Monday, April 11, 2011

Fifth Sunday of Lent: Unbind him, set him free

I meet Kelly Lynn outside the church, pick up my coffee at Barney’s then open the doors to let her in. She’s with the Three Graces Theatre Company, which focuses on plays by and about forgotten women. This current production will focus on a Shaker community. 
I show her the former Papp theatre in the balcony and then into Mc Alpih Hall where we sit and discuss their rehearsing here and possible open rehearsals/discussions. All we need are working bathrooms. Of course. We’ll see if we can work out the details. I really want to do this. 
On the way down the street to get the bulletin copied, I have a warm exchange with Guillermo from the Michalski Residence. I’ve been missing him and have realized that our move back may have been difficult for him. Need to follow up on that. On the way back, there’s Deacon Linda with her Barney Greengrass bag. 
The Santiago family is there first. Then others. At five after eleven, I decide to start even with Amy not there yet. So it’s an a capella Breathe on Me Breath of God. And then Amy and later Andre join us. 
Today we’ve reached that point in Lent where we begin to turn the corner. The scriptures we read today are like previews of coming attractions, like previews of the Resurrection. They get us on our way, moving in that direction. At our neighborhood clergy study last week, there was discussion, in these Biblical stories of resurrection vs. resuscitation vs.  restoration? In the end, I don’t really care... in our lives it comes down to the same thing. 
You can’t read Ezekiel 37: 1-14 about the dry bones without hearing dem bomes, dem bones, dem dry bones. So I had to look up its recordings. Everyone from the Zion Travelers (was rap born in Gospel?) to the Lennon Sisters to the KIngsmen of Louie, Louie fame. To that scene in the Simpsons where the doctor has to sing this song to remember Homer's anatomy. 
And I remember August Wilson, the dramatic chronicler of African-American History in the 20th century, from my hometown,  that scene towards the end of Act One in  Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. Herald Loomis, a tortured soul who had been on a forced chain gang for seven years, shares his vision with  Bynum, the root worker, the holy man. His vision of bone people rising out of the water, walking across the water until they reached dry land. Flesh and blood and finally breath. It’s the story of the middle passage, the millions of africans who died in the Atlantic...and then the eventual rebirth on these shores.

Today, hundreds die trying to cross the Mediterranean from Africa. Or in the desert between Mexico and the US. In our lifetime we’ve lived through Cambodia, through the Balkan war. There are always valleys of dry bones all around us. 
Ezekiel’s vision remind us again that it’s a process, it doesn’t happen all at once. Step by step, bone by bone. And it requires the holy spirit. And it’s not about individuals, it’s about the restoration, community....
Psalm 130, from the depths, speaks to me of waiting. Waiting is not passive. It raises the question, what are you waiting for? Like everyone else I wait at the bank, at the checkout line, occasionally trying to cross the George Washington  Bridge. And at least once a summer there comes that Shakespeare in the Park production that becomes that summer’s be there event. And the long lines and all night vigils begin. Waiting. Not passive. Doesn’t happen all at once. 
And then the Lazarus story. Wow...the gospel writer wants us to know that the  reason Jesus waited four days before responding was to make sure that  Lazarus would be  certifiably dead. Stylistically, the story has parallels and connections with the one from last week, the man born blind...If we look carefully, we see the connection, all to God’s glory...

As Jesus prepares to  go, Thomas can only see this ending up one way, with the authorities putting Jesus to death, so with a proclamation of solidarity, Thomas pledges to go with him.

Shortest verse in the Bible: 11:35. Jesus wept. Why did he weep? Did he doubt? Didn’t he know how  it would all come out? The Latin American theologian Pablo Richard said that his biggest problem with North American Christians was that they want to go too quickly to the happy ending. Jesus weeps because he loved Lazarus and he is dead. He weeps because he feels the emotions of the sisters who loved Lazarus. He must allow himself to feel all the contradicting emotions of the moment. And only then act. 
Lazarus come out...back in 1978, my friend, Chris Glaser, one of the first class of out lgbtq’s to be denied ordination by the PC(USA) went to West Hollywood and began the Lazarus work with the lgbtq community there in every way. Based on the idea that coming out and claiming one’ s identity was the way to resurrection, the way to freedom. 
Resurrection is  not easy. When you look at it from the Lazarus side. It’s painful. The light hurts your eyes. All wrapped up, looking like a mummy. It requires unbinding and then what? only to  die again?  It is awkward. Step by step. Requires a community to join in with the unbinding. 
This sets in motion the movement towards crucifixion. It is beginning of the  end for Jesus...but also, even more so, the beginning of beginning. Because only with the cross does his true triumph begin...

Yes, resurrection is scary. It comes from a deep down. deep in  place. It’s a process.
And the question is, do we believe any of it?  The church with its white paper, the language of change with no real idea of what that means. Our presbytery: the plan..with the inherent sense that  power, dominance, money, size equals success. And what of justice? reconciliation? Except the peace of victor and vanquished
What we should really be doing is celebrating our opportunity to be at the vanguard. Our city, New York City, we live in it as  as global city. Look at our faces this morning. How many continents do our people come from? Others have said that this congregation is dead. That what we need is a hospice plan. I’ve asked it before, how dead do you have to be?

It is hard to be resurrected. It is so much  easier to stay in the tomb...the path to life, is slow, takes patience, is hard, but is to life we are called....
Before taking up the offering, I remind them that by now, in a broad-based, inclusive coalition,  over 30,000 have joined in the Fast for Hunger, in an effort to move,  to push congress towards a moral budget. It has according to Jim Wallis, gone viral.  We as a congregation have asked New York City Presbytery  to endorse  the fast and join in.  

Andre sings Take My Hand, Precious Lord as the plates are passed. 
We make our circle, say our benediction, sing our Amens and Ana serves her cafe con leche. 
Hope opens a serious conversation with me. Things were bad enough before but now, with the new sidewalk construction maze, accessibility has become nearly impossible. She shows me on the stairs, how when the doors are open, the railings are not available. . And the doors are heavy and hard to open. Luis and I look at the doors, try to think of a solution. This much is clear, we cannot speak of becoming the church that will be, without a commitment to accessibility. We cannot become the church of the future while bound behind barriers. (Unbind him, set him free...) Beginning as an issue related to our exterior, I need to take this to the Landmarks Conservancy, see if we can add it to our grant or if a new one is needed. Questions of accessibility are simply questions of justice.

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