Where Do We Go from Here? - Easter Sunday 2019

Mark 16: 1-8

How do we hear messages that challenge how we are accustomed to doing things? How do we hear voices that have a different point of view? About that Palm Sunday, two thousand years ago in Jerusalem -- we hear several stories. This morning, our story is from Luke. In Luke’s version of Palm Sunday, if we can call it that, there are no palm branches. There are no cries of “Hosanna!” Those nationalistic symbols are found in other gospels. In LUKE, Jesus enters the city on a colt that has never been ridden, and the cries are just from his disciples: “Blessings on the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heavens.” It isn’t crowds of people lining the streets in Luke – his disciples identify him as the King who comes in the name of the Lord.

Luke doesn’t want Palm branches and cries of “Hosanna” to confuse the story. Those are symbols of Jewish nationalism and very political messages. This King, who enters on a colt, is not a symbol of rebellion in Luke or an alternate kingdom, as in Mark. He is the King of peace here. Remember in Luke’s birth story that the promise of the heavenly host is “Peace on Earth.” This King comes with the promise of peace.

Luke has an alternate message: Jesus is the Promised Prince of Peace – the one who is bringing peace to the earth, not a battle. Jesus is the prophet who will depict a different world, the world God desires and is bringing to birth before us.

Of course, this message does offer a challenge to the status quo and the systems of power that are in place. Power often doesn’t invest in peace. Peace doesn’t profit them the way that war does. They quite rightly see Jesus and his message as a threat. In Jesus’ day, as in ours, it is largely those with money who have power. There have been systems in place designed to get money from the hands of many and into the hands of a few. It went back to the reign of King Solomon and the rise of what biblical scholars, including Walter Bruggeman, name TOTALISM.[i] Solomon was surrounded by priests and scribes in the temple who put his policy into practice. The taxes on farmers benefitted an elite class in Jerusalem, strong military was in place to quell any opposition (and justify high taxes for national security), the opulence of the temple (much gold) impressed people both in his country and visitors from other lands with his wealth, purity laws determined who was purer and could enter the temple, and religious laws set apart the elite because they could AFFORD to follow them. And the rich got richer and the poor survived, more or less, as best they could. In this system, prophets with alternative voices were not tolerated – they were kicked out of the country or killed because they challenged the TOTALISM that put God on a leash and made those in power the masters of God’s story. When prophets arose, they came from outside the system. They were OUTSIDERS and MISFITS as far as the system was concerned -- challenging the oppressive policies of those in power, including the temple, in poetic voices rich with imagery and symbolism. The God they served cries out for justice – and their voices still remind us of that.

Luke’s message that Jesus was the Prince of Peace came as an outside voice, an alternative message, into a world where military power and religious power were allies and peace was NOT the objective. Nor did they want the workers of Israel to have enough. They had a predatory system of taxes that moved wealth from ordinary people to those in power, and a system of religious laws that required payment to the temple to be considered clean and righteous. For example, the offering of animals for sacrifices were only by temple approved vendors, which cost several times as much as normal animals found in rural areas. So – regressive taxation, high interest rates, stacked housing costs, high militarization by Rome and multiple systems that demanded tribute – that was the Jerusalem into which Jesus entered with his disciples crying, ““Blessings on the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heavens.” Definitely a challenge to the powers of his day.

An Alternative World-View.

In Luke, as they entered Jerusalem the Disciples claimed for Jesus the alternative world-view that he had been teaching in the countryside. It is a world completely different from the one in which the rulers of Temple and Rome OWN the people. In this worldview, God cares for each sheep, one coin is missed, lepers are cleansed, and desperate women are allowed at the table.

  • All of earth and all creatures are valued. It’s an ANTI Consumerism view of the world. Take only what you need and share what you have. If you have two coats, give one to your neighbor without one….

  • Valuing of all people, even those who believe differently: like Samaritans and the Syro-Phoenician woman, and even the oppressors (so a servant of a Roman Centurians also may be healed – although in Jesus’ mind if this was a favor to the Centurian or the servant is unclear). At any rate, Jesus made room for other religious traditions and treated people with respect regardless of their beliefs.

  • Economy based on love of neighbor and committed to care for the vulnerable: widows, orphans, and immigrants. These people did not have any advocates – because they couldn’t pay for influence. Jesus wasn’t in the CHARITY business, but the JUSTICE business.

  • Open options for God. In Jesus’ view, God’s kingdom was open to a thief on the cross, a Gerosene demoniac, and women – many more people and categories of people than were deemed acceptable in the either nationalistic or religious exceptionalism. Even Peter comes to this understanding in Acts 10 – and Paul makes it his mission to share the good news of God’s love for all people with the whole world!

So Jesus enters Jerusalem with an alternative vision of the world. In many ways it’s a world turned upside-down. Where immigrants and women, orphans and widows are valued and cared for and the rich institutionalists are left behind.

III. That kind of thing is liable to get you killed.

I’m sorry if this comes as a shock to anyone here….but systems and powers don’t like it when anyone challenges their authority. It wasn’t just Solomon who kept a tight control on the messaging and power in his kingdom. Modern rulers don’t like challenges to their authority or their issued statements. Nor do heads of corporations. Questioning bosses is likely to get you fired. RIGHT? Even in religious institutions! And Jesus doesn’t gain any popularity with the rulers of Rome, Jerusalem, or the Temple. That part of the story hasn’t changed in the last 2000 years. You know every leader that he is sent to in their buck-passing efforts sees Jesus as a threat. But that is only part of the story.

That alternative worldview was compelling for the poor, the oppressed, the immigrants, women, and the workers who weren’t fairly paid and were over-taxed. In fact, the message kept spreading among these oppressed people, even through the years of persecution because there was HOPE. This new worldview offered them HOPE.

n Jesus’ followers, the DISCIPLES – more than just the 12 in the stained glass windows, were a circle of support for Jesus in his last week. They were a ragtag (meaning untidy and incongruously varying in character) BUNCH – who didn’t fit in with each other except in this band of Jesus’ followers (tax collector, political zealot, fishermen – definitely an eclectic group.) But they were solid at least most of the time, and the women and John even followed Jesus to the cross. Jesus didn’t go to the cross alone – the women and John were there. They were his companions on the journey – this band of misfits.

The Misfits continued after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Spirit of Jesus, which we will hear a lot about AFTER EASTER, was set loose in the world among people who saw the systems of oppression, and acted out an alternative – they shared their resources to make sure everyone had enough, for example, and shouted “Jesus is Lord!“ which meant that Caesar wasn’t. And they too were in danger for standing against the powers of the day.

And US – The misfits continue. There are still followers bold enough to voice that alternative vision for the world that Jesus set out so long ago – a world where all people were valued regardless of where they came from of how much money they could lay claim to. A world where people are healed just because they need healing, regardless of influence or ability to pay. A world where everyone has enough because of fair wages and tax structures. A world where balance is held as a higher value than affluence or consumerism. May their tribe increase. Because we need these Misfits – Misfits of the Master, who will speak truth to power in the name of compassion and justice. Until the world that Jesus described fully comes….

[i] Walter Brueggeman, “Jesus Acted Out the Alternative to Empire.” Sojourners. 6/22/2018.

Photo by Javier Allegue Barros on Unsplash