[[This past week I had the privilege and pleasure of attending the Academy of Preachers' National Festival of Young Preachers. I spent the week with fellow Christians of all theological temperaments, races, ages, denominations, and preaching styles. The themes this year was the Gospel and the City. You can also find the collection of last year's sermons, in which I also have a chapter, here. Also, this marks my 250th post and the first post of 2013! Happy Epiphany!]]
He went to his hometown, Nazareth. As was his custom, he went to the synagogue that Sabbath day. He stood up to read and they handed him the book of the Prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found where it is written:
The Lord’s spirit is upon me,
because God anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
God sent me to proclaim
pardon for prisoners,
sight for the blind,
freedom for the oppressed,
to proclaim the time of God’s favor.
He closed the book, returned it, and sat down. Everyone’s eyes were on him.
“Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” he said.
They all started talking about him, amazed at the words of grace falling from his lips.
“Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.
“Surely, you will remind me,” he said, “‘Doctor, fix yourself!’ and ‘Do what you did in Capernaum here in your hometown!’ But I’ll tell you that no prophet is well-liked in his hometown. Truthfully, there were many widows in Israel during Elijah’s time when the sky closed up and there was a great famine for three and a half years. And Elijah wasn’t sent to any of them; instead, he was sent to a widowed woman in Zarephath in Sidon. There were many lepers in Israel while Elisha was around, but none of them were cleaned, only Naaman from Syria.”
Everyone in the synagogue was enraged when they heard these things. They got up, kicked him out of the city, and brought him to the cliff at the edge of town so they could throw him off it.
He passed through the middle of them and left.
Luke 4:16-30 (author’s rendition)
There is an old story that Irish theologian Peter Rollins like to tell about the second coming of Jesus. “It is said that he arrived anonymously one dull Monday morning at the gates of a great city to go about his Father’s business. There was much for him to do. While many years had passed since his last visit, the same suffering was present all around. Still there were the poor, the sick, and the oppressed. Still there were outcasts, and still there were the righteous who pitied them, and the authorities who exploited them. For a long time no one took any notice of the desert wanderer with his weather-beaten face and ragged, dusty clothes — this quiet man who spent his time living among the sick and unwanted. The great city labored on like a mammoth beast, ignorant of the one who dwelt within its bowels.” The story goes on, but that first part has always left me disturbed. A question plagues me; a realization haunts me. At this point in my life, when I hear that story — and when I read the Gospels — I cannot escape the sinking, nagging feeling that we might be missing something. I read about the life of Jesus, I read about what he said and did, and I read about how God chose to spend God’s time on the earth, and I am perplexed. All of it seems so foreign to me, and not necessarily foreign in a first-century Palestinian sort of way. Read the rest of this entry
The Kingdom of Heaven is like this …
You are driving down a road, a road you thought you knew, a road you’ve driven down a hundred times. It has been raining all day. It has been nothing but dreary. The rain clears — the sun is setting. Suddenly, the sun bathes the road and everything around you in golden light. There are rainbows coming down from the sky — signs that God still remembers God’s promises, that God still remembers God’s people. There are rainbows running along the shoulder as you drive, chasing them. They appear always just in front of your car but you never quite catch them. But the brief glimpses of color and beauty are brilliant — the kind of brilliant you only see every so often. There’s a giant banner of promise in the sky, landing in the woods to the east. And then … it’s gone. The sun sets and it gets dark again. And the sun waits, the light waits, and the rainbows wait until one day when they can come again, come shine again, come dance in the sprinkling rain.
This is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Hosannah, Lord, hossanah!
Lord, send us now success.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,
We bless you from the house of the Lord,
God is the Lord; he has shone upon us,
form a procession with branches up to the horns of the altar.
“You are my God, and I will thank you,
You are my God, and I will exalt you.”
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
His mercy endures for ever.
Psalm 118:25-29, Common Prayer
Baptists are not big on the Christian calendar, at least not usually. That is changing in many Baptist circles, and I think that is a marvelous thing. Why? Because days like today are important. It is days like today in which we remember who God is, what Jesus came to do, and what, really, is the nature of the world.
Earlier this week, I sat down in the morning to read the newspaper. In our little kitchen here, I flipped through the Guardian reading reports of government corruption, poorly oriented budgets, the death of London children, and all manner of exceedingly and deeply saddening things. Then, I pulled up the American news on my computer and read about the deteriorating state of debate in Washington, the doomsday speeches about the Affordable Care Act, the killing of Trayvon Martin, and all manner of exceedingly and deeply saddening things.
I sat there frustrated and confused. Why? Why is the world like this? Why do our governments continue to insist on gridlock debate instead of doing anything? When did government become about isolating us from each other? When did we abandon the idea of working together? When did someone’s death suddenly not become that big a deal? When did killing someone become a matter of debate?
Then, later this week, I read something else.
So they approached Jerusalem. They got as far as Bethphage and Bethany, on the Mount of Olives, when Jesus sent two of his disciples on ahead with a specific task.
“God to the village over there,” he said to them, “and as soon as you enter it you will find a colt tied up — one that nobody has ever ridden before. Untie it and bring it here. And if anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing that?’ then say, ‘The master needs it, and he will return it at once.’”
They went off and found the colt tied up beside a door, out in the street; and they untied it.
Some of the bystanders said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?”
They gave the answer Jesus had told them, and they let them carry on. So they brought the colt to Jesus and laid their cloaks on it, and he mounted it. Several people spread their cloaks out on the road. Others did the same with foliage they had cut in the fields. Those in front, and those coming behind, shouted out, “Hosanna! Welcome in the Lord’s name! Welcome to the kingdom of our father David, the kingdom coming right now! Hosanna in the highest!”
Mark 11:1-10, Kingdom New Testament/The New Testament for Everyone
There are passages we read all our lives that become bland due to frequent tasting. The passages that accompany Holy Days are specifically prone to such transformation. Reading this passage in a new translation awakened me to its significance.
It is very easy when bad news keeps pouring in to despair. It is very easy to throw up your hands, brew yourself a cup of tea or coffee and brood. It is very easy to just mutter about how incompetent governments are and how ridiculous the public must be to keep electing them. It is very easy to just critique the status quo.
It is another thing entirely to say that the so-called status quo is not actually how things are.
That is precisely what is going on in the Gospels, however, when Jesus teaches and especially when he enters Jerusalem. In his time, there were certain assumptions made and accepted by every person. There had been a number of people claiming to reestablish kingship in Jerusalem since the exile. The Hasmoneans were one of the most significant. Prior to the arrival of the Romans, they wrested Palestine from the hands of the Greeks. However, it was not long until Rome arrived and Herod became their puppet monarch. Far more incompetent than Herod, his sons currently ruled different parts of the region. And none of them were king, Caesar was king. Tiberius Julius Caesar Augustus was king, was lord, was, in some cases, god. That was how Rome meant for all their subjected people to understand reality.
And then Jesus got on a donkey. In a move steeped in the tradition of the Jewish Scriptures, Jesus rode into Jerusalem to shouts of kingship and praise. “Hosanna! Welcome in the Lord’s name! Welcome to the kingdom of our father David, the kingdom coming right now! Hosanna in the highest!”
Palm Sunday is fundamentally about seeing the world in a different way. Holy Week, as the authors of Common Prayer put it, “is the week that teaches us our rhythm for every week.” The Conservative Party, Labour, the Republicans, the Democrats, they are not king. The President, the Prime Minister, none of them are king. Jesus is king, king of a kingdom coming right now.
That means the world is a different place than we understood it to be. We do not live in a world where the poor are oppressed, but where the poor are blessed. We live in a world where the mourning are comforted, where the meek inherit the earth, where the hungry are filled, where the merciful receive mercy, where the pure in heart see God, where the peacemakers are blessed children of God.
No, the world does not always conform to these expectations. The world does not always shout out that the kingdom is coming right now. We should not expect it to do so. In the Church, the Body of Christ, these things should become true. The kingdom is coming right now in the way that we chose to act not just today but every day. Palm Sunday is a manifesto of sorts, a declaration that things are different now. We can see the world with different eyes. We can act a different way. We have a different hope.
So, as you go about this week, think about that. Think about how we should view the world now that the kingdom is coming right now. Who knows, it might just change a few things.