peace today, where you will realize that the enemy isn’t other political parties or other religions or other races. The enemy in St. Paul’s language is the devil. For human beings life is a struggle against “the wiles of the devil.” What are those wiles except the temptation to check out, forget and lie down.
Why are we tempted to check out? It happens when the distance between the real and the ideal is too great for us. Rather than accept the real, we slip into a sadness that provides the convenient shelter we need. It’s OK temporarily, it’s unavoidable. Sometimes, “not OK, is OK,” and that calls for strength, spiritual strength.
St. Paul uses a military metaphor to describe that strength. We may wince at the military images, but we know what he means--
Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Perhaps, there may be a better analogy than the military one of Paul’s to talk about the strength that secures us in Truth, Righteousness, the Gospel itself, Faith, Salvation, and the Holy Spirit. If you think of one, please share it with me.
We not only have a Gospel to share, the Good news amidst the other news; we have a legacy at Eliot Church to renew and extend. We don’t have time for sadness--!
What do Christians have for Yom Kippur? Mark 1:9-15 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
Our next word from the Biblical text is Repent, Repentance. The ten days that began with Rosh Hashanah and ending last Thursday with Yom Kippur impose upon Jews the demand to contemplate their lives, their behavior and attitudes and seek ways to change. Repentance and reform and renewal, announced with the blowing of the shofar (ram’s horn), culminate on the holiest day, Yom Kippur (“the day of atonement”).
This morning I am asking the question, What do Christians have for Yom Kippur? What is the place of repentance in Christian practice?
*** A young man from a socially prominent family returns to his native grounds from military duty. He encounters a girl he had known as a youth now grown up to be very beautiful. He is overwhelmed with love and desire. But she is unavailable, being a servant in the family household. During his visit, he importunes her and entices her into the greenhouse where they make love. She awakes the next morning with expectations of continuing the romance, but he’s already gone and has only left her a note. In the note, is a $100 bill, to her horror. She soon finds she is pregnant and is fired for it and ostracized from the community. The baby dies in infancy.
By some ten years later our young man has attained a major rank in the military and plays quite the dandy about town with his friends and their women. One day he is called for jury duty and listens to the case against three petty thieves, one of whom is a woman accused of murdering one of their victims. The accused murderer admits to being a prostitute and having robbed a customer, but denies the murder. The judge accepts the jury’s guilty verdict and sentences her to five years hard labor. Over the course of the trial, our officer recognizes her to be the young woman he degraded and disgraced. Immediately he realizes the connection between his actions and her fate. He approaches the judge on the spot and tries to get the verdict reversed. To no avail. He importunes him to reduce the sentence. To no avail. Our officer uses his rank to get into the offices of people high in the criminal justice system. To no avail. All the time, he is trying to get into the prison where she is kept in order to visit her, and when he finally does he begs for her forgiveness. She won’t have any of it. “I’ll get you out, I’ll save you. Just forgive me.” “You only want to save your eternal soul.” She sends him, baffled, away. Nevertheless, he manages to talk to her again as she is being transferred from the prison to the train taking prisoners to the labor camps, and he promises he will follow her and wait for her with the intention of marrying her. “I want to save you.” To no avail.
Over time as her sentence proceeds, she falls in love with another prisoner and eventually she decides she will marry him upon release. She tells our officer, who by now has forsaken his own family and fortune and taken up the cause of all prisoners because of the penal system’s bestial abuse of them. He resigns himself to her decision and, still unforgiven, blesses their plans to marry. But the whole ordeal has converted him to a life of reforming prisons and the criminal justice system.
I have just told you the plot of Leo Tolstoy’s last novel, Resurrection, published in 1899, which runs to 450 pages. The importance of our story can be found in that day in the jury box. Prince Dmitri Neklyudov was smitten with the realization that he is the cause of her downfall. Cause and effect were welded together in a lightning crack. He is instantly remorseful and sincerely knows he must seek her forgiveness. He is incredulous at the verdict because he knows her character and she is innocent. After repeated attempts to get her off, and with repeated visits to her in the prison, he asked her forgiveness which she declined to do over and over. This could be a story about forgiveness, because it raises the ethical issue of whether she was wrong to refuse it to him. But it’s not about forgiveness. The story is about repentance, which can lead, even without the forgiveness, to resurrection, hence the title of the novel. Prince Neklyudov found, in the five years he traveled with the prison train to Siberia, that he had found a purpose in life. It is interesting to note that an alternative translation of the title was “The Awakening,” suggesting that just seeing himself for what he was restored his life to him. He changed, without benefit of her forgiveness, anyway. And this only reflects the painful reality of life that forgiveness does not always come in one’s own lifetime or that of the person you seek forgiveness from.
Jesus is another word for Forgiveness. But, Repentance occupies the entire foreground of the Christian gospel. The word “repent” is among the first words Jesus utters in the gospel record, as you heard in the text for today. It means “to turn,” that is, to turn toward God, or in the Yom Kippur liturgy, to return to God (TeShuva). That is, return to good standing with God and with the community. To be in right relation with God is a definition of happiness. The health of human society depends upon the health of human relations, and repair of human injury is indispensable. Repent, mind you, is not the same as remorse which is a feeling, a bad feeling. To repent, on the other hand, is an action--to repent is to turn toward the light. In fact, it is like turning on the light when you go into a darkened walk-in closet, all of a sudden you see everything. It makes you want to say, “My God, why didn’t you tell me?” God’s answer would be, “I did--in Jesus.” The light enables you to re-order your life and your whole sense of self.
This is the whole point of the Jewish High Holy Days which concludes with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when the return to God’s good graces is fulfilled, or set in motion for the next year. And what do Christians have for Yom Kippur?
Since we are spiritual descendants of Judaism, the Christian year has several close parallels. There is no single “day of atonement” as such, although communion Sundays involve the same repentance and resolve to amend. The 50 days of Lent leading up to Holy Week and Easter represent a comparable spirit, being a time of special contemplation of our lives in relation to Christ’s. But the focus, unfortunately, can fall exclusively on Christ’s sufferings.
In Judaism and in Chrisitianity, the penitent attempts to make a clean breast of things, so that the weight of the past with its sin and errors, its hurts and violations, can be wiped away. Jews wish each other “to a good year,” but Christians don’t exactly have an expression we share after communion. It’s an open question what we could devise for our good wishes. Something, I hope, that would convey that this is your moment to step out of the mire of time toward the light, toward eternity from which you can see where you really are. All else is vanity, vanity as the Preacher in Ecclesiastes says, compared to the light. Turn, return, to it. Amen.
The Labor of Our Bodies and the Work of Our Hands
It was a day just like this one, 20 years ago yesterday. A perfect fall morning with high blue skies in the Northeast. And then, and then . . . Now, after a week of mourning of all those lost on that day, we realize that was the day “first responders” took on a whole new meaning. Underneath it all, we are still in shock.
I. As the 21st year following 9/11 opens today, we actually see a world the way it was when Genesis was written, in one important respect anyway. We see a world ever struggling to escape the bonds of earthly necessity—the bonds which nature dictates to us, the need for food, shelter and security—we see a world in which people and nations are willing to do literally anything to secure its goods and its comforts. Because, inside every person is a living creature who must bow to the demands of nature, demands as ironclad as the force of gravity.
Genesis refers to the most basic fact of life—Nature does not give up nourishment to man, or woman, without effort. You can’t eat the forests or the deserts or the seas. Survival must be extracted forcibly from “Mother” nature. Work, Genesis says, hard work is men’s fate, and women’s too, to be precise. Just as the woman suffers pangs with every childbirth, the man suffers the pangs of endless toil— (it is the same word in Hebrew, according to Robert Alter’s notes). So nothing can be taken for granted either in the creating or in the sustaining of life. Gains are not permanent—any given creature is only a sometime success who must renew, secure, and guarantee that success against a change of fortune or circumstance.
It’s just as true of nations as it is of people—how else are we to explain a rich country like the United States needing to shore up its own bountiful resources with a worldwide network of military bases to defend our “national interests”? Did we really have to spend 20 years, and how many lives!, defending this consumer existence of ours? Deep down inside, humans and nations suffer from serial insecurity.
This is our world, this is our experience today. Genesis pierced straight to the heart of the human condition—to be human is to suffer in these two particular ways in which we are subject to Nature. And so it is that people are always prone to dream of a by-gone blissful state of perfection, a “before.” Nevertheless, every day, we humans must awake from that dream in a terrain of contingency and terror, scrapping and scraping the means of subsistence from a grudging soil and painfully delivering ever more mouths to feed and to defend from other human predators.
II. Through every era of human history, we have sought to dispel the “curse” and bring nature under our control, to make nature yield more with less effort—through the eras of tool making, agronomy, refining minerals, the bronze age, the iron age, the industrial age, the atomic age, and the computer age. The human has resorted to gain any mortal advantage over competitors and threats—it’s a jungle out there--just let your guard down and find out.
Genesis pierces straight to the heart of the human condition, nor has subsequent history invalidated Genesis’ description of human life. Except we abhor toil, and every society has arranged it so somebody is tending to the body and its needs, tending to the fields and animals, butchering and cleaning, hauling and digging, sustaining the fuel supply of the human engine. The life of the laborer is deemed so unfulfilling that humans invented indentured servitude or slavery—acquiring a labor force through taking prisoners of war, or by some other means like the slave trade we engaged in—thus creating a caste system or a servant class.
The closer you labor in nature, the lower the status in society you occupy, the lower you are paid, the less you are valued (see the new film, “Worth,” about setting the insurance compensations for 9/11 survivors and families.) If you’ve watched a season of Downton Abbey, you’ve seen this pernicious principle at work. Likewise, if you’ve ever seen Chris Rock’s routine comparing “jobs and careers.”
And you can even see this economic arrangement in the backdrop of this morning’s parable, too. Jesus has a theological point to make, which is to assure his listeners that, come early or late, God will always receive you. But to make his point, Jesus as usual resorts to a commonplace of life which everyone would recognize—laborers lining up by the fields hoping to get hired for the day. I saw them myself in L.A., gathering every morning under the freeway cloverleafs, lining up behind the trucks waiting to load up laborers and hoping to be chosen.
In our parable, the landowner sees himself as beneficent in giving everybody the same wage for the day, but that’s not the way the laborers see things. But the vulnerability of the laborers is quite apparent, and fairness to them would mean paying them more than the late comers. The laborer depends totally on how the landowner chooses to define “generosity.”
Civilization has only sporadically tried to protect the laborer even as it protects itself from Nature. Mechanization and the industrial revolution seemed only to have made things worse.
What a history humans have woven out of work—toil, slavery, danger, disease, wealth, happiness, war!
III. But that’s why church is so important. To dispel the “curse” as Genesis saw it, we have only to commit to community. To dispel the curse of labor that led to the subordination of women and servants and slaves, day laborers, wage earners, and caregivers, God called us to create community. Not as a social group with its hierarchies and cliques, but as a kind of “mutual aid” society. Not like when my wife and I join the MFA and drop in occasionally on this or that exhibit, which is OK for what it is. But the church is much more, it is a flotation device in the storm of life as nature shaped it. Nor is it either just a refuge from the hazards of nature but where we pull the human back from our inhumanity in times of duress.
The Bible depicts our expulsion from Eden into Christ’s church, passing through Sinai, Zion, Jerusalem, and Golgotha on the way. Through this passage, we learned from Martin Luther that all labor and work is godly in God’s eyes. In truth, the church brings us to love life and to love the world as it is. Pope Francis envisioned the church as a sort of “field hospital.” And so we are, although not staffed with doctors for the patients but wherein we all minister to each other. And the healing balm that is applied starts and ends with the process of Christ’s forgiveness wherein we repent, reform and find renewal. Let us be the church. Let us be Eliot Church, for the sake of those in and around this community and region. Amen. Rev. Richard Chrisman, September 12, 2021
Are women people? What a question! Of course women are people. Why would I ask such a question? Because, to judge from the piece of anti-abortion legislation that went into effect in Texas last week, and without objection from the U.S. Supreme Court, not everybody thinks so. This law makes abortion illegal after 6 weeks (before a woman is barely aware of being pregnant), and it allows a citizen to sue any party to the arranging, paying for or providing of an abortion (pitting private citizen against citizen). Its excesses betray an ulterior motive than saving babies’ lives, which for many supporting the Texas bill, may be so. But, for many others, it’s manifestly also about reversing women’s emancipation.
This law is just the caboose on the long train of legislation going back 100 years meant to make not only abortion but also contraception and sex education and reproductive health barely available to women there or anywhere in this country. The unusual fierceness of the Texas law intensifies the long resistance to women’s emancipation.
How can we avoid the conclusion that some people view women as just so much potting soil, in one commentator’s phrase? Women’s suffrage took 50 years of exertion and sometimes violence before the 19th Amendment was passed in 1919, the ratification process having come down to a single vote in the Tennessee House of Representatives. The marriage laws kept a manhole cover over women’s heads until women’s suffrage made change possible. The Equal Rights Amendment passed in the U.S. Congress in 1972 but was ultimately defeated in the state ratification process in 1980. Women’s right to self-determination seems like the last thing Americans will stand for. Many Americans act as if they do not trust women as adult people.
The concern may well be to save babies’ lives, but if so, why should this be done on the backs of women alone--two people are responsible, but they are not both being held responsible. The anti-reproductive rights laws transfer the entire responsibility to one party alone for something that two people do together, one hopes consensually (obviously not in the cases of rape and incest). The anti-abortion position transfers the entire burden exclusively to the woman.
The abortion debate is legitimate, with truth to be found on both sides of the conflict, and I am not going to rehearse that debate here. What is NOT legitimate is abusing the Bible to rationalize your position against abortion.
Howard Moody, the renowned minister of Judson Memorial Church in NYC and an outspoken participant in the abortion debate of the 1960s, always said, “Leave the Bible out of it.” But you can’t--it’s embedded in our culture and in our assumptions. For instance, abortion and reproductive freedom opponents openly state that woman should be under a man’s rule, and the Bible tells them so. They cite as their evidence the creation story (the second one) in Genesis (chapters 2 and 3) where God created a woman out of Adam’s rib and assigned her as Adam’s “helpmeet.” They cite that Eve was created second chronologically which establishes her subordination to Adam. They blame her disobedience as the cause of their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. But here are my objections to this abuse of the Bible.
You can’t make doctrine out of poetry. This creation story is a fanciful, wholly fictional answer to the question, “How did we get here? Who are we?” This portion of Genesis reads like the script of a Christmas pageant, where animals talk and God walks around demanding answers.
What you learn from this story is the importance of taking responsibility for our actions, which the pair does not do: Adam blames Eve, and Eve blames the snake. If there is anything like an “original sin” in this story, it is evading culpability. The genders here are equal in their evasion of culpability.
Their expulsion from Eden was not a “Fall,” or a punishment for anything, because the “curses” on the pair simply reflect the reality of planetary life. The myth of “the Fall,” so-called, begun in Genesis, argued by St. Augustine, and elaborated by the poet John Milton in over 10,000 lines of epic verse, is factual for many Christians. The only facts are life’s sufferings. Labor pains may feel like a curse to women, but they are simply the result of quadrupeds going upright and becoming bi-peds, complicating the birth canal. And Adam is told what everybody knows: subsistence and survival have to be extracted from Nature and so is fated, not “condemned,” to live by the sweat of his brow. (And by the way, the snake is also cursed with having to grovel in the dirt.) Theirs is not a “Fall” (which is not a Biblical term anyway) but an Entrance into reality as they leave a Paradise imagined by the narrator to have preceded our existence as we know it. Eve is not to be blamed for human suffering at all, as church doctrine asserts.
Why can such a story be in the Bible, if it is as fanciful as I claim--? Because, it dramatizes the first observations and feelings of one particular society about our earthly life. The writers of Genesis preserved this legend to explain the painful facts of human life as we experience them. They imagined a previous life of perfection without suffering, and they concluded that we can only have “fallen” from that state as punishment of some kind. It’s one guess. But a deeper look at Genesis 2-3 reveals woman’s true fate on earth, and man’s.
The forces of nature which humans have faced throughout eras of changing climates and circumstances as well as, most importantly, the burden of overwhelming reproductive demands, they all require management. Society has had to employ parental controls, institutional (church) controls, and cultural controls to keep child bearing within the capacities of child rearing. Self-management is ultimately called for. Abstinence, when enforced, will work, but it has seldom worked voluntarily (except as part of religious vocation). Contraception has been practiced throughout history, until the Church pounced on it (v. Humanae Vitae, 1968). Abortion has also had an ancient history, because if unwanted, or unintended, pregnancies are not stopped, the direction of personal history can change drastically. Abortion is a last resort, and women will take it if absolutely necessary. Isn’t it best for us to get out of the way? We really have no choice but to trust the woman with this decision. After all, the men are often not there except to legislate what, after the fact, a woman does with her body.
Compare the three versions of Eve. Paula Stallworth’s woman [from poem entitled "I Am A Woman": email RevRick for a copy.] is 3-dimensional, sure of her powers. In Genesis, Eve is 2-dimensional, a free agent with a partner. In church doctrine, Eve is 1-dimensional, alone guilty of causing human suffering. Take your pick.
Woman is trustworthy. I’m not pro-choice or anti-choice. I believe we have NO choice but to trust her with her decision.
Sin is not what you think it is. (*) Luke 15:20-24
The Bible is just not a user-friendly book. In fact, it is not a book at all, it is a library. It contains 66 books of a dizzying variety of kinds. There are different GENRES--letters, histories, legal compendiums, prophecies, sermons, visions, prayers and poetry. Moreover, each of the books has different ORIGINS, some having been generated out of oral culture, from legends and songs, others being patchwork quilts stitched together by editors, still others have been revised and “improved” for religious consumption. Then, too, within each book are VARIETIES of perspective and theology. It would be nice to know, of all the other books and versions available, who made the selections that resulted in our Bible?
We have not even scratched the surface on BOOKS, but the same is true of particular WORDS. One of the words, for instance, whose meanings are widely misunderstood right now is FEAR. There are two different senses in which it is used. “Fear not,” which appears 365 times in the Bible, means something different than the expression, “the fear of the Lord” which has 490 references. The same word has two completely different meanings. In the first case, fear means “dread,” which we are reassured there is no need to feel in life. In the other, it denotes “respect” as the appropriate attitude before God and has no punitive meanings. That’s one example when a word can confuse the reader of the Bible.
Yet another is the word “SIN.” The word “sin” doesn’t mean what you think it does. Generally, you take it to be a bad word, signifying something bad. Yes, it does signify something bad, but it is a GOOD word. How can that be?
The words used prior to the Israelite religion and Christian faith to designate human fault were words like defilement, stain, blemish, filth, impurity. People understood themselves to be defiled by some objective act which is prohibited. In pre-Israelite religion, purification rites had the physical purpose of cleansing when a prohibited act occurred--touching blood, for instance, through a murder or menses. But purification rites also functioned symbolically--our essential impurity is never really altered, nevertheless, the rite is intended to represent the NEED to purify. Failure to purify oneself entailed serious punishments. Even being UNINTENTIONALLY associated with evil incurs defilement, such as with death or disease. Anything SEXUALLY related was subject to prohibition due to contamination, but there were different levels of intensity associated with the gravity of the taboo.
The emotion associated with defilement is shame, an emotion arising from embarrassment at having something very basic and very personal exposed to view.
We today do not remotely understand the power of defilement over a society. It has no ethical import for us--to us, the prohibitions seem arbitrary. We live in a religious environment thoroughly influenced by Jewish and Christian worldviews. For us, the operative term for fault or wrongdoing is not defilement; it is not defilement but “sin.”
Sin connotes wrongful behavior. Contrary to pre-Israelite views, there is nothing wrong with you. In fact, according to Genesis, you are very much part of God’s good creation. In this way, Genesis was a protest against the doctrine of defilement. When you deviate from God’s law, you don’t cease being good in your essence. The new understanding became that human beings are prone to sin (fallible), hence you are a SINNER. But you are NOT a blemished product.
The emotion associated with sin is guilt. And it need only be a temporary emotion because, as we shall see in a moment, the wrong which we call sin has a remedy.
But, before long, Christianity corrupted itself when it began to teach the “total depravity” of human beings. It regressed to pre-Israelite faith. Even parents commit this error whenever we say, “Bad boy” or “bad girl.” And preachers err when they set out to convict you of sin, in the sense of being a faulty product. For that, their remedy lies in an imagined transaction in the sky between the Father (so-called) and the Son (so-called) brought about by the sacrifice of the Son. So the human being is left no role either in fault, because we are essentially faulty, or in the remedy, because Jesus took care of it. In that view, it is for us to accept Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior.
In fact, the actual remedy, the biblical remedy, for wrong-doing is confession, repentance, contrition, repair and reparation. The gospel proclaims that God’s forgiveness is perpetual. It is like the crystal clear water of a glacial lake. But you have to climb the Mountain of Humility and ask for a glass. All you have to do is ask--you won’t be refused. There is no transaction in the sky--it is an earthly transaction between me and someone I have wronged or hurt, made possible by Yahweh’s forgiveness that was ratified, revealed and celebrated by the Resurrection of Christ.
Sin is the violation of a personal bond (“covenant”) between me and God, and only a personal accounting removes the offense, if not the hurt itself. At some point, our personal relation to God was intensified exponentially by the man Jesus of Nazareth whom we therefore call the Son of God. Jesus became the bridge to a God too far.
Finally, instead of the retributive justice of our legal system, we have been given a new lease on life called restorative justice. Sin, the cause of a relationship broken off, has been conquered, and a relationship can be recovered.
It is a loss to our public life that we don’t think of crimes also as sins. On TV, in politics--crimes are prosecuted. We see people convicted which we call justice, but it is really a kind of societal vengeance--punitive justice. Shouldn’t we also be thinking about the relationships ruptured in a crime which need repairing. Thinking of crimes as sins would point us in this direction. Then worse, by not regarding crimes as sins, convicted criminals are treated by society as defiled in perpetuity--marked for life. Meantime, nothing is done to repair ruptured relationships.
St. Paul illustrates this change when he bemoans the fact he does what he knows he shouldn't, and doesn’t do what he should. He is identifying wrong with actions, with behavior, not with self. And our gospel parable of the Prodigal Son makes it clear, the offended party and God are reconciled to the offending party.
Jesus is the heart at the center of human hurt. He makes possible the repair of sin, which you now realize is actually a good word.
(*) For further reading: the classic source on this subject is Paul Ricoeur, The Symbolism of Evil (Boston: Beacon Press, 1967). A recent, very accessible analysis can be found in Stephen Finlan, Ph.D., Salvation Not Purchased (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2020). Finlan is the Sr. Minister of First Church, W. Bridgewater, MA, and teaches at Boston University.
Our Independence was declared July fourth in 1776. It declared us free from British rule. And a war ensued.
In 1852, Frederick Douglass declined the invitation to give the annual Independence Day speech in Rochester NY because the enslaved were not free from white rule, south or north. On the next day, he did give the speech, a blistering one that received a rousing standing ovation from an all-white audience.
The emancipation of the American slaves 10 years later also necessitated a war. Ultimately, the Union victory brought about the creation of Juneteenth as a national holiday last month, making the Black Independence Day official.
The fourth of July commemorates our political freedom from Great Britain, but that was a long time ago now. It seems rather quaint to think of our troubles with King George III 250 years ago after a year in which this nation quaked through the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd.
Don’t Americans need to be asking ourselves on this Independence Day of 2021, in what ways are we not free yet? Didn’t last year show us (once again) that the United States continues to have serious independence gaps since 1776, and 1865--?
Of course, your answer will differ depending on if you are female, Black in America, gay, or a non-Christian. However, white people are not free either, not as much as whites imagine--as long as we deny freedom to others, we are not free. Heather McGhee, in her book The Sum of Us, shows how American whites shortchange ourselves with every restriction we place on people of color--government benefits, housing access, student loans, voting rights--. In sum, whites are a perfect illustration of the old phrase: cutting off our nose to spite our faces, because racism costs white people enormous losses in economic prosperity, community health and national strength.
So far we have been talking about political freedom. But you know, political freedom in the West has its roots in the spiritual freedom proclaimed in the Bible. Even Gandhi acknowledged the importance of Biblical freedom to his own demand for India’s independence from England.
The human yearning for freedom found its expression and inspiration in the Biblical stories of the exodus from Egypt, the return from the Babylonian captivity, the end of servitude to idols, and release from the imprisonment by sin. Whether one is white or black, male or female, gay or straight, Greek or Jew, the Bible proclaims that spiritual freedom is everyone’s birthright that translated over time into the public domain. The question we have to be asking is, in what way am I myself, are we, not free? Have I discovered the plank in my own eye--the respect in which my wrongdoing is my own captivity?
You may recoil at St. Paul’s denunciation of the evil of sin. He uses a dichotomy between spirit and flesh that we have since graduated from. But with a little thought you should be able to identify with his own frustration about the manhole cover he lives under called sin. The good he would do, Paul says, he finds he does not do. Instead, he finds himself doing what he outright wishes he would not do! He is so tied up, he equates it with death itself.
When you think about it, if you think about it, don’t we feel the anchor we are dragging about? Don’t we pick up a signal that we haven’t nearly realized the spiritual freedom that the gospel promises?
Let us meditate a moment--how are you not free--let us count the ways:
You are bound, of course, by gravity--otherwise you would be flying. In that way you are not free. This is not meant to be a joke.
You are bound, too, by your body--it must be fed and sheltered, adorned and entertained. It must be nursed through infancy until independent enough to manage itself, and nursed through old age until our end. In that way you are not free.
The perplexities of your own personality have you tied up, wondering why you aren’t rich or famous. How on earth did your life turn out this particular way? In that way you are not free.
You have many emotions, some of which are not fully grown up, I venture to guess. In that way, you are not free.
Then too, some dependencies of yours still tie you up. Alcoholics in recovery understand this very well. But you do not remotely see the dependencies you’ve adopted and accustomed yourselves to. In this you are not free.
People have other crutches, too, religion itself, for instance, the escapist wishful thinking wrapped up in gospel garb.
More fundamentally even, and we have to go to an even deeper level to expose these weights on our souls, how do your life choices contradict the purposes for which God made you? In that way, you are not free either.
Not to examine ourselves this way personally keeps us tangled up in our own shoelaces. And the failure of white people to examine ourselves this way diminishes the vigor with which we would fight for the political freedoms of others, as we say we want to, but don’t.
Nicolas Berdyaev, the Russian philosopher and mystic, wrote, “No Elder, however advanced in the spiritual life, could be of any help to me [in my crisis]. The whole problem lies here, in the very fact that I must discover for myself that which God has hidden from me. God expects from me a free creative act.”
What are the revelations waiting for you and hidden in the Bible? Freedom is hidden in the Bible. It is through creative engagement with God’s Word in the sacred text that we find our way to ultimate freedom. In the Bible you will encounter the radical news that the world can change, that people can change, that YOU can change. Because, the sins that you do not intend to commit, and the sins that you willfully commit, are forgiven when you ask. Thus you are freed to live and make your way again with your head held up high.
If it weren’t for forgiveness, we would never be able to own up to our wrongdoing--it would be crushing. We would much prefer to cling to our self-righteousness or deny outright that anything is wrong. No--! Belief in the forgiveness of sins enables you to face the hurt you cause others because you know you are not destined to repeat those wrongs forever. There is a door out of your prison, and its name is forgiveness. As Paul made existentially clear, if I know what is right (which it is the function of the law to teach), and I don’t do it anyway, I live a half-life suspended in self-hatred, cynicism, and hopelessness. That is what Paul meant when he said in one of the most vivid expressions in the entire Bible, “Will anybody deliver me from the body of this death?”
Because of Christ, you can live, truly live--Jesus’ story and the stories he read make up the Bible that’s in your hands. True independence awaits you. The day you see Christ this way is your personal Independence Day.
You may still shrink away, because you know it means making different choices and facing the world differently. But how long will you postpone?
Repentance, repair and resurrection on a national political level is obviously not very simple, to say the least, as we are seeing thrashed out in this country where so many people are at sixes and sevens in the effort to attain independence in their way, especially given the threats of violence.
Similarly, institutional self-appraisal is also not very tidy, but there are good examples, like higher education where institutions are examining their history for their indebtedness to slavery. And some corporations, too, have made re-appraisals that led to responding to the restrictive voting laws imposed in Georgia.
Religious institutions, ironically, have the hardest time. Are we one?--can Eliot Church come to terms with our indigenous history, and can we pause to explore what an anti-colonial endowment policy might look like? If Eliot Church wonders how much more our church could be doing to address the injustices of this country, we must get to the next level by asking and answering the question--how are we not free? What is missing in our collective picture? Because charity is not an acceptable relationship to the world.
True freedom, if we learn this first lesson, is seeking the freedom of others, which is the second lesson. The Bible is a parable of the spiritual life taken from real life with implications ultimately for public life. The Bible shall set you free indeed, and the whole world, too.
Do you ever wonder, where is the joy in your life, where did it go anyway? You can get it back, once you see the light.
Mark, the first gospel chronologically, goes from 0 to 60 miles per hour within the first half of his first chapter. Mark opens with an immediate quote of stirring words from the 4th century BCE prophet Isaiah announcing the appearance of a divine herald–”prepare ye the way of the Lord. Clear a straight path for him.” That herald is John the Baptist, baptizing crowds in the Jordan River and forgiving sins. John predicted that another one like him, but greater, was coming. Indeed, Jesus appears and is baptized, when the skies open and the voice of God declares, “You are my beloved Son.” From there, Jesus is driven into the desert by the Devil for 40 days and 40 nights to be tempted. Already only 14 verses in, when Jesus returns, John the Baptist has been imprisoned, and Jesus takes up preaching, “The time has arrived, the kingdom of God is upon you–repent and believe the gospel.”
So far, Mark has used up only 15 short verses, and we are way into the meat of the story. The pace really quickens now. Jesus goes about teaching and encounters men fishing in the Sea of Galilee to whom he calls out, “Follow me,” and four of them do. They go into the city of Capernaum, where they attend the Sabbath services. Jesus teaches there, too, and people listened, astounded. Mark says, because he taught as one with authority. So, very quickly, very quickly in Mark’s version, we see Jesus take up his calling and take hold of his audiences. He appears and takes the public stage immediately in this gospel.
“He taught as one with authority.” What did he teach? He taught God’s Word from the scripture he knew, the Hebrew Bible. And by what authority? Was Jesus credentialed and vetted to speak in the Temple? The gospel says he was baptized by John and divinely adopted. Was he of the priestly class, raised to read and interpret scripture–No. Was he even literate, or had he absorbed everything he knew of scripture from hearing oral recitation? We don’t know. But he taught as one with authority.
The theological explanation given by scripture and tradition is that Jesus was God or the Son of God. Be that as it may, in human terms what would this mean? What would make him so persuasive? First, it was the content of his message–it replicated very closely what was in Hebrew scripture and law. Jesus was clear that he did not come to abrogate the law but to fulfil it. Jesus rendered teaching that everybody already knew, but in a way that entered their hearts as never before. Again, how does that happen? Do we accept it as part of the miraculous, that Jesus was Jesus? Or is there something to learn here about our Savior that may engrave him in our hearts as he entered their hearts?
Let’s look at Mark’s report again–he taught as one “with authority.” It was not necessary to say he taught with “great authority,” it was enough to say “with authority” because that raised Jesus to a recognized level of public worthiness. I think it is legitimate to wonder, what did that entail between speaker and listener? No cinematic treatment has ever portrayed this mystery other than by close-ups of transcendent blandness. Because, they didn’t solve the problem.
No, but we can turn to the word “authority” itself for our clue. The word is related to “author” via the Latin “augere,” which means to increase, to augment. What does an author do but to increase and augment knowledge, to add and enrich what we know? And we know how scholars do this through research and so forth. But only after they have rendered past knowledge “in their own words.” An author’s authority comes from conveying and enlarging past or existing knowledge “in their own words.” What is important about that?
Here’s proof. If all Dr. Elizabeth or I did was to quote pages of the Bible or pages of commentaries or pages of experts, the letter would fall dead on the floor between us. But no, we augment what we have learned and quoted with understanding and words of our own–by which you feel that she personally owns this knowledge and takes it to greater depths. She has attained authority when you are moved to thank the preacher for something in the message. It is all due to the fact that it all came out “in her own words.” She personalized the truth of scripture by taking it off the printed page and lifting to your ears “in her own words.” You probably felt she was speaking “with authority.” Anyone is, when they are the author and speaking their own words.
In Jesus’ case, he took what he learned from the sacred texts, which were printed texts, and spoke them by memory and “in his own words.” He did introduce a certain augmentation, enriched it with his personal ownership. When you do that, you are not regurgitating formulas in a conventional way, but giving life to the words.
Hearing the words, as people exclusively did until the advent of the printing press, was a kind of magic. The Bible was known mainly auditorily. When people read a text, they did not do so silently, but speaking the words out loud. Here we are, a people of the Book, and yet its power is auditory.
You have probably experienced the truth of this. Let’s do an experiment. Let’s see what happens if we do with Jesus’ teachings what he did with Hebrew scripture. Take a piece of notebook paper. Then take 45 minutes and write down as much as you remember of Jesus’ teaching. You may fill the page before time is up–that’s ok. Time may run out before you have thought of much–that’s ok too. The goal is to see how our memory of scripture stands up in this modern age when we depend too much on the printed text. Do we experience Jesus in our ears at all?
Our theme today is imagination and the life of faith, and what this has to do with you, the Bible, Eliot Church, and the Annual Meeting. Imagination, and the life of faith.
Jesus is yours to imagine.
I. I have served Eliot Church as your Interim for almost exactly two years, to the day today. Two years is about an average length of tenure for interims, maybe a tad longer. Covid slowed us down somewhat, so we still have a little way to go together. But there is a Search Committee on the case!
All this puts me in a reflective mood. It makes me sad that I won’t be in your future--it feels like being the date who was fun but not meant for the long haul. It has been my principal assignment to get you from one ministry to the next, and that involves keeping the glue in the Eliot community with programming and worship. I have had Dr. Elizabeth and Monique as partners in that spiritual work, which has been a dream. And I hope there’s been some fun in it for everyone!
It has never been my calling to make people have faith. I have seen it as my calling to activate what faith you may have, be it very little or much. Your faith is personal. Faith is something individually held and owned. Like anything else in life, though, religion can be borrowed, imitated, faked, or have been forced upon you. However, authentic, life-giving faith arises from engagement with God and with the Word of God, active engagement and not passive reception. Jacob wrestled with the angel, remember! He was marked in the process.
We engage the Word of God by means of the Imagination. God gave you Jesus to imagine. Were it otherwise, God would have given us Mt. Fuji or the Grand Canyon for revelation. But no, God gave us someone who spoke and didn’t write, God gave us someone who taught and didn’t organize, God gave us someone who healed people and didn’t build buildings. All God gave us are the residues of residues of other people's memory of Jesus. From those residues, we must imagine Jesus. The operative faculty is the imagination. God gave us Jesus to imagine. Faith is an act of the Imagination! I know you may not have heard faith described this way before.
What else but Paul’s imagination was at work when he declared in the letter to the Colossian church: Jesus himself is the image of God. Jesus is the image of what creates creation and gives it its character. God is in Jesus and works through him for the perfection of creation through forgiveness. Paul put the experience he had of Christ on the road to Damascus together with the inspirational elements of Jewish and Greek thought at hand, combining, collating, weaving many different teachings into the Christ articulated in his letters. These are not doctrines, they are imaginings. You can feel Paul straining and reaching passionately to convey his Jesus to us, the Jesus of his faith is the Jesus he imagines.
What else but his imagination was at work when John of Patmos declares: God and Jesus rule over everything from their throne in the middle of the street of the heavenly city of Jerusalem, from which throne flows the river of the water of life, on either side of which grows the Tree of Life with fruit and leaves for the healing of the nations. John of Patmos, in what has been called the most Jewish book in the New Testament, has made a brilliant, dazzling picture of Jesus for the church--the Lamb on the Throne, whoever said that before?
What are these words but imaginings, visualizations, re-conceptions fashioned from the story of Jesus by the spirit of God’s forgiveness? What have Paul and John done but to imagine Jesus? Now you are definitely thinking, imagining is to pretend, to invent, to falsify. No. Paul and John have only done what everyone who meets Jesus is called to do--make my particular sense out of this blinding flash of light, to make continuities out of discontinuities. Now that they have done their brilliant work, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we must do ours. A spiritual experience is bound up in their startling words. We must enter into their words and phrases, engage the scenes and stories of Jesus actively to make sense for ourselves. You’ve got to wrestle with that angel. Either that, or take somebody else’s word for it--and that is not faith.
Imagination activates the life of faith. Without it, all you have is somebody else’s Jesus, the Jesus of your parents or Sunday School teachers, or MY Jesus. Or it’s the Jesus of Cecil B. DeMille or Mel Gibson. But what about your Jesus? Have you imagined Jesus, for yourself? Do you think of faith this way? Have you put aside time in your day, in your life, to compose your picture of Christ out of your experiences in this church or any other, your reading of scripture? It would be an indispensible faith exercise to have that kind of talk with yourself--it would be like meeting Jesus again for the first time (!). The result is faith. People always say, “Just have faith”--as long as people remember that it is an active endeavor--not like waiting for the bus.
I wonder today if I have lived up to my personal calling here? In 104 Sundays, have I, have we three, prompted you to imagine Jesus for yourselves? Perhaps you have, and I won’t ever know about it, or need to. But it’s an honest question I ask myself. And it’s a pertinent question for the day of our Annual Meeting. Because, the business we are called to do here, takes the same imagination. The elements are pretty basic--numbers, dates, reports, dollars, and so on--but are they commingled with all that we have learned in two years? Do we actively remember and bring into this moment with each other all the insights of our experience over two years of prayers, meetings, joys, disappointments and frustrations? Is the Christ we collectively imagine present to us here today? Do you bring with you this morning a Jesus in whom you have faith? Do enough of us have the faith necessary to see around the next corner way down there? That’s precisely the human challenge, of course--we can never see around the corner. But we can imagine. And what do you imagine here today? Do you imagine a church, a community of Christ, its congregation and its minister?
II. To open this Annual Meeting in the year of Covid 2021 is to participate in an act of faith--to activate our faith, a faith in the Jesus that Eliot Church imagines. If all we’re going to do is to balance the budget, that’s already been done for us, and we’ll be done in 10 minutes. Aren’t we a church, though? Aren’t we supposed to see how all of this holds together, how this building we own, the assets we control, and the history we have inherited, actually adds up to a ministry for Christ on this corner? And what do we conceive that ministry to be, how do we imagine the unfolding of ministry at Eliot Church?
Let’s review for a moment. Do we remember the lessons of the Soundings we did? Do we remember the Discernment process today, how we weighed the promises of alternative models of ministry. Does our community remember . . .
Is this not a day when a flash of light is possible, when it is revealed to us what’s beyond that corner, even though we can’t see around it? We arrive here with many elements swimming in the air over our heads. Will our imagination unite them into congregational resolve? A huge ship takes a huge crew--we still have the ship, but less crew. That’s our challenge in this meeting today. Nevertheless, we chose a Family Church Model, we set about right-sizing ourselves, we will be hiring a Building Manager, we are completing the Sanctuary Acoustics project, we are going through every room (Josephine and Rich have just emptied out the Parlor Kitchenette), the store rooms are next. We are preparing the soil for new seeds to be planted.
But there is more that we could do before a Settled Pastor arrives, and that time will be here sooner than you think. Based on what I have seen over two years (and the agenda of today’s meeting will prove me right), namely 1) Eliot could afford to take itself to Parliamentary procedure school, 2) hold a summer retreat about Endowment policy, 3) study what Partnership means. I’ll just suggest these for our summer menu, as part of preparing the soil for the planting of new seeds with your Settled Pastor.
I wonder, can anyone have a church without Imagination? You know the answer is: No. Jesus is yours to imagine. And Eliot Church’s future is yours to imagine, and embrace together, today.