The First Baptist Church of Bridgeport
Sunday, August 11, 2013
Luke, Mothers & Children:
The Innocent Spouse & Children Project
By Jeff Grant
Do Not Be Afraid.
Allow Them To Happen.
Good morning, and Welcome to the First Baptist Church of Bridgeport Connecticut. For those of you who are new here, my name is Jeff Grant, and I am the Associate Minster here at the First Baptist Church, and I am also the Director of Prison Ministries.
Pastor Scott is away this morning, and he has asked me fill in for him to preach this morning’s sermon on our Scripture reading from the Gospel of Luke. With your permission, I have decided to give you both a sermon and an update on the prison ministries at the church. And specifically on the important and groundbreaking work we are doing at Innocent Spouse and Children Project.
Let’s start with a true story:
Not too long ago I received a call from a friend about a family in crisis. This family was from an affluent suburb of a major financial center. The husband/father was now in prison for securities fraud.
Upon his arrest the husband left his family penniless, with no plan, no means to support the mother, children or their home. Their family and friends cut off all ties with them almost immediately – they were left without any emotional, spiritual or financial support. They were Eskimos on an ice barge.
It was a scenario I knew all too well. I agreed to meet with the mother the next day – I asked my wife to come along for the first part of the meeting and help in case the mother wanted her point of view and a little extra hand holding.
The house and grounds were lovely, if fallen slightly into disrepair – I was familiar with the Norma Desmond-esque nature of these things. I was pragmatic and down to business, my wife was all compassion and kindness (her specialties). The mother was a deer caught in the headlights – she had no plan, no direction, and nowhere to turn.
The mother’s tale is a sad and all-to-common one these days – an over-ambitious husband who lost his way. The details are not particularly important, and even if they were, propriety and privilege prevent me from discussing them here.
The mother needed to stop being a victim and to make some difficult decisions. What other choice did she have – it certainly looked like her husband was not going to be coming home any time soon. She needed answers, to understand her options. She needed a plan – a plan that included a spiritual solution for her material problems.
A spiritual solution basically means to not be afraid, to expect miracles – and then allow them to happen. I have no ready explanation for how or why this works – yet it seems to work each and every time.
It took us a little time to develop trust – I was asking her to make a big leap of faith. But the more we spoke and shared our lives, it became clear that what we shared was our suffering – we were bonded by our brokenness. I shared with her my family’s suffering and spiritual solution, and suggested that our experience, strength and hope would open a path for her family’s own spiritual solution.
Of course, her spiritual solution would have to deal with some very real issues. She needed to find out what went wrong, when and why? To do this she needed a team of professionals – she gave me permission to put together a team of expert lawyers and other professionals to work solely on the behalf of her and her children (incredibly, she never retained independent counsel – or received any advice or counsel – independent from her husband who was now in prison).
In very short order, we had a full team in place where there had been none. Among the miracles that happened for this mother were that this team of wonderful lawyers and professionals all worked on her matter in nontraditional payment arrangements.
We delved deep into spiritual matters – and dug into the how and why? We searched for signs and guideposts, as to how this all could have happened – how this innocent spouse could have been unwittingly dragged into this mess? We searched, scoured for, and unearthed clues; we considered, intuited and prayed for options and solutions.
Through the process of seeking spiritual solutions, expecting miracles, allowing them to happen, faith, teamwork and discipline, and overcoming fear – today it looks as though we will able to secure a real future for this mother and her children.
Let’s talk about Luke:
The first half of the lectionary year – from Advent to Ascension – is typically called the “Season of Christ” and addresses the question, “Who is Jesus?” The second half of the year – all of the Sundays of Pentecost is named the “Season of the Church” and addresses the question, “What does it mean to follow Jesus?” This week’s Scripture reading from Luke is enmeshed in the heart of what it means to be a Follower of Jesus.
According to today’s scripture reading, Jesus is on the road to Jerusalem, teaching his disciples and the crowd he attracts along the way. After sharing the parable of the rich fool, Jesus urged his disciples to dwell on no earthly concerns:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear…Instead, strive for God’s kingdom and these things will be given to you as well.”
Jesus then invites them to give all they have away and, in the verses that follow, to look for Christ’s imminent return. The edgy part in the last verses – reward for those who were ready and what feels like a thinly veiled threat to those who are not – only heightens the sense of expectancy for, and tension around, Jesus’ instructions.
There is, however, one line, one phrase really, that stands out for me, that helps put the entire passage into perspective. It is when Jesus says, Do Not Be Afraid:
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
Do not be afraid is the one of the main points through out the good news of all Scripture – and it occurs many times in Luke’s account of the Jesus story. Do not be afraid is the starting point and anchor for everything else in this passage.
I’ve learned a lot about Jesus’ admonition Do Not Be Afraid – I learned it mostly through service to others. Service and volunteer work is something I suggest to everybody who goes through life crises – and since almost everybody goes through some life crisis, I recommend service to others to almost everybody.
As many of you know, Pastor Scott chose me for the prison ministry position here at The First Baptist Church of Bridgeport because of the path that I chose after I was released from prison. I served almost fourteen months in a Federal prison for a white-collar crime. After my release, I volunteered in hospitals, rehabs and prisoner reentry programs; I attended and earned a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary in NYC – the preeminent urban seminary in the world; I became a prison minister here in the inner city in Bridgeport, Connecticut – this is my main calling and where I spend most of my time.
But something else was burning a hole in my soul – it was a thirst – a calling – to help people and families get through what my family went through. That’s why we founded our new ministries: the Progressive Prison Project and the Innocent Spouse and Children Project, both in Greenwich, Connecticut, that offer experienced and compassionate support to the families of the people accused or convicted of white collar or other nonviolent crimes. These families receive so little compassion and empathy – and are so easy to “other” – by a world that is all too eager to believe the next sensationalized headline and to ignore the human side of things.
You can imagine how frightened this mother and her children have been. Frightened, isolated, penniless, without hope. You can imagine how difficult it was when we came into each others’ lives and we prayed together, and then asked each other to not be afraid. We started by asking each other if we could look at things differently, engage in spiritual solutions, start to expect miracles, and that we could allow these miracles to happen simply through faith, trust and eliminating fear – or at least the strangle-hold that fear had on making good, sound decisions.
Huge miracles have already happened for this mother and her children – mostly through the work of the wonderful team of professionals that we put together for her. This team also had to overcome its own fears, learn to expect miracles and allow them to happen. Doing things differently is just as difficult for lawyers and other professionals as it is for anyone else – maybe even harder.
Through the outstanding work of this team, we learned just this week that there will almost certainly be a safe and secure future for this mother and her children. God has delivered what mere mortals might have thought was impossible. I know what this mother and her children originally thought was impossible.
Certainly, there will be a lot of life changes that they will have to get used to – theirs is a family that will almost certainly be split forever by institutions like divorce and prison. And this mother and her children, through none of their own doing, will likely bear the cross of a tragedy in which a lot of people and institutions lost of a lot of money and respect for the system.
But as I see it, the biggest tragedy of all about white-collar and nonviolent crime is not how big the matter is, or sensationalized the headlines – it is in our failure to see it as a human story, with real people, real brokenness, and real families left behind.
That is why we are honored and proud to announce the launch of the Innocent Spouse & Children Project. We believe it is the first ministry in the United States to specifically support the families of people accused or convicted of white collar and other nonviolent crimes.
We are so grateful to have the opportunity to have helped this mother and her children move their lives into a new day, even as they have helped us learn and grow, and help our new ministry to evolve.
Do Not Be Afraid
Allow them to happen.
Thanks to workingpreacher.org for assistance on some theological insights.
Rev. Jeff Grant, JD, M Div
Director, Progressive Prison Project/
Innocent Spouse & Children Project
Director of Prison Ministries
First Baptist Church of Bridgeport
126 Washington Avenue, 1st Fl.
Bridgeport, Connecticut 06604