Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Palm Sunday - B

Walking the Walk

(This sermon takes off from the opening paragraphs of a chapter entitled “Solidarity” in Ched Myers Who Will Roll Away the Stone.)

The air is warm and thick with tension inside the Capernaum synagogue. Jesus slowly walks to the front, turns and faces the antagonistic audience, fixing his gaze on them. The city fathers clear their throats, smile thinly, their jaws set, waiting for him to go too far. Weighing the silence, Jesus nods for a disabled man to come up and join him. Taking his shrivelled hand, Jesus’ eyes sweep the gallery, narrowing. Then he begins his sermon, “What are we Sabbath people all about? You tell me. Is it about doing good, or doing evil? Is it about saving life, or destroying it?” (Mark 3:4).

“I have put before today life and prosperity, death and adversity.” (Deuteronomy 30:15) time suddenly collapses and we are no longer in Capernaum but gathered with exodus Israel on a mountain above the Jordan. This ultimatum does not come from the mouth of Jesus, but from Moses. His point is that to get to the Promised Land we have to remember where we have been. The story is a long one, all the way from slavery through pain and joy, and a lot of hard lessons.

In each of these key moments in the followers of The Way we are making an archetypal choice between life and death.

“So I say to you my friends that even though we must face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.” This is our equivalent. Can you imagine standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, August 28th 1963, among a hundred thousand supporters of the cause of civil rights? Martin Luther King was calling weary marchers to persevere in their quest for freedom.

There are other moments that seem to transcend reality, that seem to bring together the realms of the spirit, and the world around us. But these three carefully staged and yet mysteriously powerful moments come to the core of our faith, challenging the dream of empire with the promise of freedom and human solidarity.

Having faith is not between you and God. Love God, your neighbour, and yourself means that being faithful is about action. Despite the fact that we are told not to talk about religion and politics, religion is politics. It is about fighting for the way God would do it.

One of the best Christians ever was actually Hindu. Mohatmas Ghandi lived the life that Jesus would have understood. He loved everyone and always acted with compassion, yet he fought tooth and nail, in a non-violent but confrontational way, to make the world better.

We tend to think of him as the exception to modern society, and perhaps he was, but he was the exception that illustrated the norm. Like it or not, Ghandi is exactly who Jesus would have us be.

Isn’t that what the whole last week of Jesus’ life is all about? Ghandi walked across the countryside to the seashore in order to make salt, protesting the British government. Jesus walked across the countryside heading to the temple in order to offer sacrifices, protesting the Roman government.

Both of them knew the consequences. Both accepted that their life was on the line. Both thought it was necessary to act, to show concretely to those who looked to them as examples what it meant to be faithful to the ideals of God.

By forcing the Romans to lay their hand, and by doing it in as non-violent a way as possible, Jesus helped us to see the negative values of Empire up close and personal. Those same values still apply today, and so does the need to confront them.
His main message to those who chose to follow him was “take up the cross and follow me.”

Or how about the rich young man who comes and says he has done everything religion requires of him; and what should he do now? And Jesus says, “Go sell everything you have, and follow me.”

Social change through activism – that is the message.

I invite you to try and see Easter this way this year. There are other things to focus on, but this is the major part, and somehow the part we focus the least attention on. Jesus is not fulfilling prophecy, he is not sacrificing himself for no reason, and he is not trying to save individual souls. Jesus is trying to change the world – and he invites us to follow.

“God’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I‘ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land,” vouched Dr. King the night before he was assassinated. King, like Moses never did get to the Promised land, like Jesus he walked the way of the cross.

Ironically – he chose life, and in it sacrificed himself. Without that moment, would Barack Obama have become President? You see, faith is not abstract, it is political. This is the week we enter into Jerusalem. This is the week we have to make our own choices. It is time to walk the walk.

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