Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage* (Romans 1:8-15) transports me to my garden, where I’m singing along with a song in my head, a favorite cover of Further on Up the Road by Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, performed in 1981 at the Secret Policeman’s Other Ball. I turn up the volume with my best British impersonation of Clapton singing as I pull some ears of silver queen, you gotta reap just what you sow, that old saying is true, and I continue reaping what I had sown three months earlier. I change the words ever so slightly, singing further on up the row as I gather some sungolds, cut some okra, and fill up a bag of basil leaves for pesto making. Lest you think I’ve gone bonkers, you need to know that bears have been spotted quite a few times around our garden this year, and making noise is one of the suggested ways of keeping the bears at a distance. Singing is one suggested way of making some noise. I resisted the temptation to turn the walking stick (complete with bear bell) into an air guitar, and give the bears my impersonation of Jeff Beck’s screaming solo on the blues classic.
Reaping what you have sown. Paul uses the harvest imagery in writing the introduction to his magnum opus letter to the Romans. He writes of his eagerness to come to Rome, so that further on up his missionary road he can reap a harvest there as he has done throughout his Mediterranean travels. Paul could hardly have seen far enough up the Romans Road to imagine how bountiful a harvest would indeed emerge from the few thousand words attributed to him in the missives he sent out to the fledgling congregations. The words he scattered spread like kudzu and had a deep and wide impact on the world. It puts me in mind of the 80s book, Ideas Have Consequences, which has morphed into our current aha realization that words indeed have consequences, as provocative and passionate speech sometimes provokes the passions of people who take violent metaphors literally and go on shooting sprees. Paul’s words have provoked an unbelievably wide spectrum of consequential behaviors and ideologies and belief systems, empires and revolutions. Perhaps the diversity of that harvest is due to his words being a mixture of a fundamentalist Phariseeism that he never quite abandoned, and an enlightened liberation from that Phariseeism that began on his fateful road to Damascus. His words include tedious cultural hang-ups as well as transcendent Christ-like grace. He could speak of the universalist hope of all trespasses being forgiven and he could spell out his top ten list of particular trespasses that will black ball you from the kingdom club. Which of these words of Paul your Sunday School teacher had you commit to memory is a good indication of what kind of harvest you’re reaping in your own faith journey.
Clapton and Beck’s 1981 concert was a fundraiser for Amnesty International, a progressive organization co-founded by a Quaker who was doing what he thought Paul commissioned him to do in Romans 12. When in England, I visited an old castle prison that held some of the first Quakers. They were imprisoned by Anglicans, who were doing what they thought Paul commissioned them to do in Romans 13. Paul’s words have reaped a harvest of hope as well as hate, inclusion and exclusion. Edgar Ray Killen and Martin Luther King. Hitler and Corrie Ten Boom. 38,000 denominations. To use Paul’s own words, wise and foolish, barbarian and civil. Reconstructionists and Amish. ALEC prison builders and Amnesty International prison breakers. Michelle Obama and Michelle Bachman. All operating at some level out of a motivation arising from some of the words Paul scattered abroad in those letters to the early church. The harvest has been indeed plentiful, and Paul was one of those laborers in the vineyard who got to work early and stayed late. I wonder if this means Jesus put him at the back of the line on payday at the Pearly Gates, where he could wait for his reward with the rest of the overachievers while some of those who paid little attention to his warnings walked in first.
How about you? Where does this Pastoral Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.