Reflections for Sunday, March 29

Year A, Fifth Sunday in Lent

This morning, I want to touch on the same two topics we have been visiting for the past few weeks.

First, in our Seeing Beyond Difference: Jesus’ Kingship of Kinship Lenten series, we have come back to where we started.

Where we started, pretty much where the idea got started, was a couple of months ago when we talked about Father Boyle, the founder of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles. Homeboy works with men and women returning from prison and/or extricating themselves from gangs. Homeboy gives them jobs, counseling, training, and, most important of all, it gives them a sense of community. That’s how I came up with the phrase “Jesus’ Kingship of Kinship.” As Father Boyle says, “Radical kinship is the only thing that mattered to Jesus.”

Today in our series, Alden Woodcock, Director of EMERGE, was supposed to speak to and with us. EMERGE is a local organization similar to, though much smaller than, Homeboy Industries. They have been collaborating with us on our Swords to Ploughshares project, forging with Bishop Jim and creating wooden handles for our garden tools. We will invite Alden to join us as soon as the opportunity arises.

Again, our scripture readings serve us well.

Ezekiel offers us an evocative description of valley full of dry bones. Can those bones, symbols for the nation of Israel, live again? Ezekiel wonders. Yes, they can, God tells him, if he calls out to the breath to breathe the spirit of life back into them.

Ezekiel in the Valley of Dray Bones, by Abraham Rattner (American, 1893-1978)

Millions of men in the United States, disproportionately young men of color, are caught up in our judicial system and in gangs. Under the weight of our current legal structures many of these men might as well be dry bones, their lives entirely compromised by their criminal record or by their alliance with violent peers.

Millions of men of color have lost their right to vote, cannot find gainful employment, are basically shunned by society even after they have paid their justly (or sometimes unjustly) attributed debts within our penal system.

We might cry out like Ezekiel, “Can these bones, can these men, live again?” And, I suspect God would answer us just as he answered the prophet—only if you call to the breath to breathe on them. That is, only if, like the folks at EMERGE and Homeboy Industries, we do something to help them. Only if we change out hearts and our actions. Only if we see beyond apparent difference—those people are not like me, those people are criminals—and see instead fellow human beings in need of support and guidance and love just as we are. Then perhaps flesh can come back on their bones and fullness of life can be returned to them.

Second, we turn to our present situation in the midst of a global pandemic. Our Gospel reading is well suited to our current circumstances.

Here are some highlights from the Lazarus story: Lazarus is ill. Jesus learns of this, but decides to delay a visit. Lazarus dies. Jesus decides to visit Lazarus’ sisters Mary and Martha. When he arrives, tears are shed by everyone, even Jesus. An obvious question gets asked: Why did Jesus wait? Couldn’t he have healed Lazarus? If Jesus had come earlier, Lazarus would not have died. But Jesus is up to something else. God’s glory and the glory of God’s Son are to be revealed in the most dramatic way possible. So, four days after Lazarus died, Jesus calls him back to life. Naturally, everyone is amazed and many believe because of this miracle.

As we talked about a bit during our first Fireside Chat, many of the same emotions we are feeling in the midst of our public health crisis are present in the story of Lazarus—grief, anger, confusion. Even oddly some of the same circumstances are present. Who can miss today’s echo of “If you had just responded sooner, this would not have happened! Lazarus would not have died.”

But, just as much as we see our more challenging emotions in the story, the story also offers us hope. After all, the end of the story is a grand revelation of God’s power and glory. Αnd this revelation of that power and glory is only a warm up for the even more challenging emotions and even greater revelation that is to come a few days later on Good Friday and Easter morning.

Perhaps we have begun to see God’s glory revealed even in our present situation in the creative, and rather delightful, ways that we are now learning to be together as community, in our determination to maintain our vital ministries like Sunday morning worship and Dinner for a Dollar in the face of any number of impediments. Likely, there is more glory to come.

God really does have a plan greater and more majestic than we can imagine. What seems like tragedy and insurmountable, inexplicable difficulty to us is part of a greater tapestry that God is always weaving—though, as we said last week sometimes weaving quite mysteriously—for our benefit and good care.

In God’s tapestry, in God’s story, in God’s Kingship of Kinship, no matter the difficulty of present circumstances, and while there is real work to be done and real changes to be made, all manner of things will be well. All manner of things are well.

May the Lord bless us and keep us. May the Lord make his face to shine upon us and be gracious unto us. May the Lord lift up his countenance upon us and give us peace. Amen.