Homily – 3rd Sunday of Lent

My friends, through the readings today; we are called to look at the law, what it meant to the Israelites, to Jesus and to us.  Simply put; we need laws as a point of reference to indicate good from bad and right from wrong—I believe we would all agree to that.  The catch is, laws can be rather black and white—do this—don’t do that.  But we know that the life situations that befall us all can land in gray areas from time to time.

If we look at the Ten Commandments as laid out in the Exodus reading today; we see this idea of “black and white.”  I believe many of us use these commandments as a point of reference and then move on from there, in the “grayness” of our life situations, making the best decisions we can.

I heard a speaker at the Winona Sanctuary Meeting last Saturday, a week ago, speak to this very issue.  He talked about the commandment, “Thou shall not steal,” and said he thought he had done that one quite well most of his life until the last few years when he realized that he had routinely, “stolen” from Third World people who make, for poverty wages, many of the clothes he wore and because of his “theft,” he could buy these clothes much cheaper on the backs of their poverty.  Now this is a negative outcome to looking at a law set in place to keep us honest and respecting of our neighbor.  Technically, no stealing happened (black and white), but in a broader sense, it did.

An example with a positive outcome might be the case of my ordination.  The hierarchical Church says this is a violation of a law that many consider, outdated and unjust and I can affirm, in my conscience that it was a law that I couldn’t obey because I felt the call from God, a higher law, to serve the People of God in this way.  So, even though my action called down excommunication from the Church I love; I had no choice but to break this law.

What can help us in our actions toward doing what is right is always to look deeper—as Jesus said, “What are the fruits of this action?” Many times power and control are at the heart of administering certain laws, like the ban on women being ordained. Excommunication is a tool of men, not of God.

Jesus, our brother, a good Jew, was very aware of the weight of the law on the Jewish people with over 600 rules and regulations that burdened every aspect of their lives.  He was about making laws to guide our lives more simple and straightforward.  He looked broadly at the Ten Commandments given to Moses and said, “Love God—the first three of the Ten are about that—the remaining seven are about loving your neighbor, thus, “Love God and your neighbor as yourself.”

If we keep this in mind, as our point of reference; we can’t go wrong.  If we say we “love God,” we will spend time trying to grow closer, we won’t talk about God disparagingly and we will give back some time to God.  If we say, “we love our neighbors as ourselves, we will honor our parents in the ways that we can, we won’t take a life, or another’s spouse, or their goods, or their good name.  Now, granted, there can be gray areas, but at least these are our points of reference.

Jesus’ great commandments really cover it all and interestingly enough, without being specific in naming what, “love of God” and love of neighbor” is, the commandments  allow us as individuals to look into our hearts, listening to the Spirit about “how” in actuality this two-fold kind of loving is done.  And as has been said, it is seldom a black and white response.

Lent for the Catholic church, in its hierarchy, is still about clinging to rigid rules of fasting and abstinence rather than looking at what these practices call forth from us.   If fasting and abstinence’s fruits are kindness, gentleness and mercy, then I would say it might be a good practice for those who take it on. If not, then fasting and abstaining from gossiping, meanness, pettiness and hatred might be a better route to go.

There is a good piece out on-line that I shared this past week—part of a concerted effort to respond to the now, so-called, Valentines’ Day Massacre in Florida. A man and a woman shared a message of love—they spoke about how all great change in the world has come about through people moving out in love toward their fellow creatures: Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King were given as examples.  This couple was basically saying, “Let love be the response to dealing with people we disagree with. They continued, “We are fully conscious of the fact that people will discount us, thinking this is just a “namby-pamby” response, but they were really serious! They did agree although that it won’t always be easy to respond to ignorance, hate, disagreement and more, with love.

They went on to speak about how our country is so divided now, so unwilling to come together on anything and are suggesting we try to find something loveable in those we most disagree with and go from there.  The man in the video asks, “If you win the war, but lose the connection to another individual, what have you accomplished?  Try love, they were saying—it certainly can’t hurt!”

Two Saturdays ago, the Interfaith Council of Winona sponsored a listening and learning event in Winona which invited people from around our state involved in the ministry of giving sanctuary to undocumented aliens living and working in our country who are now subject to deportation to come and share with us how this can be done in Winona. Many of these undocumented people, as you may know, have lived and worked here for many years and have established lives.

Humanity, our faith and all that is decent and good in us as a country demands that we find a way. One of the presenters who came from Rochester, MN, a United Church of Christ pastor basically told us, that, “ it is a walk in faith” and trust and if you move in that light, you will, “find a way” for whatever you are being called to do. It is good for us to remember Paul’s words to the Corinthians today, and turn to our God, “whose weakness is stronger than human strength.”

The Winona Interfaith Council is presently discussing the possibility of establishing a sanctuary church in Winona. Entities that can serve as places of sanctuary are churches, hospitals and schools.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will not go into these places to retrieve people.

Now, while All Are One could not be a sanctuary church—obviously because we have no building of our own; we could serve as a support church.  At last Sunday’s service, the people present at Mass began the discussion of the possibility of us doing this and there was a positive feel among us for participating. I have asked our board to weigh in on this too.

There will be more discussion as we go along as there is much to keep in mind—this is an act of civil disobedience to help the undocumented from being apprehended, but we are told that it is less likely that people will bear the brunt of what can happen if the responsibility is spread around. If we were to designate ourselves as a support community, our way to help might be through donations of money, food or other supplies that are needed to house an individual as they await a trial. We just received word on Friday that there may be a church in Winona that is discerning becoming our sanctuary church!  Please pray friends for this yet, unnamed church that they will have the strength and faith to take this on.

In today’s Gospel from John, we read about and witness Jesus’ zeal for what is right—for the House of God.  The House of God, in actuality is God’s People—we must not let anything get in the way of caring for all the People of God.  This homily began with looking at the law, realizing that laws are “points of reference” and moving on to Jesus’ interpretation giving us two great commandments—to love God and our neighbors as ourselves.

It is probably, in the freedom that we all enjoy, hard to imagine being an alien in a foreign country, a country we have made home because to return to our own country might mean sure death, but this is exactly what Jesus’ great commandments call us to!

Amen? Amen!