Sunday, February 12, 2012

Like Molasses in January

Hubby and I managed to make it to St. Anonymous this morning to find out that Dr. J was preaching on the topic of repentance. It seems like Lent comes earlier and earlier. I wish people would at least let us get through Mardi Gras before crying “repent”.

It turns out, though, that the reason for the sermon was that back in August, when Dr J had requested suggestions for sermon topics, “repentance” was one of the many topics someone had asked for, and this was the first chance she had to address it.

Toward the end of her sermon, Dr. J used a historical incident as a metaphor for sin, the Boston Molasses disaster of January 15, 1919. I dimly remembered having heard about it before. Briefly put, as the Prohibition amendment to the Constitution was steamrolling to ratification, liquor manufacturers were trying to produce as much as possible before being shut down. Since rum is a component of molasses, the Purity Distilling company also stepped up its production of molasses, and its huge storage tank was just about full.

Then a freak warm spell hit, causing the tank to split and a flood of hot molasses to hit the streets, where the warm weather had lured people outside. Twenty one people were killed and many others injured. It resulted in one of the first class-action lawsuits in Massachusetts, and ultimately the United States Industrial Alcohol Company, which had bought out Purity, paid $600,000 in damages (worth over ten times that amount today). 

Dr J likened sin to that molasses. It damages all in its path and you don’t know where it will go. Furthermore, you can’t get rid of it on your own. You need Jesus to wash you clean. In support of that latter point, she told us that the only way they could finally get rid of the molasses was to spray the area with water from the harbor. According to Wikipedia, though, “The cleanup took only about two weeks because of the large number of helping hands, more than 300 (Puleo, p. 132-133). It took over 87,000 man-hours (roughly the number of hours in ten years for one person working "24/7") to remove the molasses from the cobblestone streets, theaters, businesses, automobiles, and homes.”

To me, that seems to undercut her point about not being able to get rid of sin on your own. If the molasses had stuck around until a gully washer of a rain storm hit, it would have been much better for her case, but it sounds to me like human technology, not to mention elbow grease and persistence, finally got rid of the molasses.

Furthermore, Wikipedia claims that the story about the tank being full to make rum before Prohibition took effect is an urban legend, and that Purity distilled the molasses for industrial alcohol and never made rum. I don’t know that this matters to Dr. J’s argument.

At the end of the sermon, we were each given little bottles of molasses which we are supposed to keep out during Lent to look at every day and remind ourselves that God forgives our sins.

The molasses behaves as if it's been watered down.

“What are the bottles for?” my husband asked me later. “We’re supposed to look at them during Lent,” I began, but he interrupted. “No, what do they manufacture those bottles for?” I have no idea, actually. They are a little over four inches tall and look like they might have a use in medicine or chemistry. I doubt they were made for the specific purpose of handing out molasses in church.

My husband has a plan for the molasses, and it’s not to use it to dwell on his many sins (that’s what he has me for) or redemption. He’s going to use it to make the cinnamon syrup he puts in his coffee.

Sermons are wasted on us.

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