Jacque: Use time in ‘jail’ to find meaning, fly to new realm

The Rev. Dr. Zina Jacque, assistant to the pastor for small groups at Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia, presents her sermon on week two’s theme, Games: A Celebration of Our Most Human Pastime, on Sunday morning at the 10:45 a.m., Ecumenical Service of Worship and Sermon, July 2, 2023, in the Amphitheater. BRETT PHELPS/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Column by Mary Lee Talbot

“Let’s do a midweek check. We are at Chautauqua on vacation and we are talking church six days in a row,” said the Rev. Zina Jacque at the 9:15 a.m. Wednesday morning service of worship in the Amphitheater. The title of the sermon was “Monopoly,” and the scripture reading was Philippians 4:4-9.

“When I was invited to preach, I was handed the week’s theme so I couldn’t cherry-pick my six best sermons, but create six new ones. I wonder if you are able to track the thread or is it invisible,” she said. The congregation applauded. 

Jacque reviewed her previous sermons for the congregation. On Sunday, in “Olly, Olly Oxen Free,” she spoke about God’s invitation for all to come in from hiding and bring their gifts. 

On Monday, in “Charades,” the life of Joseph, who never spoke in the Biblical record, illustrated how our lives and actions indicate what we believe. 

On Tuesday, in “Jenga,” Elijah demonstrated how to build up and strengthen his faith when the tower, or democracy, we have built falls. 

When she was in seminary, Jacque participated in cut-throat games of Monopoly. 

“Playing Monopoly was outlawed at seminary because of all our cussing and competition. Hope Lucky, a classmate, told us one night ‘That game is not of God,’ and she was right,” Jacque said.

The themes of acquisition, bankruptcy and economics that shape and misshape lives are central to Monopoly, Jacque said. Each playing piece represents part of a capitalist economy: the boot for the only clothing available, the battleship for militarism, the iron for low-paid work and the race car for excess. 

“There is one corner that you can’t get away from. As I was planning this sermon, I asked the Holy Spirit not to take me there but the Spirit said, ‘You can preach about what you want but this is what I am telling you to do,’ ” she said. “If you play Monopoly long enough, you will end up in jail.”

Jacque’s mother used to say, “Just keep on living.” Jacque said, “You may be high on a mountaintop but you will find yourself in a valley. Sooner or later, if you play Monopoly long enough, you will land in jail. That is true for our lives as well — we are not behind real bars in real cells, but we find ourselves behind walls, jailed by guilt and shame.”

The bars are set around hope. There is a loss of purpose, the absence of certainty, she told the congregation. The mind, soul and spirit are imprisoned by lies.

“You don’t get to pass go; you don’t get to collect $200. You are stuck in a jail without bars, your body is betrayed by disease, you find the history you believed in is not the truth. If you play or live long enough, you will find yourself in the dreaded corner. What do you do when you are incarcerated and you can’t break out because the guards of hate and vitriol are stronger?” Jacque said. 

While there is no one answer, Jacque used the life of German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer as an example of someone who did not let physical bars become mental and spiritual bars. 

She used A Year with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a collection of meditations from his sermons, books and other writings, to illustrate her points. 

Bonhoeffer had been to Union Seminary in New York City in 1930 and returned to Germany to see the rise of Hitler, the Nazi Party, and the nationalizing of the German Protestant churches. He helped found the Confessing Church in Germany and served as head of its underground seminary.

In June 1939, Bonhoeffer accepted another invitation to go to Union Seminary. Once there, he almost immediately regretted the decision. In a letter to American theologian Reinhold Neibuhr, Bonhoeffer wrote, “I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people …”

Bonhoeffer was arrested in 1943 and executed in May 1944, accused of being part of the plots to kill Hitler. While in prison, he wrote reflections and letters later published as Letters and Papers from Prison

Jacque described several themes from Bonhoeffer’s writing. The first was perseverance, which Bonhoeffer described as remaining underneath and bearing the load; bearing but not collapsing, growing stronger in God’s peace.

The second theme was meaning. 

Jacque read: “If living on earth was good enough for Jesus … we can find meaning in our earthly daily life. Meaning is promise.” Christians, she told the congregation, are called to bear the load and find meaning in the promise.

The third theme was realm. 

“God is with us from dawn to evening,” she said. “Let God’s will be done to make us one and take us to a new realm.” She asked the congregation to say the word “realm” aloud.

Jacque said she had a conversation with a woman on the Brick Walk who doubted that she could be an ally to Black, Indigenous or LGBTQ+ people because she had not lived their lives. 

“I told her a three-fold cord is not easily broken, and she did have a role — but she had to drop her prison bars. What do we do when shame imprisons us? What imprisons you?” she asked. 

She continued, “When you hear the call of Christ, what stops you from answering? What story limits you? What keeps you from moving around the bars?”

God made us on purpose and for a purpose, she told the congregation. God gives gifts to everyone for the common good. She asked, “What is stopping you from using yours? Without what you can uniquely do, the world is lost. My grandfather used to make up sayings and when he tucked us in at night. He would ask, ‘What did you learn and who did you help?’ He wanted to instill service and curiosity in us.”

Jacque continued, “What has God given to you that no one else can do? What is stopping you? God fashioned you on purpose for a purpose.”

God’s light illuminates the darkness. “Where is your light necessary? What is keeping you from shining your light? The eye is drawn to light. You have to be light, to shine and someone will be blessed,“ she said.

Bonhoeffer focused on the realm not seen. He focused on what was good, noble and pure, as the apostle Paul wrote in Philippians.

“When you feel imprisoned, remember the good. Our Jewish brothers and sisters have a word for it, dayenu. It means ‘It would have been enough,’ ” she said. 

The song “Dayenu” is sung during Passover. There are 15 stanzas: five stanzas on leaving slavery, five stanzas on miracles, and five on being with God. As an example, one verse is: “If He had brought us out of Egypt, dayenu (it would have been enough.)” Another verse is “If He had given us Shabbat, dayenu (it would have been enough).”

Paul, in Philippians, begins Chapter 4 with “Rejoice. Again I say rejoice.” Paul told the Philippians he wanted them to find a new realm, a new way of being. He urged them to think about what was true, noble and good.

“You need to put bars around your pain,” Jacque said. “You need to go into your secret closet and sprout angel wings and fly to your new realm.” 

She explained the word “realm” as an acrostic.

R stands for rejoice, to put your hopes and dreams and trust in the Lord. E is to enter into the presence of God to know life and joy forever more. A is to allay anxiety, to remember that God loves you and chose you; not to deny the anxiety, but hold it and keep putting it away until you master it. L is to lift up prayer — not with words, but in actions — and allow God to speak to you. M is to meditate on peace, on shalom, on being enough and having enough in the presence of God. 

“Have you noticed a trend in my preaching?” Jacque asked. “Will you? Will you persevere, find meaning and move to the new realm?” She noted that Bonhoeffer, Paul, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela all wrote significant letters from physical prisons.

If you play Monopoly long enough or live long enough, you will be in jail, but your soul is meant for more, she said. “You can’t stay in jail forever. Being in jail is time used to find a way to a new realm and share the power of the new realm with those around you. You might be the one to win.”

The realm of God is coming, she assured the congregation. She quoted an old camp song, “ ‘Rise up, children, rise up and follow, to the great camp meeting in the promised land.’ You are the light. Let’s go. The prison walls need to fall.”

The Rev. John Morgan, pastor of the Williamsburg Presbyterian Church, presided. Melissa Spas, vice president for religion at Chautauqua Institution, read the scripture. For the prelude, Joshua Stafford, director of sacred music and Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist, played “Prelude and Fugue in G, BWV 557” attributed to Johann Sebastian Bach but possibly by T. Krebs. The Motet Choir sang “Rejoice in the Lord always,” from a 16th century anonymous source and words from Philippians 4:4-7, under the direction of Stafford. The postlude was “Canzona, BWV 588,” by Pamela Decker, played by Stafford on the Massey Memorial Organ. Support for this week’s chaplaincy and preaching is provided by the Harold F. Reed, Sr. Chaplaincy and the John William Tyrrell Endowment for Religion.


The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the recap of the morning worship service. A life-long Chautauquan, she is a Presbyterian minister, author of Chautauqua’s Heart: 100 Years of Beauty and a history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. She edited The Streets Where We Live and Shalom Chautauqua. She lives in Chautauqua year-round with her Stabyhoun, Sammi.