We are sent by you, prophetic God, to invite people to physical, mental, and spiritual health. We offer these gifts today towards that work and ask you to receive and bless this offering. Amen.
Jesus promises his disciples the Advocate, someone to argue in our favor and speak council to us. It will be a Spirit of Truth that comes from God and will testify, speak, words on Jesus’ behalf. This Spirit will guide us into Truth.
But when the Advocate came, after Jesus was gone, it sure didn’t look like Truth. The Holy Spirit took over the early Christians and they began to testify in many languages, babbling like at Babel, but instead of meaningless confusion, they speak meaningful stories of miracles and forgiveness and new life.
Some of the crowd sneers, “They’re drunk!” Drunk, and speaking nonsense.
As we heard, Peter counters, “They’re not drunk! Rather, ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.”
But did you know, prophecy and senselessness come from the same Greek root meaning. Mantis is a seer, a prophet who foretells the future in ancient Greek; and mania is senselessness, madness.
In the ancient world, great oracles tended to have a temple where they put their head over a volcanic crack in the ground, or drank chemically tainted spring water, or consumed oleander, or one way or another got high. And then, in their drugged state, they spoke of the visions they saw.
In the Bible, John the Baptist is either a maniac or a mantis. He is in the desert, eating honey and bugs, dressed in camel hair. He is also foretelling the future, speaking of God’s coming, and calling people to return to their faith.
Unorthodox. Not normal. Offensive. Crazy. Insightful. Humanizing. Challenging. Touched by God.
Teeched, is what we said back home. Someone is teeched in the head by God. Touched in the head by God. And we meant they were not normal. Mentally ill, mentally different, or somehow unorthodox.
It was a bit derogatory, just like the people in the crowd speaking about the apostles “they’re filled on new wine.” “She’s teeched in the head.” Dismissive. Those people don’t matter. They’re insane. They need counselors and medication and maybe an asylum.
I carried that negative attitude about mental health and abilities with me out of my home village.
And when I became depressed, I refused to get help. I’m not teeched. I don’t need medication or counseloring. What good does it do anyway? It’s just talking. I can talk. Besides, nothing is wrong with me anyways.
I poured myself into my job. And my classes. The harder I worked the less time I had to think about my own worries and sadness and anger.
The more anxious I got, the more it felt like I was choking when I went to eat. So I stopped eating.
Soon I was working full time, going to school full time, getting straight A’s, and losing weight and looking great. What could be wrong?
The thing about depression is it shows up in many different ways. Sometimes, it is sadness and sleepiness and weight gain. Other times, it is hyper activity and sleeplessness and weight loss.
I kept saying I was fine.
My employer knew better. A faithful Christian, and motherly, she took me aside and told me she knew how much was going on in my life, and she’d witnessed me working more and more hours, eating less and less, and my grades doing great… “And I think you need someone to talk to.”
NO! No! I’m not teeched! I’m perfectly normal and orthodox and ignore me!
So she rephrased it, “Until you talk with someone, I don’t want you working because you’re using it to avoid thinking about your troubles.”
So I went to go talk with someone. And sure enough – she said I was depressed; and needed medication, and meeting and talking. I was angry. I was … ashamed.
There’s such a stigma around mental health! Whether we are born with mental health concerns, like those we took an offering for at Hope Homes today, or whether we acquire them over time, like I had, either way… our society dismisses and disapproves of psychologists, counselors, and anyone who has mental health concerns.
If someone takes a “mental health day” we consider them weak.
If someone needs counseloring or medication, we consider them unfit for some jobs, and to own some items.
The stigma has us trying to hide such people away from society… and when there is no money to do so, we kick them onto the streets for short, hard lives.
Most homeless people have mental health concerns. And, poor, unable to get the medication to help them, they self medicate with street drugs and alcohol.
But it’s not just homeless people.
It’s also farmers.
Out of all professions, farmers have the highest suicide rates. We work long hours. Often lonely. And the margin between profit and loss is so slim… that every little movement made in Washington DC, every rain storm and frost and sunny day, every deportation and disruption of migrant workers’ lives, changes if it is a win year or a lose year. A 12 year low for crops is predicted for this year due to international sanctions and bans; the crazy weather; and changes in the Farm Bill. One of these changes is revising or removing crop insurance.
And farmers are killing themselves. Dairy farmers. Crop farmers. Small time farms that struggle against factory business farms are getting so deeply in debt that death looks like the only way out.
And in rural areas, there are few social workers, few counselors, few psychologists, and a great stigma against being ‘teeched in the head.’
… I know. I didn’t want help. I would have rather worked myself to death… and if a certain day the pressure was just too much… just find a way to relieve it. And end my life.
Religion was the bastion, the home, of original mental health help before there were counselors or psychologists. And many counselors and psychologists are deeply spiritual, but keep it from their practicing life unless the client invites such to not offend the person visiting them.
And almost every pastor sees a counselor or psychologist.
Our physical health is important. If we break an arm, we go and get it set.
If we are spiritually hurting, we reach out to a pastor or fellow Christian and ask for prayer.
Why do we deny ourselves mental help for when our minds, our emotions, need assistance?
Just stigma. Just not wanting to be seen as drunk on new wine or teeched in the head.
Well, it’s a bit too late. Just as your body and your soul needs tending, so does your mind. And we’ve all got the Holy Spirit within us. We’re all teeched. All Touched by God.
We’re all already the drunk ones, already the ones the world thinks are not normal, already dancing to the beat of a different drum.
Whether we call that mantis, and prophesy, or mania, and senselessness, is a matter of perspective.
A matter of whether we will embrace our mental abilities, and care for our mental health… or whether we will ignore it, deride those who seek help, and separate ourselves further into isolation.
This is a stigma the world places on us. Not the Bible. In the Bible, it is a very good thing to be touched by God and teeched in the head.
“To be or not to be; that is the question” is a famous phrase from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, and is spoken by Hamlet. He asks – what is better? To live; or to die? Back and forth Hamlet goes, considering the pros and cons of living or dying.
In our scripture readings today, both Jonah and Paul are considering living or dying, too. Considering if life is worth the effort to keep fighting for every second.
The word of God has come to Jonah and told him to go to the home of his enemies, to warn them if they don’t repent, God will destroy them. Instead, Jonah runs the exact opposite way. And runs and runs. And each encounter he has with death – storm, whale, desert – he doesn’t die. Finally he delivers the message half-heartedly to the city of Ninevah. Instead of killing him, as what happens to most prophets, the city immediately changes their way.
He’s the most successful prophet.
And yet, Jonah gets very mad, for now God won’t destroy the town. Jonah complains to God – “This is why I didn’t want to come! You, God, are too merciful and loving! You should kill me now! It’s better I die than I live.”
I wonder, what is too much for Jonah, so much that he wants to die. Is God’s mercy too much?
God’s care for the righteous and the unrighteous too much?
God’s love for all people too much?
I wonder if Jonah wants to die because he’s saved his enemies. When he goes home, what will his neighbors and friends say when they hear that the Assyrians are doing just fine, even after all the murder they did to the Israelites, because Jonah went and preached to them.
I wonder if Jonah wants to die because he feels his life has no meaning whatsoever. He knew from the very beginning that God wouldn’t kill all these people. So what was the point of even going?
God asks Jonah, “Is it right for you to be so angry?”
Jonah doesn’t answer, but goes out of the city, makes a little tent, and sits to watch and hope that the city doesn’t keep up their changed ways… or God changes God’s mind again. Jonah wants God to destroy Jonah’s enemies.
As Jonah sulks, God causes a bush to grow and give Jonah shade. Jonah goes from very angry to very happy. The next day, a worm eats the bush, there is no more shade, and now it is hot and windy.
Jonah tells God, again, to kill him. This time because he is suffering from the heat and dust.
God asks Jonah – is it right for you to be angry about the bush?
Jonah replies: “Yes! Angry enough to die!”
God replies back, “You didn’t plant the bush or cause it to grow. It just appeared and disappeared. I made people, and cause them to grow, and they’ve been here a long time. Shouldn’t I be concerned about Ninevah, with its 120,000 people who don’t know right from wrong, and all their animals?”
The book doesn’t record Jonah’s reply.
Maybe Jonah replied once again, “Yes, angry enough to die!” This would mean Jonah thinks God should be so angry when someone hurts people that God would be willing to die.
Or maybe Jonah’s answer is again, “I knew you wouldn’t harm them. Just let me die.” Jonah continues to sulk and miss God’s point and message of universal love.
I read, that for Jonah, life is cheap. He’s willing to give his life up out of anger over a bush; and he’s willing for innocent people and animals to die because he doesn’t like their leaders.
God, however, says life is not cheap. God tries to show Jonah again and again that even a bush has worth. People have much, much more worth.
Not a sparrow falls without God knowing. And we are worth many, many sparrows.
There are no lives that are truly meaningless. Somewhere, somehow, every person is called to bring good into the world. Some do this like Paul, with eagerness. Some do this like Jonah, begrudgingly. But we all have the call, the invite, to deep meaning and purpose to our lives.
Even so, death can be a sweet thought.
It is for Paul.
Paul is pretty much sitting on death row. He is accused of sedition, of encouraging others to be more loyal to someone other than Caesar… and he is very guilty. So guilty, he is STILL preaching against Rome through his letters to the young Christian churches. This letter today is addressed to the church in Philippi and full of messages such as “don’t be intimidated by your opponents” and they may destroy your body, but not your soul.
Paul also writes about considering death. How can you not contemplate death when you can feel it coming closer and closer?
Paul writes, “I don’t know which I prefer” living, or dying. To paraphrase, he says: If I die, I know I’ll be with Christ – and that is far better than any day here on earth. But if I live, I can help you all and encourage you. I guess, living or dying, I am with Christ. And living or dying, I gain.
Since I don’t know if I’m going to die and see Christ, or be released and see you, give me this comfort: live your lives in a manner worthy of the Good News of Christ. So whenever I hear about you here in Rome or there in heaven, I’ll hear you are standing firm together and striving together in the faith of the Gospel.
Paul is considering his death because it literally may be this afternoon, or tomorrow, or in years. But he can feel its presence. And he has decided – he is ready to die. Death no longer scares him. He welcomes death, even.
Have you ever met someone who is ready to die? It is unnerving. Every creature has a survival instinct that makes us fight tooth and nail to survive, to live. We abhor death, and avoid it, or try to make it pretty and sanitized. We say euphemisms – she passed away. He is in eternal sleep. They went to heaven.
Death is taboo.
But Paul is welcoming it. And sometimes, people we love welcome death too.
Someone I love recently told me she is ready to die. I wanted to protest and tell her I want her to see my daughter grow up. I want her to always be around in my life because she’s always been in my life. I want to know so much more about her childhood and have a million conversations I’ve put off or not yet even considered. I want…
And I realized, all my protests against my loved one dying are because of things –I wanted–.
I paused in our conversation, and I considered her life, and what she wanted.
She wants her parents, and siblings, and even some children, who are all long dead. She wants to converse with friends about times no one else alive remembers. She wants to be less lonely.
She wants to be in less pain and misery. Every day there is more of both as her body slowly dies and she knows there will be no more better days… only worse and worse days trapped in this fragile flesh body.
She wants to pass with dignity and grace.
If she gets her druthers – at home and in her sleep. Who wouldn’t want to go that way?
And if that’s not possible, then in a nursing home where there are people to care for her without being a strain on her family.
And she is ready. Ready to die.
I am not ready for her to die.
When I worked at Children’s Hospital, sometimes doctors or nurses or chaplains asked parents, “Who are you doing this treatment for? For your child, or for yourselves?”
Is it in the child’s best interest to do another round of chemo that likely will not work but which will make them very, very sick. There is a slim chance it will save their life… but the evidence in this case shows it is much more likely the child will spend their last month in misery. Is it better to go for this tiny slim chance, or is it better to have the child go home and die with grace and dignity?
What does the child want?
Dylan Thomas wrote a poem called “Do not go gentle into that good night.” The refrain is “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” He tells wise men, good men, wild men and grave men to fight for every single second of their lives and not to die gently, peacefully. The last line is addressed to his own father who he pleads for any blessing, any word — just don’t die and rage instead against death.
Who did Dylan write the poem for, and who was he considering?
His line to his father is: “Curse me, bless me… I pray.”
Sometimes, the most loving thing to do is to accept the person we love, that we are going to miss more than our own lives, is ready to die. Accept their choice, and help them go gently into the good night. Help them die in the manner they choose. Love them, as they let go bit by bit, of this world and step into the next.
Love them, and support them, when their wishes for their lives, and deaths, are counter to our own.
Love them, and support them, and know that death is hard work and as they go about the hard work of dying, we are called to be Christ for them. To walk along side them. To be their advocates, to give them agency, to give them dignity, and to help them depart to Christ.
It is actually a blessing when our loved ones jar us with mentioning their preparations for death. That panic we feel tells us how much we have left undone. Moves us to have those conversations we have put off and do those things we always said we’d do someday.
It is a blessing, because we can work on ourselves accepting our loved one’s desires… and when they ask for the permission to let go, to stop fighting, and go home… we can take their hands and say, “Well done, Good and Faithful servant, enter now into the joy of your Lord.”
“It’s okay to die.”
We know it is okay to die because it is not the end of God’s story. It is not the end of ourselves. Death is not the final word – there is a resurrection and a victory.
So… Is it better to be or not to be? That is not the question. The question is: In who’s interest am I acting? Whom am I considering? How can we face this transition together?
Let me set the scene for you in Numbers: the people are complaining. Give us meat to eat, Moses! We had meat in Egypt. Give us leaks or cucumbers or anything other than this manna! Day in and day out – all we have is manna. Moses!
So Moses and God talk about this. And God says it is too much for Moses to be the only one leading the people. Gather up seventy men, God says, and I will gift them the Spirit. Then they can help lead.
So Moses obeys God, gathers up the seventy, and they go outside of the tent village where God descends upon them like mist, or a cloud, and they speak wonders.
Speaking the word of God has a lot of power. Scripture tells us that it was God’s Words that created everything from Light to you and me. It’s no wonder that people told Moses that Eldad and Medad were acting as prophets. Moses’ friends probably thought these two were trying to take control of the camp. And if they weren’t, at the least, they weren’t part of the 70 chosen to be prophets and so God may be furious at their speaking God’s Words.
Moses’ right hand says — stop them!
But Moses isn’t worried, or upset, or slighted, or jealous. He’s thrilled that others are speaking Gods words, spreading God’s message and says he’d be glad if everyone did this: “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put the Spirit on them!”
Indeed, if you recall, later in the letter to Corinthians we hear that it is only by the Holy Spirit we are able to say “Jesus is Lord.”
Moses knows anyone that is working for God, even if they don’t have official permission to do so, or aren’t pastors, or maybe even aren’t of the same faith… as long as they are doing God’s work and speaking the Spirit of Truth – let them be!
In the days of Joel, the prophet foretells the end of the world. A scary end times full of blood and fire and smoke. He calls these the Last Days.
In the days after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, there were people prophesying without official authority. Without official permission. Without clearance. Once again.
We hear how the early Christians are gathered together when violence strikes. This microburst of wind bellows through the house and tongues made of fire appear above the heads of everyone there — every person — and every person suddenly spoke other languages.
Just like at Babel, languages are spread out.
Just like at Babel, confusion reigns.
People come running to the house – what was that roar from heaven? What is this that everyone is speaking all these languages eloquently and they are NOT from our home counties? How are we to understand this?
Like with Moses, some said — stop them! They’re drunk and out of their minds.
Like with Moses, a leader stands up: this time it is Peter. And Peter, like Moses, says don’t stop the Spirit! Interpret what is happening through the prophet Joel — in the last days, God will pour out the Spirit on sons and daughters, young men and young women, old men and old women, babies and toddlers and preteens and teenagers and the married and unmarried and those who are free and those who are repressed; those who are upstanding citizens and those with criminal pasts — everyone will speak of God and God’s wonders.
As Joel said — there will be signs from heaven. And signs have happened. The Lord’s Great and Glorious day is here: the reign of God, Heaven itself, has come close. All who call upon God are welcome in.
In our days, now, there were people prophesying without official authority. Without official permission. Without clearance. Out of the mouth of babes are words praising the wonders of God. Out of the dreams of the elderly are visions of heaven and God’s good work. Out of the work of the middle aged are glimpses of the Kin-dom of God. What is to be done?
Wherever the Spirit moves, inspiring people to praise God and spread goodness, love, mercy and forgiveness — it should be permitted to flow freely. ((I also don’t think we could stop the Spirit if we tried.))
God’s Holy Spirit comes upon us at all ages and all times infusing us with the power to have faith, keep hope, and do good to one another. It is outside all establishments, cannot be ordered about, cannot be silenced — as Christ told us, we do not know where the wind comes from or where it goes. The Spirit moves, enlivens, and we move and are enlivened with it.
What does that mean? It means in our days, now, the Spirit is testing our church and our lives. Showing us how we need to be more open, more inclusive, and speak words of love and welcome to people we’d rather not… but the Spirit gives us that language and Jesus tells us to go. Go and speak of God’s wonders wherever you find yourself in whatever languages you are gifted to whomever you meet.
The official authority, official permission, official clearance to be a prophet, a witness of God, a pastoral presence, has been given to you. You here today received this when you were baptized with water and with the fire of the Spirit.
Therefore, we are all God’s prophets. All God’s witnesses; because we are all God’s children.
Last week, Jesus was approached by a man who had studied scripture, memorized it, and knew all the commentaries. A super well educated man. And that man who knew all the writings asked Jesus – what must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus told him he can’t just read and study God… he must DO what he reads and learns God wants done. He can’t just know he’s supposed to love God and our neighbors; he also needs to LOVE those neighbors. Even the ones who are enemies. He can’t just read; he can’t just know; he must GO AND DO.
Today, the story continues. Jesus walks on and now is at Martha, Mary, and Lazarus’ house. And Martha is DOING. She’s being the good Samaritan and helping others. She’s getting dinner ready and making sure Jesus and his disciples have fresh water from the well to drink, and comfortable cool places to sit, and caring for everyone. She is being a good host, a good neighbor, and she’s clearly GOING and DOING.
Yet, Jesus says Martha’s sister, Mary — who is sitting at Jesus’ feet not going, not doing, and just listening and learning — has chosen the better path.
Didn’t Jesus say just the exact opposite to the lawyer last week?! Didn’t he say going and doing was needed to inherit ate eternal life? How he is saying the opposite?!
It’s no wonder people of all walks of life – pastors and professors and lawyers included – get lost in the Bible.
The Prophet Amos gives a little insight into the nuanced, the particular, truth Jesus is trying to communicate to God’s children. There is a little nugget of insight he is trying to give to you and me.
Long ago, centuries before Jesus, Amos arrived on scene. We know almost nothing about him other than he is the earliest prophet we have writings from. He has received a vision, and a word, from God: This is the end of God’s people. Amos cannot fathom what this means, (you see, he foresaw the Assyrians defeating the area, and the exile to Babylon, but Amos had no words to explain what the vision meant.) So Amos tries to explain what he saw again and again. God gives him a total of four visions to share and with each, Amos cannot believe that there is an ENDING coming. How can God do a new thing, and this new thing be the END of the promised land?!
And so God tries to explain: God’s chosen people have not been acting like God’s chosen people. They have been oppressing, harming, one another. The rich prey on the poor, and each other, and the poor prey on each other, no one cares for the land, and the weakest of the weak have no where to turn.
People observe the holidays, and the day of rest, but they complain about them. I could be out selling wheat! But instead, all the shops are closed today. I could be out selling grain! But instead, everyone’s home resting with families. There is money to be made!
We’ll mark the packages “One pound,” but actually it’ll only be 3/4 of a pound. We’ll say other people’s silver is worthless but our copper worth gold. We’ll fill part of the wheat sacks with floor sweepings instead of all good wheat. We’ll cheat, we’ll steal, and we’ll get ahead.
People will sell their lives to us for silver to pay their rent; and others will sell their lives for shoes. Everyone needs something! Everything — everyONE– is for sale at SOME price!
Why oh why isn’t this day of rest over yet?! We’re too busy to rest!
These are men and women who are DOING what is found in scripture. They are resting on the Sabbath. They aren’t selling or buying. But, their deeds haven’t God’s love in them. They simply are GOING and DOING because society expects it.
Today, many businesses are open every day of the week. Some are open 24/7. People get greedy. On the holiday of Thursday Thanksgiving, the day of giving God thanks, stores have begun to open so that no one has to wait for Friday. They can shop on the holiday. Stores wouldn’t open on holidays if it lost them money – so there are people wanting and willing to shop on these days — just like they were almost 3000 years ago.
Humans are greedy. God instituted days of rest to curb our greed, curb our desire to do and do and go and go, and give us balance in our lives… but most of us resist rest. We resist balance in our lives.
Amos’ time? They did as God asked… to the letter… but not with the spirit behind their actions. They observed the holidays because they had to, not because they wanted to. They went to church because it was expected, not because they felt God’s presence there. Lots of doing without knowledge of God in their deeds. God’s new deed would be showing them that there is resurrection after death; hope in hopelessness, and a return to balance between work and play, study and doing, prayers and actions — all focused on love of God.
And Jesus’ time? Martha is doing. Lots and lots of doing, because it is expected. And she is angry her sister doesn’t follow the expectations too. Again God is doing a new thing and returning the people to balance: reminding us that we must work and rest, hold still and listen in the silence for God and be busy doing God’s work. Both – done in love.
Just like the lawyer was reading and studying, lots and lots of knowing, without any doing. No balance. No studying out of love and working out of love.
Jesus advocates balance; just as his Father does. Balance: knowing God, loving God, and doing God’s work in the world. Taking time for scripture, time for reflection, and time for doing good things.
There is a time for everything, it says in Ecclesiastes, and a season for every activity under the sun. Sometimes we need to read scripture more, sometimes we need to do scripture more, and always we need to do both out of love of God and self and neighbor.
And if you’re any normal person… you find there just aren’t enough hours in the day. I’m certain Martha would have loved to sit at the feet of Jesus! But then, who was going to prep the house? I’m certain the lawyer would have loved to do more good deeds! But then, who was going to study the scripture and argue the cases to put bread on his family’s table?
Again, the wisdom of Solomon: There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the sun.
Jesus calls us from our business to look at what is really most important. Calls us from shopping and errands to reflect. Calls us from studying to do good deeds. Calls us from doing good deeds to sitting in quiet prayer and meditation. We are called to wholeness: balance.
My calendar has something written on it every day of the week. Check up for Selena, visit my mother, call a friend… and I write on it things I HAVE to write or else my life loses its balance. Left to my own devices, I know I’d fill up every little minute with something. I struggle with balance. It doesn’t come naturally.
We need a Sabbath day every week. A day where we don’t plan anything. A day where we are free to lie in the grass and count clouds, or free to do crossword puzzles, go visit a friend for coffee that lasts three hours, or just not get dressed all day long. Whatever it is that brings us rest – we need that day. A day of physical and mental and spiritual rest. Guard that day on your calendar. Don’t let is pass unobserved – it is a holiday. A holy day – of rest.
And we need a day of study too. A day to think and ponder God’s words. Most of us, this is Sunday and church and Sunday school. So – on the calendar – study God’s word.
And we need a day of deeds. Helping each other, doing good things, assisting our community and volunteering. I know we have 4-H advisors who are working double-time right now doing just this. We have people working the food pantry, and Foundation dinners, and visiting ill neighbors and friends. On the calendar: volunteer. Check in with friends.
Sabbath. Study. Works. Balance. A time for everything.
We will always be busy. ALWAYS. There will always be more to get done than we have hours of the day or night. 24/7/365 is not enough. We will die with books unread, dishes not clean, house projects half done, and a to-do list.
We will have an end. But, by the grace of God, may all we leave undone be the unimportant things. By the Grace of God, may we come to the end of our day, the end of our lives, with a balance: having fully known about the love of God, fully given others the love of God, and fully experienced the love of God. Study, work, rest.
May you be resurrected! May you find the new thing God is doing in your life! May you know the centering love of our savior! Amen.
Can you feel it? Something is afoot.
It doesn’t matter if you are a Trump or a Sanders supporter… either are promising something new. A revolution. To make America great again. Can you feel the energy? The possibility? The people gathering, a new SOMETHING on the horizon!
Or maybe you’re a Cruz, a Kasich, or a Clinton fan: why rock the boat? Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater!
There is uncertainty. What will home look like? Who will lead us? What kind of future are we striding in to? Who will control what that future looks like? Can you feel the struggle, the hope, the worry, the dreams, the possibility, the feeling that we are on the cusp of a unique moment in our history?
… Or maybe you don’t. Maybe you’re one of the many who are already sick of the political ads, and political Facebook posts, feel like you’ve lost friends and the election isn’t even here yet. You just want this whole thing to blow over so you can go back to your normal life.
And you know, we are speaking of politicians. Not potential messiahs.
The level of built up possibility, energy, change on the horizon was even greater in Jerusalem when the people saw Jesus arrive. So too the wish things would just go back to normal! And, he wasn’t a potential new president of a democracy; he was the potential promised savior from God AND new king AND herald of God’s reign on Earth.
Just as we go to rallies to wave banners, and greet politicians with cheers and whistles. We sing their victory songs and repeat their chants. So too, did people 2000 years ago.
When Jesus arrived, they ran out with their banners — in this case, palm branches and tall grasses. They cheered and whistled. They sang a victory song from scripture and changed the lyrics to be “Praise the KING who comes in the name of the Lord” rather than “Praise the one who comes.”
Today, we gather around potential presidents knowing they’ll take the stage, teach us, inspire us, lead us – and we hope they end up at the capital where they do a ritual – swearing in – and become our leader.
In Jesus day, too, the crowds gather with stars in their eyes and dreams on their sleeves – inspired, ready to be taught and lead. They hoped he’d head for the temple – the capital – and do a ritual sacrifice where he proclaimed the city belonged to God and no longer Caesar.
People around Jesus cried, “He is the promised Davidic King! He will take us to war, destroy our enemies, liberate us, and we will be great again!”
Others cried, “He is the promised prophet! He will turn the people’s hearts back to God, rid our institutions of corruption, and restore our faith!”
Still others proclaimed, “He is the Messiah! The one who brings God’s holy reign on earth; when peace and prosperity flourish and all things are made whole!”
And some proclaimed, “He is the Son of God!”
King, prophet, messiah, God…
If you weren’t in the crowd, you were standing to the side shaking your head at the words being thrown around. You were thinking, “Can’t we have this Jesus business over with and get back to normal life?”
Others, not waving fronds, grumbled, “These people are blockheads; this is some charismatic carpenter with pie-in-the-sky ideas. He just says whatever the people want to hear. Look at this ragtag lot – jobless peasants, cripples, sinners, the mentally unstable and the foreigners – following their pied piper.”
The claims of king, prophet, messiah, God; the people, welcoming Jesus as their victorious conqueror and king… these are very troubling developments to the people in charge of keeping order. This might be fun and exciting for the rabble today… but tomorrow, when Pilate hears there is a king? When Caesar, who is called the Son of God, hears there is a new Son of God? What then? Will the people cheer and rejoice when this ‘king Jesus’ brings fifty-thousand soldiers bent on bloodying their blades and scattering the people, murdering the educated, and enslaving the children? Only the stones will be left to testify what once was here. Only the stones will remember the great people and city that was Jews and Jerusalem.
The ones worried about the coming future tell Jesus, “Rabbi – tell your disciples to stop!”
Jesus replies with a reference to scripture. What Jesus references is the prophet Habakkuk who heard God say: (Chapter 2)
…Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faith.
Moreover, wealth is treacherous;
the arrogant do not endure.
They open their throats wide as Sheol;
like Death they never have enough.
They gather all nations for themselves,
and collect all peoples as their own.
Shall not everyone taunt such people and, with mocking riddles, say about them,
‘Alas for you who heap up what is not your own!’
How long will you load yourselves with goods taken in pledge?
Will not your own creditors suddenly rise,
and those who make you tremble wake up?
Then you will be booty for them.
Because you have plundered many nations,
all that survive of the peoples shall plunder you—
because of human bloodshed, and violence to the earth,
to cities and all who live in them.
‘Alas for you who get evil gain for your houses,
setting your nest on high
to be safe from the reach of harm!’
You have devised shame for your house
by cutting off many peoples;
you have forfeited your life.
The very stones will cry out from the wall,
and the plaster will respond from the woodwork.
‘Alas for you who build a town by bloodshed,
and found a city on iniquity!’
Is it not from the Lord of hosts
that peoples labour only to feed the flames,
and nations weary themselves for nothing?
But the earth will be filled
with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord,
as the waters cover the sea.
In other words, when Jesus says, “If I silence the people who are testifying, the stones and wood and plaster will cry out the truth: The arrogant, the wealthy, the creditors, the people who think they are safe because of their possessions and because they have destroyed the people they don’t like – those people are being lowered. The people who live by faith alone are being raised up.
This feels like oppression to the oppressors. This feels like liberation for the oppressed.
What just happened?
Jesus has told the religious leaders, and the politicians, and the people around him that God is going to do a new thing – and it is nothing at all like that most people are expecting and many won’t like it.
It is a reversal from the norm, a scandalous equality. The knowledge of the glory of God has arrived – and even if the people are silenced, God’s truth can never be silenced.
This is God’s truth: That all of us are brothers and sisters, equals.
God’s truth is that equality is not something to exploit. We ought to serve one another, not lord over one another.
God’s truth is a king on a humble donkey, not a war horse.
God’s truth is a messiah who says show love to your enemies, not sword and war.
God’s truth is a savior who doesn’t save even himself from suffering – but who saves us from isolating Sin.
God’s truth is that love – not hate or fear – is the strongest power on Earth.
And God is love.
Jesus’ reply is God’s truth is so integral, so a part of the world, that no politician, no media, no person or people can ever fully silence love.
During this Holy Week and always, may we have a mind like Christ’s – and not exploit others. Let us be humble, servants, loving. Let us confess Jesus is Lord – and we follow the humble, loving, peasant God, who died a shameful death, and who defeated the evils of the world to be resurrected into eternal life. Let us live into that eternal life – and as we wave our palm branches, celebrating, let us remember we celebrate one who loves us enough he willingly walked into the city of his death, let himself be betrayed, captured, let himself be made a fool of, let himself be crucified… let us go with him to dark Gethsemane and let us rise with him next Sunday victorious in love.
Given to Saint Michael’s United Church of Christ, Baltimore, Ohio, Palm Sunday 2016