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Living Courageously in These Times


Rev. Kristi Denham
Congregational Church of Belmont
March 25, 2018

Today is called Palm Sunday because of all those leafy branches spread on the road into Jerusalem after Jesus' disciples found a donkey (a colt of a donkey) that he road into the city through one of the gates on the eastern side of the city near Bethany and the Mount of Olives, while Pilate and his military forces came down from Caesarea on the north western side of the city, by the sea, where government offices were established and Caesar had his extravagant summer palace. Pilate came to keep the peace because during Passover Jews gathered in Jerusalem for their High Holy Days and being under Roman occupation was a constant source of anguish and frustration for them.
Remember the crosses that lined the roads into the city? They reminded the people that anyone who rebelled against Roman law would face the same punishment.
Pilate was happy to use any means necessary to keep this difficult people under Roman control.
For Jesus to choose this particular time to enter the city and this particular way to enter the city was a direct affront to the law of the land.

Now my question for you is, would you have participated in that event?

The writers of the Gospels do their best to distance us from that question. Wasn't Jesus 'the only son of God'? Weren't they just celebrating? (Although Jesus insisted that he was first born of many brothers and sisters, that we would do more and greater things than he?) Didn't he magically know there would be a colt just for him? (Although Matthew's gospel describes his mount as both a donkey and its colt that he rode somehow mounted on both, because he had seen the prophesy in Zechariah, that used poetic language to name the one animal with two phrases and Matthew took it literally!) Did it really happen just this way?

Was this a fulfillment of ancient prophecy or an act of political protest? If it was a protest, what was Jesus protesting? Did his followers and all those folks with branches think he could somehow magically take over Israel in spite of Roman rule? Did he want to become a king like David? He would eventually be crucified for the crime of declaring himself "King of the Jews." Did he? Is that what he intended to become with all his teaching and preaching and healing and traveling around the countryside? If so, did he fail? Or do we just glorify him now as God and forget all he taught? (In which case, maybe he really did fail!)

If this was a protest march with Jesus at the lead, what was he protesting? He seems to have entered at the western gate and gone to the Temple mount, looked around, and then gone back to Bethany, "because it was late in the day."

We are told that the next day he entered the temple, overturned the tables of the money changers and caused a general commotion that motivated the priestly class, to search out a way to arrest him. They had their power by virtue of Roman acceptance because they collected taxes for the rulers and kept the people under control.

So first he marches in with a huge crowd of support and makes it clear there are many unhappy people ready to rebel. Then he comes back the next day and challenges the financial corruption that is at the heart of the pyramid of power that existed in his time under the Roman Empire. Why did he come back alone? Why didn't he cause an insurrection when he had a crowd of support? Did he know that his actions would lead to his arrest and crucifixion? Was he willing to act with such courage on his own but not willing to draw the crowds, or even his disciples, into such action?

Yesterday the March for Our Lives led by young people around this nation brought together people of all ages to demand reasonable changes in our gun laws: to ban the sale of assault rifles, bump stocks, and other weapons of mass destruction; to require background checks before the sale of guns; to prevent people under 21 from purchasing guns; to renew research on understanding the causes of gun violence; to make our nation a place of safety for our children.

We don't talk much about gun violence in our church. Until recently I didn't know anyone directly impacted by a mass shooting. I suspect some of you own guns, but I trust that all of you are careful to have them locked away where children cannot get them. But I know that our children have long been afraid that someone with a gun could come into their school and take their lives. The subject came up in youth groups I led 25 years ago (long before Sandyhook). I knew that violence haunted their lives, but I chose to do nothing. I am ashamed to say that I just quietly hoped it wouldn't happen      here.

I am thankful that the young people in our midst and around our country have finally demanded that we do something about this craziness! Like Jesus, they have gathered their friends to protest, to say "Enough!" and "Never Again!" But also, like Jesus, they marched for one day and then went home, knowing that a direct challenge to the powers that be can be dangerous. They know, as we do, that one day of protest is only the beginning. What comes next?

Jesus gave his life for his vision of Beloved Community. He taught that all God's children deserve enough to eat, a compassionate world with a home, and community around us, a healing space where all are valued and honored as part of the family. He constantly set an example of respect and caring for people of every walk of life, for men and women, young and old, Jew and gentile. He taught us that we are all equal in God's eyes, that we carry the sacred within us and are one in the spirit, that we are meant to create circles of support, not pyramids of power. Did he feel like a failure as he released his spirit from his dying body on the cross? Did he know his teachings would be honored and practiced, however poorly, all these hundreds of years later? Would he be happy with what we have done in his name?

As we celebrate this Palm Sunday and enter Holy Week to honor and remember Jesus' courageous choices on behalf of all humanity, may we ask ourselves how we might grow in courage, to claim our birthright as children of God, to act on behalf of those who are hungry, and in fear this day. Our children are leading the way.
Jesus did say 'you must be as little children', but is this what he meant? We need to act on their behalf, face our fears of failure, or worse, and do what we can to stand for justice, to act for the safety of our children to build the Beloved Community Jesus died envisioning. He knew that insurrection under Roman law would only lead to massacre of his friends. His silence at his trial protected them, gave them time to decide how they wanted to respond to the Spirit's call within each of them.
He let himself be crucified as "King of the Jews," but he lived as brother and friend to us all.

May we respond to his courage with our own, walking one step at a time in support of our children, our community and the needs of those who cannot speak up for themselves. It is messy and meaningful work. As Pema Chodron says in "The Places That Scare You,"
         "Being compassionate enough to accommodate our own fears takes    courage, of course, and it definitely feels counterintuitive. But it's what we       need to do.... Opening doesn't come from resisting our fears but from getting        to know them well."
Facing our fears allows us to choose how we will respond. Our children are facing theirs. Their good work can inspire our own. May we do the work together. Amen.