Archive for November, 2018

On Trial with Pilate

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 25, 2018 by timtrue

John 18:33-37

1.

Today is the final Sunday of the church year: Christ the King Sunday, we call it. We focus on Christ in a particular way today: as king—as the one in charge—of his realm.

And in today’s Gospel we are confronted with two views of reality.

On the one hand, Christ tells us that his kingdom is the way of truth. On the other hand, Pilate’s kingdom is the way of violence.

We look at Christ the King today, then, through this lens: comparing two versions of reality. And what do we learn?

So, Jesus is on trial; and Pilate is the judge.

But doesn’t it almost seem—by the time we get to the end of the passage anyway—doesn’t it seem that the tables are turned? Doesn’t it feel like Jesus is in the role of judge and Pilate is really the one on trial?

Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

But, before answering him, Jesus asks Pilate a question—and already the tables are turning over: “Do you ask this because you want to know, or because someone told you this?”

And so Pilate answers, “I am not a Jew.”

It’s enough to say, “Of course someone told me about you! I don’t have the time or energy to concern myself with what goes on in Jerusalem—in your people’s insignificant corner of the world.”

In other words, Pilate, a Roman, thinks himself somehow above the Palestinian peoples, who go about their day-t0-day business over there, in some forgotten corner of the empire.

But, Pilate knows, even the people over there are capable of rising up in rebellion—which is why he asked Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

Jesus now answers, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, I’d fight back with an army.”

Jesus knows Pilate’s kingdom—this world—follows the way of violence.

But, in Jesus’ kingdom, violence has no place; his kingdom is not from here.

Well, Pilate misses the point; and declares, “So then you are a king!”

And here I can almost hear Jesus sigh.

“You say I’m a king,” he says. “But that’s not what I’m about; I’m not raising up some kind of political insurrection against you. Rather, I am here to testify to the truth—a greater reality than you are able to see, apparently. But if you will only seek the truth, find it, and belong to it, you will know a kingdom far better than anything you can now imagine.”

To which Pilate famously scorns (just after today’s passage ends), “What is truth?”

And with this small question Pilate rejects Jesus and his kingdom, the way of truth, choosing instead to remain with the life he knows, a life of power, wealth, privilege, lies, and violence.

The tables are turned. Pilate’s the one on trial today, not Jesus.

2.

Maybe we’re on trial today too. Maybe we are like Pilate, more attached than we’re willing to admit to the way of violence.

Pilate is offered true freedom, a world of peace, security, equality, and authenticity; and instead chooses to remain living in his narrow conception of reality, ruled not by the Christ but by his own fears.

“Are you a king?” he asks Jesus again and again, belaboring the point, fixated—because he fears!

Pilate has no time for the truth, no time for the way of Christ, because he’s too busy fearing that he will lose his power, position, and privilege. He’s too concerned with the things that really matter to him, like protecting his name, status, and position; and like watching his back so some political hothead doesn’t assassinate him.

Pilate is trapped in his way of violence; trapped by his system; trapped in fear.

And thus he rejects the truth.

On this final Sunday of the church year, we stand on trial with Pilate. Do we also reject the truth? Like Pilate, do we love our status: our places of power, wealth, privilege, and maybe even lies and violence?

Jesus calls us to lay these things aside and stand in solidarity with our neighbor—our sisters and brothers who are in different places than we are.

3.

By the way, I’m being careful here not to say “who have less than we do.” Jesus does not call us to stand in solidarity with those who have less than we do. That’s not what mission and outreach are about.

So, in case you’re wondering if you heard me right, I’ll say it again: Jesus does not call us to stand in solidarity with those who have less than we have.

But, also, neither does he call us to stand in solidarity with those who have more!

For, in Jesus, we are called not to have a less-vs.-more mindset at all!

But isn’t this often the church’s approach to mission and outreach?

We, the church, decide to engage in a project to help our neighbors in need. Fine and well!

But then we say something like, “This outreach project will help those who are less fortunate than we are”; and then pat ourselves on the back and tell our superior selves we’re loving our inferior neighbors just like Jesus commanded.

We become the patron; they become the client; and they forever stand in our debt.

But superiority and inferiority? Patron and client? That’s not Jesus’ way. That’s Pilate’s!

Whenever we approach anything with an attitude of superiority—including mission and outreach—that’s not the way of love!

Jesus calls us to come alongside others as equals, to establish and maintain truly mutual relationships; not to compare ourselves with one another in order to figure out who’s better or worse, who’s right or wrong, who’s richer or poorer, who’s smarter or dumber, who’s superior or inferior; but to sharpen one another, mutually, as iron sharpens iron, for the common good.

Are we willing to listen to those who are different than us?

They may speak a different language; they may eat different foods; their skin may be a different color; they may identify as a different gender; their sexuality may be different than ours; or they may be different from us in . . . fill in the blank!

Are we willing to come alongside them? To stand in solidarity with them? To hear their stories? To listen to the truth?

Or are we like Pilate, too focused on our own treadmills to listen?

4.

I offer a concluding illustration:

We’ve all heard the familiar phrase: “Violence begets violence.” I don’t know who first coined it. But I do know that Martin Luther King, Jr. used it. Listen to these words:

Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love . . . Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding.

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy; instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate.

Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.[i]

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man committed to live out the principle of non-violent resistance, a same principle by which Jesus lived. Both men resisted the authorities, the powers that be, without fighting back, without violence.

Their deaths, both vivid demonstrations of non-violent resistance, shout a message that will be forever etched in humanity’s history books; a message for all people, everywhere, to give up living for themselves—for power, position, status, wealth, prestige, and privilege—and to live instead for the other.

Love the Lord your God; love your neighbor. This is the way of truth, to which Jesus calls us.

 

[i] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Violence_begets_violence.

Advertisements

Community of Resistance

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 18, 2018 by timtrue

Mark 13:1-8

1.

Nothing stays the same.

The disciples look at Herod’s temple and marvel, “What large stones and large buildings!”

Herod planned to turn a small plateau, Mount Moriah, into a level platform measuring 1600’ x 900’. That’s 30 football fields!

So he dug a trench around the plateau and filled it with huge stones, making a gigantic retaining wall. The largest of these stones, found in excavations, measures some 44’ x 11’ x 16’, weighing approximately 600 tons, too heavy for the largest crane in Rome during Herod’s day![I]

Maybe the disciple pointed at this one when he exclaimed, “What large stones!”

But Jesus, apparently not very impressed, says, “Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

Nothing stays the same.

Few of us, however, like change.

I mean, who likes to move from one home to another? Or what businessperson wants to change offices? Or what teacher wants to move her classroom across campus?

We humans like to establish a routine that works best for me and then stick with it!

But what if the change means improvement? What if you’re moving in order to get out of a termite-infested hovel into a structurally sound domicile? You still may not like the hassle of the change very much, but in the end, you have to admit, it’s a drastic improvement.

Is change then really all that bad? Especially if it’s needed change?

2.

So, to make a very serious turn, consider our nation’s history of slavery.

We know now, from our historical vantage point, beyond a shadow of a doubt, slavery was ethically, socially, politically, and spiritually wrong. Our nation needed a large, systemic change.

But change did not come easy.

In fact, in that day—the antebellum United States—so many people did not welcome this needed change that party lines were drawn against those who demanded it, a country was divided, and a “civil” war was fought.

In the antebellum United States, no one had to tell slaves that the change was needed. From the slaves’ perspective, they were unequivocally oppressed, desperate, in need of liberation.

The war did not come about at the level of slavery, however; it came at the level of privilege.

What must it have been like to be a slave? No voice. No representation. No personal property. Can you imagine?

Admittedly, I can’t.

For the church I represent and quite probably some of my distant relatives were the oppressors, the slave owners, those in the place of privilege.

As much as I’m sympathetic to the slaves, then; as much as I’m in agreement today that large-scale, systemic change was needed in the antebellum U. S., I really have no idea what it feels like to have no voice, no advocate, and no personal property.

That’s how privilege works. It contains a certain level of ignorance. Even if I have no distant relatives who owned slaves—I know of none—my European heritage, not to mention the fact that I am male, has kept me distanced to a great degree from the slaves’ perspective.

They were a people far too highly oppressed and far too desperately in need of liberation for me even to begin to comprehend. Maybe it’s the same for you, too.

Privilege is a part of my story; and, like it or not, it’s a part of our church’s story.

What can we do about this? Can we change? Will we change?

3.

Along these lines, then, here’s another sticky question: How many leaders of our church and nation in our antebellum years—how many of the privileged people in, say, the year 1800—would have even considered slavery an evil?

Some did, sure. Especially as we approached the middle of the nineteenth century! Tensions were rising.

But, obviously, many privileged people argued in favor of slavery. Enough to draw party lines! Enough to divide a country! Enough to start a “civil” war!

That’s also how privilege works, by the way. Privileged individuals get swept up in their time and culture, imbibing the atmosphere all around them, an atmosphere that tells them continuously that things like slavery are acceptable, even good for the economy.

That was a message the privileged class had heard throughout their lives, incessantly, until they believed it as much as you or I believe in, for example, the tenets of western capitalism today.

They oppressed and denied their slaves of liberation; and yet, curiously, they themselves were held in a kind of captivity to the ideal, the institution, of slavery.

Our fight is not against flesh and blood, the writer to the Ephesians tells us, but against principalities and powers, against spiritual forces of evil.

Slavery was one such power, a spiritual force of evil. The oppressed needed to be liberated from it. And, concurrently, the privileged—the leaders of our church and nation—needed to be released and redeemed from their captivity to it.

We all recognize that today. But many of them, caught up in the atmosphere of their time and place, did not.

4.

So, here’s the thing: This consideration of slavery as a spiritual power points us to a larger power still alive and well in our world today: the power of privilege.

Those held in captivity by this power, whether or not they are aware of it, oppress those who are outside of it: the privileged are benefited at the expense of the marginalized.

So, let’s put this all together. Privilege is a spiritual power alive and well in the world today, a power that we Christians are called to oppose; and yet, the Episcopal Church is privileged—statistically, its members are the wealthiest and most educated of all mainline Christian denominations.

What this means is that a whole lot of change needs to take place within our church.

But change is so hard!

The good news is that TEC recognizes this—and has recognized it for at least the last few decades. Difficult change is needed; change for the better. And so, hard as it is, we are working through needed changes.

The ordination of women and, in more recent years, members of the LGBTQ community, demonstrates this—as does our recent church-wide recognition and full blessing of same-sex marriages.

For the entire history of our nation’s existence, women and the people of the LGBTQ community have been marginalized. It’s time to put an end to this inequality—whether it means liberation from oppression or redemption from captivity.

After all, if we, TEC, were to maintain dogmatically that only straight men can be ordained, such doctrine would perpetuate this power of privilege we are called as a community of Christ to resist—a power that has been at work in our nation continuously since its earliest days.

Do you see? The body of Christ is called not to be complicit in the oppressive principalities and powers at work in the world around us, but to be a community of resistance against them.

And TEC understands this.

Pray, then, for our church.

Where we become aware of past wrongs, like our complicity in slavery, pray that we apologize and make restitution; that we read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest our past mistakes (as today’s Collect suggests).

Where we see a clear way forward, like helping the oppressed find liberation, pray that we follow it.

And in that vast middle ground, where, in this present darkness, we cannot see clearly, pray that we navigate our way carefully, making the best decisions we can from what we know—from what scripture, reason, and tradition tell us.

Our mission as a church, the body of Christ, is to resist the principalities and powers, the spiritual forces of evil at work in the world around us, powers—like privilege—that try with all the force of Satan to keep us captive.

We are a community of resistance.

[i] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Temple.

Help from Hypocritical Harold

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , on November 11, 2018 by timtrue

Mark 12:38-44

1.

Jesus plays with a stereotype today. For the sake of illustration, let’s call him Hypocritical Harold.

Now, not all the scribes were this way; but enough were that Jesus’ words painted a familiar picture in the minds of the people he spoke to.

We do the same thing today: paint stereotypes with descriptions. We describe someone, for instance, as an ambulance-chasing lawyer.

Not all lawyers, we know, are ambulance chasers. In fact, I know many lawyers who entered the profession precisely because they wanted to make a positive difference for the betterment of society, the common good.

Nevertheless, the ambulance-chasing lawyer is common enough in our day that it has become a stereotype. A picture of someone like Saul Goodman comes to mind. Better call Saul!

So it was in Jesus’ day with scribes; and thus Hypocritical Harold, a familiar picture in the minds of the people Jesus addresses today in the temple.

Harold walks around in clothes that are definitive of his office, something like me wearing my collar in public. But his clothes are not just a basic uniform; they’re also showy. He’s got a different set of robes for every day of the week—two for Shabbat!

Next, probably somewhat as a natural outcome of his showy clothes, people compliment him and greet him with feigned respect everywhere he goes.

His is an office of privilege, after all. He’s had to fight his way, long and hard, to get there. He deserves respect, the best seats in both the synagogue and the social scene. That’s not vanity! Or ego! Is it?

Of course, as a byproduct of his office, Hypocritical Harold will be asked to pray from time to time—especially from his seats of honor in the synagogue and at those all-important dinner parties. But what better opportunity to show off his knowledge and general worthiness!

So the prayers he makes are long, filled with sophisticated theological words that require years of academy training just to get their pronunciation correct, let alone what they actually mean.

And those who hear his prayers are left in a state of awe. I could never pray like that, they think; I hope the host never calls on me to say the blessing.

Maybe there is some vanity involved here; maybe some ego. But more importantly to Jesus is the effect that Hypocritical Harold causes.

“They devour widows’ houses,” he says; and thus, “They will receive the greater condemnation.”

What does Jesus mean?

2.

For the answer, we simply read on.

Next, then, Jesus leaves the temple, where he was teaching, and takes a seat opposite the treasury; that is, the place where devout Jews deposit their monetary offerings. And he watches.

Some wealthy people come by—maybe there’s a scribe like Hypocritical Harold among them—and, Jesus observes, these wealthy people put a lot of money into the treasury.

That’s good for them; and good for their religious institution!

By the way, we should take note, especially during our annual pledge drive: the people who are well off here are giving a lot.

But, you know, the impression is that, even though they are giving a lot, after they leave their offerings behind, they’re still well off. These offerings, we get the impression, are not all that inhibiting. The wealthy people still leave in the same fancy cars in which they arrived.

In other words, as Jesus soon says to his disciples, the wealthy people here are giving out of abundance. God has blessed them with wealth. And, as an expression of gratitude for God’s blessing, they give back to God out of God’s abundance.

There’s nothing wrong with this, by the way.

We often read this Gospel passage and think it’s a moral lesson teacher; that when a wealthy scribe is contrasted to a poor widow, we are supposed to be unlike the vain, egotistical character and like the noble character.

But that’s just not the point Jesus is making today. There’s nothing wrong with the scribe or anyone else giving out of his or her abundance. In fact, that’s what the annual pledge drive asks for: give to God out of God’s abundance.

But back to the Gospel!

Next—and here is where the door-hinge swings; where the surprise comes—a widow arrives on the scene; and she puts two coins into the treasury. It’s all she has to live on, Jesus says.

This poor widow puts in far more than everyone else. She does not contribute to the religious institution out of her abundance; for she has no abundance. Rather, she gives everything she has.

3.

Which leads me to wonder: Is this maybe what Jesus was getting at when he said that Hypocritical Harold devours widows’ homes?

Hypocritical Harold was a stereotype: “a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image . . . of a particular type of person” (Google Dictionary).

Hypocritical Harold was an oversimplification, sure. But he was already in people’s minds for good reason. Hypocritical Harold, the scribe, portrayed a symptomatic picture of a larger problem.

Well, what was the problem?

The word scribe comes from the Latin verb scribere, to write. Scribes, as the Latin suggests, wrote things down. They were literate, educated, bookish people.

We first hear about scribes in Israel’s history during the time of the kings and prophets, writing down the words spoken in official meetings.

In the OT books of 2 Kings, Jeremiah, and Isaiah, scribes are described as secular officials with responsibilities over financial and political documents.

Later in Israel’s history, over in Ezra and Daniel, scribes are celebrated for their righteousness and wisdom.

By the time of Jesus, scribes were additionally known as teachers and interpreters of God’s Law.[i]

Scribes were intelligent; and trustworthy.

But . . . by the time Jesus provided today’s stereotype, scribes had become a distinguished class of members in the Jewish religious institution. Hypocritical Harold, with his flowing robes, long prayers, and ego, was a widely held picture, a representative of the present-day religious system.

Far and above today’s passage being a moral story about right and wrong attitudes for giving, today’s Gospel is about a human system that was appropriating the property of the poor—a widow—for the benefit of the elite—a scribe.

And, amazingly, Jesus preached this in the temple—the spiritual focal point of the very religious institution he was criticizing!

Gutsy, eh?

4.

So, one more thing to point out about stereotypes: We usually don’t want to admit it when they fit us.

Surely, not all the scribes in Jesus’ time fit the Hypocritical Harold stereotype; surely, many scribes were doing their work out of a desire to serve and honor and glorify God.

Nevertheless, Hypocritical Harold was a widely held picture, symptomatic of larger inconvenient truths about the religious system of the day.

So, how many scribes, do you think, would have heard Jesus’ words and thought, “Yep, that’s me all right!”?

Instead, when we hear a stereotype about us, don’t we tend to think, “Well, I can see how someone would say that; but that doesn’t apply to me!”?

Our default is to deny. That’s how we’re wired. We exempt ourselves.

But what if a stereotype we hear today does apply to us? Is constructive criticism—criticism from which we can learn—contained within?—just as Jesus offered constructive criticism to the religious system of his day?

Well, what do we hear today?

How about:

  • TEC appeals only to the white, wealthy, and educated.
  • There are no young people in TEC.
  • TEC is too privileged to be aware of the needs of the world outside.
  • TEC is liberal.
  • TEC is just a big country club.

It’s easy to brush these aside, isn’t it? The temptation is to say these stereotypes might be true of some Episcopal congregations out there, sure, but not ours!

Instead of brushing them aside, however, let us learn from Hypocritical Harold.

In general, when we look around us at the world in which we live, where do we find human systems appropriating the property of the poor for the benefit of the wealthy? Or oppressing the weak for the benefit of the strong? Or excluding the marginalized so that they don’t interrupt the status quo?

Then, more particularly, where do we find such human systems in our own church—whether in this local body or the wider church? Where have we been complicit; and how can we stop our complicity?

That’s what Jesus calls us to ask and do in today’s Gospel.

Whenever and wherever we find human systems that oppress, it is our responsibility in Christ to stop them; lest we become Hypocritical Harold.

[i] I am grateful here to Robert Bryant’s helpful insights. See Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 4, p.287.

Learning Hope from Dr. Jeffrey Cohen

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 4, 2018 by timtrue

1378665_501852846597627_998823622_n

John 11:32-44

1.

October 27 marked the 300th day of this year. It also marked the 294th mass shooting this year in our country.

We all watched in horror as the news unfolded last Saturday.

Earlier that morning, Robert Bowers had entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and begun shooting his legally owned AR-15.

Then, in the ambulance, on the way to the hospital, after receiving several gunshot wounds himself from police, Bowers yelled out, “I want to kill all the Jews!”

He yelled the same thing some minutes later in the Emergency Room.

Ironically, a medical team led by a Jewish man treated Bowers in the hospital.

In the end: eleven worshipers had been slain, gunned down in a crime of hate, making this the largest massacre of our Jewish sisters and brothers in our nation’s history!

Holly and I visited Temple Beth Sholom here in Temecula on Friday night—to stand in solidarity and pray with people we love.

And, you know, a Jewish prayer service is really not all that different from a Christian prayer service! There are minor differences, sure—some of the readings are in Hebrew, for instance—but, at the core, Christians and Jews are largely the same: trying our best to find and serve God according to what we know—according to the revelation God has given us.

So:

The 300th day of the year!

The 294th mass shooting!

That’s nearly one mass shooting a day.

That’s more than a thousand people, already, who have lost their lives this year to gun violence.

And why?

2.

This week the Christian church around the world celebrated Halloween (a. k. a. All Halloweds Eve, or All Saints Eve); as well as All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Along these lines, a large portion of the Americas also celebrated Dia de Los Muertos.

It is a week when Christians focus on the people we have known and loved who have passed before us through the veil of death and beyond. In fact, during the Prayers of the People today I will offer us a time to name loved ones who are no longer with us.

These are days of grieving; and mourning. For we miss our beloved friends and family members with whom we’ve journeyed through part of this life together. We see a photo or speak their names or catch a scent that reminds us; and we’re suddenly reduced to tears.

But these are also days of rejoicing, of celebrating the lives and legacies they left behind.

We rejoice and celebrate because we hope in the resurrection. Death, we know, is only part of the story. And it’s the smaller part! For, we also know, death has been truly and finally vanquished by our Lord, Savior, Redeemer, and Friend Christ Jesus.

Which is why, by the way, the liturgical color of a funeral is white—same as a wedding!—same as today! It’s not so much about mourning as it is about rejoicing; not so much death as resurrection; not so much old life as new!

That’s how it’s supposed to be, at least.

But what if, instead, it feels like the mourning and grieving ought to take precedence—like when the loss is still too fresh to focus on much else; like now, at this moment in our nation’s history, when hate crimes are almost a daily occurrence?

How can we maintain any hope at all when such despairing obstacles get in the way?

3.

And then there’s this troubling question: What about the man who pulled the trigger?

I wonder, what would you have done in the Emergency Room doctor’s shoes? What would I have done?

The Jewish community in Pittsburgh is relatively small—Squirrel Hill, the neighborhood where you’ll find nearly all of the Jewish community, has a population of about 25,000 people—and it has been there for several generations, certainly since the first half of the nineteenth century, possibly quite a bit earlier.

The Jewish network in Pittsburgh is tight; and it runs deep.

Imagine, then, with this kind of network, you’re leading a team of medical professionals in the E. R.; and a man is rushed in with gunshot wounds, bleeding, in need of urgent medical attention.

And he yells out, “I want to kill all the Jews!”

What do you do when you connect the dots?

What do you do when you suddenly realize, with horror, that this man before you is the very man who just entered the Tree of Life Synagogue and unleashed violence and death on the worshipers?

What do you do when you learn that he took the lives of eleven innocent people—eleven of your people?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I could carry on. As much as I know, in my head, that I have a duty to seek to do all within my power to heal each person in my care, my emotions might just carry the day in this particular situation. I think I might have to find another doctor and say, “Take this one, please; I simply cannot.”

But the Jewish E. R. doctor did take Bowers under his care; along with a Jewish nurse, whose father just so happens to be a local rabbi.

Dr. Jeffrey Cohen caught wind of this unfolding drama. Dr. Cohen is the president of Allegheny General Hospital, where the perpetrator was taken for care. In fact, sitting in his office, Dr. Cohen heard the gunshots from the shootout. Even closer to home, Dr. Cohen is a member of the Tree of Life Synagogue; and personally knew nine of the eleven victims.

You know what Dr. Cohen did? He went to the E. R. and told the doctor and nurse attending Bowers that he was proud of them.

Then he approached Bowers himself and asked how he was doing, whether he was in pain.

Bowers said he was okay then asked who he was; to which Cohen replied, “I’m Dr. Cohen, the president of this hospital.”[i]

I don’t think I would have been able to do any of that. I don’t think, in that moment, I’d have had any hope at all. Would you?

4.

In today’s Gospel, death confronts Jesus with a number of despairing obstacles.

First, Jesus was delayed. If only Jesus had been able to get there earlier, Mary lamented, her brother Lazarus would not have died.

Then, second, Jesus could not lay his hands on Lazarus, or even look at him, for a large stone stood in the way, blocking the tomb’s entrance.

Third—suppose someone were to roll the stone away—there’d be the stench! Death has already claimed Lazarus, made certain by the smell of decay.

And, finally, in case all that weren’t enough already, Lazarus is wearing grave clothes—already clothed in death.

Death has won! All hope is vanquished.

There’s nothing left for us, we think, but to despair, be angry, and hate.

But see what Jesus does!

He weeps with Mary and the others.

He goes to where Lazarus lies.

He includes others: “Roll away the stone,” he says.

He then calls Lazarus forth.

And he tells the others to take off Lazarus’s grave clothes.

Jesus overcomes all the obstacles that death throws at him, taking each in turn; until, truly and finally, death is vanquished!

5.

For us today, many despairing obstacles stand in hope’s way. To name just a few:

  • The heavy stone of hatred, bigotry, and prejudice.
  • The decaying stench of intolerance and racism.
  • The fearsome grave clothes of homophobia and xenophobia.

These obstacles aren’t death itself; but they point to it.

Unless we weep with those who weep, confront these obstacles squarely, and roll them away together, death is all we will see: our hope is eclipsed.

Oh, but when we do, it’s Easter all over again!

Every year, on November 1, we remember all the saints—all those who have believed, do believe, or will believe that Jesus is the pathway to the divine.

But this isn’t enough; so every year, on November 2, we remember all souls—every person who has lived, does live, or will live.

Every soul!

Including all the holy women and men of the church!

Including all those who lost their lives a week ago in Pittsburgh!

And including even the perpetrators!

Vanquishing death forever means vanquishing our hatred now; including our hatred for the perpetrator.

Today, Dr. Jeffrey Cohen gives me hope.

[i] See https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2018/10/30/im-dr-cohen-powerful-humanity-jewish-hospital-staff-that-treated-robert-bowers/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.86137fad168a.