Palm Sunday- A Tale of Two Parades

One of my favorite series to preach has been The Last Week, inspired by Borg and Crossan’s marvelous book by the same title. It takes a look at the last week of Jesus’ life according to the Gospel of Mark. For Holy Week this year, I’m sharing a series of devotions based on the same. Selfishly, this will allow me to embrace this journey in a reflective manner. Thanks as always for reading I hope you find them meaningful as well. 

The last week on earth for Jesus begins with the day we now know and celebrate as Palm Sunday. It may be curious to you as to why exactly this is a celebration. It ultimately leads to Jesus’ death on the cross.  This day really calls us to reflect. There is not one, but two parades. Everyone loves a parade. These are two very different parades representing two competing ways of life. Here is what Mark has to say:

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethpage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.”They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

“Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.  

People have begun to descend on Jerusalem for the festival of Passover. There is typically one grand entry into Jerusalem, however this year something is different. There are two parades.

One parade comes from the West, the procession of the Roman Empire led by the Governor Pontius Pilate. Pilate is not coming because he is an overly religious man, rather he comes as a show of power, of force. He comes to be seen and to keep an eye on things. In Roman Empire theology, the emperor is not only the ruler of the empire, but is considered to be the Son of God. There are Roman cavalry and soldiers with him. This is a military parade, meant to strike fear into the people. No doubt Pilate was expected a big crowd for his entry because he represents the empire.

From the East comes another parade, that of Jesus and the disciples. They are coming from the city of Jericho. A bit of a geography lesson here. Jericho was only about 12 miles away from Jerusalem and there was a well traveled road between the two. But consider this. Jericho was one of the lowest cities on the earth at about 800 feet below sea level. Jerusalem is about 3000 feet above sea level. You faced an upward route through a hot, dry, and dusty desert and when you finally get to the top of the Mount of Olives you have a beautiful view of Jerusalem down below in a valley. Think of the excitement you would feel as a follower of Jesus standing there. It is Passover, but it is also kingdom time, a time when God’s saving presence would be revealed in a new way. God’s way was coming to bring about lasting change. It would have been from this point that Jesus would wait to make his entrance.

In the First Testament, there is a prophet Zechariah who wrote of two different kingdoms. A kingdom of violence and a kingdom of peace. He predicted that a king, a king of peace would come to Jerusalem riding on a colt in humility, proclaiming God’s kingdom. This is how Jesus makes his entrance.

Imagine being the crowd that day, laying your cloak down on the road, waving a palm branch, shouting Hosanna, blessed is the coming kingdom of David.

Imagine Pilate coming in from the other end of town, expecting a royal welcome, expecting a crowd and getting not much of one. I am sure someone told him something was going on at the other end of town

Hosanna is a Hebrew word that means exuberant praise to God, the kingdom we have been waiting for is coming

Two very different parades. Two competing ways of life.

Now it’s up to you to decide. Which parade are you in?

Listening to our Youth

1.2 million followers read Emma Gonzalez’s tweet about Betsy DeVos’ visit to her school; “Good thing I was already sleeping in tomorrow.”

269,000 followers read Sarah Chadwick’s tweet about the same visit; “Literally no one asked for this.”

The New York Times made this observation about these two tweets; “And with a few tweets the students had overtaken another adult official’s narrative.”

Parkland

My first thought upon reading this observation is “it’s about time.” I’ve spent most of my life in the church in some capacity, so I’ve been dealing with dynamic of adult/youth interaction from several different perspectives.

I was duly elected to our church’s board as a high school junior. I was eager to serve. I thought it was great that the church wanted a representative from the youth group to be on the board, to have a voice in the room. I came to the conclusion that they didn’t want my voice heard as much as they wanted to feel good about saying they had a youth representative on the board.

Much of my focus upon entering the ministry was ministry with youth. I was blessed to serve a congregation who took the voice of youth seriously. I was witness to youth going to border communities in Mexico to build homes with generous support from adults. People listened as the youth shared the truth that our neighbors to the south are children of God and not all that different from us.

That’s one story. There are others that aren’t quite as nice. I’ve led enough events which proudly lifted up 1 Timothy 4:12, “let no one look down upon you because of your youth” while then sending them back to church and civic communities who made a habit of discounting the voice of youth because they were young. Churches designate one Sunday a year where the youth could lead worship, because heaven forbid they participate in the other fifty-one Sundays. I once had a church leader tell me, “the only thing you don’t do well as a Senior Minister is that you listen to the youth too much.” Two things stood out- first, if that was the only thing she thought I didn’t do well, then she wasn’t paying close attention. Second, I took her well-meaning statement as one of the great compliments that I could receive. I was doing something right.

For too long, the church has not been faithful in listening to the voice of our youth. Youth have a way of showing us what God would have us do and moving us to action. The country is seeing that in the passion and the actions of the Stoneman Douglas students, who are inspiring us to gather and to have needed conversations around gun and school violence. In the space where adults have failed, our teens are moving us forward. Thanks be to God! It’s long past time for our youth to have voice in shaping our narrative and our life together.

Parkland: What I Would Say this Morning

A clergy friend called me the other day, wrestling with what to say to his congregation this morning about the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Our conversation got me thinking about what I would say to a congregation on this day. So, here is a close approximation to what I would share. 

We gather here after a week where 17 people lost their lives in yet another school shooting. Violence of this nature in our schools was once an unthinkable tragedy, yet now seems like an almost regular occurrence, to the point where we are numb, wondering when and where this will happen again. Our thoughts and prayers are important, but it’s time we realize that our prayers, no matter how deep and heartfelt, are not enough to bring back or save lives. On Thursday morning, I hugged my kids an extra time or two before putting them on the school bus. I imagine many of you did the same.

Parkland

 

We have now entered the familiar pattern of figuring out who and what to blame. We do this without any real conversation or any real acknowledgement that something in our collective lives needs to change. Life is too precious to God and should be too precious to us for us to continue doing the same things.

Every time I speak about guns, I offer this caveat. Guns have never been a part of my life. We did not have a gun in the house growing up. I’ve never been hunting or sport shooting and have no intention to do so. We don’t have a gun in our house. I’ve been to a shooting range twice and most likely will not go back. I personally don’t like guns and don’t understand our fascination with them. However, many people whom I care about deeply feel differently and I respect that. Guns are an important part of their lives and I seek to honor that.

I know that people not only in this congregation, but in most congregations, have widely different views on guns. Many of us own multiple guns and use them for sport and recreation on a regular basis. For some, a hunting blind on a crisp fall morning is a holy place. On the other hand, some would not think of owning a gun. Some feel very strongly about the 2nd Amendment while others would be fine with it being rewritten or repealed all together. I wonder if that is what makes conversation around gun violence so difficult to have. It invoke a strong emotional reaction in us one way or another.

No matter what point of view we carry, it’s time to begin having serious conversation and reflection around the role guns play in our lives and communities. Jesus is quite famous for saying “Blessed are the peacemakers.” The church and those seeking to follow the way of Jesus must be peacemakers. Jesus spent a large portion of his ministry tearing down systems of violence and oppression so that all may have life. We cannot be faithful to that call if we are not at least willing to have conversation and do some self-reflection. Our kids’ lives are too important for anything less.

I realize there are other factors that go into this type of violence other than the gun itself. By many accounts, the shooter had a difficult life that was further complicated by a spirit of fear, anger, and hatred towards others. Our nation, from the highest levels, is riddled with spirits of fear, anger, and division. These spirits permeate our communities and our institutions. These are sinful and the church cannot fall into being about these things. The church must be about love for all, hope, and unity. The church must be welcoming to all, no exceptions. We have to create the space necessary for difficult conversations. We, through the love of God, must be a place of healing of hope for people and for our community. We cannot underestimate our power in being a force for good. This is no time for us to shrink back. We have an important role to play in the healing of our community and nation.

So today, we do offer our deep prayers. Our prayers of lament and our prayers of hope. May those prayers convict us to be peacemakers. Lives are too important for anything else.

“Loving On Each Other” as a Poor Substitute for Real Love

“We just need to love on each other”

I’ve learned that this phrase, used even by a well-meaning person, typically means that we are going to do nothing to improve the individual or collective well-being. Often it is served up with a side dish of judgement, while having an excuse for not leaving one’s comfort zone.

Kentucky Blugegraa

By accounts, yesterday’s tragic school shooting in Kentucky was the 11th school shooting in the United States for 2018. Let that sink in for a moment. We’ve had eleven school shootings in the first 23 days of the calendar year.

The governor of Kentucky released a statement encouraging folks to “love on each other” during this time.” He might as well just have said “we are going to do nothing while I continue to accept large donations from the NRA.” I will give him credit for adding to the standard thoughts and prayers line by calling upon folks “to love on each other” during this time. He sounds like the misguided youth pastor at the local fundamentalist church.

Let me be clear- love is the focus of my ministry- God’s inclusive love for all people. I believe love is at the center of the lives of all who seek to follow Jesus. In no way do I want to diminish the important role love and the sharing of love plays in our lives and in the lives of the church.

My experience is that when someone uses the phrase, “we just need to love on each other” it rarely has much to do with God’s love. It’s a phrase we use to absolve ourselves from acting. It produces the kind of love that is a poor substitute for real love. You can’t claim that Jesus is your source and example of love and then do nothing about the gun violence in our communities.

Real love will create a deep sense of mourning for the loss of life due to senseless gun violence.

Real love asks us to examine what influences us to have such a fear-based world view in which our youth feel they need to bring a gun to school.

Real love calls us to acknowledge the sinful epidemic of gun violence in our land

Real love asks us to examine our own lives and habits.

Real love calls us to do something because one precious life lost to gun violence is one too many.

Real love is more powerful than the NRA and its influence.

Real love moves us to enforce and enact sensible gun laws because life is more important than our right to bear arms at any cost.

The President Who Would Not Welcome Jesus

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

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These words have stood through time on the to remind us that all are welcome in the United States. We are, for the most part, people from somewhere else who’ve made this our home. We are a nation of immigrants, a melting pot of culture. These truths make us who we are when we are at our best.

The current President does not embody us at our best, he embodies us at our worst. He intentionally seeks dark places where fear takes over. The President deals in fear, fear rooted in racism and classism.

As a citizen, his words trouble me on many levels. As a Christian, I find them to be in direct conflict with any teaching or ethic of Jesus. That this President continues to be lifted as a “Christian” example by several Christian leaders is incomprehensible and disgusting to me. It’s proof that a few will go to great lengths to use religion to curry favor and gain power (Yes, I am talking about you Franklin Graham).

If the President’s racism and classism had its way, he would not welcome Jesus into this nation. Jesus was a poor, dark-skinned person from the Middle East. Sounds to me like the kind of person the President loathes. The truth of the Gospel that all are created by God and all are loved by God is a great threat to the President’s worldview. It’s past time for those who believe in the power of God’s inclusive love to speak up. I know I have too often been silent. No more.

This isn’t about Republicans or Democrats, it’s about human decency. It’s about speaking for the dignity of God’s beloved. It’s about creating a nation that embodies the very words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. We are better than this.

2017 Reading List

I doubt that its best practice to start off 2018 with a 2017 list, but time ran out on me in 2017 (and I honestly didn’t think about it until a couple of days ago) My reading choices this year were not as robust due to a ministry transition and a move. I’ve included everything that I read for the first time or for the first time in a while and all of these books have been read all the way through. There is no particular order to this list, other than a general descending order from December to January. One of my goals for 2018 is to read more fiction, including some classics. Let me know what you think, I’m always up for coffee and conversation. Happy Reading in 2018.

End Game by David Baldicci

The Art of Loading Brush by Wendell Berry 

Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World by Stanley McChrystal 

Origins by Dan Brown

Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek 

Tribe of Mentors by Timothy Ferris

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

Letters from a Stoic by Seneca

Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kendo

Beartown by Fredrick Backman

The Call by Adam Hamilton

Questions Preachers Ask: Essays in Honor of Thomas G. Long

Between the World and Me by Ta-nehisi Coates 

Pre-Post- Racial America by Sandhya Jha 

More Than Words by Erin Wathen

Night School by Lee Child

42 Faith: The Rest of the Jackie Robinson Story by Ed Henry

The Myth of Persecution by Candida Moss

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

What is the Bible? by Rob Bell

How to Survive a Shipwreck by Jonathan Martin

The Third Reconstruction: How a Moral Movement Is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear by William Barber

Ally by Michael D. Oren 

The Road to Character by David Brooks 

Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Doyle

The One Thing by Gary Keller

For the Love by Jen Hatmaker

The Whistler by John Grisham

Option B: Sheryl Sandberg

The Upstarts: How Uber, Airbnb, and the New Companies of Silicon Valley are Changing the World by Brad Stone

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

Love Lives Here by Maria Goff

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious by David Dark

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

 

 

Advent 4 and Christmas Eve

“Love is what we are born with. Fear is what we learn. The spiritual journey is the unlearning of fear and prejudices and the acceptance of love back in our hearts.” Marianne Williamson

happy-holidays

The account of Jesus’ birth that we hear today is the foundation of a way of life. The birth of Jesus is a gritty story. We clean it up a bit so that it’s easier for us to digest. Jesus was born into a less than ideal world in less than ideal conditions. The government of Rome was an imperial monarchy that sought to bring all in line through fear. They used the military and economic inequality to bring fear. For most, it was a less than ideal time to be alive.  Some spoke on behalf of God, but what they were saying was nothing that was of God. Others thought that God had stopped speaking, giving up on the people. People were watching for a messiah, expecting a great warrior, a smooth politician, and a gifted legislator.

No one was expecting the most powerful love of all to come into the world as a baby. Jesus would later in his life describes Gods actions like “a thief in the night.” God sneaks up on us. This day, we are waiting for God to sneak up on the the whole world once again.  In a world that is filled with fear, we need this. We need a savior who is born with the power of love, not the love of power. We need the reminder through the birth of Jesus that we are all born with love. Not fear, but love. Tonight, as we welcome Christ we begin a journey. A journey to who we are created to be, people filled with love in our hearts.