Put It Down

Feb 11, 2018

by Rev. Scott Jamieson
Church Of Another Chance
Nashville, Tennessee

One pod at a time the men come into the chapel. The chapel is an easy place to find. It’s the only room in the jail where men can gather in a large group; four walls, a TV, a whiteboard mistakenly written on many times with the wrong markers showing a lasting stain not unlike the one many of the men feel about the mistakes in their lives. Many of the men arrive looking over their shoulders as if they wonder if they should be there. Others, some whom come to worship each week go about signing the attendance sheets and then greeting their outside guests with the warmth that comes from relationships that have been carefully nurtured by both.

Many of the guys come carrying their bibles…some with NRSVs, others with King James, others still with ESV, Messengers and whatever version might have been given to them.

Tonight, like other nights a third of our time is sharing the concerns that are happening in their lives: fear of getting out soon and falling right back into the same old situation, sadness over the failing health of auntie, shame that a son has followed in Dad’s footsteps. We hold each other’s space with tenderness, warmth and hopefulness. With each new concern, they go deeper into their pain. With each new concern, the men grip their bibles as if by squeezing harder their lives will be less hard.

The bible is like the power pack for the guys; their energy source. They find their daylight in their otherwise night-filled world. They look for the nugget, the scripture that will somehow transform their life from the often horror-filled sequence of mistakes that it has been into one that suddenly fills them, not only with all the right answers to their questions of life, but the clarity and commitment to live as they’d like.

But, they stop for a minute, maybe longer when the pastor tells them during the sermon that it is time to put down their bibles, actually to stop reading them. They look around wondering if they just heard that right. Did the pastor just say, “stop reading the bible?” But, yes, that is the message and not just for them. The bible is not the remedy…the bible is an anthology of words, to some it’s the inerrant word of God, to others it’s the inspired word from God given to men over 1500 years. At the risk of being considered heretical, the deal is this…by putting the bible down, we are forced to leave the comfort of its words, and the safety of knowing what the book says. That’s all good, for sure. But, the real deal isn’t in reading, learning, memorizing, and quoting, hiding in the text, if you will…it’s living it. And there is a big gap there…no, a huge gap and not just in jail and prison. It’s everywhere.

So, when the men hear the confronting challenge that the deal is to live the Gospel, or as we like to say….”Make me guess what part of the Gospel you are living right now,” the responsibility shifts to one of co-creation with the gracious, loving God who gives life and wants us all to live in harmony with each other. To love one another as Jesus tells us is the one thing we must do; it doesn’t mean to quote this commandment and then walk back to the cell cursing the guys two rows behind you. It doesn’t mean to say one thing and do something else, it doesn’t mean you smack your wife, do a drug deal, light a fire, or talk smack to the CO. It doesn’t mean you hit your kid, lie to your partner, drive drunk, tell lies, spread rumors, and talk behind other people’s back. Nope.

Neither God, Jesus, nor this pastor really cares if you can quote scripture or not. I don’t care if you clean up on Jeopardy by sweeping the whole bible category and win a trip to Rome. I want to know if you are willing to change your life, and the world, not just in your mind while you read, but by actually living what the Gospel says. Love doesn’t hurt another in word or action.

We could all do better by quoting bible less and living it more. Or as St. Francis allegedly once said, “In everything you do, preach the Gospel and if you have to use words.”

Category: Spirit

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