Jesus and the Protester

Sermon July 9, 2017 – Luke 19:36-46

I had never really thought of myself as much of a protester, though in hindsight I can see some of the indicators. I remember in early high school wearing one of the chrome bracelets of a MIA or POW soldier during the Vietnam war. Its presence on my wrist was not just a call to remember those in the war, but a silent protest of the war in general.

I recall my sophomore year in high school I decided to speak on those who had gone north to Canada or south to Mexico to avoid the draft. I interviewed persons in our small western Kansas town regarding how they felt about those who had fled rather than serve. I was glad my dad insisted on accompanying me on these interviews. That was an eye-opening experience for a 15 year old.

I recall my trip to Washington D.C. and NYC my junior year of high school, and my dismay at how our own Kansas Senator responded to our questions. Writing letters to our reps both state and federal came as I grew older and even more interested in how our country worked and frustrated with the political status quo.

So, all this to say, there has been a little protester in my blood for some time. As I pondered this week’s message I reflected on the protester in our world, in our country, and in our churches. Our country was really begun in protest, protesting an oppressive rule, though we brought our own oppression to those who were here before us. Our country began protesting a state mandated religion, though it can seem we have forgotten and/or denied that fact. These United States were born in and by protest. The right to assemble and speak our mind is guaranteed in our founding documents…there are those who would rather not have that right guaranteed.

Our own faith tradition was born out of protest, it is where we get our name, protest-ant. One might even say there was a little protest built into the beginnings of John Wesley’s Methodist movement, as in protest against an Anglican Church, who suggested he should not be preaching in the fields but rather keep it in the church, protesting the Anglican church, and it is important to not it was a church he never left. Not to mention the Christian faith itself, born a bit out of the struggle to be free from restrictions and burdensome laws as well as an oppressive empire.

As I think about all the examples and illustrations we might use, it seems to me there is a bit of a protester in the very genes of who we are as a people of faith. I look at our history in the world, in our nation, in our churches, in our United Methodist Church, and Lord have mercy, there is a lot to be protested. There is injustice and oppression and hatred, too much to go around. There is much to push back against, there is much to stand and speak against, it can seem overwhelming.

And so as I continue to ponder the idea of protester and how it fits into who we are as Christians, as United Methodists, as people of faith, I asked Jesus what he thought of the whole idea. I should learn, every time I invite Jesus to be a conversation partner, even though I can control what I think he should say, I am always the one who ends up uncomfortable.

So, I asked him what he thought about the protester, and this is where he started, “Love your enemies.” I said… “Seriously?” He said, “Yes!” He said, “Kent, it is really important, no, it is crucial you know why you are protesting. Are you directing your words, your march, your stand, your passion, your anger at a person, or at the unjust practices being put forth?”

So, my thoughts and reflections on Jesus’ life and ministry went to practice…

As I think about my protesting…

Is it about hate or is it about compassion?

It is about a person or is it about policy?

Is it about the one who embodies the powers that be, or is it about the institution promoting injustice?

What am I practicing when I protest?

Love and Change? Or a Hate and Exclusion of my own?

Think about the passage from Luke we read today. It is a story we have dealt with before. It is a story we read at least once a year, this year twice. The story of Jesus entry into Jerusalem. If you have been here for Palm Sunday you have heard me speak on it before. Sometimes I think the church gets caught up in the “king” part of the story, that this story is about the kingship, the head of the church, the messiah, the deliverer identity of Jesus and if we don’t know the whole story we miss an important part.

Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan in their book, “The Last Week” tell the story of what has become known as the Triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Jesus sends his disciples in to obtain a colt for him to ride. It harkens back to the prophets words about one who will ride humbly into the city and will lead them to victory.  As they ride in people lay their coats and palm branches on the road ahead of him, something done for royalty. What we are not told in this story is this day there are two processions into the city.

This is what is happening on the other end of town. In contrast to a rabbi, teacher, peasant, riding into town on a donkey, there are soldiers, armor, mighty horses, shields, swords. On this side of town there is a show of power, military prowess, this is empire at its finest, this is the way of the future, fear and control. Jesus march into the city is an opposing force, but not one of power and military prowess, not one of empire and fear, but the force of humility, vulnerability, and peace.

It is a classic confrontation, the struggle between peace and conflict, conflict between humility and arrogance, between prowess and vulnerability. It has been going on since the beginning and we are slow learners. In our tradition, it has been going on since Cain first knocked Abel in the head with a rock.

This demonstration, this procession, this march into the city by Jesus isn’t just an impromptu triumphal entry into the city by a prophet of peace. I believe Jesus knew exactly what he was doing.

This was a protest march against the powers that be.

This was a protest march against the oppressive rule of empire.

This was a protest march against the collusion of religion and empire.

This was a protest march against the collaboration of religion and politic.

Jesus was protesting injustice and oppression! And at least for a moment, we are told, had they silenced the crowd, it would seem, that even creation, the stones would carry on the protest.

In Luke’s telling, not only does this protest march seem to take on a life of its own, it even turns a little violent in the end. Jesus gets to the temple and sees the greed and the taking advantage of the poor and well, he loses it. Now, granted in Luke’s telling he doesn’t lose it as much as in other gospel telling where he makes a whip out of cords, drives the money changers from the temple, turns over the tables, runs the folks out of the courtyard, but he is highly critical of the scene, “My house,” he says, “shall be a house of prayer; but you have turned it into a house of robbers!”

Now, don’t get me wrong here, I am not promoting property damage. I am just pointing out in the story, that even for Jesus, turning a few table over and critiquing the church, protesting the collusion between church and state were also in his toolbox. Anyone who says Jesus, the church wasn’t, shouldn’t be, political, in terms of critiquing the powers that be and its policies need to take a close look at this story, There are no words recorded from the disciples saying anything like, “Jesus, can we stop talking politics now and just share the word?”  The “Word” is a natural protestant. The “Word” should be a natural and constant push back against the injustices of our world when injustice and evil raises its ugly head.

So, I asked Jesus again… “What do you think about this whole idea of protesting, and where does it fit in the life of we people of faith? And, well, considering your march on the city, considering your action in the temple, where does that fit into ‘Loving my Enemies?” “Good Questions,” I imagined he said, and then here is what he told me, so to speak.

“The way you love your enemies is through resistance to the oppressive unjust policies* they promote. Whether it is the government, i.e. Empire or the church. Please, don’t hate the person promoting the injustice. I know, that is hard to hear. But if we really believe in the premise of loving our enemies, if we really believe in loving one another, every single other, we can’t love just some of the others.”

We love our enemies, and we resist.

We love our enemies, not some feely, emotional doormat kind of love* but one that challenges that which we believe make them an enemy. Resistance is the way we stand, march, speak, the truth and make it known to those who would speak, act, and practice injustice, be it in our government or in our churches. Resistance is the way we say, “We love you, and you are wrong!”

Hate for Hate.

Oppression for Oppression.

Exclusion for Exclusion.

Bigotry for Bigotry.

Injustice for Injustice.

Violence for Violence.

Will only make our world, our churches, more deeply divided and blind to what would heal us. And so we love by resisting oppression and evil in whatever form it presents itself. We march, we stand, we raise our hands, and we say, “No, this is not the Way.” I was reminded of other words attributed to Jesus in our scriptures, “They will know you are my disciples by the way you love one another.”

So, I believe, discipleship, being followers of the way of Jesus includes protesting. Protesting injustice and oppression. Resist the evil that would promote bigotry and ignoring the least of these, in the church and in society and culture. And while there are a multitude of ways to resist, whether you march, or write, or speak, or support, or call, whatever your method and practice of resistance, make sure it is grounded in love and not hate.

Because we are reminded, as we heard last week, we the church, should never be the tool of the state, or even the tool of unjust powers that be in the church. But we have the tool, and the tool is, is always love.  It is so!

 

*Preaching in the Era of Trump, O. Wesley Allen Jr.

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