Thursday, March 17, 2016

Lessons from the back of a donkey

I like to think of Palm Sunday and the writing of that sermon as “Lessons taught from the back of a donkey”. It was and is not an odd thing in the Middle East to see people riding donkeys. But it is not the kind of animal that one would expect a king to come and claim possession of a city. After all, in human society, we often operate on a simple principle: “if you want it, get it; by all most any means necessary. Worry about the costs and the interest later. You want it and there for you need it. You must have it.”

What does Jesus teach us about what kind of king he is and what do we know about the nature of the kingdom of God because of this donkey ride? If Jesus had chose a great white steed and strutted in the gates of the city of Jerusalem, people would have understood that he had come to claim his earthly kingdom and there was going to be a war. He would fight to take and hold on to what was rightfully his.

What if he had come in on a camel? What would have been the reaction? Or what if he had come in, driving cattle or leading sheep? What if he had come in walking, with the 12 and other disciples in tow? In Luke’s Gospel (19.37) Jesus and his followers reach a point where once they past the road going down to the Mount of Olives and going into the City, the fork in the road becomes a point of no return. Choosing to go into the city means that Jesus is choosing to face down the leadership of the people and all that could potentially happen including his death. He made that choice before he got on the back of that donkey. He had made it time and again, including in the Garden when he ask the Father to take this cup of suffering from him but was prepared to follow things through saying, “Not my will but yours be done.”

A horse is an animal of war and of conquest. It is the kind of animal that we would expect the king to ride. It is not the type of animal this king will use. A donkey is a beast of burden and a symbol of peace. Jesus weeps over Jerusalem has he rides into the city and the Gospel tells of what he said, As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “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 to 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. (Luke 19.41-44)

This is a sharp contrast to what is happening around him as they make their way into the City and to the Temple. People around him are expecting conquest and for the return of the king and the good old days when they were a nation under David. They could have national pride, being free of the slavery and tyranny of the Roman Empire. They could be their own rulers and everything would be better if only Jesus would act.

Jesus will act. Yes there will be the flipping of tables, the scattering of coins and the howls of outrage over what he does. But instead of rebellion and overthrow, he offers his surrender. Jesus will be taken, mocked, brutally scourged and whipped, forced to carry a 200 pound weigh up the steepest road in the city and then had to endure the nails and the pain of crucifixion, and exposure. Finally when he can offer nothing more to give he turns over his life and his death not to those who screamed for it, demanding their way and their power but to his Father, whom throughout his life he had honoured and obeyed.

The kingdom of God is not about who controls the money or about who has the power and the authority – it is about those who can serve, heal and die. Power and authority are given to those who serve and those who heal. Authority is given to those who proclaim the kingdom both in word and in actions. It is about those who can offer their lives as a living and ongoing act of worship, knowing the Father who sees in secret is watching, caring and waiting.

Why did Jesus come and give his life as a ransom for many? Why did he die like that? It is because a) he loves us and cannot bear the thought of having an eternity without us and b) because he has need of you and of me as servants who are ready to live and prepared for death if necessary to show this world how much God really loves them. If we allow ourselves to open up to him and to be led by him, he will teach us not only how to die, but how to live. After all, God made you and he not only desires you, he has called you to go for him and to bear lasting fruit for his kingdom and the sake of this city.

So, which way to live will you choose? Will you decide to try and build your own little kingdom and have it all your own way? Or will you come with Jesus past the point of no return and learn to walk into the kingdom and the wider life that God has to offer you? You do get to decide.


Friday, March 4, 2016

Moving into the Land and into the Promise

When I sat down to read the lessons at the beginning of the week, I was somewhat captured by the few verses of the Book of Joshua and what was going on in them (Joshua 5. 9-12) The children of Israel have moved out of slavery in Egypt, through the wondrous rescue from Pharaoh on the shores of the Red Sea and then into the wilderness at Sinai where things got “hinky”. At Gilgal, God removed the reproach of having been enslaved and the issues of the wilderness where the previous generation had been a royal pain in the divine backside. This new generation was on the verge of an eisodos – an in-breaking and the taking possession of the Land that God had promised to them through Abraham hundreds of years before.

The passage though short, is important to the life of the fledgling nation. It is a story of moving from scarcity to abundance, from the manna and other things that God has provided to sustain them into living from the Land that God is giving them. The Jordan River has been crossed. Joshua has the mantle of Moses and has taken charge of things. Moses has died and passed into legend having seen the Land but not being allowed to enter himself by the LORD. There is the first celebration of the Passover in the Promised Land and a time of thanksgiving for what is now behind the people of Israel.

This is a moment of pain and promise: there is an already but not-yet-ness about where they are as a nation. They are starting to live from the land and there are changes in the way things are happening, including worship and diet. There is the anticipation and hope of conquest that will come when the city of Jericho falls. There will be thoughts of building the great society and temple for God in the midst of the nation. But at the same time, the people of Israel are also continuing to be that royal pain in the divine backside. With war there will be injuries, pain and suffering and death. Yet there will still be the promise of what God holds for the nation that will draw them forward. The eisodos will happen and the Israelites will take possession of the Land but what kind of nation will they be?

As a congregation, we are in a similar place to those ancient Israelites. We have overcome a lot of hurdles in recent years Things are, out of necessity I would suggest, transforming because they need to so that we might be ready for whatever it is that God has next for us to do. Therefore let us not live as if God was never at the cross nor has never dealt with the betrayal of those he created or with the death of his own Son. It’s not true. We are on the cusp of a new eisodos into this society and this world and God is in the lead. The new eisodos will require us changing our point of view (pov) and starting to see things the way that Christ sees them.

We are called to help people in this world to see Jesus Christ. How do we, his Church, do that? The true Church is known for its faith in the face of pain and suffering and for a life that is dedicated to the service of God almighty and of others. The grace that God gives to us, his Church, is not meant for us to wallow in memories of ministry that used to be. Grace for this moment is not to get back to the future – to reclaim some glorious point of the past. Rather, it is for the moment that we might share it with our neighbours, friends and family that through us, they might see Christ in action. This grace and mercy for the Church is meant to see us through what St. Paul would call, “Light and momentary troubles”. It is the continuation of the pain and the promise until the fresh eisodos is finished on the Day of Christ Jesus.

Don’t be lemmings who just follow the herd over the edge. Be willing to see things as Christ sees things. Be ready to march into the Land, eating from the good of the Land and worshiping God as God desires. Be ready to follow Christ where he might lead. God is calling us to and be ready to be the Church that God has created us in Christ that we must become. With that life there is a promise and in that life there will be both praise and pain. Let it be.