A Pastor's Ponderings and Such

Archive for April, 2022

More Than A Parade

1st Biblical Witness The Gospel Of Matthew 21:1 — 11
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

2nd Biblical Witness The Gospel Of Matthew 21:12 — 17
Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.” The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became angry and said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself’?” He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.

Reflection “More Than A Parade”
So there was this parade going on, as you probably know. It was a parade of military power to make sure the Jewish people in Jerusalem, those who lived there and those who made the pilgrimage there for the celebration of the Passover, stayed in line and didn’t revolt against their subjugation to the Romans. And as you likely know, the smaller parade that Jesus led while riding on a donkey while surrounded by cheering children as well as adults, was a protest against the military show of power.

There was more to that day, however. After Jesus comes through the lesser gate of Jerusalem on a much lesser steed than Pilate (a donkey versus a powerful military horse), he enters the temple and makes a mess. He’s angry because instead of the temple being filled with prayers, it has become a place of commerce for the rich and power grabbing for the elite. Jesus didn’t just get angry and trash the place though. After he drove out who he called “robbers” from the temple, the story tells us that, “The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them.”

His goal wasn’t just to make a spectacle. He was making room for the work of God and for the people who were least likely to be allowed into the temple or to be accepted if they got in.

The power of God and the house of God was and is meant for those who desire to be a part of the community and to experience Holy Love and Presence. It’s never to be reduced to a seat of power where people are silenced or minimized in order to recognize that power and to be put in their place.

This story is in all four of our Gospel accounts. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all position it when Jesus is making his protest parade through the lesser gate into Jerusalem. John, however, makes it Jesus’ first public act as a leader. It comes just after he turns water into wine at the wedding at the behest of his mom.

There aren’t many stories which make it into all four gospels. Why is this one so important to all the writers? I think it’s because it shows Jesus’ heart as a leader. The temple building is symbolic of God’s presence. It’s where you go to meet with God – to perform rituals, to pray, and to gather for celebrations. Jesus drives out those who were exploiting the poor and then he offers direct access to those who were spurned and mistreated. He personally attends to them.

This foreshadows what’s about to happen when he dies on the cross on Good Friday. According to the synoptic gospels, which is what we call the writings of Matthew, Mark, and Luke – the ones which put the cleansing of the temple episode on the day of the parade – when Jesus dies, the curtain which separates the holy place from the holy of holies in the temple is ripped in two, allowing access to the place which held the very presence of God.

This was a place that God had instructed to be created to reside in when the temple was being designed. Just like the bread and the cup that we have for communion, which we understand to be symbolic and not literal, this Holy of Holies section of the temple was symbolic as God’s official apartment, not literal. How could God, in all God’s Godness, be contained?

It’s similar to this building we call the church. It’s our gathering place. Our praying place. And because of our activities here, the essence of God feels stronger here for a lot of people, myself included. But this isn’t a place to hold God captive. Holy Love is everywhere and can’t be contained. We should never insist that God is more here than anywhere else, let alone exclusively here. However, it’s a place where we might be able to focus better. A place where the years of prayers, rituals, baptisms, confirmations, weddings, funerals, and so many other meaningful events help to guide us toward the essence of the presence of Holy Love.

When Jesus decried the habits of the those in the temple, it was in order to let the vulnerable have access to a place that was supposed to be set aside for prayer – for contact with God and the community of faith. He was making room and creating a safer space for them by removing those who for so many years had taken advantage of them by treating their prayers as a financial exchange with God rather than a spirit to spirit engagement.

The day Jesus was the grand marshall of the counter protest of the military power of Pilate, he also protested religious elite’s exclusive approach to who had access to the place of prayer and who didn’t. But he didn’t stop at protesting. He then welcomed the people who he made room for.

This is what we celebrate today. Inclusion. Welcome. Centering those who have been dismissed and marginalized. We celebrate the protest too. The cheering children who feel like their voice matters. The adults who add their energies to the song and reach for the palm branches to wave in support. God is not held captive to the whims of a few powerful persons. Today we celebrate by remembering that there is room enough for all of us who want to pray, to love, to march in the parade, and to bind our hearts together in the call for human dignity.

Happy Palm Sunday, my friends. There is room for you.

Choosing Our Direction

Biblical Witness 1 Corinthians 3:10 – 17
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw — the work of each builder will become visible, for the day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

Contemporary Witness “The Shallows” by Amanda Gorman
Touch-deficient &
Light-starved we were,
Like an inverted flame,
Eating any warmth down to its studs.
The deepest despair is ravenous,
It takes & takes & takes,
A stomach never satisfied.
This is not hyperbole.
All that is gorgeous & good & decent
Is no luxury, not when its void
Brings us to the wide wharf of war.

Even as we stand stone-still,
It’s with the entirety of what we’ve lost
Sweeping through us like a ghost.

What we have lived
Remains indecipherable.

& yet we remain.
& still, we write.
& so, we write.
Watch us move above the fog
Like a promontory at dusk
Shall this leave us bitter?
Or better?

Then choose.

Reflection “Choosing Our Direction”
So far this Lent our spiritual practice as a community has been to intentionally grieve our losses, mostly due to the pandemic. We’ve meditated on and expressed our griefs for ourselves, family, work, and church. Today, taking all those truths into consideration, we ask what’s next. What are your hopes and dreams for your future and for the future of Plymouth?

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians he reminds them that they have choices to make. The foundation they’re building on is solid. It’s the foundation of Jesus himself, that of love and grace. He also reminds them that each of them are God’s temple. When he reminds them, he also reminds us. Each one of us is the dwelling place, the house, the vessel of Holy Love. He writes, “God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”

As a holy temple, Paul teaches that it matters what we build with. It matters how we build – the patience we have and whether we cut corners. How we build on our strong foundation determines how long what we build will last. And that could mean many many things. For instance, it isn’t just how many years a ministry is running that makes it successful, but how long did the ministry live in the hearts of those who participated in it? Some ministries are meant to only be for a year or two, but they last a lifetime in the hearts and souls of those who are a part of it.

This goes well beyond church ministry. We can talk about school, work, neighborhoods, friendships, any number of things that we build. How long they last in our hearts and souls determines how well they’re built. Not how long they last in active years.

In the poem called, “The Shallows,” Amanda Gorman lists griefs about the pandemic. Things like, “Touch deficit.” “Light starved.” She says, “All that is gorgeous & good & decent is no luxury, not when its void.”

And then she asks us a question. “Shall this leave us bitter? Or better? Grieve. Then choose.” Like Paul, Amanda is reminding us that we have choices that we can make and that how we build is as important as what we build.

We’ve learned a lot in the past two years. Did you know how resilient you could be? How innovative? Did you realize just how lonely you could get or how deeply you could enjoy the quiet of solitude? Maybe you’ve discovered that both are true for you? What have you discovered about yourself? The world? How have you changed for the better? How are you struggling in new ways? And what tools have you gained to better deal with life?

Finally, and possibly most importantly, how have the priorities of life changed for you? Is there something you’ve realized that you don’t want to lose? That you don’t want to forget? Something that you want to build on?

Amanda Gorman asks, should this experience leave us bitter or better. Well, we know the answer we’re supposed to give to that question. Unmistakably – better. But bitterness can be so still and subtle. It can hardly make a wave on our consciousness. This is why we took the time to name our griefs. To bring out to the open for our own examination, the pains we’ve been left with. The injuries that need healing. When we bring them out to the open, they can’t fester. When we shred them, that’s the symbolic act of letting them go so that they don’t become our identity. Not that our grief goes away like turning a light switch on and off. Just that we can learn to make choices about how we grieve and even to a degree, when. Once we do that, we can start making other choices, like what direction we might go next.

Now is the time. When so much has been shifted around and nothing is quite set yet, now is the time to begin to rebuild. What was built out of straw, that got burned in the fire of the pandemic, can now be rebuilt out of precious gems. We don’t have to build quickly. What we need to do is set our direction. That starts with knowing our priorities.

Sometimes when we build, we can no longer see the foundation. We forget what we were building on and why. The uniqueness of moments like these is that our loss in so many ways is our opportunity to glimpse the foundation and choose to clean it off. See what it was we were building on and why. To consider not only what’s been lost, but how we might have built better the first time. Then, to rebuild. Either something similar yet better. Or something else entirely.

First I want to remind you, once again, who you are according to Paul’s teaching. You are holy. And you are a builder with choices. Amanda Gorman says, “What we have lived remains indecipherable. & yet we remain. …Watch us move above the fog.” This gives me chills of hope. God gives us gifts, talents, energies, wisdom, and discernment. We are the architects of the next moment. We determine what we build and how we build above the fog.

The ministry of Jesus, the anointed one, the Christ, was to those who needed good news. He said he was anointed to proclaim release, to aid in recovery, and to lift oppression. He also told his followers that they were called to do the same as him, but better. As we choose our direction for new ministries or to revitalize previous ministries, this is the foundation we’re building on.

All that the pandemic gave us and took from us, helps to guide us toward our highest priorities. As I think about Plymouth moving forward in this new way of having Sunday Service and being the church together, I ask myself, who needs to hear the good news. Who is hearing bad news and what good news do we have to offer them? Maybe it’s as simple as saying, you can hang with us just as you are. And then of course we have to prove ourselves, as Jesus had to, that we really aren’t going to judge, and coerce a certain belief. In what way do we get involved in proclamations and actions for release of those who are being held hostage to a system that is wearing them down? How can we aid in recovery and lift oppression?

There are so many ways to live a life of Holy Love and loving ministry. The foundation we build on is firm and stable. The first direction we can choose is to build well, out of a deep sense of caring for all God’s creations, which we all are. What we build is definitely important. How we build though, is what makes what we build last.