Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 † Mark 11:1-11
A video version of this sermon can be found here.
We have been marching for a long time.
I was a cold war baby. I remember as a young boy having it seared into my head that the Soviet Union was a ruthless, godless nation that brainwashed its people into believing crazy things that I, as a privileged child of a true and free democracy was safe from.
It was a powerful message that shaped me. In fact, it took me until college to begin to realize that I just may have been played, that it was entirely possible that I too had been brainwashed—that messages of supremacy and themes of otherness and images of power had been reinforced in my life and my own culture that shaped me toward some understandings and soured me to others.
I began to suspect when I got to know people who thought differently, who shaped their lives around values and priorities that authoritative voices in my own life had learned to fear or reject. I began to suspect when I traveled to places that I understood from my childhood formation had little value or interest and discovered that I learned, that I grew, that my eyes were opened.
To be clear, most of these voices, these authorities, these mentors were no less well-meaning than I’d like to think I am and we are. This, we understand to be the power of culture to shape and form for good and for ill, to be the power of sin.
Things have changed in my lifetime, and it seems we are—in this era of political zealotry, in this pandemic, in this season of grave and chronic misinformation—at a crossroads. A pivotal moment. A point of great danger and tremendous possibility.
We have become much more aware that what we think and how we act has much to do with how and where and with whom we have lived and worked and shared our lives—and how often our environments have been carefully and comprehensively cultivated and legislated to segregate us. This is especially true for those who think of ourselves as white, for those of us who have been shaped by privilege and every economic advantage. Our lives have been uniquely lived in isolation from difference. We like to imagine ourselves as the center, but it seems, in truth, many of us live on the edge, unaware of the larger world around us, and poorly equipped to engage the rich diversity that is perhaps most uniquely the American story. And now we are beginning to see that the story of us has too long been a story of us and them. And we have become much more painfully aware how it matters.
This is good news, or, it has the potential to be.
We have been marching for a long time. But not every road we might choose takes us to freedom. Not every road will take us to a peace that is available to all. And if it is not sustainable to all, it will not ultimately be sustainable for any. Surely we know this as, at this crossroads, we take stock of where our journey to this point has led, as we look around us to see what is rather than what could have been. Consider these stories from just one recent day in the Seattle Times.
On Palm Sunday we are confronted with a dramatic revelation—a king riding in on a donkey into a city that will kill him, welcomed by a cheering, chanting, dizzy crowd who will turn on him.[i] As we shout our hosannas and wave our palm branches, we do well to consider how things change so quickly. And we do well to take a look at the story of us, to look closely at our siblings alongside the diverse road with us, shouting with us for salvation, for there we may find the clues we need to unlock what binds us.
I love the mystery that Mark writes into this part of the story. There is a plan here that seems to have been developed without the knowledge of his disciples. Jesus seems to have plotted this theatrical entrance with the help of co-conspirators the disciples know nothing about. Could it be that this gospel good news exists outside of our knowing in ways we have yet to discover, in ways that those we think of as other have already grasped?
Palm Sunday begins a week-long drama that points to a different kind of salvation than our brains have been shaped to trust in our Western culture and our dominant place within it. Indeed, through Holy Week, Jesus will become the dehumanized and scapegoated Other whose singular, yet unremarkable story has the potential to free us from the fears, disappointments, and loss that results from the claims to which we continue to give ourselves—those claims that are crumbling before our very eyes.
But there is much doing and undoing that must be done if we hope to get there. Our brains, much like our bodies need some washing to be done.
So if you think you might be interested in understanding more deeply, why not take a chance? Why not give yourself to the story?
That’s what we are going to do this week as we gather over three nights for a single service that takes three days to complete—well, not complete days exactly, just an hour or so Thursday and Friday in our normal recorded pattern in this pandemic, a little more on Saturday night together live on Zoom. But a little time just might get you something that money can’t buy.
Here’s one other offer for you. The session has approved a plan for a sabbatical for me sometime in late 2022. Much of the work I hope to do is to try to integrate in my own life some of these things I’ve been coming to understand over the years, in order, I hope, to fund the last chapter or two of my own ministry. I have a suspicion that my own story has parallels in our story together as the church and I’m hoping we can explore those connections. If you are interested in being a part of a group that might help guide this conversation over the next couple of years, let me know. I’d be glad to hear from you.
Let’s meet together on this road this Holy Week and let’s see together about this saving God who promises to meet us there.
[i] Thanks to Joey Ager and Rev. Shalom Agtarap for this insight in “Transfer or Transform?” Street Psalms, March 26, 2021 email newsletter. See www.streetpsalms.org.
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