Sunday, April 14, 2019

The triumphant ride into Jerusalem!

The triumphant ride into Jerusalem!  The grand Procession.  The joy, as we re-enact often what for many of us is a fond memory from our own childhood. John Wesley Notes that “‘Hosanna’ (Lord save us) was a solemn word in frequent use among the Jews.  The Meaning is ‘We sing hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is he, the Messiah, of the Lord. Save. Thou that art in the highest heavens.’ Our Lord restrained all public tokens of honor from the people till now, lest the envy of his enemies should interrupt his preaching before the time.”[1]

Today we celebrate Jesus’ Triumphant entrance into Jerusalem.  Today is also known as Passion Sunday, which we will honor during the week as we recall the events that led to the torture and execution of Jesus.    So today let us focus, on today!
Marcus Borg with John Dominic Crossan in the book “The Last Week” gives us a beautiful picture of what was happening;

Two Processions entered Jerusalem on a spring day in the year 30…. One was a peasant procession, the other an imperial procession, From the east, Jesus rode a donkey down the Mount of Olives, cheered by his followers. …

On the opposite side of the city, from the west, Pontius Pilate, the roman Governor of Idumea, Judea, and Samaria, entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers.  Jesus’s procession proclaimed the Kingdom of God; Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire.[2]

Most people do not realize that Pontius Pilate rode into Rome.  He was sent down during the Holidays to make sure there was no trouble.  Yet during this time there had been trouble and Pontius was anticipating it. 

Imagine the imperial procession’s arrival in the city. A Visual panoply of imperial power: cavalry on Horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold. Sounds: the marching of feet, the creaking of leather, the clinking of the bridles, the beating of drums. The swirling of dust. The eyes of the silent onlookers, some curios, some awed, some resentful.[3]

This is an intentional display of imperial power much like the army marching in Tiananmen square or rocket launches around north Korea or maybe a military parade in Washington DC.  This is to instill fear and remind people who is in charge. Sometimes it’s a warning to the people, sometimes to other countries. It is also a warning to anyone who may think about offering any kind of resistance that there is a whole army waiting to react.
This display also was to be not just a display of military might but that of Religious authority as well.

According to the theology of Rome, the emperor was not simply the ruler of Rome, but the Son of God.  It began with the greatest of emperors, Augustus, who rules Rome from 31 BCE to 14 CE.  His father was the god Apollo, who conceived him in his mother, Atia. Inscriptions refer to him as “son of God,” “lord” and “savior,” one who had brought “peace on earth.”  After his death, he was seen ascending into heaven to take his permanent place among the gods.  His successors continued to bear divine titles, including Tiberius, emperor from 14 to 37 CE and thus the emperor during the time of Jesus’s public activity.  For Rome’s Jewish subjects, Pilate’s procession embodied not only a rival social order, but also a rival theology.[4]

Jesus’s procession, if we look at it as it is written in The Gospels seems like a very deliberate, planned, political action.  He tells his disciples where to find the colt and just mention that the master needs it and it is understood who and what it is for.  Okay, that is an assumption, but no one questions the disciples after they say that the colt is for the master therefore one can safely say that the owner was probably a follower of Jesus.

People of that time had to be very conscience of the symbolism; the direct contrast Jesus was presenting. Jesus is coming into town riding on a donkey, lowliest of animals.  His army are all peasants and common folk.  They are hailing him as the King, mocking that of Pontius’s entrance.

Jesus’s procession deliberately countered what was happening on the other side of the city. Pilate’s procession embodied the power, glory, and violence of the empire that ruled the world.  Jesus’s procession embodied an alternative vision, the Kingdom of God.[5]

It’s hard to believe that just a year ago something amazing happened as a result of a tragedy. A movement, a protest, a match up; the powerless against the powerful! The students of Stoneman Douglass High school had started something that, let’s be honest, should have started a long time ago.

On 60 minutes the students were asked “what makes you think you guys could do more? That this could be different?” here is what a student said; “the thing about it is we are the generation that had to be trapped in closets waiting for police to come or waiting for a shooter to walk into our door. We are the people who know what it is like firsthand!” another student states; “we are the mass shooting generation…I was born months after columbine.  I am seventeen years old and we have had seventeen years of mass shootings!” he goes on to say “that stop school violence act they are pushing in DC which is just a bunch of hot air fluff doesn’t use the word gun once it’s when in all these tragedies the one thing that links them all together is the Gun!”[6]

Those students rose up and are still fighting for just and common-sense laws.  They are riding against Rome.

We have a food pantry.  People can come and get food once a week.  There are no questions asked except name and members of household. This is only asked once and is never shared. Whereas the government requires that a two-person household make less than 1760 a month and cannot have more than 3000.00 dollars in assets…well that person would not be living here cause all I could find for rent in Marlborough was a two bedroom at 1135 a month

We ride ride against empire 

Actually, the little rainbow flag in front is a strong ride against Empire. Did you know that LGBTQ Youth are 125% more likely to experience homelessness than any other population?  This is usually due to abuse or an intolerant home. Our flag says more than just we tolerate you. It says we celebrate you and lift you up.  This is your sacred space.  

That means a lot in a country where it is still legal to discriminate against LGBT folks in 11 states in this day and age it amazes me that only 21 states, the district of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico protect, protect against both sexual orientation and gender Identity discrimination both in public and private sectors.

As a congregation of three denominations we stand on solid ground in our proclamation of no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey you are welcome here.

Riding against empire.

These are amazing movements…This is Palm Sunday…Those kids/ young adults, our food pantry, our congregation and denominations, were and are Jesus on a colt riding into Jerusalem!

This isn’t metaphor.  We are literally doing it. Day by Day. Step by step.

 At one time I would ask about today’s Gospel reading as you visualize this event could you see yourself in the story.  Would you have been one of the people joyously, celebrating, welcoming the new king into your city.  Believing this man was going to change everything right away.  This man, the one who is always causing trouble, breaking tradition, is in opposition not just to Rome but the religious authorities.  Would you welcome him Knowing that at any moment trouble could break out and you might be caught up it in it?

Well we have the opportunity to walk with the Jesus We can bring service to those who are food compromised.  We can walk besides those who seek justice.  We can offer sacred space to those who are told they are not sacred for we proclaim all are sacred as children of God!

So, if you think to yourself yes, I would be there.  I would welcome Jesus to the city.  I would be ready to stand beside him and walk with him no matter where it leads.  I would then say to you, know this…you are part of a great and brave group of people who are ready for a big and dramatic change, and it has started! But remember, with Jesus as soon as trouble started most all turned against him.  They asked for a murderer to be released over him.
So, who are you in this Palm Sunday Story?

Can you picture yourself maybe as the colt?  An innocent creature living in servitude, who is suddenly thrown into this spotlight.  You are given the great honor to carry the Lord and Master into this city.  You alone have been chosen to be blessed and to touch the living Christ.  The excitement of the crowd is energizing and terrifying at the same time and yet.  And yet, when it is all over you go back to what you were doing before no better and no worse for it.  Your life just goes on as it always did.

Maybe, just maybe, you are one of the Roman guards on the far side of the city.  Part of the big corporation.  A Good soldier.  Following orders and doing what you are supposed to do.  Maybe you have heard something about this man about town.  There are rumors and stories.  Oddly enough you are called to stand Guard at an execution and turns out to be this Jesus you have heard so much about, “And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, "Surely this man was the Son of God!"(Mark 15:39)

Knowing all this, all this history, all this conflict, knowing what might be, knowing what we might have done in this story, who we might be.  Knowing that all this triumphant celebratory entry into the city will only end on a hill.  Jesus comes. Despite all that... Jesus comes and Because of all this…All of you…all of us, all of humanity…Jesus comes!

Because there is poverty in the world …Jesus Comes
Because there is Hunger in the world… Jesus Comes
Because there are migrants who are seeking a better life …Jesus comes
Because there are worn torn parts of our world…Jesus comes
Because the planet and all things living upon it are crying out for justice…Jesus comes
Because there are those who need just and equal health care…Jesus comes 
Because people need disaster relief in Puerto Rico ...they need food, electricity, roofs…Jesus Comes
Because of Students who want to be safe and see no need for weapons of war to be available in our society…Jesus comes!

Jesus Comes! Jesus Enters the city and there is an open invitation to follow.  But how do we do that?  How do we follow Jesus into Jerusalem? What are we Called to do? How do we prepare to follow Jesus into Jerusalem?

 We are called to accompany those in need on their life journey.  We are called to take action when we see injustice.  We are called to help close the gap where we see people being marginalized. No, we can’t do it all.  We can’t all be expected to literally walk besides those in need. But we can write letters…offer financial support…offer support to organizations and businesses that believe in the same causes we do.
We can boycott business who do not understand how their actions support injustice and call them out. 

Our cry of Hosanna is we walk in the way of Christ and we are called to act upon that call to the best of our ability. For some that may be offering a prayer, lifting Christs love that is in our heart to another. Offering a smile or a word of encouragement. Standing for a just and peaceful world in our hearts may be all we can do but it is more than enough! And actually, offering kindness and prayer is the best place to start!

Amanda Beck writes;

“You may say that these practical instructions amount to being nice to others and being a good person but carry very little spiritual weight. We would all prefer merely to contemplate the mystery of God’s coming near and follow Jesus’ journey with a spiritual devotion to the suffering servant. It is true that many of these instructions don’t seem spiritual in themselves. We must do them, not because of their own spiritual weight, but because our hearts are very small. We clutter them daily with concern for ourselves, misplaced loves, and hurt feelings. We must make room for Jesus in order to welcome Christ properly. Somehow this practical work done with spiritual attention prepares the way of the Lord as nothing else can. It changes us. It makes room in our hearts that Jesus can fill with the kingdom of heaven. This is the way to make straight the path of the Lord: self-emptying. There is no other way to let Jesus’ message sink in, and there is no other way to follow our Lord than to walk in his footsteps. Jesus’ life was one of self-emptying and service to God and humanity, and so we make our lives in his likeness. If there was ever a week to get this right, this is it. If there was ever a point in the Christian narrative to step out of the way and let the story of divine love continue, this is it.[7]

So, on this day when we gleefully welcome Jesus into Jerusalem with all the knowing and all the anticipation of the spiritual practice of this week.  This is the time to spend spiritually on ourselves.  This is the week to practice spiritual centeredness and forgiveness and seek right living or ways to help make living right, so that we cannot only be spiritually present to each other but to the community around us.

This week can be used to ramp us up for the rest of the year so that we here at Federated Church of Marlborough may put our faith into action through our commitment to compassion and justice. So that as individuals and as a congregation, we address the needs and challenges of inequality in our communities and around the world as we seek ways in which we may join others to advance social and environmental justice.”

You all are doing a lot individually and collectively as a congregation, but this week, this week is for yourself and God.  This week is about reenergizing ourselves as Christians as we live into our story.  Look for yourself in the story, look for what moves you spiritually this week. Watch for the story as it continues to unfold around you.  Jesus’ walk to good Friday is one of Christianity’s richest traditions.  It empowers and inspires so that we may be who we are called to be Christ to the world. As we are called to engage the 3 great Loves: Love of Neighbor, Love of Children, and Love of Creation, Amen.

[1]Jenee Woodard, The Abingdon Creative Preaching Annual (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013), 85
[2]] Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week: The Day-by-day Account of Jesus's final Week in Jerusalem (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006),2.

[7]David Neil Mosser, and Wellman, eds., Abingdon Preaching Annual 2011 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2010), 119.

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