Tag Archives: frustration

Palm Sunday: Take it to the streets.

Sermon: Students of Possibility

Palm Sunday

Luke 19: 28-40

Trying out the human mic… the human mic is a process used by protesters, demonstrators or occupiers… it’s used when a crowd gathers with out permit or permission to use sound equipment in order to be heard. And so they use their voices to amplify the message… let’s try it. I say something and the few people who hear me repeat it – then it gets repeated again until the crowd picks it up.

Mic check… mic check…

Blessed is the king…

Who comes in the name of the Lord…

Peace in heaven…

Glory in the highest heaven…

Blessed is the king…

Who comes in the name of the Lord…

Peace in heaven…

Glory in the highest heaven…

This is the story of Palm Sunday as told by Luke… it’s the story of a community organizer… Jesus, organizing his people and staging a demonstration – This day we’ve come to call Palm Sunday – although no palms appear in our Luke text – is a staged move. It’s intentional and particular, an on-purpose, enactment of the words familiar to his own tradition found in Zechariah chapter 9… Jesus sends his disciples on a mission to get not just any animal but a donkey – and not for just anyone but for the Lord – words echoed in the song of Zechariah:

9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,

on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Jesus could have ridden into the city on any day and attracted attention. There was already talk of his arrest, he had been driven into hiding and had just resurface the day before at the home of Lazarus, Mary and Martha where many had heard of his return and had gathered to see not only him but the resurrected Lazarus as well…

But Jesus chooses this day, this time – this is beyond a public demonstration – this is a particular time set aside for the celebration of Passover – when thousands of Jews from far and wide are entering the gates of Jerusalem – the very home of God – the place in which heaven touches the earth – and they enter in a way that symbolizes the exodus of their people – this a time already steeped in the memory of how God rescued their people from the hands of a powerful oppressor.

This is a time in which emotions are running high. Imagine the atmosphere – the fervor of celebration – and in remembering an exodus of old there is a longing to be free again. Free of the Roman occupation, free of the rules, regulations and taxes, free from poverty, free from the violence they’ve encountered each time they’ve risen up – for generations they had been conquered, oppressed and even exiled by Babylon, Assyria, Persia, the Greeks, and finally Rome. It was the Persians that allowed the Jews to return to their homeland after so many years of exile; but freedom had never arrived; just a new kind of exile.

So even in the midst of this ‘celebration’ there is an ingrained hope that a “new exodus” would free God’s people from the “oppressive weight of empire.”

Imagine the hope of celebration mixed in with the fear and discontent. Imagine this swelling crowd pushing it’s way into the city. Imagine the fear in the hearts of the temple officials and the Pharisees that had been forced to collaborate with Rome and were now expected to control this crowd.

And here comes Jesus and his multitude of disciples… (cue the human mic)

Blessed is the king…

Who comes in the name of the Lord…

Peace in heaven…

Glory in the highest heaven…

It’s a movement… a street theatre and a political action… Jesus touches on the crowds longing for deep change, for something to hope for, for the promise of a revolution.

But what kind of change is Jesus really offering?

A regime change? Just a change in political party? A hostile take over?

Some who were gathered there – some of Jesus’ own disciples truly did believe Jesus was there to execute a hostile take-over of the Temple, even of all of Jerusalem, that he would in fact become their King on earth

There were also some who were just thrilled to finally see this Jesus in person… the one who crosses all kinds of boundaries… they have heard the stories of teaching and helping, of Lazarus’ Resurrection, the blind man’s tale, the mothers’ whose children were healed and the teaching about a God who has come near to hear, see and feel the pain of the people.

And this is the key– all kinds of boundaries – remember at the beginning of Luke when Jesus first claims his role in fulfilling the prophecies? Remember when his hometown nearly throws him over the cliff because he suggests that God’s dream for the world includes more than just the folks sitting in the temple? Jesus doesn’t just touch the lepers and feed the hungry… he also sits at table with tax collectors, Pharisees and other collaborators of Rome. Jesus offers a vision… a possibility greater than the multitude of disciples, the crowd, the Jewish or the Roman officials, and even we… all these generations later can quite imagine.

Jesus takes it to the streets as an agitator for peace… Yes – to offer an alternative to Roman Rule and Rome’s collaborators… but not an alternative that simply means flipping the power structure – it’s an alternative that means abolishing it completely.

And yet, again and again it is so difficult – almost impossible to see another way – a truly new way. So the crowd – while some of them might say yes! Here comes the one who will make for peace! Others might be saying, hooray! Here comes the one who will not simply save us but will cut down our enemies…

 And how often do our cries for peace turn to cries for revenge?

How often do our cries for justice (getting what we need, what is enough and sustains us, what gives us meaning and preserves our integrity, our humanity) turn to cries for retributive ‘justice’ instead (a desire for punishment, eye-for-an-eye, by any means necessary ‘equal treatment’ and violence)?

Let’s go back to Zechariah for a moment, after he sings about one who will enter both triumphant and humble he sings this:

  and he shall command peace to the nations;
his dominion shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth. 

Jesus takes steps on this day that mean no going back – he offers a possibility that he know will not be understood – that continues to be so very difficult for us to hear, to embody.

Just after our scripture reading for today ends Jesus stops at the edge of the city, takes a long look at Jerusalem and then weeps. He says aloud, “If only you knew on this of all days the things that lead to peace. But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43  The time will come when your enemies will build fortifications around you, encircle you, and attack you from all sides. 44  They will crush you completely, you and the people within you. They won’t leave one stone on top of another within you, because you didn’t recognize the time of your gracious visit from God.”

Jesus is telling the people – all of them, his disciples and the Jews gathered from near and far, the Pharisees and officials, the Roman guards… your thirst for power, your anger, your desire to push another down and to trample those whom you hate will destroy you.

 How hard this must have been to hear for the most oppressed? Where was their ruler and King? Where was their savior? What do we do when our leadership disappoints us?

How often is that our salvation doesn’t come in the way we are looking for? How often do we confuse success… and coming out on top with being rescued by God?

As I was finishing my sermon yesterday I kept thinking about how we took to the streets for the CROSSwalk on Friday night (protest and solidarity with those who are being overwhelmed and oppressed by gun violence in chicago’s streets)…

There were several things the crowd heard chanted and chanted back in return… We walk… Let justice roll down…

Many people, parents, siblings, community members spoke that had lost a loved one – often a child to gun violence. I imagine – like the community of folks who couldn’t escape the oppression of the Roman empire they were tired, and angry and sad – and yet the gathering gave them hope – the people who were willing to take to the streets created a sense, however small, of possibility.

But really it wasn’t enough… I think of how many folks turned out into the very same streets to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day last weekend… and I don’t mean that in a judgmental way at all – celebration is good. But what does it mean when we turn out in the millions for celebration but only a in the hundreds to stand for peace? To offer solidarity to those that are suffering so immensely?

As we walked another member of my church asked me, “You’re queen for a day, how would you fix it?”

And I really don’t know. I know there are deep and troubling issues at the intersection of poverty, racism and cycles and cycles of violence and hopelessness… but I don’t know and this unknowing makes me angry… how I wonder can we make for peace in the streets? How is it fair that at my kids school every third grader has an ipad and in other neighborhoods students don’t have notepads? How is it that we build things like Trump Towers downtown where we walked and there are kids without homes to go to in neighborhoods all over the city? I encountered an artist this week who each year recreates the stations of cross around the story of a different marginalized people. She suggests that the face of the crucified Jesus is their face. If these communities are where Christ Crucified lives then how do we respond?

I’d certainly like a Jesus figure to come in and lay down the law… I’d like a powerful Jesus person to come in and redistribute the wealth… and yet here comes Jesus and he says yes, of course you’re right Shawna. Every single one of these kids, the ones who are getting shot and the ones carrying guns, and their folks and their families, they are welcome at the table. But then so are you Shawna and right next to you is going to sit Donald Trump, and I’ll give you Anne Lamott (I mean as long as we’re dreaming) across the way but then you can’t just talk to her,  you’ve got to make friends with Donald too. You’ve got to lay down all the prejudice and anger and assumptions and pull up to the table and work out your plan for peace together.

What are the things that make for peace?

Luke tells us that the crowd laid down their cloaks in order to make way for Jesus… to clear the path and make his way down the Mount of Olives and across the valley towards the gates of Jerusalem easy –

What will we lay down in order to make a way for peace?

Can we lay down our own coats? Our own protective garments – the ones that we wear to protect us from strangers? The ones built of armor to protect us from being hurt or broken-hearted? The ones that cover our heads and faces, keeping us from seeing the how systems of poverty and oppression continue to flourish when our eyes our covered?

How far are we willing to go to make for peace?

Most of the crowd that gathered this day couldn’t stay with him all the way to the cross, the journey became too dangerous, too fearful, too painful – some even turned against him.

In my pastoral care training I encountered the phrase, lead from behind… it always stuck with me. I like the idea that a person can lead the way to their own wholeness, to their own recovery. That one-way of ministering to another is to listen to their story and their cues. To lead them by following them… to stay with them. And as holy week unfolds, we are charged with staying awake – staying with Jesus.

But Luke’s Jesus is a prophet and prophecy is all about getting out front not following behind, and that’s what Jesus teaches us on this Palm Sunday. He gets out front and cast a vision that more than a thousand years later we’re still catching on and catching up to.

What is Jesus’ vision? Is it a hostile take-over? Is it a revenge or retribution? No… no it’s not. It’s this crazy idea that every single person… the tax collector who collaborates with the enemy and the crazy folks possessed by demons and the unclean folks and the blind folks and the once dead folks are all welcome to participate… they are all a part of this kin-dom vision…this heaven meets earth, and peace engulfs them both vision.

Can you imagine it? It sounds risky and foolish really…  Can you imagine the possibilities if we took to the streets and invited them all in? Every person we encountered? If we continue to take our tables out to the streets and feed all kinds of people, even the ones you don’t think deserve it?  If we truly welcomed not only the poor but the rich? The really smart and the ones that seem a little crazy? The kind and the unkind? The lost kids like that prodigal son and the know-it-all been around forever folks like that annoying older brother? Argh…. Don’t you hate this vision?

And yet we’re invited to follow – to follow in Jesus’ prophetic footsteps. What will make for peace? What will bring us to the streets? How will we agitate for peace?

It could get us in trouble… it certainly did Jesus. This is the time of year you really start questioning the choice of following him isn’t? I mean all the way to the cross? It could get you killed –

But… it might also get you resurrected.

AMEN

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Thank You for Naming… A Response to Larissa Kwong Abazia

I am deeply grateful for Larissa Kwong Abazia’s reflection titled: “Thank you for NOT asking.” which she guest posted this week on

grounded in three

grounded in three

Jan Edmiston’s blog, A Church For Starving Artists. She writes of her experiences in the call process, of being asked “inappropriate questions” and of wrestling with how to answer them faithfully. She raises some really good and some really hard questions for those of us who are committed to the ongoing work of justice, inclusion and education in the Church. Here is the issue it raised for me:

 Sexism and gender privilege is real and it is present in all of our interactions, even when good people of God are working to call a great pastor, if we don’t name these issues and the ways in which they manifest then things will not change and we will continue to struggle to find wholeness in the Church.

Just as is the case for those of us who are queer pastors in the Church and know that while the passage of 10A is cause for much celebration and thanksgiving it doesn’t shift the job market, many churches will only consider calling lgbtqia pastors when the hard work of education, hearts changing, and policy writing is done, and this is true for women in ministry as well. We have been training and ordaining women in the PCUSA since 1956 but only 34 percent of our currently ordained clergy folks are female and only one out of five are in what’s considered a pastor/co-pastor type of position, this includes small church solo pastors as well as head of staff position.

I believe our individual experiences with and responses to what Larissa has called “inappropriate questions” are shaped by the intersection of our experiences of privilege and oppression. I also believe that our experience of these questions and how they make us feel are a culmination of many of our experiences over time in similar settings.

When I think back on my own experience in my last search for a call in the PCUSA I am certain that I held a much more positive perspective the first time someone on a PNC asked me why I wasn’t married or how my kids would survive “at home alone while I was at work” (someone was making a lot of assumptions, weren’t they?) if they called me as their pastor. It was much more difficult many months, even a year into the search to respond to questions such as, how old are you? And, who will pick your kids up from school if you’re working? Without taking that to mean that the person asking was assuming that I might be too young or inexperienced for the job or that I am not intelligent enough to organize and make arrangements for the care and well-being of my family while I am at work.

I would suggest that it’s tricky business to say that we should respond to these questions with the assumption that the person has the best of intentions or is looking out for my best interest which is what MaryAnn McKibben Dana offered as one option in her well thought out response at her blog, The Blue Room. Overall my experience with PNC’s and APNC’s are that they are in a tough time of transition, they feel a great deal of pressure to make the right choice on behalf of the whole congregation and while they could most likely use some pastoral care they are often asking questions that revolve around the care and well-being of the congregation not the candidate in front of them. I have even experienced members of a PNC whose questions were obviously motivated by their personal needs and issues as well. Therefore, I would be more likely to assume that these “inappropriate questions” arise from unexamined assumptions about the role of women in the life of a family, internalized gender oppression if the person asking is female and sexist ignorance (however benevolent) if the asker is male. I would not assume they meant harm but that is not the same as assuming they are well-intentioned.

Let’s assume also that these questions are not asked in a mean-spirited way and therefore are an opportunity for some education, deeper understanding and personal growth which in the community where, I am in fact, the called and installed pastor it is absolutely part of my calling to help provide. However, a candidate at a job interview is not in a pastoral position of authority. The majority of the power in the relationship is held by the PNC or APNC. They are in a position to continue the process or not, the PNC has the power to recommend you as a candidate to the congregation or not, the PNC has the power to ask an array of questions ranging from faith and formation to theology to your personal life. How do we, as pastors and candidates respond so that we do not perpetuate attitudes of sexism, how do we provide the right amount of transparency without contributing to an imbalance of power and authority and yet care well for those who are asking the questions? It’s definitely a balancing act!

This raises, for me, a hard question. Why do questions about my ability to care for my children, to manage a family life and career or questions about my orientation, stature, my looks or my gender make me feel small, invisible, or powerless? I’m both funny and intelligent, two things Mary Ann McKibben suggests help her to be a strong leader but I have also had some bad experiences. I have often fielded questions that were meant exactly how I took them, meant to make me feel small and insecure. They were asked out of a place of judgment and skepticism as to my skills and abilities. These experiences leave one raw and worried about future questions and experiences and while those of us who have these experiences can and should do the work of wrestling with them and healing the wounds we should also expect the Church to hear and respond to these experiences. To work to create processes for educating PNC’s and encouraging them to tackle difficult issues of sexism, racism, privilege and oppression as well as insuring professional standards for interview processes.

So how do Church leaders, Executive Directors, Associate Execs, COM and CPM Chairs and COM liaisons take responsibility and take steps to institute education around not only sexism but racism and homophobia as well? How do we, as minister members of presbyteries understand our role in the interview processes that are unfolding in the congregations around us?

Let’s begin by naming it when it happens and then by doing some education around these issues. Let’s listen, and truly hear the stories of those who have had good experiences and those who have had hurtful ones. Let’s hear them and believe them and then take the next step of critical analysis as to how and why these scenarios happen and how the positive ones can be reproduced and the negative ones can be corrected. In the meantime, I agree it’s a good choice and it shows a commitment to having a healthy pastor to ask questions about a pastor’s spiritual care practices, about how she attends to her own spiritual and emotional health and how she will balance her professional and private life. These are questions that can be applied to any candidate, no matter their status, female, male or transgender, no matter their racial/ethnic background, whether they are a parent or non-parent, caregiver or grandparent, single or partnered, straight or queer.

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PR for the PCUSA… because, clearly we need it.

so occasionally something goes down in the presbyterian church (usa) — the denomination in which I am ordained as a ‘minister of word and sacrament’– and I have a need to respond… and then I realize that so much of the world including my own small communities will have no idea what I’m talking about.

And that awareness… that this denomination that I love and have so much invested in is becoming more and more insular as it declines into a relativism of it’s own making that I become paralyzed in my effort to respond. Therefore I am going to begin a new project.

Instead of responding out of despair, anger or frustration when news that I dislike, disagree with or am disheartened by breaks I am going to start posting news each day of a pcucsa someone or somebodies doing active, proactive, community centered, outward work of justice, love or hospitality in big or small ways. In short, I am going to start a small PR campaign on behalf of the PCUSA and I am going to do it for six months as a personal spiritual practice, as an effort to build up my own (and those who follow along) knowledge that we as a particular slice of Christian community can be and already are a force for justice and wholeness. Selfishly I will do this project in helps of restoring my own faith that we can be a relevant, nimble and creative Christian community of the future… one that I can be a part of with integrity.

Public perception of the Church overwhelmingly negative. Many experience the Church as homophobic, xenophobic, racist, hypocritical, self-righteous and judgmental. Rather than spend time pointing to where these observations are evident (because this is indeed a reality for many) I am going to use this space to celebrate the welcoming, hospitable, loving work that individuals and groups that are affiliated with the PCUSA are doing.

I will begin this project by claiming that I do so from a progressive theological, social and political perspective. I am a white, well educated and grew up in the midwest. I am committed in my professional life to work towards an unabashedly inclusive church and for me the beginning place for doing theology, biblical study or liturgy is the rule of Love. I am interested in stories that lift up the Church’s commitment to Do Justice; Love Kindness; Walk Humbly with God… If you know one, I’d love to hear, post it or link to it.

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