Monday, April 14, 2014

Will You Be There?

Palm Sunday: Evensong
Cathedral of St. Michael and St. George
Grahamstown, South Africa

Luke 19: 41-48

By the power of the Holy Spirit may we humbly enter into the heart and mind of Christ, united with him in his Passion. AMEN

Beloved, today we met Christ! 

The prince who is a pauper has arrived at Jerusalem’s gate. History’s orchestra has commenced one of mankind’s greatest and most gruesome requiems.  

This morning, the people stood at Jerusalem’s gate awaiting the arrival of Jesus. A king though we call him, he was adorned in lowliness—not in robes, but in rags; and, not upon a horse, but upon a donkey. As he appeared they casted their cloaks about that his donkey might tread softly. They waved palm branches, and resounded “Hosanna!”

His rags: a symbol of his solidarity with the least of those. His donkey—as opposed to the galloping horse of war: a symbol of peace. And the palm branches of the people: a symbol of victory, for, in their desperate eyes, a mighty warrior had finally come; he’d come to save them from, and destroy, a ravaging and raging empire.

The chief priests have been on his scent since his return from the desert a year ago, as he began his ministry of prophecy and healing. But, now…now they were witnessing, in full assurance, that Jesus was a mighty counselor. The streets were filled with people desperate to rise up against oppression, desperate to unhinge Rome’s vice-grip of inequality.

And as they stood in the presence of Jesus, the chief priests demanded Jesus to quiet the people’s cries. The proletarian insistence that Jesus take up the mantle of revolutionary vanguard was upsetting the status quo. But, Jesus refused to hush the cries saying, “if my disciples keep silent the rocks are going to cry out!” Jesus’ subtle way of saying, “ain’t no stopping us now.”

But now, the Savior who has come to redeem humankind, “as he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept…” And now we take our turn from triumphal to tragic. Jesus—the King, the Mighty One, the Savior—with the shedding of a tear has begun a week of venerable vulnerability.

“If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you on the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

Jesus is playing the part. He’s employed all of the appropriate symbols to ensconce in the hearts and minds of the people exactly who he is and what he’s all about. His clothes. His mode of transportation. Yet, none of it registers with the people of Jerusalem. Jesus has come to bring peace, but the people could not see this. They did not want their freedom by way of reconciliation. They wanted their freedom by way of reckoning and war. And Jesus can see, clearly, their vengeful hearts—and at once he weeps.

I wonder: if Jesus saw this city, would he weep?

In order to answer that question we have to enter into the heart and mind of Christ. Unlike the people that stood at Jerusalem’s gate, we have to see Christ for who Christ is…

In chapter four of Luke’s Gospel—the beginning of his ministry—Jesus makes it VERY clear who he is and what he’s all about when he quotes the prophet Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
Because he has anointed me
To preach good news
            To the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim
            Freedom for the prisoners
      And recovery of sight
            For the blind,
To release the oppressed,
      To proclaim the year
            Of the Lord’s favour.”

Essentially, Jesus is a community organizer. And he has come to organize the people of God that we might build a peaceful liberation front for the poor, the prisoner, the blind, and the oppressed. It gets no clearer than that, as to who a man is and what he’s all about.

So, he went on to do the things he said he was sent to do. He went on healing. And often in unlawful defiance he healed on the Sabbath—a sign that God is not a sometimes God for some people, but an all the time God for all people. It was a direct affront to the Genesis creation myth. Jesus has come to say that the healing power and love of God takes no days off.
Then, about halfway through Luke’s gospel, in chapter twelve, we get the Parable of the Rich Fool. And such parables of financial malfeasance only increase as the Gospel develops and Jesus’ ministry gains momentum. There’s the Parable of the Lost Coin, and the Parable of the Shrewd Manager. There’s The Rich Man and Lazarus. And by chapter 18 and 19 it seems as if his continued healing of the poor and the economically oppressed, discouragement of financial malfeasance, and the encouragement that we do away with our monetary possessions—all possessions, really—is all that Jesus can talk about. There is the Parable of the Persistent Widow—who, without male assistance would have been inconceivably impoverished—the story of The Rich Ruler, and The Blind Beggar who received his sight—another character who, without his sight, would have had no work and no way of caring for himself. And the last two stories before we meet Jesus at the Jerusalem gate are Zacchaeus the Tax Collector, and The Parable of the Ten Minas. Some of these stories are about what happens to us when we hold on to and worship our possessions. Some of these stories are about giving up our possessions in order to truly follow Jesus. Some of these stories are about forgiveness towards those that steal our possessions. And some of these stories are simply about looking after those whose lives have been thrust into disparaging poverty. 

So, what does Jesus see when he looks up at Jerusalem? Besides vengeful hearts, I think that he sees the manifestation of greed. I think that he sees the avarice of a government. And I think that he sees sickness, and pain, and spiritual unrest, and brokenness in the eyes the poor and needy people that have come to meet him at the gate expecting a warrior. Imagine the backdrop of a towering empire, but in front of your eyes, a cowering people.

Which brings me back to that question: if Jesus saw this city, would he weep?

In a town with the largest income inequality gap in a country that is one of the world’s forerunners in income inequality, it seems as if the answer would have to be an unequivocal ‘yes’.

In a town with a university that bears the name of one of the worlds largest charitable trusts, only km’s away from homes with no running water, and streams filled with rubbish I think that Jesus would weep. We are all aware, as evidenced in the thorough investigation of this country’s Public Protector, of the Nkhandla Project. And in the words of Vice-Chancellor Saleem Badat at this weekends graduation exercises, we are all aware of politicians that have been in office too long, who use public funds as their personal piggy-banks. We are all aware how centuries of systematic oppression along the lines of race have complicated and defamed the lives of countless numbers of black South African's. 

Were Jesus’ tears a sudden realization that perfect salvation is impossible on earth? Well, if that’s the case, why does he say in Luke’s gospel that the Kingdom of God is within you, that the Kingdom of God is here and now?

He says that the Kingdom of God is within us, is here and now, because that is what he knows to be true! He is the first fruit’s of that revelation! He weeps, therefore, because he senses our collective unbelief in the possibility of God’s Kingdom in the here and now. He weeps because he senses amongst of us poor and needy waiting at Jerusalem’s gate the unbelief that there can be perfect peace. He weeps because he senses our unbelief that there can be a spiritual transformation that will change our material situation. He weeps because we don’t believe, in the words of Isaiah, that the lion will lie down with the lamb. He weeps because we’ve given up on the Kingdom!

Jesus weeps because in all of our brokenness, and in all of our fear, and in all of our smallness we refuse to see how we can do anything; therefore, we often do nothing.

We are children of God. And Jesus is weeping because we refuse to see our own divinity. Jesus is weeping because we refuse to see the divinity in each other. We refuse to acknowledge our own worth, and the worth of our neighbors. We refuse to address the hard questions, and make the hard sacrifices. We refuse to believe that we can do anything to hold our public officials—the Empire at-large—accountable for its reprehensible behavior.

This morning, many of us stood ceremoniously waving palms—then, left church, and acrimoniously waved the beggar away. Let us no longer be like the people in Jerusalem. We are not Christian byway of ceremony. Ceremony simply walks with us—hand in hand—to the edge of the shore. What make’s us true followers of Christ, what turns Christ’s jilted tears into tears of joy, is when we decide to dive into the tumult of life’s ocean, when we decide to bring light into the darkest depths in a sea of despair—counting not our losses.

This week, Christ will show us our worth. This week, Christ will be stripped, beaten, and hung, as an example of a true sacrifice. This week, Christ will say, with his silent procession to Calvary that, “no woman or man deserves to suffer death on the cross; but, if I must, then I will, because you are worth it. And may this symbol that you are worth it inspire you to see with new eyes that everyone—friend and enemy alike—has been endowed with immeasurable value, immeasurable worth. And may those new eyes fashion a world made for peace.”    

Where will you be this week?
Someone is going to give their life that you might know exactly who you are!
Where will you be this week?

Where will you be this week?
Someone is going to offer himself up for death that you might know exactly what you’re worth!
Where will you be this week?

This week, be a witness to your worth, that you might be a witness to the value and worth in others!

[Will you be] there when they crucify [our] Lord?
[Will you be] there when they crucify [our] Lord?
Oh, Oh, Oh…
Sometimes it causes me to tremble,
[Will you be] there when they crucify [our] Lord?


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