Palm / Passion Sunday : 2010

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.

Three important statements before I begin this sermon. First, it is often the case that Pastors do not preach on this Sunday allowing the Passion story to simply stand on its own. Second, I believe that in the face of turmoil and upheaval it is the Pastor’s job to reduce anxiety, not create it; to assure the faithful that the Kingdom of God is large enough for us all no matter our views. Third, I have been feeling a great deal of grief, loss, and anger these last couple of months centered on the divisiveness happening in the Montana Synod and, to a certain extent, within our nation. In that grief I ask your patience as I challenge us all in light of Christ’s death on the cross.

Did it make any difference? Does Jesus’ death make any difference today? I don’t mean for you personally or me personally. Quite frankly, I get tired of all the narcissistic understandings of faith and spirituality. As if the true nature of the spiritual journey is only about my growth and soul, and that your growth and soul have nothing to do with mine. I wonder who we are together anymore; not just as Messiah, but who we are together as a Church, the ELCA; as a nation; as a world. I wonder especially if we who self-proclaim to be Christian are moved at all by Jesus’ death on a cross. I wonder if it shapes at all the meaning of life and relationships around us.

Let me frame it this way. What happened to the thief who is often referred to as the unrepentant one? He pleaded with Jesus: “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” What happened to the thief who was not told, “Today you will be with me in paradise”? We cast him into hell don’t we? We act as if Jesus’ death was not for him. Nothing is said in the story one way or the other. We just assume paradise does not include that thief. What does that say about how we understand Jesus’ death and how it shapes our understanding of life and our relationships with people around us?

What I see happening in the ELCA and in the Nation tells me that Jesus’ death really doesn’t seem to make any difference at all for us. In Washington the other day the group who carried signs that said “In God We Trust” shouted racial slurs and spat on the black congressmen who walked through their gauntlet. Bricks have been thrown through office windows and death threats made. Jesus hangs on the cross, did it make any difference? In God we trust! Really? Jesus spent his life carrying for the poor and healing the sick. Why aren’t we?

We found out at St. John’s that the LSS budget is being cut from $88,000 to $58,000 – the Synod budget is being cut about 30% I believe. It is being cut because churches in Montana are withholding their benevolence giving to the Synod and the Synod has to cut back. They are cutting it because of the decision the ELCA made at the last church wide convention to ordain gays who are in committed relationships. A solid majority of delegates voted to change the policy after years of study throughout the church, after nearly a decade of prayer; after every congregation had a chance to have their say, after every Synod had the chance to vote. The Kingdom of God is large enough to hold diversity of opinion because at its center is the love and grace of God that welcomes you and me. For many that statement, in and of itself, places me with the unrepentant thief.

Guess who the congregations who are withholding their benevolence are hurting? Unwed mothers looking for help. Unwed mothers who don’t desire an abortion but know that they need to give their child up for adoption for the sake of the child. That is the principle activity of LSS – birth and adoption counseling. Diversity of opinion is not a problem. Wounding the body of Christ by harming the poor is. Jesus hangs on the cross, did it make any difference? What do you think happened to the unrepentant thief?

I have never been prouder of the ELCA than in the decision they made. Montana’s reaction has been more divisive and costly than any other Synod’s reaction. More congregations are withholding benevolence; more are looking at leaving than in any other Synod. I feel grief and anger over the reaction. We seem to have come to a place where, as a people we say: my feelings are more important than the larger community, my sensitivities, my opinions, and my outrage takes precedence over the larger community. Such a stance is destructive, it stamps out forgiveness, casts aside grace, and declares that everything Jesus was about was wrong. Love of neighbor is the wrong path.

But you know and I know that Jesus’ death did have meaning and purpose – and continues to still hold meaning for our lives and relationships. When Jesus said, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” those words were spoken both for us and for the unrepentant thief. The truth and hope remains that the grace and power of God will see us through this difficult time. When Czechoslovakia collapsed and broke into separate states, Vaclav Havel, the Czech playwright, poet, and leader declared: “Something is on the way out and something else is painfully being born.  It is as if something were crumbling, decaying and exhausting itself, while something else, still indistinct, were arising from the rubble…we are in a phase when one age is succeeding another, when everything is possible.” These words apply to us, both as a church and as a nation.

I do not know what the future holds for us here at Messiah, for the Lutheran Church in Montana, or for our nation. But I do know this. The Kingdom of God is more inclusive and broader than our hearts or thoughts can ever be. For that I give thanks and understand that that the “all” in our mission of “sharing God’s grace by caring for all” is not a reality, but a call from God as to where we need to go. Jesus’ death on the cross declares loudly to us all – we are welcome to follow and learn what “all” means. And should we choose not to follow, the Kingdom of God is more inclusive and broader than our hearts or thoughts can ever be. That for me is solace in my grief. Amen

This entry was posted on Saturday, March 27th, 2010 at 1:03 pm and is filed under Sermons. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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