Daily(ish) blogging in Lent - Day Twenty
Sermon From Palm Sunday + March 20, 2016
After [Jesus] had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?” just say this: “The Lord needs it.”’ So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’ They said, ‘The Lord needs it.’ Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,
‘Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!’
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’
As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.’
If you were with us last week, you’ll remember (at that time) that we were reading from the Gospel of John.
We were reading the story of Mary and Martha and Judas.
“Jesus’ anointing” right?
The story in which Mary enters the room
and then, with costly perfume,
washes Jesus’ feet with her hair.
A bit over the top,
maybe even a little gross,
but, it seems, a genuine work of love,
and an act full of symbolism and care.
A really thoughtful and cool thing for Mary to do.
And we talked about how,
In John’s version of the story, as soon as Mary acted in this way,
As soon as Mary welcomed her Lord,
performed her act of love,
did her generous deed,
As soon as she did that,
Judas (on the other hand)
Judas got accusing
He started picking on Mary, using her values against her,
calling her wasteful,
insinuating that because she did something nice for Jesus that she must not really care for the poor.
He said the kind of things we humans do when we’re being manipulative [right]? Or when we feel jealous or threatened…
last week we discovered that
Judas in the story acted as a bully.
Judas in that story acted as a bully.
And then we also noticed together
even though Jesus often preached peace,
Even though Jesus spoke of turning the other cheek,
praying for our enemies,
blessing those who persecute us,
(These are all central to Jesus’ message, and to the Gospels)
Even though Jesus told Peter to put down his sword, and healed the ear of the servant that Peter had struck (in self defense)
when they came to arrest and to crucify and to publicly shame Jesus,
even though [all of that]
when Judas was bullying Mary,
Jesus stood up,
and Jesus said to him,
When Mary was being bullied, Jesus stood up.
And that’s where we stopped last week.
With Jesus “standing up.”
Not a bad place to dwell, right?
Not a bad thing to sit with for a moment,
and to ruminate on.
to ask: What does this mean for us?
What does this mean for followers of Jesus, today?
[show off tract]
I found this tract in the bathroom of the Bridgeport Coffee Shop yesterday. On the cover it has in really big letters a question: “ARE YOU 100% SURE YOU ARE GOING TO HEAVEN?”
It was sitting on top of the basin of the toilet, and there’s a name and a phone number on the back that you can call.
And if you open it up and look at, like, point four in it, in this tract, there’s this familiar phrase: “Jesus died for all.”
Have you ever heard this phrase?
It’s a good one…
this is something we hear all the time, right?
on Christian Television, on the Radio, and in the hymns and songs of Holy Week.
It’s in one of my all-time favorite hymns, “Alas, and did my savior bleed and did my sovereign die…”
“Jesus died to save.”
And it’s true, this is an important part of Christian theology. Of Christian history.
Jesus died for all. Jesus “loves all.” Jesus forgives all
And we get a lot of good Christian ethics out of this, right?
We preach them a lot: (right?)
We “love” because God first loved us,
We forgive because we’ve been forgiven…
and so on.
(For us it’s not “What Would Jesus Do?” Right? It’s “Jesus did this for us, so now what are we gonna do about it?” Jesus loves us, so how then shall we love?…)
Good stuff. Important stuff.
But (to add to that)…
do we hear this:
How often do we hear:
“Jesus stands up for all, especially for the poor,
especially for the pressed down,
especially for those, like Mary,
who are bullied by people, like Judas!” ? —
How often do we hear
“We stand up
because Jesus stood up for us?”
“We speak out because Jesus spoke out for us!”
How often do we preach the Good News
in that way?
Last week we heard that Jesus stood up to Judas, his friend, his treasurer.
And that’s where we left off.
But as you know, this wasn’t the first time in the Gospels Jesus did this.
This wasn’t the first time Jesus chose to stand up
[to bullying and to abuse].
Rather, Jesus kind of did this all of the time.
That’s why the people were calling him a prophet, right?
That’s why people were calling him a prophet.
Remember with me for a minute here. Think back through the gospels…
Remember when there were demons that kept women and men from speaking? From speaking up and speaking out?
And demons that kept women and men in bondage,
demons that kept women and men immobilized, kept them from standing up, taking their mats, and walking?
Remember what Jesus did to them?
He cast them out!
Remember when Jesus was saying things like
“this person’s life is more important that this or that religious rule, more important than this or that religious law!” ?
And so Jesus caught flack for healing someone on the Sabbath. And plucking grain because people were hungry? Remember when he broke oppressive laws for the sake of love?
Remember when Jesus was criticized
for offering forgiveness to those that Church leaders
and Religious conservatives
and angry, belligerent politicians
deemed unforgivable, unholy, unclean, illegal?
Remember when Jesus loved the ones that Church people called an abomination?
Remember when all of the church people in their “Sunday’s Best” gathered around outside to throw giant rocks at a woman who was allegedly “caught in adultery,” because that’s what they got to do to the ones that they labelled “sinners” according to the “holy” rules?
Remember when Jesus put an immediate stop to that nonsense?
Saying “let anyone who’s without a sin throw the first stone? And finally everyone walked away?
Remember when Jesus made it clear that what you do as an act of love is your business, but (really), public shaming, and throwing rocks at someone, beating a sister or brother to death, is the real sin, the real transgression?
Remember when Jesus fed the 5,000, a multitude of poor people
that the both the rulers and the elites would just as soon have left for dead?
Remember when Jesus brought them all together in one place, and spoke to them about God’s Kingdom? Promising that one day the last would be first,
and the humble exalted?
When we start looking at scripture through this lens
(the lens of Jesus “standing up”)
it pretty quickly becomes clear that
much (if not most) of Jesus’ ministry was about just this:
about standing up to bullies;
(and about calling bullies to repentance—calling bullies not to bully anymore!)
And it becomes clear that Jesus mission
(among other things)
includes constantly challenging the elements of his own religion, and his own society,
to do the same, right?
When religion and society excluded the poor and the sinner and the oppressed,
when religion and society sacrificed “the least, the last, and the lost,”
when religion and society could care less
for all of those Jesus came to minister to…
When religion and society failed to help,
Jesus called for them to change, to turn around, to repent!
Jesus calls religion and society to change. Amen? Amen.
Jesus calls them, calls us, instead, to turn to the Kingdom of God, where the lowly are lifted, the humble exalted, and everyone is able to eat.
Jesus’ ministry of forgiveness, of healing, of feeding, of exorcising;
Jesus ministry of valuing the lives of those deemed “not valuable”
was an act of standing up
pushed down and pushed out, both by bullies, and by the systems that allowed bullies to exist.
Today, Jesus takes his mission to a-whole-nother level.
Today, Jesus moves beyond feeding and healing and exorcising and preaching.
marching with the crowds he had fed and healed and stirred up with visions of the Kingdom-that-might-yet-be,
today, Jesus targets the Temple.
He sets his face toward the seat of religious and political influence in Jerusalem.
And he directs his message at the corrupt and powerful,
the crowds waving palms, and yelling “Hosanna!” :
“God save!” God bring something New! God, thy Kingdom come! On earth, instead of this kingdom! Please!
They shouted and chanted and caused a scene.
And so the Church leaders tried to get Jesus to shut them up!
But he wouldn’t have it.
Jesus stood up again.
“If they don’t cry out, all these rock’s are gonna,”
Because something needs to be said.
Something needs to be said.
This week, Jesus moves from simply standing up to bullies
to targeting the heads of the systems—the Goliaths, the big bullies—the Church and the state—that perpetuate the world-as-it-is, those who taught submission (bowing down, obedience) to those in charge,
and so really abused people by suppressing the peoples’ desire for God’s Kingdom, by telling them it is selfish to want to live, to want to eat, by telling them it was selfish to want to thrive… to have life in abundance…
Jesus targets the priests and the kings (and the televangelists) who would convince the crowds that it’s more important for them to obsess over religious rules, and to feel bad about their white lies and lustful thoughts than for the elderly to live in dignity, or the prisoners be set free, or for the hungry and poor to be able to eat.
“Don’t worry about what’s going on out here,” they taught, “just stay inside, in your church, in your building, and think about how sinful you are!”
Jesus first action (after the march on Jerusalem) was to go to the temple,
not to confess his sins,
but to turn over the tables of those who were ripping off the poor,
selling the crowds lies, making money off of guilt and shame,
(rather than instigating desire for the Kingdom of God, for a world where everyone is able to eat).
And it was beautiful.
But, it was also deadly.
Yes, Jesus died for us. Amen? Amen!
Thank God for God’s grace.
Jesus also died because he stood up for us.
Because he stood up to bullies, to the powerful, and to the oppressors.
And because he stood up, he paid the price.
We love because God first loved us.
We forgive as we (in Christ) have been forgiven.
May we also stand up as Jesus stood up.
May we also stand up as Jesus has stood up, and, indeed, risen up for us.
May we do this for our own sake,
and for the sake of a world deeply in need.