Excerpted from the NC Council of Churches Lenten Guide, “Journey to Justice”
You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
The fourth Sunday of Lent brings us to the celebration of our right to be called children of God as the source of all our happiness. This comes to us as a blessing in the very moments that our faithfulness is being tested.
As we move through some of the darkest internal conflicts our country has seen in my lifetime, I have been reading Strength to Love, a collection of sermons by The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. which explains his convictions in terms of the conditions and problems of society. This passage from one of King’s sermons speaks strongly to the verses from Ephesians:
“One of the great tragedies of life is that men (sic) seldom bridge the gulf between practice and profession, between doing and saying. A persistent schizophrenia leaves so many of us tragically divided against ourselves. On the one hand, we proudly profess certain sublime and noble principles, but on the other hand, we sadly practice the very antithesis of these principles . . . We proclaim our devotion to democracy, but we sadly practice the very opposite of the democratic creed. We talk passionately about peace, and at the same time we assiduously prepare for war. We make our fervent pleas for the high road of justice, and then we tread unflinchingly the low road of injustice. This strange dichotomy, this agonizing gulf between the ought and the is, represents the tragic theme of man’s (sic) earthly pilgrimage.”
The truth in this writing breaks my heart, and I am acutely aware of all the externalities attempting to fill in the cracks with hatred and fear; but the scripture speaks deeper, reminding me of the grace in faith. Jesus has shown us that pain and suffering is in sharp contrast with trusting in God’s love. We are not limited by the times of our lives, but instead empowered to embrace eternity through the practices of compassion and good-will. To again quote King: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Prayer: May the Sunday of Joy remind our faithfulness fills dark spaces with light. Let us reflect on the special signs of joy permitted in the middle of Lent, intended to encourage us to lift up our beliefs in a radically peaceful set of principles and stay on our faithful course through the season of penance. Amen.