The Divine “US”

We begin the narrative lectionary year with the story of Creation. No doubt you’re familiar with the story. So what do you remember?

The story as told in Genesis 1 is cosmic in scope. It paints a broad picture of the creation of earth and humanity.  In it God speaks Adam and Eve into existence.

Genesis 2, however, is different and it reveals as much about the Creator as it does about Creation. It zooms in to that larger story layering it with detail, emotion, intention and even humor. And if we’re open to it, there is something divinevery special about scripture and its capacity to speak new truths to us.

When God creates humanity in Chapter 1, God says “Let US Create humankind in OUR own image.”  Does this mean that God’s chosen pronouns are US and OUR? Had you ever noticed that?  Not saying MY suggests a wider mystery than is described by a single gender.   We are blessed to take gender roles from this story’s telling, however,  it seems clear that those gender roles are wider than we have previously noticed  in this text.

And in Genesis 2, humanity is not spoken into simultaneous existence in the way Genesis 1 treats the story.  In Genesis 2 the first human is formed by God’s own hands out of the dirt or the hummus of the earth.  Even Adam’s name is a Hebrew word play, taken from the word Adama which means dust or hummus.  Adam is the earth’s first “hummus being.”

If in hearing the story you think it sounds almost poetic, you would be correct.  Genesis is in fact a Hebrew poem. The bible is full of poetry and music along with first person narratives and rich storytelling, which can help us mine the reasons why the two chapters expand the story in different ways.

Throughout Genesis we find God pictured as caring, relational and charmingly funny. God says in verse 18, “It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make him a helper as his partner.”  But God does not get to work making the second human according to Genesis 2? NO!  First God presents him with pets! With animals.  Did you see it? It’s in verse 19. One after the other God forms and brings Adam every animal…and every bird. Adam gives them all names and in verse 20 it says “but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner.” Poor Adam.

Adam now has more pets than any human can manage but still-he needs a spouse. So in the image of the Divine “US” God puts Adam to sleep and takes a rib; a piece of Adam’s own self is what and who God forms into a partner— a partner and a helper equal in every way.  This first human combines the divine male and female all within itself.  And the two shall cling to each other becoming the one flesh they were created from.    In Hebrew the words “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” would be more accurately translated as, “Now that’s what I’m talking about. THIS one shall be called woman.”

But for what larger purpose were they created? What is God’s greatest imagination for Creation?  Reflecting on these questions, I took a break to enjoy the season opener of the Minnesota Orchestra.   Conducted by the deeply respected and loved Finnish musician, Osmo Vänskä, the emotion and intention with which he lovingly forms music out of this self-described family of musicians is in itself cosmic. Vänskä uses his entire being to create a level of musical interpretation that hangs in the air before bringing you to tears and then to your feet.  Osmo Vänskä brought this Genesis text to new light.

God is the ultimate maestro, the conductor of creation, composing the music of life, calling it into being, caring for it, naming it and imagining a fullness of purpose and expression. There is sacred intention in naming all the parts of creation. Naming is holy. Even Mary didn’t recognize Jesus at the tomb until Jesus called her by name!

In every holy way, God is inviting us to live in harmony with the whole of Creation and  God’s holy vocation as Creator of the Universe is our divine heritage. We too are part of the Divine US.

This is important as we look back at verse 5 when God has laid out the earth as our future home but as yet there was no one to till the ground. In Hebrew the verb to till is as much related to caring about it as it is caring for it.

The measure of how well we honor this creation and our Creator is by whether or not we get it, how well we care for this planet and each other. Just as Osmo Vänskä gathered what could just as easily be a disconnected group of diva musicians, the art of Vänskä’s vocation is in how he orchestrates their individual gifts into a seamless musical community.

And the art and vocation of our Creator God is in how God divinely orchestrates you and I into the beloved community who lovingly accepts our calling to care for and till this wonderful earth.  That brothers and sisters is a calling cosmic in hope, rich with purpose and bubbling with divine possibility.  Now that’s what I’m talking about.

Amen.

 

Flexible Faith

A sermon on Ephesians 6:10-20

All month I’ve been carrying around an article clipped from the in-flight magazine during our vacation.  I was intrigued by the title. “A Shape-Shifting House that Transforms with the Seasons.” In it London-based architects tell of a house that literally changes its shape, opening and house articleclosing on itself to create eight unique configurations, each designed to take advantage of the conditions of changing seasons.  In the winter, the house is a compact insulated square like a tightly closed flower. But in the summer it stretches out like a housecat, rotating and opening towards a warm sun.  This is a house that is never static. It’s flexible. What if our faith were also not static but flexible?

This morning I’m closing up my sermon series “What’s in Your Faith Closet?”  It’s fitting to hold both the image of this unique house, and Paul’s letter to the believers at Ephesus.

It is an act of faithful flexibility to de-clutter and separate out those things that offer life from those that do not. Once we’ve let go of what we no longer or never did believe; and once we’ve rediscovered new things about our faith, there’s another question that awaits us.

How does what we believe inform the way we live? You’re committed to a life in Christ. What next?

Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus offers a final extended metaphor for how belief in Jesus might shape the way we live their lives, illustrating his point with references to the armor that might be worn by an army.

THIS is one of those times when the old stories and our story intersect. You and I have more in common with the addressees of this letter than we may think.

Paul’s audience was a minority group.  Today the Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing. To be sure, the United States still remains home to more Christians than any other country in the world, however worldwide, Christians are still a minority.

Sadly most of the decline is in today’s young adult population—in part because churches have rigidly hung onto tradition, seldom offering a life giving way of talking about our ancient BUT STILL very relevant faith.   When we take one way of articulating our faith, we need to replace it with something where our spirit can go “ding-ding-ding-yes! Now that makes sense!”

So for those who, as an example, couldn’t swallow what it said about God, for God to sacrifice a child as a substitution for us—the alternative was to walk away. And walk away they did.

But for those who stayed, engaged and transformed their questions, deeper truths were revealed.   In love God provided Jesus to show us what a life lived in synchronicity with God looked like. God provided Jesus to walk with us, to teach us how to live and do the right things, EVEN if his countercultural life would result in humans to crucifying him. It is a game changer to follow Christ because he lived full out even to the point of death.  Jesus represents relationship, not patriarchal punishment. God is not an angry meanie.

Our faith is like a garden. If you don’t pull the weeds, the weeds will overtake the flowers. And frankly, I have to wonder if a good cleaning would move the “in name only” Christians from “yes I believe but I don’t much go to church anymore” to “I practice a life informed by my faith and I enjoy gathering with other pilgrims on Sunday to renew that faith these friendships.”  OK, it still doesn’t mean you have to come every Sunday says the pastor whose secret longing is for Sunday traffic, traffic due to so many people trying to get to church.

Now looking at Paul’s letter, it is quite remarkable the way it applies faith to life.  What if every day we put on our faith, like clothing? What if the lessons of our faith were so current, so alive, and so central, that it was like putting on a belt of truth? And what if even our shoes were metaphors for our walks of peace in the world.

I love when he writes about putting on a helmet of salvation. Salvation! Now there’s an archaic word. In progressive parlance salvation refers to “wholeness in God.” How awesome is it to regard our minds as the engine of a faith that is all about the wholeness of God?!  Word!

This is the difference between a flexible, evolving faith and a rigid, static faith, a faith.

And just as with Jesus’ example, Paul wraps everything in prayer. Pray in the Spirit at all times, he writes.  To live consciously- in continual prayer—do you agree that would be a very good way to live and be in the world?

My prayer it that we each fall in love anew with our faith, engaging those things that bring us new life.

And finally, using Paul’s own words.

Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Because I am just that.  I am chained to the truth of Christ, convinced, convicted, and renewed not by fairytales but by the Spirit of what I know and believe.

Pray that I may declare it boldly.  Amen.

You Are What You Eat

(A sermon on John 6: 51-58)

So, we’ve been having this conversation of late, posing the question– “What’s in your faith closet?”  What do you believe? What is at the heart of your faith? And with that, what do you find hard to swallow? What for you is theological junk food versus super food?

I sincerely hope you are experiencing a deepening of Taste and See.002faith as you let go of some things, and fall in love anew with others. Sometimes we need a fresh review. Just as when we inventory any closet, making decisions about what we keep, toss or rediscover takes laying it out where we can look at it.  So fasten your seatbelts. We’re going deep.

To help with this conversation I asked some friends what things they can no longer swallow. I also asked what is feeding their faith.

I knew I’d hear some interesting things but in the end I heard some doozies.

(Responses are put into a bowl for people to pick from and read out loud)

  1. Atonement theology; that life is fair; that suffering is good for you and that it makes you stronger.
  1. When I was a tyke, I was told that God kept a big tally sheet and made a mark on it every time I was “bad.” Then, on judgment day, He would review those marks and decide whether I got to go into heaven.
  1. Our pastor told us when we were in high school that races should not mix. And also, Catholics and Lutherans should not date each other.
  1. That only 144,000 people are going to heaven. The rest are cast out.
  1. That the earth is only 5000 years old and was created in 7 literal days.
  1. That God hated gay people or hates anyone for that matter.
  1. That unbaptized babies wouldn’t go to heaven.
  2. That the Native Americans are “lost Jews” that came over to North America on submarines before the time of Christ.

That list is only the beginning in what people would class as empty spiritual calories.  It’s a good lead in to today’s gospel, a discourse I would class theological super food.

Jesus’ words in John 6 are different than in other verses where he also describes himself using a bread metaphor.  But beginning in the 51st verse “Bread of life” has become “LIVING bread that came down from heaven.”  This passage seems to move from descriptive metaphor, to asking us to eat this bread.

He says, “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The passage has an uncomfortable even cannibalistic tone as he adds, “for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.”  Is this a concentrated reference to the Eucharist, or is Jesus talking about something more?

But first, I don’t want to ignore an important distinction here. Catholics use this as a proof text for the belief that the bread and the wine literally become the body and the blood of Christ. They adopted transubstantiation as official doctrine at the Council of Trent in the year 1545.

Luther could not agree saying, “If you can explain how Christ is both fully God and man I will explain how the bread and wine are his body and blood.” This is an example of taking the bible seriously but not literally and why we say that Jesus is present, in, with and under the elements.

There are scholars don’t see this text as being about the Eucharist, but rather as Jesus going deeper and talking about the reality of who he is—the human incarnation of God in the flesh. You and I know how this story ends–that Jesus will give his Godly flesh-his substance- for the sake of the world. He knew that people (not God) would seek his death.

That makes Jesus’ invitation perhaps the greatest we will ever receive.

Jesus is asking us to chew on this truth, the truth of who and whose he is. He’s inviting us to consume his very substance, in fact take his substance into our substance? His body into our body.  What would our life look like if we lived on a diet of Godly substance?

To fully receive him, we get to sort through what that means.  Talk about de-cluttering your faith!

Jesus is not just asking us to believe. He’s asking us to take a filling bite of everything he stands for, all that he is and all that he hopes for the world! Put this mystery back into your faith closet and you move from a way of seeing… to a way of being–a way of living!

That’s big.

Through Jesus’ earthly ministry, God becomes directly involved in humanity’s suffering and joy. God in Christ takes shape in each of us through our baptisms, working intimately in, with, and through us-making you and I the mystical body of Christ. [deep breath]

So would you like to know what people said is at the heart of their faith, what’s feeding them?

They believe in love, in compassion and in community. They believe in sharing the gifts they’ve been given.  They believe in kindness and that God and us are never separate.

And finally, here are the beautiful words of my friend Marie.

“My faith is in Jesus, who came among us as human and by the very act of incarnation redeemed humanity, not by blood sacrifice.

My faith is in God whose love is impossibly lavish.

My faith is in the Holy Spirit who dwells in and among us, breathing God’s breath into us.”

And so brothers and sisters in Christ. If we are what we eat, let us chew on that, in Jesus’ holy name.

Amen.

Why Jesus Matters (Spoiler alert…He does)

If you were here last week or have read the newsletter, then you know I’m offering a sermon series this month titled “What is in Your Faith Closet?”  Are there things you believe that are cluttering up your faith or are there things you need to take out, re-examine and be reminded of why you “bought” them in the first place.

All month I’ve been cleaning out our basement, why Jesus matterstossing things out, and separating other things for our upcoming Salem garage sale.  Not just once but several times I’ve re-discovered things I forgot I had, things I forgot I loved.  THAT is my greatest hope for this sermon series, that you will rediscover things about your faith that you can become newly delighted by–along with other things you’ll feel free to discard if  they no longer give life to your faith.

The truth is I am regularly asked why I still believe in Jesus, as if the things I no longer believe about Jesus should negate the value what I do believe.  There is no need to throw the baby out with the bath water.

So what holds the center in what you do believe?  Virgin birth? Resurrection? Substitutionary atonement? The trinity?  Original sin? Whatever you believe is intensely personal. There is grace enough to believe whatever it is that amplifies your faith. However, faith should never be static. It should grow, evolve and deepen.

Frinstance (that is a word, right) progressive biblical scholars do not conclude that God ordered the crucifixion of Jesus as a trade (a substitution) for humanity’s original sin. After all, we are children of a good and benevolent God and are therefore intrinsically good which… has given way to a new understanding of original “blessing” and not original sin.   So… Jesus I’m keeping and substitutionary atonement I’m discarding.

But here’s the thing.  God knew the fate that awaited Jesus.  Jesus was indeed sacrificed but not by God, by humanity.  Crucifixion was the punishment for anyone deemed a political subversive.

The Roman authorities thought him a political threat because they didn’t get it, and at the same time his Jewish brothers thought him a threat to their religion. As we can see in today’s gospel (John 6:51-58) they thought they knew all there was to know about this man Jesus and about their faith.

ELCA Bishop Craig Satterly of the lower Michigan synod writes, “That is what’s happening to the crowd with Jesus; they knew too much for Jesus’ words to ring true. Jesus said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:41).  But the insiders, the ones who knew the history – thought they knew how God does things and how things should be done. They also knew Jesus’ origins. “Who does he think he is?” They mutter, “Claiming to have come down from heaven? We know his folks. We know he came from Nazareth, not from heaven!” (verse 42) The Judeans also know their scripture. “The bread from heaven was the manna fed to our ancestors back in the time of Moses.” And the Judeans in the story knew the law. “The Lord God said, ‘I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other gods.’” End quote.

In other words, Jesus, you are not the one we’re waiting for. We’ve pushed the save button on what we know and our minds and hearts are closed.

If I learned anything in graduate school it’s that the more I know the more I know how much I don’t know!   The hallmark of intellectual curiosity is the humility to know that you don’t know, leaving you open to learning!

What the early skeptics didn’t understand is that knowledge alone is flat. If you cannot get out of your head long enough to have a heart experience with Jesus, your faith is dead on arrival.

So here’s a question. Should discarding the notion that God killed Jesus ruin your faith?  I sincerely hope not. I hope it leads you to a deeper faith.  Because your faith and what you do with your faith matters.

And why does Jesus matter?  Jesus matters because of what he reveals about God.  As the human incarnation of God, Jesus not only came to walk among us in relationship, Jesus came to model for us what it looks like to be in relationship with God and God in relationship with us.

What’s more, Jesus was in such perfect harmony with God that every act of his life was holy- every act of his life was preceded by reflection and prayer.  He approached everything knowing who and whose he was.  Jesus matters because he shows us what it looks like to live in synchronicity with God.

Jesus’s very life shows us what should matter.

The way he lived his life spoke hope to everyone he encountered. People were healed in his presence, transformed by his witness.   To be transformed by Jesus was and is to turn your life around, turning anew towards God’s greatest imagination for our individual and collective destinies.

That’s why Jesus matters.  Jesus is the pointer, and we are the followers.  It’s how children of the heavenly father learn. We learn by imitating and by following, and when we follow, when we pay attention to how Jesus lived, what Jesus did, and what mattered to Jesus, we are free to live better and to make a difference in this world that God loves.

And that matters. Amen.

 

The Pentecost Paradigm

As the title suggests, I’d like to shift the paradigm of how we receive the gift of Pentecost in our lives.  Yes, Pentecost signals the arrival of the Holy Spirit to the early church and yes, because of that, we’ve also called it the birthday of the church.   I would like to wonder aloud whether the “how” and the “why” of Pentecost is as important as the “what.”

The arrival of the Holy Spirit was a game changer but what really happened in that upper room?  Was it any different from the upper room we sit in right now?  Jesus had commanded them to wait for the “power from on high”.  In all, 120 people were waiting without being certain of exactly what they were waiting for.

But wait, there’s more. Jesus was also waiting–waiting for his people to step up and act, even now that they thought they were leaderless.  They were all waiting.

Most of us, if honest, hate to wait—for anything.waiting We’re the first generation who can become annoyed because the microwave oven is taking too long.  We want what we want when we want it.

Right here in this room, we too are waiting. We’ve waited for babies to be born, for an adult child to move back, wait for houses to sell, waited for the school year to conclude. You’ve waited on medical tests, test results and surgery schedules.  Waiting is anxiety producing. And not having all the answers instantly makes us crazy.

The faithful waiting on that first Pentecost was an enormous part of the Spirit’s entry, because as Bishop Yvette Flunder once said…” had the Spirit fallen on them as soon as they arrived, a greater process would have been thwarted, short circuited as it were.”  They needed to experience the waiting WHILE they waited as much as they needed what they were waiting for…

So they did.  Each one in his or her own corner of the room, waiting for power on high, waiting to reconcile themselves to each other and to God. Waiting until they had run out of their own “stuff” enough to trust God and release the outcome.      And that is so hard.

For the 120 in our story, they waited for ten long days, holding space with both the privileged and the poor, crammed into a room without air conditioning and deodorant. The power of that waiting time was that they stuck it out until they could “take off their religion and their differences and become relational.”

Salem is also in a time of waiting on the Spirit as we discern how God is calling us forward.   We have a vision team that meets twice a month.  What if instead we all sat in THIS room for ten days, no church, no liturgy? What corner would you go to? What issues might emerge? How long would it take before we cleared the space for the entrance of God’s power from on high, preparing us finally to go forward into God’s planned future?

There is beauty in their willingness to wait with each other, living into the questions, not knowing what exactly they were waiting for.  So when they moved out of their corners self-interest, the Spirit was freed to fill in the empty spaces like no back-draft they had ever experienced!

In that rush of wind the Spirit touched each of them and in that moment they began to communicate and understand one other as never before.  On that first Pentecost, they trusted God enough to wait, they trusted the process of not giving up until something happened, and they leaned into that process until they were changed as much by the process as they were the outcome.   Now that is good stuff!

Each of them AND each of us holds a unique vision and represents a unique reflection of God in the world, which allows the Holy Spirit to function as a universal translator, a still small voice with the ability to bring us together as we find ways to live in community, doing justice together, all while making us a sanctuary for the healing of those who come to us broken.

God had a plan then and God has a plan now.  Word up. God’s got this.

To live as Pentecost people means opening ourselves up to the spirit, knowing that no matter what is before us, individually or together, the Spirit of the living God can and will fall fresh on every need.

Amen.

On the Verge?

The book of Acts can read like Paul’s travel log. He logs a lot of miles, surely earning platinum status as a frequent flyer, were he in the air and not on foot.  The question this should bring forward for you and I is this. How are these journey’s scripture to us? What does it mean to read stories about where God sends Paul? [i]   Surely, God is carrying Paul throughout these adventures and Paul is paying attention.  Are we?

The “Acts” of the Apostles are first God’s acts.  In them we hear about remarkable people who are never remarked about again. Niger, Lucius and Manaen.  It gives us a sense of the people who the Spirit had gathered. And even as God commissions Paul and Barnabas to the work they’re called to do, the community lays hands on them (not just as ritual) but as a way of participating in what God is up to.

And then the story shifts. When Paul SEES the man who “could not use his feet and had never walked” he sees that the man has the faith to be healed.  God is already at work in him and that is what Paul responds to when he says “Stand upright on your feet.”  The man doesn’t stop to consider it. He isn’t  freaked out by it.  He simply and immediately  springs up and begins to walk!  Is it possible that the man who could not walk, could not walk because he had never USED his feet. It seems he was “on the verge” perhaps sentencing himself to sitting UNTIL a brother in Christ sees him fully and calls him upright. 

The way this is written strikes my imagination. Does it yours? Have you ever been on the verge of something? You were ready but for whatever reason hadn’t yet acted until someone called you upright. Are you on the verge now?

That’s how I ended up in the seminary. I’d always said that when I grow up I wanted to be a minister and yet I hadn’t enrolled. Things kept getting in the way. Mostly I kept getting in the way until a friend said, “You know Robyn, you’re getting older. You either need to stop telling us you’re going to seminary or you need to go.”  I sprang up and applied and here we are!

Someone else who has been “on the verge” Sawyer-Jennerhis entire life is Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner. In an interview with Diane Sawyer that aired on Friday,  Bruce, tells the world, that he has always understood himself to be female, so far living his 65 years on the verge of emerging. Until–finally the realization sets in that he cannot spend another moment not becoming who God has already created her to be.

As I watched I wanted to cheer. It made me think of author Anais Nin when she writes: “And the day came when the … the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Our Christian lives are about blossoming and becoming. Christ lives in us and through us and calls us upright AND out to love and serve one another. Martin Luther understood the body of Christ to be on the verge when he wrote, “This life, therefore, is not godliness but the process of becoming godly, not health but getting well, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not now what we shall be, but we are on the way.”

What are you on the verge of? Greatness?  A new understanding of who God has made you to be?  Perhaps, better health or renewed sobriety?  Or a better relationship with a friend or loved one? Maybe there’s a relationship you need to release?  Truth is sometimes we get side tracked and sometimes we are in need of a full out healing.

The man from Lystra needed both.  And did you see what happened after he sprang up and walked?  The witnesses began shouting in a language Paul and Barnabas didn’t understand.  They call them Zeus and Hermes because they thought THEY were Gods.  They wanted to offer sacrifice to them as they did to the idols.  But the Holy Spirit was still on the scene when Paul yells, “Friends why are you acting like this. We’re people just like you and we bring you good news.”

Just what is that good news?  That they don’t have to worship clay statues of fake Gods.  There’s a living God who knows the best you and who loves you–a God of extravagant love and ready justice. Turn to THAT one true God.

The living God is present in this holy place and present in each of you. God is working in you and in your lives.  We have stood up and as a missional congregation we’ve met our neighbors where God was already moving.  And we will continue to become, as individuals and as a congregation, whatever it is that God imagines for our lives–loved, restored, called and made new. Amen.

[i]Paraphrased/inspired by Eric Baretto, Luther Seminary and Sermon Brainwave

Hang On To Your Hosannas!

I am happy to be back with you after spending a week at my daughter’s home. She lives a short walk from the beach which always gives me a chance to spend Lenten reflection time in a place where the ocean waves can re-set my spirit.  I needed a reset, because…

So much has happened in the world over these days leading to Easter. Unrest in Yemen, the crash of  the Germanwings airliner,  Indiana passing legislation legalizing discrimination under the banner of religious freedom, and even one Senator who wants to make it mandatory to go to church!  The headlines that bookend the world we live in are one reason I titled this message “Hang on to your Hosannas”…because in short, we’re going to need them.

Every year I ask myself, “Palm-Sunday-2013What is different in the world this Palm Sunday? What insights from Jesus’ entry scene and final days can give us clues to God’s greater hopes for the world And how can OUR entry into holy week affect our own Easter hope?

One of the “noticings” about holy week is that it teaches us a fundamental truth. We cannot (and should not) skip ahead from celebratory palm branches to Easter miracles, without first going through the events and sorrow that brought it about.  Anyone that has ever gone through great pain knows that the only way to get through it is to go through it.

Was it the same with Jesus?

He knew what was coming and that these were his final days. The first century world was just as frightening for our spiritual ancestors as our modern world is for us. The people desperately wanted to be delivered. And so on this day we’ve come to know as Palm Sunday, the streets of Jerusalem were packed with visitors who came for Passover, many of whom either already were disciples of this man Jesus, or who were curious, just wanting to catch a glimpse of him.

It’s curious then that Jesus comes to the city not in a powerful way, but in a ludicrously humble way—a grown man riding a donkey colt. The contrast of the military garrison that rode in from the opposite direction must have been quite a sight. They was there to incite fear and demonstrate military power, while Jesus’ entry was about hope, God’s power, and the possibility of redemption.

Matthew’s gospel is careful to show Jesus fulfilling the prophecies of the Hebrew prophet, riding animals described in Zechariah 9:9. The crowd hails him with a formula taken from the Psalms—all an intentional calculus to underscore his divinity and his purpose. And despite this anti-powerful entry, the cheering crowds clear his way and hail his presence!  And they yelled Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!

You and I understand the word Hosanna to be a shout of praise. But it wasn’t always.  In Hebrew the word is hôsî-âh-nā and it means “Oh save us!—Save us now!” Redeem us from the oppression of Rome.  Save us from a political climate that is killing us.

Do you ever wish there was a modern Messiah in that could save us from the crazy and the tragic happenings in our world? We may not be lining the streets physically shouting Hosanna, but I’ve been tempted to shout Hosanna at my television set!

And then, sitting on that beach in California, I had a thought. Jesus came that we might live and he left that we might carry on that work in his name.  This annual review of his final days serve to remind us that WE ARE THE BODY OF CHRIST NOW.

Did you notice that our reading included verses 12-17, where Jesus upends commerce in the temple, turning over the tables of the moneychangers.  In a single moment of righteous activism, Jesus sweeps the temple mount clean of those whose financial interests impeded access for all to the temple. And while there, he takes time to heal the sick people who are brought to him, and he hears the praise of children. All of which precede his indictment as a subversive influence that must pay the price of any political dissident—crucifixion.

That one day, that one week is a micro-view of his whole ministry and by extension OUR ministry—healing, praise, witness and upset!  Hosanna indeed!

That is Palm Sunday, this holiest of days when we enter a week of witness; a witness of ultimate pain born of ultimate love!

To witness Jesus and the glory of God on one side, and Rome’s soldiers in all their frightening finery on the other. Deliverance or judgement?   Way of Jesus or way of empire? Who and what will you and I clear the way for?  What Easter hope does God hold for the world?

Palm Sunday underscores that WE must finish the story!   In the words of Teresa of Avila (spoken during the time of Martin Luther): “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours, Yours are the eyes through which to look out Christ’s compassion to the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about
doing good; Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.” 

The church of today is only irrelevant if we let it be. Hang on to your hosannas because the world looks to each of us to complete, in his name, what Jesus began.

AMEN.