Monthly Archives: March 2015

Crown Him or Crucify Him?

 

Text:   Luke 19:  28-40

            Today is Palm Sunday in our Christian year.   It is the day that we recount again the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.  It is relatively uncommon to find details from the life of Jesus in all four gospels, but the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is one of those stories found in all four gospels.   All share the central details of the crowd’s greetings of Jesus with “Hosanna’s”   and of Jesus riding into the city on the back of a donkey.

            Many sermons have been delivered about that donkey and about Jesus’ humility, etc. etc.   However this is not an act of humility but an act of anointing that goes back to the Old Testament and ties in Jesus to the line of King David, from which the Messiah was to come.     It is a scene much like that described in I Kings 1, where the prophet Nathan, following King David’s instructions, is to “take Solomon to the Gihon spring below the city near the Mount of Olives, place him on David’s own donkey, anoint him together with Zadok the priest, blow the trumpet and say “Long Live King Solomon”.   Then they were to follow Solomon up to the city and seat him on David’s throne. 

 Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem looks very much like the coronation ceremony for Solomon—-the son of David and successor to the throne of Israel.        

            That symbolism was not lost  on those who greeted Jesus, or on the religious leaders, or on the Romans!!!.    His entry was a  statement of Jesus’ divine right to rule forever—-of his messiahship—foretold by the prophet Isaiah. 

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was a revolutionary act!!  

            We seldom think of Jesus as a “revolutionary” but that was what he was.   His mission that he announced at his home synagogue in Nazareth was revolutionary.  It foresaw that he would challenge the social, economic and religious domination systems of the day that punished the poor and enriched the rich and powerful.   Jesus cast his lot with the ones who were the outcasts of his society and he didn’t just say “let’s help them survive” but his life was dedicated to changing the domination system (economic, political, and social, ) that held them down.    In his home synagogue he read the passage from Isaiah that says:   “the spirit of the Lord is  upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.   He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to let the oppressed go free; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”    And he told his hearers “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your midst.” 

            Revolutionary!   Jesus was challenging the political, economic and religious domination system of his day.    It’s the poor that are important not the rich and powerful.   It is the oppressed that I am sent to, not the comfortable.    It was to the outcasts of society that God sent His Son.   Revolutionary!!

Today I’d like for us to look at  those who  participated in Jesus’ entry into JerusalemThey werethe crowds, the disciples, the Jewish religious authorities, the Romans—-all participated in some way in this scene of triumphal entry—-just as all would participate, either actively or passively, in the crucifixion of Jesus at the end of that week.   Let’s look at each one of the groups:

 The Crowds:   They shouted “Hosanna!  Hosanna!   The Greek form of the Hebrew “Hoshianna” found in Psalm 118:25 WHERE IT IS TRANSLATED “Save us we beseech you!”      How many of this same crowd later shouted at the palace of the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate—-“Crucify him!   Crucify him!   His blood be upon our heads!!   We don’t know!

            This was not a mob but were good people and genuinely eager for the messiah to come and save them.  They were people who attended the synagogue, God-fearing people, who tried hard to keep the Jewish Law.   They were looking for a messiah to deliver them from the conquering Romans—-and when Jesus didn’t do that they would turn against him.

The Religious Authorities:  Luke tells us that they had been plotting for some time to get rid of Jesus   The Gospel of John tells us what brought them to the point of wanting to kill Jesus    So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, “What are we to do?   This man is performing many signs.   If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him and the Romans will come and destroy both  our holy place and our nation.”

They saw Jesus as a radical revolutionary and they were afraid.   They were afraid they would lose their power, their wealth, and even their lives because they were puppets of Rome and if they allowed Jesus to prevail with the people then they would be held responsible by the Roman authorities.   JESUS WAS A RADICAL REVOLUTIONARY WHO HAD TO BE ELIMINATED.  

            These were not evil people.   They were the respected, well-educated leaders who led highly moral lives and/or served in the temple as priests.   The Pharisees were good and decent law-abiding and their dedication to God was widely respected and admired.   But they were seized with fear that this revolutionary named Jesus of Nazareth would bring the fury of Rome down on their heads and they would lose not only their power, wealth, and prestige, but their lives.     

The Disciples:      The same disciples that arranged for the triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem are the ones who deserted Jesus at his arrest, even those closest to Jesus—the Twelve.   Their fear for their own lives led them to desert Jesus and go into hiding.     After Jesus’ betrayal, the self-appointed leader of the Twelve, Simon Peter, three times denied that he even knew Jesus out of fear for his own life. Only the women disciples and John stood by him to the end!   They were at the foot of the cross as he was crucified.  We can criticize them, but who among us might not have done the same?  

              While they had their weaknesses, the Twelve had traveled with Jesus, listened to his teachings, given up their jobs and livelihoods to follow him, seen him at the moment of Transfiguration, staunchly followed  him to Jerusalem although they certainly feared for their own lives and Jesus’ life there.   They were good and decent Galileans—they adored Jesus, loved him, and had left jobs and family behind to follow him.

The Romans:  Rome had brought the Pax Romanus —the Roman Peace” —-to the known world of the time.   It was a RULE OF LAW that is still copied to a great extent by the government of our own nation.   While they might be harsh, they sought to be fair—as we will see by the examination of Jesus by Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator.   The Roman Peace was enforced by the sword.   If a revolutionary threatened the peace the Romans saw it as treason—-punishable by crucifixion.

Although Roman government did not interfere much with religious matters, their ears were very much attuned to any kind of treason or government overthrow being planned.   There had been many rebellions in Palestine by Jews called Zealots and they were dealt with swiftly and harshly—many crucifixions took place in order to keep the government stable in Palestine.   The Romans were the ones who placed the sign—“The King of the Jews” over Jesus’ head on the cross—showing what they would do to anyone who would proclaim himself king!!!

You know—the sad thing about all of this is that if you were to talk to any of these people described above you would find them to be outwardly decent people who were doing what they thought was the best thing to do!  In sum—it was not the rabble and the evil people that crowned Jesus one moment and crucified him later in the week.  It was the rank and file people—it was good, decent, synagogue-attending people who demanded his death!  It was Roman soldiers carrying out order about a threat to their empire.   It was good, law-abiding people.    That is the tragedy!

The Question for us is—-What do we do with Jesus today?   Do we crown him or crucify him.?    That is the question we must ask ourselves this Palm Sunday as we enter Holy Week!!

            If Jesus came to America today with his revolutionary ideas about government, religion, and the economic and the social dominations systems that we have now that are very similar to the ones described above in first century Palestine—-that give the power to the rich and use that power to keep the poor down and further enrich themselves–would we in the church welcome him or would we be among the ones in the crowd crying “Crucify him”??    Because Jesus would be on the side of the poor and the outcasts of our society.   He would advocate for those who are homeless.   He would criticize those who pass laws that keep the poor down and advocate for laws and practices that lift up those in poverty.    He would heal those who can’t afford health care and severely chastise those who keep health care from the needy.    He would advocate some form of healthcare for all.   He would be considered a “bolt” thrown into the machinery of progress   I feel that Jesus would not be recognized,  and if he was, would not be allowed in our churches.

Let’s look at the same groups today:

   The Government:    Is our government crowning Jesus or crucifying him?    We have a government made up of good, God-fearing people—-ask any of them and they will  generally tell you that.   Especially at election time!    Do they promote Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God and what that stands for?   Or do they crucify him by legislating against all that he stood for?    We say on our coins “In God we trust”–-do we??   Or do we trust in our military and police power to enforce what we feel is right, which has very little to do with what Jesus taught?  When our government seeks to enrich the wealthy at the expense of the poor and needy, the mentally ill, the homeless, the hungry—-are we following the teachings of Jesus?   When we deny a large group of people medical care in the state of Kansas are we following the teachings of the Great Healer?      Are we crucifying Jesus on a cross of our own greed and our desire for power to increase our wealth at the expense of others?

The Religious Authorities:     This is a complex area, for we have many “religious authorities” in today’s America.   Who really speaks for Jesus Christ and his teachings.   And that is perhaps the problem:  No one seems willing to forcefully speak for Jesus and what he stands for today.   The religious authorities are either too timid, or they are too closely allied to the government and economic system that keeps them comfortable.    Like the priests and scribes and Pharisees of old, they are afraid to rock the boat.   Most religious leaders and the churches they lead have in the most part been mute about the issues of the day such as compassion for the poor and economic justice and fairness for all.    Where was the voice of the church in the health care debate and the extension of Medicaid to those working poor  in Kansas who are desperately in need of health-care?    We heard from medical doctors and from hospital officials that advocated for that extension of health care.   The church has remained silent about withholding health care from thousands of Kansans.    Why? 

            Religious leaders  are either so fearful of offending someone that they proclaim a watered-down Christianity that Jesus would not recognize as related to his life and teachings; or, they promote one issue to the exclusion of of all others and dwell on that (e.g. abortion)—-leaving out the love and compassion that Jesus showed on a broad range of issues..  

            Too many churches and their leaders are following present-day “priests and scribes” who have crowned their own comfort, their success, as their Lord and have through their passivity, fear and selfishness crucified Jesus.  

The Disciples:   That would be us!   The Church.   Are we crowning Jesus as Lord of our lives or are we crucifying him out of fear of speaking out or sleeping on the job like the disciples in Gethesemane?   What kind of stands have we as a church taken on issues that Jesus came to address in his ministry as he stated them  at the synagogue at Nazareth in the words of Isaiah?

            Is the church doing these things?   Are we taking up the cause of those who are oppressed.   Are we preaching good news to the poor?    Are we working in behalf of those who are ill to bring them comfort?  Are we boldly proclaiming the Kingdom of God is at hand and that Jesus is Lord?    Are we challenging the political and economic and, yes, the religious dominations systems whose purpose is to make the poor poorer and the rich richer?    If we are not— we are  passively aiding in Jesus’ crucifixion today and trying to preserve ourselves like the original twelve disciples.

The Crowds:    Ah yes!!   The Crowds!    The “rank and file”.   The people who inhabit our states and towns and cities of this so-called Christian country!   The ordinary people who fill our streets—-good and decent people.!  

            Are they crowning Jesus as Lord of their lives or are they crucifying him?   I am of the opinion that Jesus, while being welcomed  by the people of this country  in the hope that he will be there to save them if they need it, are crucifying him on a cross of indifference!  

            Take a drive down the streets of any town or city on Sunday morning, visit any church, and the message becomes clear what decision they have made.    True, they do not actively shout crucify him as the crowd did in Jesus time—but by their indifference to Jesus and his teachings they are doing the same thing—-they are ridding the country of this dangerous radical that might interfere in their lives and make them uncomfortable.   By their indifference they are shutting him up permanently so his words and call to action don’t bother them anymore.  

THE DECISION IS OURS—IT IS NOT POSSIBLE NOT TO DECIDE.  By our actions we will either crown Jesus Lord of our Lives or we will crucify him.   Which will it be?  Do we really want to be members of the Kingdom of God on earth that he proclaimed or is it too risky—to dangerous—too costly?  

DO WE CROWN JESUS WITH OUR LOVE AND DISCIPLESHIP OR DO WE CROWN HIM WITH A CROWN OF THORNS AND CRUCIFY HIM?    Amen

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The Human Face of Poverty

 

I have stated often in my posts that to understand poverty, we must see the human face of it.  Here it is:   “Maria is a 53 year old woman who works two part-time jobs and is a key caregiver for her extended family.   She has diabetes, hypertension and recurrent bleeding from her uterus.   Most months she cannot afford her medicines.   She is beginning to have eye problems and nerve problems because of her diabetes.   She is at increasing risk of suffering a stroke because of her high blood pressure   She often needs to go to the emergency room with severe bleeding from her uterus; she is stabilized and discharged  and told she needs to have a hysterectomy.   She can’t afford this with no medical or health insurance.”

This is a composite picture written by Dr. Gerard S. Brungardt, a physician who I met when he was medical director of the hospice for which I was a chaplain.   I know the doctor as a caring and compassionate person who has worked as a volunteer physician at the Guadelupe Clinic, a local free medical clinic, for over 25 years and put together what he has experienced in this composite face of poverty and health care in an article in the Wichita Eagle .

Dr. Brungardt notes that “with access to KanCare, Maria would be able to have a regular doctor she could call with questions and concerns, one who would care for her diabetes and hypertension.   She would be able to get her medicines on a regular basis and get the surgery she needs.”    But what he says next in his article in the Wichita Eagle is what is important:   “Most important” he says, “she would feel like a member of the community—-someone who counts, someone her community recognizes as important enough to provide with the basis need of health insurance. ”   

Maria’s example highlights the key reasons why we should expand Medicaid in Kansas that has been blocked by the governor and the legislature, thus denying  basic healthcare to thousands of Kansans just like Maria.   Dr. Brungardt emphasizes that the most important reason to extend that care goes beyond just health care.   It confirms for people their dignity.    Brungard refers to Pope Francis, “who  has untiringly reminded us of the dignity we all carry within ourselves in communion with those around us.   WHEN WE ISOLATE SOMEONE FROM OUR COMMUNITY THAT PERSON EXPERIENCES A POVERTY MORE PROFOUND THAN MATERIAL POSSESSIONS.   They experience the poverty of being denied their innate human dignity, of not being recognized as someone who counts, of not being treated precisely as a someone.”

We have relegated almost a quarter of the population of Kansas t0 a position of inferior status as human beings.   How can those who did this, our governor and our legislators, look at themselves in the mirror every morning, knowing what their actions are causing?   How can we, as Christians and churches, look at ourselves in the mirror every morning that we do not demand that this change?

Old Age a Blessing??

 A reminder of mortality, as I just turned 79!  It finally happened to me!  My gastroenterologist  advised me that he would give me some tests now, and if they were o.k. he wouldn’t do it for five more years—by which time I would be 84 and it wouldn’t make much difference how those tests came out, as the life expectancy for males today is 82.    His words  reminded me of an e-mail I received from a high school friend recently that listed 9 important Facts to Remember as We Grow Older.  

#9 was – Death is the number One killer in the world.

#7 added – Good health is merely the slowest possible rate at which one can die.

#4 – Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in the hospital, dying of nothing.

But he reassured me in the last line—….and as someone recently said to me:   “Don’t worry about old age; it doesn’t last that long!”

As we grow older we all face our own mortality.   We know the time is shorter than it once was.   But being older is in many ways a gift from God.    What blessings we have known as we grow older, in comparison to those who die at a young age!    

We have been able to see our children grow up, marry and have children for us to love as grandparents!   We are blessed with grandchildren and watching them grow.   We are blessed by children who become persons that we appreciate for not only what they do, but for the kind of beautiful persons they have become.    We see grandchildren grow and are able to participate with them in their joys and defeats and cheer them on in all of their endeavors—-and spoil them as any grandparent’s job description allows them to do.

We have developed a legacy to pass on to those children and grandchildren.   Whether it be a special woodworking project that they will love,  or the memories we make together as we live our lives—-that legacy will be passed on when our grandchildren and children say:  “I remember what Dad (or Grandpa) used to say about this!”

We  have lived through tragedies as well as joys in our lives and it has given us a depth and stability and a trust in God we didn’t have in our thirties.   Richard Rohr writes about this “second half of life” in his book  Falling Upward:  “ There must be, and if we are honest, there always will be at least one situation in our lives that we cannot control, fix, explain, change, or even understand.”    This is when the first stage of our lives ends and we reach out to God and say:   “I can’t do it on my own, God, help me!”    And we enter the second stage of our lives where our own ego is not our ruler, and instead we trust in God to guide our lives since we realize that we are really not in control after all!

For me it was the sudden death of my wife that  brought me to this second stage.  For others, it may be a divorce, the loss of a career, the loss of a parent.    I reached out to God in my circumstance in  a new way.   I’d always been the fixer!   This I couldn’t fix.   I cried:  “Help me get through this God!”   and I felt a peace that I had never known and began a relationship with God that I’d never known before and in this second half of my life I am still living and growing in that relationship.   What a gift of growing older!!

All of the above are reasons why those of us who are growing older should be thankful, in spite of our aches and pains that accompany it.    We have been blessed by the above and much more!    Life is good!   Live it to the fullest until the day you die!

The Scandal of Poverty

 

In May of 2012 UNICEF reported that of the world’s developed countries, the United States had the second highest rate of child poverty, with more than 23 percent of its kids officially living below the poverty level.   Only Romania, still struggling to shed itself of the awful legacy left by Nicolae Ceausescu’s dictatorship had worse numbers.

Sasha Abramsky, in his excellent book on poverty, The American Way of Poverty:   How the Other Half Still Lives, emphasizes in his Introduction that poverty is not the  problem—-we have the means, technology, and ways to deal with it.   He says that in the United States poverty is a “scandal“. not a “problem“.   It is a moral scandal that a rich country like the U.S. produces the statistics reported above by UNICEF.

As Abramsky says:  “As long as people think “poverty” is the problem, they’re missing the whole point.   Poverty is evidence of a problem; it’s not the source of the problem….The galloping poverty in the United States is evidence of a retreat from democratic beliefs and practices.”   Some refer to poverty  as being like the “canary in a mine“.    Such widespread poverty in such a rich country is a warning of severe problems with our democracy in not providing for the “common welfare” that is demanded by the Preamble to the Constitution.   It is a warning that something is terribly wrong with our political and economic system’s developments in the past few years that allows this to happen.

Pope Francis recently framed the moral scandal of poverty in the U.S. when he said:   “We have created new idols.   The worship of the ancient Golden Calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.”  

Robert Reich, former Secretary  of Labor under President Clinton adds:   “The moral crisis of our age has nothing to do with gay marriage or abortion.   It’s insider trading, obscene CEO pay, wage theft from ordinary workers, Wall Street’s gambling addiction, corporate payoffs to friendly politicians, and the billionaire takeover of our democracy.”

I know in these posts I  have pointed to poverty and homelessness many times and you may be tired of hearing about it —-So what are we as Christians going to do about it?  What can we do?     I make these recommendations:

First:   Read Sasha Abramsky’s book, The American Way of Poverty:   How the Other Half Still Lives.       This is a well researched look at Poverty and updates the work by Michael Harrington, The Other America,   that inspired the 1960’s War on Poverty.   Sadly, the situation is worse 50 years later than it was when Harrington wrote.  
In the first half of his book Abramsky’s details the statistics as well as the human face of poverty today.   In the second half, he gives well thought out solutions that are doable—-if the moral and political will is there.

We have been brainwashed by our politicians to blame poverty on the poor.   We have been told that people are poor because they are lazy, lack ambition, are drug users, alcoholics, etc.   Feature Governor Brownback, who during the last campaign said  that “People don’t have to be poor, they need to get a job?” That is Brownback’s cure for poverty—get a job!

While this may be true in a few cases, how about elderly poor?   How about those who are unable to work because of physical problems that limit them?   How about those who are mentally challenged?    How about children?    Many people are caught in a trap from which the laws and the economic system do not allow escape.

We as Christians and as a church must view the human face of poverty in all its aspects.    We need to establish a relationship with the poor of our country—-get to know them and the problems they face every day and how hard so many of them try to escape from poverty and seem to be thwarted at every turn.   One example-—the young woman who is laid off from her job, loses her apartment, is not able to find another job because of poor education and skill.   She has children—-and to improve her chances for a job she needs to go to a community college.   She not only can’t afford the tuition but also can’t afford child care?   And yet we let our legislators in Congress jeer at President Obama’s call for free tuition for those who maintain a C average in Community Colleges and free childcare while they are attending.  As Republican leader, John Boehner said—that bill will be “dead on arrival”.

Second:   As a church,  develop a sense among our members as to the causes and the extent of poverty in your community.    As a church and as individuals, take action to change the  climate that blames poverty on the individuals rather than on the fact that features of our present political and economic system do not help those in poverty, but make their problems worse.

Third:    As individuals and as a church find ways to challenge the present political system that, at present, operates on the principle that  those with money fund the political process and elect those who will favor their own selfish interest.     A democratic system will seek the common good—-those we now elect are manipulated by the money needed for advertising to be elected and in return will pass laws that benefit those who support them with the needed cash.   If you don’t have money you don’t have any political influence.   Those with enough money can manipulate the voters to vote the way they want them to with enough half-truths told enough times on costly TV ads.  Who speaks for the poor in the halls of the Kansas legislature and the U.S. Congressional leadership?   Very few!

When poverty flourishes as a direct result of actions taken  or not taken by political and economic leaders, then search for the reasons that is so.   How do the present laws and economic system keep people in poverty from helping themselves?  Hang around some poor people and they will quickly and accurately fill you in on this question.  We tell people to “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps” and then cut off the straps or take their boots away from them!

The above three recommendations should get the churches and Christians started to thinking about the scandal of poverty.  Christians and Christian Churches have a responsibility for maintaining the moral backbone of our people in this country.   If Christians and the churches do not stand together as a voice for the Way of Jesus today that gives priority to the marginalized, the poor, the outcasts, the homeless, the hungry of our society,  then who will be that voice?  Together, churches can make a vast impact on the scandal of poverty today.   It will not be easy—the causes of poverty are many and varied.   But the churches can work to end the needless scandal of poverty in the U.S. if they have the will and  love for God and for neighbor that is at the core of the Christian faith!