Because We Are Moving!

The Church of Christ in every age, 
Beset by change but spirit led 
Must change and test its heritage 
And keep on rising from the dead.  

It’s one of my favorite moments in Cervantes’ Don Quixote: The Don & Pancho Villa are on their trusty steeds.  As they ride along, there’s all these dogs surrounding them.  Pancho turning to Quixote asks “Why are all these dogs barking?” 

“Because we are moving.”  

We are moving.  Moving toward light out of the darkness. 

Today’s gospel is a prime example of what happens when movements take place in our addicted systems of oppression.  Meet Otis, the town’s blind beggar.  

Ok, true confession time, beloved: I don’t know if this man in our Gospel reading really was named Otis.  I chose the name Otis because, well… The Andy Griffith Show.  Remember Otis—the town drunk in Mayberry?   

I wonder what would have happened in Mayberry if Otis had found Alcoholics Anonymous and started working the 12 steps. Have you ever known a family that has had such a profound miracle?  A family where a person with a drinking problem suddenly was able, through the grace of God to turn to the 12 steps of recovery and find sobriety? 

I will tell you that choosing to walk the 12 steps of any recovery is nothing short of a miracle akin to what we see Jesus do in our Gospel today.   And here’s the thing: most of the time, the system surrounding Otis does exactly what happens in our gospel reading today. 

What do you mean you are healed, Otis? You can’t be healed?  What do you mean that you are working the steps, want to apologize and be accountable for the ways you wronged me?   I am your wife, Otis—I am checking your pockets for an empty bottle of booze, Otis because that’s what I’ve done for the last 30 years!   What do you mean you’ve been at a 12 step meeting?  No Otis—you’re the town drunk—you’ve been out at the tavern once again. 

We get used to people playing roles in our system and when that sudden changes, it upsets everything.   Hell is put into an uproar.  The problem wasn’t just Otis’s drinking—the problem was the way the whole system had adapted to take care of Otis and his role as the town’s identified patient.   Everything is thrown into an uproar.  

Why are all these dogs barking?  Because we are moving.  

God’s liberation sets the exiles free.  Most of the time, we don’t know what to do with the freedom that comes through Christ—it frightens and overwhelms us.   

 This little town was used to Otis their beggar that they cared for, maybe they felt good as they went on by and gave him small bits of their wealth—charity rather than justice.  Their system had grown codependent but what Christ offers us is true inter-dependence, true freedom, accountability and the possibility to see who we truly are—children of God.  

The very point of our existence as Christ followers is harrow hell.   

Many years ago when I was a young adult, I had the deep privilege being on the journey with Bishop Patrick Matolengwe—the Suffragan Bishop of Cape Town South Africa.  He had come to the United States because he needed healing.  He found AA and the 12 steps which changed his life.   His own personal hell was in an uproar. 

He was my priest and preached liberation every Sunday. I was absolutely bereft when he was called to go back to South Africa-- to be a part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.   He told me he was taking the 12 steps home with him and was going to use them in his work with the Commission. I didn’t quite get it—what did the 12 steps have to do with apartheid?   I’ll never forget the cryptic message he shared one afternoon as I sat in his sun-drenched office.  “All injustice starts in codependence.”  

Why are all these dogs barking?  
Because we are moving.  

It’s taken me a life time to unravel what +Patrick meant.  We get so used to the ways oppression and sin deforms us and the ways we sweep our addictions and the secrets of our life under the carpet— the family system that cleans up after Otis is not much different from the  soul crushing ways apartheid separated people, not so different from the church that holds secrets and unhealth. 

We try to hide from God.  But God… finds us in our deepest darkest closets and invites us out into the light.  

There’s a reason Lent happens as the light lengthens in our hemisphere—we are called to light.  
The work of Lent is to uncover shame, uncover secrets, harrow our personal hell of life.  Shame is the deep disconnection we have in the pit of our souls.  The more shame we have, the less we are willing to talk about it.   

The miraculous nature of love is that the moment we expose shame to the bright eternal light of God, it dissolves.    

Say its name.  

I’m convinced beloved that at the heart of sin is profound disconnection—shame—the things we can’t say out loud, the things we hide, our hell.   The systems that hold Otis from his work of recovery. That first step is so deeply powerful --it is confession: I am powerless over… we say its name and we are moving!   And my God, those dogs are barking! 

 Moving toward truth, moving toward reconciliation moving toward harrowing hell.  

Remember Ruby Bridges?  The first African American child to desegregate a school in Louisiana?  Our sick codependent addicted system was moving! Moving toward naming the sin and shame of our addiction to white supremacy.  That brave young lady was shouted at as she walked to freedom. 

Why are all these dogs barking?  
Because we are moving! 

  That’s what’s at work today in our gospel, that’s what we are called to do in Lent—to name our powerlessness over whatever addiction we have.  All of us NEED recovery of one sort or another—not just those that have a drinking problem.  All of us. 

The light of earth is growing as we stand in the light of our eternal God and examine our soul’s darkness, calling into light those things that keep us disconnected from love and from each other.  My God, that’s brave work beloved.  That heals blindness, that changes systems of oppression—that puts hell in an uproar.  

Why are all these dogs barking?  
Because we are moving!