Dean Baxter: “Where Do You Most Enjoy Jesus?”
This Sunday has two liturgical names the popular name is “Palm Sunday,“ the liturgical name is “Passion Sunday“ or “the Sunday Remembrance of Jesus suffering.“ In today’s liturgy we join our spiritual ancestors in emotions ranging from Euphoric Cheers of Nationalism, “Hosannas,“ (Or “God Save us“); to Angry and arrogant Cries of “Crucify him, Crucify him!“ to post mortem laments and grievous beating of the breast faint praise, angry cries, sore lament.
We, like them, (Jews, Romans, and Gentile visitors) want a Jesus who affirms our personal aspirations, our sense of cultural pride and social identity. Like those who called for crucifixion, we are often angry and outraged as Christians because the faith of Jesus has perverted our expectations. We resent his assumption / claim to be Lord over all our life!! But Jesus is Lord and not a servant to our life style.
Yes, we are angry when we discover that Jesus contradicts our aspiration, our expectations and our values; we are outraged when Jesus challenges our social privilege and security, and the peace we make with success or social injustice. This Jesus is intolerable and he cannot live among us or in us. And that is what was meant by the formal allegations the Religious rulers made to Pilate concerning Jesus: “We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, saying that he is the messiah, a king,“ he stirs up the people, they will not stay in their place.“
You see Jesus had gone about the streets market places, and homes of their towns teaching and preaching the kingdom of God. Jesus was in their synagogues and in the temple teaching and preaching. Preaching that all were the children of one father, that each had a responsibility of active love to one’s neighbor, not simply the one who lives in your economic, social, cultural, racial or even political or religious neighborhood, but the poor, widow, homeless, outcast, voiceless, prisoner, hungry, and the immigrant. This is Shalom the kingdom of God!!
Jesus did this by his behavior as well as teachings. Jesus was a peasant, intelligent, charismatic, with gifts of oratory as well as spiritual powers. He could have excelled among the status quo. But he socialized with social, religious and political outcast: Tax collectors, Harlots and gentiles He reached out across racial and cultural boundaries to Samaritans, Syro—Phoenicians and others; He healed a member of the household of a Roman Centurion, an officer the occupying forces. He challenged unjust religious and social mores, such as the double standards for adultery and divorce; which favored the male counterpart. He not only healed lepers —— AIDS OF THE FIRST CENTURY, he touched them and rejoined them to society.
Jesus’ disciples represented quite a mix, fishermen, militants, tax collectors, students of religion, homemakers, spouses of court officials and fishermen. Whether in the home of Mary and Martha or gathering disciples by the sea or on hillsides, Jesus challenged religious and social standards by allowing women to sit equally with men for religious teaching. He taught not only that God favored the poor, but that God condemned political and religious systems that oppressed the poor; and God will reject persons who neglected the poor, especially the pious, rich and powerful. He taught that more important than religious laws, purity codes, priest and sacrifices was love for God and neighbor. He condemned the economic and political peace many leaders had made with oppression, whether with the figure head Herod, or with the Romans, or the idea of Caesar as Divine.
Yes indeed, they —— religious leaders, political leaders, business leaders, and many every day people who benefit from the status quo ———— found Jesus “perverting their nation . . . and their lives.“ They wanted him out of their communities, their synagogues, religion, politics, economics, ethics and, personal business. Like many Christians today, they much preferred him as a healer, philosopher, lover of children, the teller of clever stories. They wanted a Jesus they could enjoy. But There was something about him ———— his authority, the power of his presence and conviction of words, courage of his actions that they found Jesus could not be contained, he kept spilled over into their lives. Jesus kept demanding more than they were willing to give. He was often so hard to enjoy, hard to love. They Yes, they wanted Jesus out of their lives; and you know, SO DO WE!
Where do you most enjoy Jesus? In art? Do you like Jesus in stained glass windows (sweet, gentle European prince dressed in first Century Royal robes or do you like him with refined regal features in Medieval Christian priestly vestments)?
Do you like Jesus in carvings and statues? One of the most popular renderings of Jesus in Washington National Cathedral is the Bronze sculpture in Children’s Chapel of a cute little “Jesus boy“ with curly locks. He looks like us, and we can think of him as part of our conventions – tame domesticated, and predictable.
Recently, some anthropologists and forensic scientist have taken first century Jewish skulls and reconstructed what a peasant Jew of that time would look like. Somewhat Kurdish, thick browed, broad featured. The image I saw was not at all appropriate for Cathedral art or religious piety. I am not sure we would want that image Jesus in our life.
Do you like your Jesus in music? Do you love the great hymns about Jesus? “Jesus shall reign where e’er the sun, doth his successive journeys run. His Kingdom stretch from shore to shore, til moons shall wax and wane no more? I like that one. Or, “O Jesus I have promised to serve thee to the end?“ “O Jesus thou joy of loving hearts the fount of life and our true light, we seek the peace your love imparts?“ “ Stand up, Stand up for Jesus?“ I like Jesus most in the Negro Spirituals: “Jesus is a rock in a weary land“; “Were you there when they Crucified my Lord“ “Ride on King Jesus.“ However, it is easy form me to think this Jesus fits well in the genius of my suffering ancestors. He fits better in the Romantic nostalgia as the savior and liberation of Negro slaves than in the complexity of my life as a successful, enlightened, 21st century African—American professional in a more subtly racist society.
We could go on to consider bible stories or liturgical forms, but Jesus won’t be contained in our art or our cultural imaginations or our piety. He refuses to be like us, to confirm our aspiration, prejudice, arrogant values and morals. Jesus wants off the crucifix, off the windows, to be free of the statutes, released from the music and ritual. Jesus wants to come down here among us, the body of Christian people. In fact, he wants to leave this Cathedral with us today. He wants to go home with us, to be in our communities, homes, in our business; our social lives; our politics; he wants to be evident on our bank statements, calendars and schedules, social and public choices and behavior.
And this rude peasant called, Jesus wants more: He wants to be in our private lives: our homes, our parenting, our social and our intimate love lives and relationships. He wants to get behind our polite smiles, our courteous gestures and our public etiquette, access to our time, attitudes. Our attitudes towards injustice and evil, our private feelings toward others, especially those different from us in race, color, economics, culture, ideology and even sexuality.
In other words, my brother and sister, Christians, Jesus wants into our very hearts. He is still rude about it, insistent and persistent. Turning over tables, telling uncomfortable stories, and turn up with some of the people we least expect. He doesn’t care about your denomination, or mine, how long you’ve been a member of our church, and what theological arguments we may have to justify our religion. Our faint liturgical cheers this morning of Hosannas don’t impress him if he is not welcomed in the most intimate part of our being. If we are not able to let him in we have no alternative but to join with those who cry out “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!“; and to entomb him as inanimate and lyrical art, to represent him as a tame, domesticated and ephemeral as an image useful only for purposes of vain veneration and sacred decorations.
But ultimately the tragedy is ours. For the ending of this story of Jesus’ Passion is that they the crowd leaves the crucifixion “smiting their breast and lamenting,“ they left with Jesus still on the cross. When we leave the church without Jesus we as eventually end up “smiting our breast and lamenting.“
How many Christian successful businessmen and professionals lament today because they sought gain at any cost, even their soul? How many Christian politicians lament today because power became their God and the loss of integrity their reward? How many bishops, priest, and ministers lament today because tradition, self—righteousness, and piety became for us the measure of religious truth never coming to know or proclaim Jesus as life a living and personal Christ?
How many Christian couples set out to have the perfect marriage, but neglected prayer and faith found they had no power to forgive one another, no grace for the acknowledgment of mistakes? How many Christian parents lament today because they gave their children everything but moral and spiritual discipline, and now they have children who seem angry, valueless, directionless and vulnerable to every social evil? How many Christian teenagers lament today because popularity, and being cool has finally made you like all of your friends? And now you don’t know who you are. You don’t know what is truly special about you, and not sure if there is anything deeper, more meaningful than the emptiness of popularity and coolness?
Yes, when we reject the message of love for God “with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; “when we refuse or neglect to love your neighbor as yourself“ we ultimately end in lament.
But the Christian faith lives because Jesus does not stay in the tombs of our rejection. He continues to love us to reach out to us, disturb us, turn over the furniture of our neat lives and to protest our values until we let him in. And then he heals us, strengthens us and gives us peace so that we in turn —— through our professions, homes, and personal lives – can be sources of love, healing and peace to the worlds of our daily reality.
Jesus wants to be Lord of all our lives. Where in your life have you refused to let him in? What places in your heart lack the living presence of Christian people? Where are your laments? If you will risk to let Jesus let into all of your life this Palm Sunday, then say this prayer with me:
“Come into my heart, Lord Jesus. Come in today. Come into stay. Come into my heart, Lord Jesus.“ Amen.