April 10, 2022
A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC April 10, 2022, Palm Sunday. “Roots of Resistance” series.
Text: Luke 19:28-48
Can something be both broken and beautiful? There are many examples of art created from broken pieces and transformed into a thing of beauty. Those who’ve been around Foundry a while have heard me speak of this “beautiful, broken world.” The world is, at one and the same, time filled with beauty—love, friendship, generosity, creativity, grace and many more beautiful gifts—AND with brokenness—of bodies, relationships, eco-systems, institutions, and human systems of all kinds. Our own lives, too, are a mix of beauty and brokenness.
Sometimes, it is difficult to perceive the beauty around us or in the world. Pain, confusion, injustice, and fear can overshadow and overwhelm us—truly clouding our vision in the present moment and our capacity to imagine a future different and better than the current reality.
But the story we tell from our spiritual tradition promises restoration, fulfillment, mending, saving grace that brings greater wholeness into the world and beauty even out of brokenness. God’s preferred and promised future is Beloved Community which is, according to Howard Thurman, authentic community grounded in our shared humanity and spiritual nature. God’s vision is justice rolling down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:24) God’s vision is the peaceable Kin-dom where wolves, lions, and bears live together with vulnerable lambs and little children and so not “hurt or destroy.” (Isaiah 11:6-9) This is the vision—the future!—that is not only possible but promised according to God’s prophets across the ages.
Jesus knows knows that the political, socio-economic, and religious systems in Rome-occupied Jerusalem don’t conform to God’s vision. Jesus grieves that many in Jerusalem cannot even perceive much less receive or practice the beautiful things in their midst that “make for peace.” (Lk 19:41-42) And he grieves that failure will lead to more and more violence, suffering, and brokenness. (Lk 19:43-44)
But Jesus doesn’t walk away or give up even in the face of what he knows is an impossible situation. Instead, Jesus carefully plans a demonstration, a processional march, orchestrated for maximum effect (Lk 19:29-35). The public witness intentionally fulfills the words of the prophet Zechariah who speaks of a king who will come into Jerusalem “humble and riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” That king “will cut off…the war horse,” “shall command peace to the nations,” and prisoners will be set free. (Zechariah 9:9-11) Some of you will know it’s likely that as Jesus rode his colt into Jerusalem, across town, an imperial procession carried in Pontius Pilate—coming into the city to monitor the crowds gathering for the Passover. Pilate’s procession proclaims the power of empire, complete with cavalry, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, and all pomp and circumstance.[i] Jesus’s procession proclaims the power of God’s liberating love that gives voice to the voiceless—even stones along the path! By its method, the make-up of participants, and its content, Jesus’ march puts those in power on notice that business as usual is unacceptable. Jesus organizes and leads a non-violent freedom march in solidarity with the poor, silenced, and oppressed…
Jerusalem at the time of Jesus was a city associated with all the best hopes and aspirations of the Jewish people for justice and peace. But under Roman rule beginning in 63 BCE, the religious Temple became used as the center of economic and political activity and control by the Roman Empire. Temple leaders were likely hand-picked by Roman rulers and came from high-ranking priestly families and from wealthy lay families. The system—what Walter Brueggemann calls the “imperial reality” and Marcus Borg refers to as a “domination system”—was one in which a small group of people held a large measure of power, fueled by a large percent of the wealth. God and the holy texts were co-opted to support this reality—effectively using religion to legitimate injustice and oppression. One might think such a state of affairs would make the masses rise up in protest. But the reality is that this kind of system—a very common system, by the way—often has just the opposite effect.
In this “domination system” everyone is caught in the web of injustice. The poor are caught in dehumanizing systems and become exhausted by the obstacles they face… The oppressed who try to speak up are silenced and treated as selfish or crazy or traitors… Those in “middle management” often live with a complex mixture of guilt and envy… The powerful and rich are bound and blinded by their own privilege… Daily work and entertainments and bones thrown out here and there keep most people distracted… and everyone becomes lulled into believing the fiction that this is simply the way things are, that there are no real alternatives, and therefore life becomes a matter of just getting by.
And that brings us back to brokenness so overwhelming that we become numb and unmotivated, or struggle to believe there is any future that will be different than the present; or feel like this-is-just-the-way-things-are-and-nothing-will-ever-change-so-why-bother.
Today, Jesus rides into that thinking and challenges it with prophetic vision. Jesus perceives the depth of what has been twisted, abused, and broken through human folly, forgetfulness, and sin. Jesus also perceives the beauty both of those who are resisting and persisting in love right in the middle of the mess and the beauty of what might be by the power of God’s grace and love at work if only persons will receive it. Jesus is able to wake people up and highlight both the broken present and God’s future wholeness. He comes with humility to stand up to power players and the Roman military industrial complex, to stand in solidarity with the poor, to speak out for the marginalized and oppressed, to call people back to the connection between prayer and justice. Jesus rides into Jerusalem embodying God’s freedom in the face of those who thought God could be tamed, co-opted, and manipulated to serve the gun lobby, Wall Street, and the status quo.
Jesus entered his nation’s capitol and through public, peaceful protests and teaching named the hypocrisy and injustice of a system that had lost a life-giving connection to the God of justice, mercy, liberation, and self-giving love. He rides in and proclaims God’s hope-filled future if only people will repent and turn back to God’s Way. And then an angry mob decides they should lynch him; and the power players are all too ready to comply.
If Jesus brought his non-violent liberation march into our nation’s capitol today how long would it take for the crowds to turn on him? What do you think Jesus would overturn? Who would he drive out? Take care with your answer. I dare say the wholeness of God’s Kin-dom vision doesn’t fit into any of our polarized bubbles. Our tendency is to try to make God in our image instead of the other way around. And my guess is that if we met Jesus today he would be more “conservative” than some of us would like, and more “liberal” than others would prefer. But the thing that is simply too clear and consistent in the scriptures to ignore is that Jesus takes the side of the poor, the vulnerable, the powerless, the silenced, the oppressed. This is not because God doesn’t love everyone, but because God DOES. God won’t rest until all God’s children are safe and cherished and cared for. God won’t rest until no one lives beneath their dignity by hurting and destroying the vulnerable. We may disagree on how to accomplish the goal, but the goal itself is clear.
And the tension between the imperial “domination system” and God’s promised Kin-dom vision is pretty clear, too. Today we get to choose which procession we want to align ourselves with. If we throw our cloaks in with the Jesus parade, our action will lead us right to the center of brokenness, but God’s love and grace dwell at that center and will meet us there. And that means we can become part of God’s mending, saving, recreative work that brings something beautiful out of brokenness. And, along the way, we might find that our own lives and all our inevitable broken pieces have gotten scooped up by God and folded into the vision emerging…Whether we perceive it or not, God is always up to something beautiful and good.
[i] Marcus J. Borg & John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus’s Final Week in Jerusalem, HarperSanFrancisco, 2006, pp. 2-3