Saturday, 18 April 2015

Proclaiming Repentance and the Forgiveness of Sins 2015.

This is the third Sunday of the Easter season.  It is the time that we celebrate that Jesus rose from the tomb. And we reflect and what that means for us.  What does it mean for you and I that Jesus came and lived and died and rose again? Over the last couple of weeks we have been exploring this question as we examined the first responses of the disciples to the news.

On Easter day we came and stood before the empty tomb and we gathered with the disciples filled with belief and misunderstanding.  We came with our questions about life and death and our meaning and purpose and we listened to the mystery of our faith – he is not here, he is risen! And we listened with Mary as Jesus called our names.

Last week we stood alongside Thomas and with all of the disciples in their doubts and scepticism.  We remembered that it is “acceptable to be sceptical” as we explore the news of Jesus resurrection and what that might mean for us.  And we heard amidst the questioning a moment of revelation from Thomas, who declared, “My Lord and My God!” A declaration that we hope we can share at some point in our lives.

And now for this third time we come and hear again of Jesus appearing to the disciples and their response is fear and terror.  Once again the disciples mirror the confusion and apprehension we have as we encounter the risen Christ.  Yet, once again we hear Jesus word of hope standing against the wall of emotions emanating from the gathered group: peace be with you!  Even after the this declaration we are told the disciples “in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering”.

Confronted with the mystery, doubt, fear, disbelief and joy of the disciples we can find reassurance that they, like we, were human.  It is into this volatile bunch of emotional men and women that today we remember Jesus speak words of commissioning to his followers: “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations.”

This year we have continued to pursue the theme followers and fishers and today as we continue to contemplate the conundrum the disciples faced in their encounter with the risen Jesus we too are listening to Jesus commission to us that we are to proclaim “repentance and the forgiveness of sins”.

I want especially to focus on the proclamation of repentance. 

The word repentance is laden with spiritual meaning for us and it literally meant turning back to God – it was about a change in heart and mind.  If you can imagine with me for a moment that our lives are a journey and that God is situated at true North Jesus challenging proclamation is to remind us that we are not travelling towards God but we have other destinations and courses plotted on the map of our personal existence.

It is not as if we are simply travelling North or South but as people we travel to all kinds of places different directions on the compass and I would like to suggest a few of those directions with the help of a few of you.

I have made up a number of characters, with significant names, to help us understand the other directions we might be travelling and what it might be that we need to repent of.

(arrow up down)
Let me first introduce you to Plato Jones who lives down in Central Avenue.  Now Plato has a conviction that when we die we are judge for the good and bad that we do.  How we are judged determines what happens in our afterlife.  The biggest question in Plato’s life is, ‘What is going to happen to me when I die?’  Life for him is a test and the direction he travels is not towards God but towards his desire for eternal life.

(brief case)
Now let us meet another friend of mine Max, Max Weber – no relationship to the barbeque.  Max thinks that his purpose in life is his work.  He works down at the University and a mentor of his John Calvin told him that life was all about vocation – your job.  Max’s obsession with work is reflected in the fact whenever he meets someone the first question that comes out his mouth is “What do you do?” and Max’s biggest fear is retiring because retiring will take away his meaning for existing.

(smiley happy face)
Here now is another friend of mine Alexander Pope, he works down the humanities end of the University and is a bit of a poet and he once wrote “Oh, happiness, our beings end and aim!”  If you meet Alex in the coffee shops, where he likes to hang out, if you tell him about your life he is always going to ask you, “But, are you happy?”  The pursuit of personal happiness for him is more important than anything else.  He is a great guy but I do admit he can be a little moody.

(cash box)
Now Alexander introduced me to another friend of his who works over in the school of economics. Mr Adam Smith, come on down!  Adam knows that life is all about supply and demand and that the most important thing in life is to a build a solid portfolio.  He had a friend called Gordon who once said that “Greed is good!” Adam probably doesn’t think this but a nice tidy port folio for retirement is essential for the modern man because money gives you freedom so if you ask him what you look for in a job he will always want “How much are they going to pay you?”

(signed picture)
Recently I met a new international student Fred Nietzsche who is concerned that there is really no purpose and meaning to anything.  Ask him and he’ll respond with the question, “What’s the point?” I ran in to him arguing with another friend of mine Andy recently who was telling him that we would all get our moment in the sun our 15 minutes of fame and so we would all be remembered.  It left me thinking about whether the purpose of my life and your life was “will we be remembered?”

(family photo)
And finally one more introduction to James Dobson a gut I met at theological college who told me that families matter.  And you know when I ask kids at school what the most important thing is in their life again and again and again they say the same thing “My family?”  Is this destination that we are travelling towards, the thing that we make the most important in our lives? Is family the most treasured part of our existence?

Now I have introduced these characters because these characters represent some of the key destinations we worry about and we travel towards: heaven or hell, vocation, happiness, wealth, recognition and family.  Objectives for our lives that can relate to our faith but when they become the primary direction of our lives, and they do, they take us on a journey away from God.

When Jesus says to proclaim repentance he is making all of these directions and the many others we might travel a secondary distraction from our journey towards God.

Jesus wants us to encourage others to turn and glimpse the divine, to look at our origin and our true destination: God!

And what we will see and experience if we turn.  Well if we listened to Jesus and his injunction to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins when we look at God, when glimpse God’s story then maybe what we see is a merciful and gracious Father running to meet his son returning from the far country.  And we like lost sheep are already being carried towards that celebration.

This is the good news – we have glimpsed God coming to us, running, full of lavish grace and forgiveness, wanting us to be part of the celebration.  And we have been invited, instructed, implored to share this vision with others.

Turn from these directions around which you base your life and witness to a hope that transcends anything we can imagine we are loved; we have a future; we have a calling; we have a joy; we have riches beyond compare; we are remembered; and we have a family in God which is all humanity.

We stand with the disciples filled with a myriad of emotions, our doubts and our fears, and Jesus says, “do not be afraid”, “peace be with you”; and he gives us purpose: “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations.”

Hear and believe that this is good news.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

How good it is to live in unity

“How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!”

In the words of the Psalmist we are reminded of the joy of living lives which are found to be at peace with one another: the joy of sharing generously one another’s existence as we were created to do.  It is the joy and peace which God longs for us in our relationships with one another; it is why Jesus came and lived and died and rose again that we might have peace with one another and with God.  Life in all its fullness is life with each other and God.  Is this not a great vision of whom we are mean to be as a human race – people who live together in unity: in joy and peace with one another

But let us not deceive ourselves as God’s people – this is not how we have lived and it is not who we have been.  1 John 1 verse 8 confronts us with being people who have honesty and integrity: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” 

Those men and women who struggled with the idea of bringing the Uniting Church into being recognised that the Church was falling short of God’s gift and will for the church which was its unity.  Jesus had prayed “that they may be one so that the world might believe” but the church has not been one and our behaviours have not been those of people who live together in unity governed by peace.

On a personal level my own experience of being a member of the people of God is a story which involves a continual confrontation with disputes and complaints and hurtful behaviours which have destroyed that peace and unity given to us as a gift.  It has been a journey of trying to understand why the church has fragmented and has been beset by schisms through the centuries. 

On both a grand scale and in the smallest of congregations division and dissension undermines the unity.  And where often we as the people involved don’t see it and we think of ourselves as good people and welcoming congregations often outsiders that we come into contact with tell a different story.

“How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!”

But how very, very bad and unpleasant it is when kindred live in tension with one another and despite this tension and disunity try to pretend we are something that we are not.  This self deception is what has left people labelling Christians as hypocrites and I believe our disunity and disputes have caused many to turn away from coming to church or wanting to have anything to do with the church.

In the first letter of John we read, “If say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

You know recently a person told me that they thought they did not like my preaching – they said I was too negative and too challenging.  I actually took the challenging bit as a complement and as for being too negative I believe to understand grace all of us need to be more honest with ourselves about who we are as God sees us.

We do not live in the kind of unity that God has made for us in and through Jesus and in this we sin.  We fail to love each other as we ought as communities of faith and as individuals within those communities.   

The existence of different denominations attests to our brokenness.  The vehement attack of evangelicals against progressives and vice versa does little for the church and its unity as we champion our particular doctrines.  We are a shattered community.

Yes, it is true to say that often within congregations there are deep and abiding and supportive relationships – friendships that have lasted years and in which real care and concern is exhibited.  But just as this occurs in every congregation there are always people who feel marginalised and excluded and more often than not there are disputes that exist between the differing groups of friends.

We are broken people and as much as we might want to love one another more often than not we fail.  Often instead of loving each other we talk about tolerating one another and putting up with one another.  But we need to be honest in this: the gospel of Jesus Christ does not ask us to tolerate one another it asks us to love one another as Jesus loved us, and this means everyone in the congregation not just our friends.

You see whilst we should see each other as friends in the congregation we should also remember that every one of us is to be the friend of all those who are baptised.  The difference of Christian friendship is we do not get to choose who our friends are – we have all been made one with each other.

Now I am not so na├»ve as to suggest that we are going to ever do this perfectly and given all of the problems of the church it would be very easy to walk away from the church: to walk away from its disputes and complaints and disunity and abuses and congregational bickering.  Goodness knows many have already! But does walking away mean we have given up on the good news or that we expect that the world beyond the church is any less divisive?

The counterpoint to the negative assessment of our human condition is this: the risen Jesus came and stood among his disciples and said peace be with you.  Jesus resurrection speaks to us of a new beginning for the whole creation and all people, a beginning grounded in God’s peace – or shalom as it was in the Hebrew.

The ‘shalom’ of God is more than a sense of serenity, God’s peace is about the mercy shown to us in Jesus Christ and the reconciliation that has been won.  When Jesus declares “peace be with you” to his disciples he is really saying you are forgiven and set free and even the face of death you can find hope.

It is why sharing the peace as a congregation is such a meaningful act.  We admit we need God’s peace and also acknowledges that far too often we lack that peace!

The centring in on Jesus wounds in John’s gospel emphasise two things.  First, that Jesus resurrection was exactly this: a bodily resurrection.  Second, that in his resurrection whilst a transformation has been wrought in Jesus he stills bears the scars as reminders of what has been.

The idea of Jesus resurrection inspired the early Christian communities.  It was a radically new way of viewing life and death and gave hope a new direction.  Jesus’ resurrection was an anomaly for the prevailing Hebrew thought and Greek philosophy.  God was doing something new and different and this gave people hope.

It was these things that kept people in that early church and inspired them to share the good news – God’s peace had been declared and a new hope, a new future was promised in Jesus Christ. 

The witness of those early Christians described in Acts captures something of how that witness occurred: “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and one soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.”

So it was, that from that small band of followers, great proclamation and deeds flowed generously and graciously into the world; the church blossomed and grew from a handful of followers to be the dominant faith in the world.  Here is the echo of Psalm 133 coming to life: oil lavishly running down onto the beard of Aaron or the dew from Mount Hermon filling the streams with life giving water which flowed on to the surrounding plains.

Maybe we need to reconsider how we do things in our day and age.  Years ago I read a great book about the idea of ‘Collaborative Consumption’.  It encourage shared ownership of items in neighbourhoods – lawn mowers, tools, even cars!  It made me think of the early Christian communities but it was not coming from within the church but from people looking to live more sustainably.

We are being given the opportunity to begin again to rediscover together Christ’s call upon us, to be honest about our shortfalls but to find hope in the resurrection and so share the good news in word and deeds.  Sometimes even I worry about what we do not have – there are too few people, and many of those we have are not committed enough, and we need to be more contemporary in our transmission of the gospel and… and… and…

As you hear again the word of hope that our future is not our own, that we belong to the Lord, that his grace is more than sufficient how does that change how you and I live.  We believe in a risen Lord who declares peace – as his people let us again discover that peace and share it with one another. 

Friday, 3 April 2015

A Preference for Bunnies

The disciples arrived at the tomb and they saw and believed yet they still did not understand. They were puzzled to pieces.

On Easter Day it is very easy for us to race to celebrating the incomprehensible event of Jesus resurrection without pausing to reflect on just how perplexing the event is.

Maybe, this is a reflection of our culture which pursues happiness above all else.

Maybe, this is why I would say to you on this day that it would appear to me that Easter Bunnies and Chocolate goodies appear to have won.  we live in a culture that has a preference for bunnies.

We prefer the instant gratification of a chocolate hit over the confusion of an empty tomb.

Even in my short time in ministry, a mere 16 years, the ascendancy of the alternate story has infiltrated and saturated the Easter holiday.  This week as I asked people about the meaning of Easter the answer that came back was about chocolates, relaxation and family time.

To be blunt I do not think I can compete with this message ambiguous as it may be.

In Coles on Thursday every employee was wearing rabbit ears.  As two people dressed in bunny suits wandered past I asked the guy at the checkout whether he was enjoying his bunny ears and he said under his breath no.  Then quickly said I better say yes just in case my boss is listening.

When I shared what I did he told me he would be going to church on Good Friday – it was a family tradition.  They don’t go on Easter Sunday, just Friday, and he really couldn't make any sense out of why they went given they don’t go to church any other time.  He said it was bit like Christmas.  He was puzzled to pieces.  None of it really made sense.

It left me asking myself, ‘why do we bother coming here on Easter Day?’  Why aren't
we at home spending time with family or eating chocolate or more likely both?

You see we come and we stand before the empty tomb and I think for many of us we are as puzzled as the disciples: we are puzzled to pieces.

We come; I come, with all the pressing questions of life and its meaning.

Why am I here?
What is life all about?
Is there a purpose?
What happens when I die?
What happens when those I love die?
Is there a heaven?
Is there a hell?
Why is there is suffering in my life?
Why is there is suffering in the world?
Why do people hate?
Why do I hate?
Where is God in all of this?
Why is the tomb empty?
If Jesus is raised why don’t people believe it?

The questions seem unending and the search for answers takes us beyond simplicity.

The disciples believed but they did not understand.

Are we the same?

We believe but we do not understand!

And if we believe what do we believe.

The empty tomb, the church, the scriptures, faith are places of mystery as we encounter the divine.

As a theologian I explore these questions all the time. It is part of my role to seek out the questions and to see out the answers.

This morning I piled some of the books that I have read about this God and this good news we share, as you can see I too am in over my head!

I don’t have all the answers: I stand with Peter and Mary and the other disciple.  I stand with you who come with your questions and with hopes and with your faith and with your doubt.  I too am puzzled to pieces.

So what can I say on this day that for most people is about relaxation, family and chocolate – none of which I offer.

I asked my family what to say today and I want thank Lucy who suggested I talk about the shape of the tomb.  It is from that yawning opening that we experience the fullness of mystery and grace as we bring all of our questions.

Lucy suggested a talk about one issue, but after some consideration I have three points to make.

The first which Lucy reminded me of is that the shape of the opening, from whence the stone was rolled, is a circle.  She reminded that a few weeks ago that I pointed out the circle, which is on this Celtic cross that I wear, is a reminder of eternal love.

The opening of the tomb she said is a reminder of God’s unending love.  It is as simple and as complex as that.  With all of our belief and not understanding, with all our questions and puzzlement, God loves us steadfastly and forevermore.

Secondly, the tomb is a hollow space it is empty but once it did contain something.  A few weeks ago I watched an episode of Shaun Micallef’s show Stairway to Heaven.  He was sitting in a cave with a Hindu holy man – a guru, in the Himalayas.  When they spoke about the cave the holy man likened it to a womb, a place of security and safety.  A place I would argue from which new life springs forth.

As I considered this insight and wondered at standing before the cave in which Jesus body lay, and I remembered Jesus words to Nicodemus, I could not help but think that this empty tomb, was the womb from which God brought forth new life.

Birth, re-birth, new birth, is about hope for the future.  As we stand with all of our questions and puzzlement the empty womb represents God’s desire for new life in us and says to us there are other ways to live.

And finally it was the metaphor of the mouth that came to me as I imagine myself before this empty tomb, this cave, this womb.  Jesus was laid in a tomb which was pretty much a cave and each cave has its mouth.

A mouth opened calling out – maybe in joy, may be in hope, maybe in surprise.  But it is Mary’s encounter with Jesus in the garden which is most telling.  Mary in her confusion, in her belief but not understanding, does not recognise Jesus. 

But then he calls her by name.  In that intensely personal moment of revelation Jesus speaks her name and so as I stand before that open cave mouth, as each of you stand there as well, I wonder can we hear Jesus calling our names as well.

You see I don’t have all the answers; what we believe from Christian to the next seems to change.  And, we all have our own questions.  The disciples believed but did not understand yet as puzzled as they were the open and empty tomb spoke to them and it speaks to us with all of our questions.

God’s love is unending.
God is bringing to birth something new.
And God is calling us by name.

Can you hear it?  Can you hear God speaking your name?

Monday, 30 March 2015

Good Friday: We look up at the cross. What do we see?

The scene played out at the cross is a scene which, despite its foreignness to us here at St Lucia, had been played out thousands of times before Jesus ever got there.

Friends and family watching on as a loved one is executed by a foreign power.

It was the way of an occupying force asserting its authority.  For the Roman Empire such a death as Jesus ' death was more common than we modern Christians would like to admit. We are so used to contemplating Jesus death as unique and special.

Under the cross we find the menagerie of humanity: the executioner, the guards and the gamblers; the mourners, the friends, the disciples and the mother; the passerby and the innocent bystander, for the crosses of Rome were always in public places. Crucifixion was a humiliation and a warning to others.

Yet as much as this scene had been played out a thousand times before, and in different ways a thousand times a million times since, on this day we are drawn to remember this particular death, of this particular man.

We come to stand under his cross and in so doing to seek to understand: to understand the meaning of our lives, to understand the meaning of death, to understand the meaning of God.

We Christians have spent 2000 years theologising this moment, puzzling over the concepts of suffering and atonement, of grace and of love.  This is not surprising given the way the gospel writers, like John, retell the story, filling it with imagery and mystery.

Yet, on that day standing under the cross, I do not think Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene, nor Jesus own mother and the beloved disciple, were worrying about the theological implications of the event.

Here in this moment they beheld: the pain and suffering of someone they loved; they mourned for him; they sought to comfort him with their presence; they may have wondered at the sheer brutality of the event and the callous behaviour of the soldiers; they could also have wondered about their own mortality and even feared for their own lives by simply being there.

Standing alongside these women and men, with hearts breaking at the suffering, we too stand with those gathered around the world looking up at the cross wondering where is God in the midst of these terrible things.  Where is God in the midst of suffering? Where is God in the moment of death?

This scene of suffering and death is not foreign to most of us.  We have seen the atrocities of our oh-so-wise humanity, we have seen the concentration camps, the killing fields, the massacres and the barbarity.  We have seen the spectre of death as our own loved ones have died, as Dylan Thomas wrote, raging against the dying of the light.

It is because of the utter humanity of the event, of both the barbarity of human behaviour alongside the depth of suffering it causes, that the gospel writers so deeply reflected on this moment and filled it with symbolism as they too wondered where God was in this event.

So, as we stand under the cross on this day we hear and reflect on the seven sayings of Jesus which come to us, revealing God's loving presence in this moment of confusion.

Looking up, from under the cross, it is difficult to fathom the suffering of Jesus and his words ‘I thirst’ remind us that here hangs a man, a man deeply deprived and wounded.  It is easy to ask the question, where is God in all of this?

This questioning is reflected in possibly both the most ambiguous and difficult words Jesus utters in Matthew’s and Mark’s gospels.  They tell us Jesus quoted Psalm 22, 'My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?'

Listening to these words it could be easy to assume that God has left the scene; that God is not there!  But we need to listen to the whole Psalm, coming to its words of hope not abandonment:

For he did not despise or abhor
the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
but heard when I cried to him.

Under the cross, Matthew and Mark reassure us in Jesus own words, as much as it might feel like it, God does not leave his Son, God does not forsake us in death, and so the hope filled refrain at the end of the Psalm makes sense:

To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him.
 Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord, 
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
saying that he has done it.

God is with us! God does not forsake or abandon us in, neither in life nor in death!

This tone of hopefulness in the face of death is conveyed by Luke to the criminal crucified alongside Jesus, as Jesus reassures him, 'Truly, I say to you today, you will be with me in paradise.'

Death is not the last word.  There is more to come.  There is yet mystery in these words for we who live on this side of death, but they reiterate the hope declared in Psalm 139, “If I make my bed in Sheol you are there.”

Just as the gospel writers show to us God present in the moments of suffering and even beyond death, they also reveal in Jesus words his concern for the life of those who go on.

In the scene in John’s gospel Jesus is renewing community, even from the cross Jesus is reconciling and making new.  To his mother and his beloved disciples he says,” Woman, behold your son. Behold your mother.”  God is with us as new communities of life and hope are built.

It is a hope which the gospel writers believed transcended that moment.  A hope grounded in reconciliation with God.  Jesus prays, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.’

God is reaching out in grace towards humanity and Jesus is God’s love enfleshed.  Here is the culmination of God’s story we find in the scriptures.  A story of a God who pursues humanity in love to the very end and commits not to leaving Jesus in his suffering: nor might I say you and I. 

Here is a God that does not act in retribution and wrath but in compassion and mercy, and in love and grace, as Jesus suffers the consequences of human decisions when we are faced with the unknown and when we are caused to become fearful.

As if to remind us of the symbolic and liturgical nature of the story of Jesus death John and Luke end Jesus life with a refrain.  In John, ‘It is finished’, in Luke, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’

Did Jesus actually say any of these things?  It is beyond our proving.  

Do these words help understand this moment?  Maybe, but only inasmuch as we understand anything about the mystery of Jesus’ life and death!

This morning we stand under the cross.  We look up.  What do we see?  What do you see?

As much confusion as there may be about what Jesus death means and what is occurring one thing I hold on to is that the gospel writers were at pains to let us know God and God’s love were palpably present.  God’s love for Jesus, God’s love the creation and God’s love for each one of us who is made to live in community with God and one another.

We stand under the cross.  We look up.  What do we see?  What do you see?

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Jesus rode into Jerusalem for you!

This week I was struck by a deeply troubling and challenging question as I contemplated Jesus entry into Jerusalem. “Did Jesus ride into Jerusalem for the sake of Caiaphas and for Pilate as well?

This question is an important question, a really vital question, because when I consider my place of position, power and prosperity as an Australian and then try to cast myself back into that moment in history I do not naturally find myself standing by the roadside.

On a global scale I would think that I remain among the more privileged people on this planet. So, in Jesus time, on that fateful day, it is more likely I would have found myself among the temple authorities or maybe part of the Roman court officials in Jerusalem.

Growing up as Christians we have been taught to imagine ourselves standing by that roadside as Jesus entered Jerusalem. As children we may have waved our branches and as adults we may have contemplated ourselves as part of the scene.  Yet, what if we were not there, what if we as the prosperous and privileged, as we are now in Australia, did not find ourselves by the roadside.

Does Jesus come for us as well? Did Jesus enter Jerusalem for Caiaphas and Pilate?

When we stop and consider Jesus words to the Greeks who came seeking him, words which we read in church last week that “all people will be drawn into my death”, the answer is ‘yes’!

I have this conviction that it does not matter where you were standing on that day Jesus entry into Jerusalem was for you.

I have this conviction that it does not matter where you are standing on this day that Jesus entry into Jerusalem is for you.

When we stop and consider Paul’s words to the Philippians that there will come a time when “at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Jesus entry into Jerusalem and into Holy Week is for everyone, from every time, and from every place.

Yet, we have been trained and indoctrinated to think differently about the events of that day so long ago.  Our vision is partly distorted by the reformation and the enlightenment and how that has changed our view of ourselves and of the place of faith.

At the time of the Reformation, 500 years ago, Martin Luther is often cited for encouraging us to separate religion and politics.  It is an interpretation of his teaching and his life which I would seriously question.  But there can be no doubt that many of us in this contemporary world think that religion and politics don’t mix.

In addition, the enlightenment has taught us the concept of liberal democracy and the rights of the individual – the rights summed up in the American Constitution of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  The pinnacle of our culture is our individual right to believe and think and achieve for ourselves and we have made this a critical part of our faith.  For many of us faith is about God, Jesus and me.

Both of these ideas distort our understanding of Palm Sunday and Holy Week.

You see, I have this conviction that it does not matter where you were standing on that day Jesus entry into Jerusalem was for you.

I have this conviction that it does not matter where you are standing on this day that Jesus entry into Jerusalem is for you.

Again and again I read commentaries on this story which remind me that what Jesus was doing in this prophetic action was politically subversive – Jesus was leading a protest.  His actions were deliberate and planned as he enacted the prophecy of Zachariah. 

One of the ways we might understand this is through the understanding that Jesus procession was not the only procession that entered Jerusalem just before the Passover.  The scholars John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg remind us that the Roman prefect Pilate probably entered Jerusalem around the same time – maybe not the exact same day but very close to the same day.

Pilate did not live in Jerusalem but came to the city for the Passover bringing extra troops as the city swelled with pilgrims coming from all over the region.  As Pilate entered the city he was reasserting the Roman dominion over the Israelites.  It was a show of Roman authority and power in this occupied territory.  He was reminding them that Emperor Tiberius was the son of god; he was reminding them they were a conquered people.

Jesus entry into Jerusalem, most likely from the opposite side of the city, was a parody of the Roman parade.  He was making a clear and obvious statement and stance against Rome and its theology, and also against those among the Jewish authorities who had colluded with the Romans. 

Jesus is standing against the systems of division, of oppression, of violence, of manipulation, of dehumanising, of corruption, of idolatry.  He is making a mockery of what we think it means to exercise dominion within the creation and over one another.  Many of these ideas of power, privilege and authority have been handed to us today and are present in politics, religion and business!

The parody that is Jesus entry into Jerusalem is paradoxical. The crowd that surround him later desert and even betray him. They miss the joke that Jesus is making because for most in the crowd they want Jesus to be like Pilate.

Yet standing against something is hollow unless Jesus is also standing for something.  And Jesus is standing for something: he is standing for the coming kingdom of God, the hope of God’s rule in our lives and our hearts.  Jesus is standing for salvation which leads people towards reconciliation, mercy, love, forgiveness, peace, inclusion; he is standing for fullness in life!

As Jesus challenges the politic and religious systems of his time he continues to question the political and religious systems of our time.  He rides into Jerusalem to challenge the way we are all complicit in these systems.  Jesus was challenging everything and Jesus was coming for everyone!

Jesus act was a universal declaration. It was political and it was very personal!

As church members by constantly coming and placing ourselves in the picture, each Palm Sunday, alongside the palm strewn, cloak-filled way we make Jesus entry about a select few: the ones who gather. Ironically, the select few that accompanied Jesus on that we know also turned away from Jesus later in the week.

But, if John’s version of Jesus is right and Jesus is acting as the High Priest for all peoples then his act of reconciliation is not limited to those who are present but he is acting for all humanity as he draws them into himself and as he is raised up.  According to the book Hebrews continues Jesus role as the High Priest recognised by John continues eternally.

Think about the scene and who wasn’t there. 

The woman who kept her children at home that day because raising her children safely in this war torn world was tricky and being involved in protests was dangerous.  Jesus came for her!

Or, The Roman soldier who had been sent out to Jerusalem away from his family to serve his Emperor, not understanding anything about the Jewish people and their strange religion, and certainly not knowing about Jesus. Jesus came for him!

And think about people half way around the world the Turrbal people who were living in this region of the world, Asians, Native Americans, Africans, the Vandals and Visigoths of Europe, the Celts and Scots. Jesus came for them as well!

God’s love for all that God has made!  God chooses not the destruction of the creation but its salvation.
It does not matter where you were standing on that day Jesus entry into Jerusalem was for you.

I have this conviction that it does not matter where you are standing on this day that Jesus entry into Jerusalem is for you.

God’s desire is to save us. To save us from ourselves from our wayward, petulant and even violent political systems.  To save us from our personal insecurities, from our pride, from our anxiety, from our greed, from our sense of hopelessness, from our arrogance. 

This is the good news – for the parent who simple wants to give the best opportunities in life, for the student worried about mid semester exams, for those confronting the drudgery of work as we worship, for the teenager struggling with western culture dreaming of fighting for ISIS, for the elderly still full of life and not wanting death to come, for each one of us here – Jesus comes.

Jesus came to be the salvation of the world – not just of some.  The High Priest stands in the place of all people to reconcile them to God.

We need to be careful with our individualistic notions of faith and our conditioning to think we might have waved the Palm branches and thrown our cloaks onto the ground. Something much bigger than you or I, and our personal decisions for Jesus, is going on here.  God is saving the world!

I have this conviction it does not matter where you were standing on that day Jesus entry into Jerusalem was for you.

I have this conviction that it does not matter where you are standing on this day that Jesus entry into Jerusalem is for you.

On this day as we gather as followers of Jesus in this time and place in history Palm Sunday invites us into the spectacular idea of the good news: that every person will be drawn into that moment when Jesus is raised up.

And our deepest hope: that there will come a time that every knee shall bend and confess Jesus is Lord, not as an act of submission but love. 

We are drawn into the good news that political and religious systems which seem to oppress are more or less an accident of history and that there is a coming kingdom grounded not in violence and hate but in love and resurrection.  We are invited to live sharing the news that God is breaking down the barriers, that we are being built into one humanity filled with love and grace and the Jesus rides for us.

See him coming now he rides for you.