October 16, 2018

Devotions

Deepen your faith and feel God's touch by reading or subscribing to devotional readings. Whether it is the daily devotional (Feed Your Spirit) produced by our denomination, or our own seasonal devotions, you are sure to be inspired, challenged and encouraged here.

You may want to keep receiving daily devos!?

If you have found these daily devotions helpful to your faith, consider signing up for our UCC Daily Devotion that comes via email each day. Follow this link: http://www.ucc.org/daily_devotional 

 

**

“O give thanks to the Lord, for God is good;

    God’s steadfast love endures forever!

Let Israel say,

    “God’s steadfast love endures forever.” – Psalm 118:1-2

 

All There is to Say
by Emily C. Heath

 

The day after Easter, the big celebration is over. Most of us are back to our regular lives, carrying on like nothing has changed. Something has changed, though. It was just Sunday that we were reminded again that death was defeated by God’s love, and that hope has broken out of the tombs and into the world.

 

Easter Monday’s lectionary readings include this very short passage from the Psalms. Most readings are far longer than two verses, but on the day after Easter, this is all we need: Give thanks to God, for God is good . . . God’s steadfast love endures forever.

 

Ministers love to use five words when one will do, so this is a good reminder to those of us who preach that sometimes brevity is the soul of faith. There is nothing more that I can say about the miracle of Easter that is not said in these two lines. I could preach for an hour, and I’d never be able to sum up the task of Easter Monday better than this: Give thanks to God for God is good . . . God’s steadfast love endures forever.

 

And so, as you go out into the world this week after Easter, do just that. Give thanks to God for a goodness and love that could not be contained, even by the grave. Give thanks in prayer and praise, but give thanks in other ways, too. Give thanks through all actions you take, every act of kindness you bestow on others, and each occasion when you are called to stand up in courage and love for your neighbors.

 

God’s love has already won. It’s our work to spread that good news to those who do not yet know it. Our thanksgiving thus becomes the world’s joy, and our every action becomes a small reminder of resurrection. 

 

Prayer: Thank you, Holy One, for you are good. Your steadfast love endures forever. Amen.

 

PUCC Easter Monday Devotion – Monday, April 2, 2018

 

 

 

And Jesus said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.’ – Mark 16:15
Easter Encouragement for the Journey by Bret Myers
Remember that resurrection is more than mere resuscitation! It is life transformed!
It is faith in possibilities, when others are convinced of inevitability.
It is the courage to love others, when they don’t love you in return…
to show compassion, when others are heaping judgment…
to live by peace, when others are being violent…
to work for justice, when others are working for wealth…
to respond with gentleness, when others are reacting with rage…
and to trust that life, well-lived, even if short-lived, is preferable to longevity without virtue.
Don’t remain caterpillars when you can become butterflies!
Live beautifully! Birth goodness in all you think, say, and do!
For you are called to life abundant!
God’s blessings go with you now.
Prayer: Holy One, Lent and Holy Week are behind us now… but we are Easter people and the world is waiting for us. Launch us! Amen.

 

 

2841 N Ballas Road | Saint Louis, Missouri 63131
314-872-9330 | www.parkwayucc.org
Parkway United Church of Christ, 2841 N Ballas Road, Saint Louis, MO 63131
Sent by kevin@parkwayucc.org in collaboration with
Constant Contact

PUCC Easter Sunday Devotion – Sunday, April 1, 2018

 

 

“Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell… 
Mark 16:6  

 

 

[In his Easter Message, our United Church of Christ General Minister and President and old friend of Parkway UCC, the Rev. John C. Dorhauer, invites us to celebrate the hope of Easter – even as we recognize some of the sting of death.]

 

We are an Easter people!

 

Shaped by the experiences of death, the wells of our enduring faith spring up and speak to us of the eternal.

 

This fundament, this bedrock, it grounds us.

 

And, as Paul writes in 1Thessalonians – we therefore do not grieve as those who have no hope.

 

I can’t tell you how many times over the last year and a half I have had to remind myself that we are, in the end, an Easter people.

 

No death we experience will be allowed to offer the last word.

 

Hope will always abide in the shadows that come with grief and loss.

 

Let us, then, speak of grief and loss – the collective ennui we share with a suffering planet that is smeared with our toil.

 

We see tens of millions of refugees swarming the globe. We see decades of advances in social justice being erased by a global shift to the political fringes. We watch nations and their leaders play war games with big and very destructive weapons. We know children are being trafficked, women are being violated, and black and brown bodies are continuously treated with disdain by whites.
My mood has shifted and I am not alone. Say what you want about the current political climate in America, but something has happened to our shared narrative.

 

Immigrants are enemies.

 

Unarmed black bodies are gunned down with impunity.

 

Women’s bodies are trivialized as solely the object of men’s passions and desires.

 

Fascism is on the rise, creeping into the light after decades lurking in the shadows.

 

Children go through ‘code red’ exercises that have them rehearsing live shooter drills, wondering not if, but when.

 

We talk without shame about arming teachers.

 

I’m looking for my Easter hope!

 

I’m asking if this is the dying beyond which God has nothing more to say.
And…

 

God is not silent.
God’s speech resonates not from beyond the madness, but from within it.

 

On a street corner in St. Louis, a woman preaches at the opening of a child wellbeing center. The preacher has an Easter story to tell. She was left abandoned on that very street corner when she was 9 months old.

 

In a sanctuary in Madbury, New Hampshire the Maranatha Indonesian United Church of Christ celebrates 14 years of shared life and ministry. They have their own Easter story to tell. Many in the room just weeks ago were detained and threatened with deportation. One pastor’s intervention and dogged determination affected their release. On this Sunday, much more than an anniversary is celebrated as families are re-united.

 

In the aftermath of one of the most violent and ugly chapters of our collective narrative, teenagers produce their own Easter hope by calling a nation to recognize that our love affair with gun violence is destroying the hope of children. Their fierce resistance has an entire nation marching for our lives.

 

The tomb is empty.

 

Oh, to be sure, death has its sting.

 

There was a body. But the body rises.

 

God speaks, and beyond the seemingly impenetrable tomb a new word is heard.

 

Let those who have ears to hear, hear.

 

May the joy of an embodied resurrection call you to see through grief, listen beyond lamentation, and know beyond a shadow of doubt, Jesus lives.

 

We do not grieve as those who have no hope. Our grief is altered by Easter.
Jesus is risen.
He is risen indeed.
           

 

Prayer:  Holy One,  help us to rise along with you! Amen.

 

2841 N Ballas Road | Saint Louis, Missouri 63131
314-872-9330 | www.parkwayucc.org
Parkway United Church of Christ, 2841 N Ballas Road, Saint Louis, MO 63131
Sent by kevin@parkwayucc.org in collaboration with
Constant Contact

PUCC Holy Saturday Devotion – Saturday, March 31, 2018

 

 

[A bit lengthy… but a very good read for Holy Saturday – this in between day when many people don’t know what to think or do. These reflections are based on some of the echoes from yesterday, Good Friday.]
The Seven Last Words of Christ: A Progressive Vision by Bruce Epperly
When I recently told a colleague that I was writing a brief piece on the Seven Last Words – or Seven Sayings – of Christ, he responded: “Isn’t that a bit old school, Bruce?  Why bother with something that is obviously inaccurate and outmoded in terms of current theology?”  His response gave me pause, but I decided to go ahead with the project because these words still are meaningful in the Good Friday and Lenten rituals of many Christians, including members of mainstream and progressive congregations. The Seven Last Words of Christ are a bit like the Christmas tableaus and manger scenes we witness each year, which bring together strands of the various gospels in tandem with the popular imagination.  Scholars tell us that the shepherds and magi didn’t enter the stable as pageants suggest, but there is mystery and wonder in the scenes anyway. The same is true for the imaginative collection of Jesus’ final sayings.  As Native American storytellers assert, “this may not have happened, but it is true.”
The Seven Last Words are a harmonizing of sayings attributed to Jesus from the four canonical gospels.  No one gospel contains all seven sayings, but integrated the sayings give a picture of Jesus’ suffering and death.  In that regard, their poetic rendering may be more insightful than unimaginative scholarly deconstruction.
Even if you don’t believe in the notion that Jesus’ death was preordained, a ransom for our sins, or that God required Jesus’ death to deliver us from sin and open the doors to eternal life, the Cross describes the realities of human suffering, abandonment, and death, often at the hands of powerful governmental and religious institutions.  The collection of Jesus’ final words give voice to the experiences of persons in oncology wards, hospices, victims of torture and abuse, or among survivors from natural disasters.
The traditional ordering of the Seven Last Words is as follows:
  1. Father forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).
  2. Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43).
  3. Woman, behold your son: behold your mother (John 19:26-27).
  4. My God, My Godwhy have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34).
  5. I thirst (John 19:28).
  6. It is finished (John 19:30).
  7. Father, into your hands I commit my spirit (Luke 23:46).
You may choose to meditate upon the meaning of these words as I reflect upon each phrase.  In the spirit of lectio divina, or holy/wholly reading, you might let the words have a life of their own, emerging as the spirit inspires you, without concern for historical or literary accuracy.  Imaginative in structure and organization, these words are most effective when we let our own imaginations wander, opening to God’s inspiration for you in your unique setting.
My reflections arose from my own imaginative encounter with the text.  Although I know these texts from a scholarly point of view, scholarship alone cannot fathom of the mysteries of life and death, and new life.  The poetry of these texts may elicit a connection with God in the maelstrom of human suffering.
Although these words are omitted in many early manuscripts, they describe the graceful spirit of Jesus’ mission and the providential grace of God, moving even within humankind’s most diabolical actions.  They suggest that while the destructive – and dare I say, demonic -actions of institutions and persons may appear to be intentional, they are in actuality performed out of ignorance of the deepest nature of reality.  The ego, always seeking to protect itself or hold on to its prerogatives, acts as if it is alone in the universe, existing in a world of threat and isolation.  Any prophetic word or challenge to the status quo is perceived to be a threat and not an opportunity for transformation.  Evil, misconduct, abuse, genocide, and crucifixion in all their manifestations are “real” – pain and destruction of higher values are not illusory and these warrant strong and just responses.
On the Cross, Jesus felt pain, and so did God!  God still feels the pain of the world.  Spiritual maturity, growth, and illumination, enhance our sensitivity to pain and injustice.  While we may be less likely to polarize or demonize as a result of spiritual growth, spiritual maturity increases the range of our empathy as we experience a “heart as big as the universe,” the sacred heart of Jesus, the vow of the bodhisattva, the compassion of the mahatma.  Spiritual stature enables us to balance compassion and justice seeking so that no more crosses be erected in human experience.
Forgiveness does not erase the impact of our decisions, nor does it end the cycle of cause and effect necessary for justice to occur.  Pilate, the high priests, and the angry crowd will reap what they sow; abusers will experience a deadening of spirit and, if justice is done, appropriate punishment; tyrants will constrict their spirits and experience the appropriate consequences for their injustice and violence.  At the very least, turning from God’s vision diminishes our experience of divine possibilities and alienates us from the wholeness God desires for us.
Forgiveness, divine and human, allows for the possibility of healing and transformation.  As the hymn “Amazing Grace” proclaims, providential grace teaches “our hearts to fear” and enables us to “see” when once we were blind to the impact of our actions.  Forgiveness may mean more, rather than less, pain at first, but it is the pain of the “celestial surgeon,” whose spiritual interventions are intended to excise our hardheartedness, indifference, and sin, so that we might have a clean and empathetic hearts.
These words are a call to self-examination.  Where are we oblivious to God’s vision?  Where are we apathetic about the pain of the world?  Where are we asleep to the beauties of the earth or complacent in relationship to others’ suffering?  Grounded in the awareness of our complicity in the evils of the world (what Merton describes as being a “guilty bystander”), we can accept God’s forgiveness and turn around toward a life of care for the least of these as well as those whom we encounter over the breakfast table.
Jesus said very little about survival after death.  Within the Judaism of his time, Pharisees affirmed the spirit’s survival after death, while the Sadducees were skeptical about any post-mortem existence.  Still, it is clear that Jesus saw God’s presence as palpable and powerful within everyday life.  The realm of God is not only near, but it is right here in healings, hospitality and welcome of outcasts and sinners, and spiritual and ethical transformation. Jesus prays that God’s realm will be embodied “on earth as it is in heaven.”
While we cannot claim to know with exactitude Jesus’ vision of survival after death, we can speculate that whatever eschatology Jesus affirmed involved: 1) whole-bodied personal existence; 2) communal existence and relationships; and 3) a spiritual unity of God and humankind.  Our post-modern hopes are prefigured in this-worldly healing communities.
Jesus’ crucifixion is the antithesis of God’s this-worldly healing community.  Nothing good can come of the Cross apart from an unexpected burst of divine creative transformation.  We are left asking: Can we experience the shadows of everlasting life in the shadows of Calvary?
There is no worked out eschatological theology to be found on Calvary.  Jesus is dying and his followers can’t imagine a restoration or resurrection of their beloved teacher.  Further, it is impossible to discern with any clarity the meaning of “today” in the Jesus’ promise of paradise.  Some see this as Jesus speaking in the present tense, meaning “on this day, I am telling you” about paradise.  Others assert that “today” means right now; at the moment of death we are transformed fully into God’s realm of Shalom.  Whatever transformation we can imagine must be, from a Hebraic-Christian point of view, a resurrection-transformation involving the whole person, not necessarily embodied in literal flesh and blood, but involving the energies of embodiment, personal history, spiritual orientation, and communal relatedness.
Will the thief “remember” who he is following his death?  Will his quest for his people’s liberation (he may well have been a Zealot revolutionary) be remembered in everlasting life?  It is my belief that he must remember: justice in the afterlife makes no difference to the person today or in the afterlife, if her or his personal existence is lost at death.  The best we can do, however, is to see in a mirror dimly, touched by everlasting life that brings holiness and value to our finite and temporal quests for God’s Shalom in this world.
Dying does not excuse us from living by our ideals.  Life goes on and how we respond to our dying process will shape those who survive us.  On the Cross, Jesus still affirms the fabric of relatedness.  He possesses the spiritual stature to look beyond his pain and death to the needs of others. He calls his mother to care for the beloved disciple, and he calls the beloved disciple to take responsibility for his mother’s well-being.  Death does not end our relationships; it transforms them.  Jesus’ care for his mother serves as a model for our own legacy to future generations.  Perhaps, Jesus’ words to this generation, our generation, might be: Behold this good Earth; take care of your mother.  Behold the children in pain; bless them with your love and justice-seeking.
These words, straight from Psalm 22, speak to Jesus’ and Psalmist’s experiences of abandonment.  While progressive Christians don’t assume divine favoritism or divine causation as the primary factor in every event, many of us know feelings of utter abandonment as we drive to the hospital in solitude to hear what we assume will be “death sentence” from our physician, when we hear the words “your position has been eliminated” despite the highest quality of performance, in moments of agony following physical, emotional, or spiritual abuse, or when we can longer conjure feelings of love for God or an intimate companion.  As progressives, we affirm the interdependent nature of life and challenge dualisms of God and the world, male and female, us and them, and mind and body.  But, there moments when the ever-present God seems utterly absent and we are lost in the abyss of isolation and unremitting pain.
Many people repeat the shibboleth, “Jesus’ divinity was always connected to God; his sense of forsakenness reflected his human side.”  I don’t buy this spiritually or theologically.  Jesus was one person; his unity with God was human as well as divine.  In fact, with the early church theologians, I affirm that Jesus exemplified the affirmation that “the glory of God is a fully alive human.”  Our divinity – and Jesus’ – reflects our vitality.  Jesus didn’t have a divine cassette inserted in him; his experience God and his own sense of mission was always part of his total experience, waking, sleeping, eating, preaching, listening; feeling elated and disappointed, energized and fatigued.  His God-forsakenness is real and so is ours.  This is especially true for those who affirm “God in all things, all things in God.”  We can easily ask ourselves, “Where is this universal and graceful God?  How can I feel the absence of omnipresence?  How can I experience the abandonment of omni-activity and the loneliness of omniscience?”  If God is present everywhere and in all things, this presence must be subtle even for Jesus.
He felt alone as we feel alone and – dare we say – God feels alone when we have abandoned God and in our God-forgetfulness turn our back on the well-being of Creation and our companions on this Good Earth.
Jesus’ prayer of abandonment is a prayer of faith.  He is not hiding from God or his feelings. He addresses his pain to God and he calls upon God to respond. In the between moments of revelation and presence, we too can bring our own “cries of absence” (Martin Marty) to the One to whom all hearts are open and all desires known.”  Can we hold faith and doubt, presence and absence, elation and desolation in contrast with no guarantees of a felicitous outcome?
The Fifth SayingI thirst. (John 19:28).
Jesus’ death was horrific, but no more horrific than many other deaths throughout history. As painful as Jesus’ death was to him, it took just a few hours.  It was not drawn out like the dying process of certain incurable cancers, starvation, or torture.  While Jesus’ pain was whole person pain, and not just physiological, we cannot assume his suffering was exacerbated by his “bearing the sin of the world.”  Being crucified is painful enough.  Seeing your cause apparently defeated is emotionally devastating enough.  Being abandoned by those who pledged loyalty is spiritually overwhelming enough.  Without  importing to the texts an atonement theology of substitution, preordination, bloodshed, ransom, or sin-bearing, we cannot affirm any sort of cosmic overlay on Jesus’ crucifixion.  What he faced on the Cross is enough: his sacrifice was not to appease God’s wrath or on our behalf to but to the integrity of his mission and his faithfulness to God regardless of the cost.
Still, like millions before and after, Jesus thirsted.  He felt the pain of dying in its fullness.  He died as many of us due, vulnerable, powerless, and tortured.  If Jesus is truly God’s messenger, then God too must feel our pain – God thirsts for our salvation, God passionately seeks to heal the earth, and God experiences the pain of every dying patient.  If this is divine pathos or patripassianism, the belief that God the Parent suffers on the Cross with the Son, Jesus, then so be it.  While divine suffering, has been labeled a heresy by those who presume to protect God’s perfection and inability to experience pain or suffering, I believe that the deeper heresy is the belief that God does not experience our pain and debilitation from the inside.  An unfeeling, and apathetic God can neither heal nor save.  Calvary points us to a thirsting God, the fellow sufferer who understands, as Alfred North Whitehead observed.
The Sixth Saying: It is finished. (John 19:30)
Luther asserted, in the midst of life, we are surrounded by death.  Death punctuates embodied existence.  Each moment is perpetually perishing, dying that new experiences may emerge.  As we reflect on Jesus’ sufferings, we might ask: What is finished?  What ends on Calvary? 
 
At first glance, it is obvious.  Jesus’ work is done; he is now history.  But, our personal history is always unfinished and subject to transformation at the hands of others.  Jesus’ work is objective in its “facticity,” but the moment the disciples began sharing stories about the Teacher, Healer, and Savior, new histories began.  Jesus’ ministry lives on in resurrection moments when the words and wisdom he spoke transform us and when his Spirit moves through our spirits, initiating a new creation and making a pathway within the wilderness of experience.
The words “it is finished” can be a relief.  They can suggest that our suffering has finally ended and we will now enter into the rest of the saints.  Even here, our death remains unfinished for we live on in memory, DNA, spiritual impact, and grief. Our lives may perish but they live forever more in God’s memory and the ongoing history of the universe.
I must confess that I say this prayer, this final “word” of Jesus, as a talisman on nights when I go to bed, painfully aware of my finitude and mortality.  Sleep is like a little death, in which the conscious mind relinquishes control to forces beyond itself.  Upon going to sleep, there is no guarantee that this conscious mind and stream of experience will awaken with the new day.  As I close my eyes, hoping to awaken but more importantly trusting that in life and death, I am in God’s care, I whisper, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”
Jesus’ words come from the recognition that our existence from moment to moment is contingent on forces beyond ourselves.  They also reveal a trust in a power within and beyond us that brought us into life and will receive us upon our deaths.  This is an act of trust, and not a description of everlasting life.  We can’t intuit the “furniture of heaven” based on Jesus’ confession.  The most we can do is – and perhaps this is more important than any postmortem knowledge – is to place the whole of our lives in their temporality in God’s care.  This may be the ultimate healing, the sense of peace that comes when life is unfixable, death is all around, and a cure eludes us.  We are not alone; we belong to God and nothing – abandonment, thirst, or cross – can separate us from God’s love.
Prayer: Holy One, indeed nothing can separate us from your love. Nothing. Not even today. Amen.

 

2841 N Ballas Road | Saint Louis, Missouri 63131
314-872-9330 | www.parkwayucc.org
Parkway United Church of Christ, 2841 N Ballas Road, Saint Louis, MO 63131
Sent by kevin@parkwayucc.org in collaboration with
Constant Contact

PUCC Good Friday Devotion – Friday, March 30, 2018

 

 

[As we arrive at Good Friday, there are thoughts swirling of religious leaders, traps, deception, 30 pieces of silver, false claims, self-talk, belonging, security, prayer…]
 
The Pharisees and Sadducees asked Jesus a question in order to trap him: ‘Teacher, is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?‘ – Mark 12:14

 

 

Who Owns You? by Matt Laney

Obviously, the answer was, “No way!” What could be more objectionable to the children of Israel than paying for their oppression by a brutal foreign overlord with pretentions to divinity? Saying that in public would be treason. Condoning Caesar’s tax would be blasphemy. Clever trap.

So Jesus asked them for a coin (significant they had one of those idolatrous, God-mocking coins and Jesus did not). The coin clearly belonged to Caesar since it bore Caesar’s name and image. “Give to Caesar what belongs to him,” Jesus said, “and give to God what belongs to God.”

What, then, belongs to God? That which bears God’s image and name. That’s us, of course! We are God’s “coins,” God’s currency in the world. In addition to being a political statement against Rome, it was a statement of empowerment for the Jewish people. In effect, Jesus said, “No one owns you, but God.”

And who doesn’t need to hear that in a world awash in brands (I’m wearing half a dozen right now) and graven images vying for a piece of us, if not full ownership? Reciting “I belong to God” as our daily mantra might be as important in our time as in the days of Jesus. Idolatry never goes out of style.

 

Prayer:  Holy One, I give myself to you. May my day and my life be well-spent. Amen.

 

2841 N Ballas Road | Saint Louis, Missouri 63131
314-872-9330 | www.parkwayucc.org

PUCC Maundy Thursday Devotion – Thursday, March 29, 2018

 

[This and every Maundy Thursday is about a mandate/command TO LOVE! Jesus is an incredible example of love in action as he washes the disciples feet and gives himself to all of them. Was this a choice he made and/or was he compelled to love? What about you?!]
Jesus left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar . . . Jacob’s well was there. – John 4:1-6


Had To
 by Mary Luti

Of course he didn’t have to go through Samaria. Most Jews wouldn’t have-it was enemy territory. There were routes back to Galilee that avoided Samaria. Jesus could’ve chosen one of them. But no, the gospel says, he “had to” go through.

The Jesus we meet in John’s gospel is a driven man, driven by the Spirit and the Spirit alone, coming and going solely according to God’s purpose and pleasure. If scripture says he had to go through Samaria, then it was inescapable, a summons. He could do no other.

Turning the page, we discover why. Someone was waiting for him there, a woman at a well. She was waiting for him without knowing he was coming, without knowing who he was, but waiting all the same-to speak and be known, to drink new water from a different well, to set down her jar, to be released for running, for telling, for showing the way.

He had to go. To her.

If we’re not spiritually compelled like that, agile and swift when the Spirit moves, maybe it’s because we consider too much what could happen to us, what it might cost, if we go through Samaria, and don’t consider enough what it will cost that someone who’s surely waiting for us there if we don’t. The conversation that will never happen because we didn’t sit down, tired and thirsty, at their well. The things they’ll never know about themselves, their truth, their beauty, their worth. The un-bestowed mercy, the freedom denied, the withheld joy.

Prayer: Compel me, Holy One. Make me have to go. Someone in Samaria is waiting for me. Amen.

PUCC Holy Week Devotion – Wednesday, March 28, 2018

 

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. – 1Corinthians 13:4-8

 

[Here in the middle of Holy Week, as we continue with our Lenten journey with our whole selves and a particular focus on our head/mind, it is important to ponder old and new ways of thinking… maturing in the faith.]

 

Growing in Love’s Likeness: Falling into Mercy by Richard Rohr

 

The transition to the second half of life* moves you from either/or thinking to both/and thinking: the ability to increasingly live with paradox and mystery. You no longer think in terms of win/lose, but win/win. It is a very different mind and strategy for life. In order for this alternative consciousness to become your primary way of thinking, you usually have to experience something that forces either/or thinking to fall apart. Perhaps you hate homosexuality and then you meet a wonderful gay couple. Or you meet a Muslim who is more loving than most of your Christian friends. Or you encounter a young immigrant who doesn’t match your stereotypes at all. Something must break your addiction to yourself and your opinions.

 

Your first reaction is a struggle: “What do I do now? I don’t like this. I can’t deal with this. I want to go back to my familiar and habitual world.” You know your lesbian daughter is good and you love her and don’t want to reject her. So you ask your minister, “What will I do?” (Hopefully you have a wise, non-dual minister!) Inside such “liminal space” is where real change happens, where your self-serving little dualisms must fall apart. It might be called growing up.

 

Jesus always honored and often idealized good, holy non-Jews, like the Samaritan man (Luke 10:29-37), the Roman centurion (Matthew 8:5-13), and the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30). But even his disciples struggled to accept that the outsider could or should be accepted. If you’re stuck in the first half of life, with your explanation about why you or your group are the best, you will hold on strongly because it’s all you have, and any change feels like dying.

 

Often the only thing that can break down your natural egocentricity is discovering that the qualities you hate in others are actually within you. You’re not so moral after all. You’ve imagined doing “bad” things; and if you could get away with it, you know you’d do it. Perhaps the only reason you don’t is because you’re afraid. Fear is not enlightenment. Fear is not the new transformed state of the risen Christ that we’ve been promised. Fear keeps you inside of a false order and will not allow any reordering.

 

Unless you somehow “weep” over your own phoniness, hypocrisy, fear, and woundedness, you probably won’t let go of the first half of life. If you don’t allow this needed disappointment to well up within you, if you surround yourself with your orthodoxies and your certitudes and your belief that you’re the best, frankly, you will stay in the first half of life forever.  Many religious people never allow themselves to fall, while many “sinners” fall and rise again. Our greatest sin is not falling or failing, but refusing to rise and trust ourselves-and God-again.Make sure you are always in need of mercy and you will never stop growing.

 

* = Most of us tend to think about the second half of life in terms of getting old, dealing with health issues, and letting go of our physical life. But the transition can happen at any age. Moving to the second half of life is an experience of falling upward and onward, into a broader and deeper world, where the soul has found its fullness and we are consciously connected to the whole.

 

It is not a loss but somehow a gain. I have met enough radiant people to know that this paradox is possible! Many have come to their human fullness, often against all odds, and usually through suffering. They offer models and goals for humanity, much more than the celebrities and politicos who get so much of our attention today.

 

Helen Keller (1880-1968)-an author, pacifist, suffragist, member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and a woman who was deaf and blind-was such a model. Once she discovered her own depths, she seems to have leapt into the second half of life very early, despite considerable limitations. She became convinced that life was about service to others rather than protecting or lamenting her supposedly disabled body. Keller’s Swedenborgian mysticism surely helped her grow and “fall upward” despite-or maybe because of-her very constricted early experience. Helen had to grow; she had to go deep and broad. She clearly continued to create herself, even though she could have so easily complained about how little she had to work with. Where did God end and where did she begin? It is an impossible question to answer. Helen and God somehow worked together.

 

Prayer: Holy One, help me to continue to mature in my faith, growing into the fullness of love in all directions. Amen.

 

 

PUCC Holy Week Devotion – Tuesday, March 27, 2018

 
If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. – James 1:5

 

The Serenity Prayer:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference. – Reinhold Niebuhr
 
Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr (/ˈraɪnhoʊld ˈniːbʊər/; June 21, 1892 – June 1, 1971) was an American theologianethicist, commentator on politics and public affairs, and professor at Union Theological Seminary for more than 30 years. Niebuhr was one of America’s leading public intellectuals for several decades of the 20th century and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964. A public theologian, he wrote and spoke frequently about the intersection of religion, politics, and public policy, with his most influential books including Moral Man and Immoral Society and The Nature and Destiny of Man, the second of which Modern Library ranked one of the top 20 nonfiction books of the twentieth century. Andrew Bacevich labelled Niebuhr’s book The Irony of American History “the most important book ever written on U.S. foreign policy.” Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. described Niebuhr as “the most influential American theologian of the 20th century” and Time posthumously called Niebuhr “the greatest Protestant theologian in America since Jonathan Edwards.”
 
Reinhold Niebuhr was born in Wright City, Missouri, the son of German immigrants Gustav Niebuhr, and Lydia (née Hosto). His father was a German Evangelical pastor; his denomination was the American branch of the established Prussian Church Union in Germany. It is now part of the United Church of Christ. The family spoke German at home. His brother H. Richard Niebuhr also became a famous theological ethicist, and his sister Hulda Niebuhr became a divinity professor in Chicago. The Niebuhr family moved to Lincoln, Illinois, in 1902 when Gustav Niebuhr became pastor of Lincoln’s St. John’s German Evangelical Synod church. Reinhold Niebuhr first served as pastor of a church when he served from April to September 1913 as interim minister of St. John’s following his father’s death.
 
Niebuhr attended Elmhurst College (also part of our UCC) in Illinois and graduated in 1910. He studied at Eden Theological Seminary in Webster Groves, Missouri, where, as he admitted, he was deeply influenced by Samuel D. Press in “biblical and systematic subjects”, and Yale Divinity School, where he earned a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1914 and a Master of Arts degree the following year. He always regretted not taking a doctorate. He said that Yale gave him intellectual liberation from the localism of his German-American upbringing.
 
In 1931 Niebuhr married Ursula Keppel-Compton. She was a member of the Church of England and was educated at Oxford University in theology and history. She met Niebuhr while studying for her master’s degree at Union Theological Seminary. For many years, she was on faculty at Barnard College (the women’s college of Columbia University) where she helped establish and then chaired the religious studies department. The Niebuhrs had two children, Christopher Niebuhr and Elisabeth Niebuhr Sifton. Ursula Niebuhr left evidence in her professional papers at the Library of Congress showing that she co-authored some of her husband’s later writings.
 
Starting as a minister with working-class sympathies in the 1920s and sharing with many other ministers a commitment to pacifism and socialism, his thinking evolved during the 1930s to neo-orthodox realist theology as he developed the philosophical perspective known as Christian realism. He attacked utopianism as ineffectual for dealing with reality, writing in The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness (1944), “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.” Niebuhr’s realism deepened after 1945 and led him to support American efforts to confront Soviet communism around the world. A powerful speaker, he was one of the most influential thinkers of the 1940s and 1950s in public affairs. Niebuhr battled with religious liberals over what he called their naïve views of the contradictions of human nature and the optimism of the Social Gospel, and battled with the religious conservatives over what he viewed as their naïve view of scripture and their narrow definition of “true religion”. During this time he was viewed by many as the intellectual rival of John Dewey.
 
Niebuhr’s contributions to political philosophy include utilizing the resources of theology to argue for political realism. His work has also significantly influenced international relations theory, leading many scholars to move away from idealism and embrace realism. A large number of scholars, including political scientists, political historians, and theologians, have noted his influence on their thinking. Aside from academics, numerous politicians, and activists such as former U.S. Presidents Barack Obama, and Jimmy Carter; Thomas EdisonMyles HortonMartin Luther King Jr.Hillary ClintonHubert Humphrey, Dean AchesonJames ComeyMadeleine Albright, and John McCain have also cited his influence on their thought. Recent years have seen a renewed interest in Niebuhr’s work, in part because of Obama’s stated admiration for Niebuhr. In 2017, PBS released a documentary on Niebuhr, titled An American Conscience: The Reinhold Niebuhr Story.
 
Aside from his political commentary, Niebuhr is also known for having composed The Serenity Prayer, a widely-recited prayer which was popularized by Alcoholics Anonymous. Niebuhr was also one of the founders of both Americans for Democratic Action and the International Rescue Committee and also spent time at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. He was also the brother of another prominent theologian, H. Richard Niebuhr.
 
Prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.Amen.
 

PUCC Holy Week Devotion – Monday, March 26, 2018

 

I have yet many things to say unto you, but you cannot bear them now. – John 16:12
 
6 Reasons Why Love Made Me A Progressive Christian
by Matthew A. Boswell – pastor of Camas Friends Church, a Christ-centered Quaker Meeting in Cams, WA.
I am a progressive Christian. I did not choose this, like selecting which kind of ice cream my wife is most in the mood for (as long as it has chocolate but no nuts, I am probably safe). It is probably more accurate to say I grew into it.
 
I have always been a follower of Jesus. I suspect I always will be. But the way I understand the nature of that “following” has evolved.
In short, I am a progressive Christian because of Love. I think you can also have Love and not come to think as I have. But I think that Love has been the driving force behind every “progressive shift” in my spirituality. Six examples come to mind:
  1. The shift from exclusive to inclusive salvation. I actually don’t think about universal reconciliation-my unoriginal belief that if any of us are saved for eternity, all of us are saved for eternity-all that much these days. I’m not really as concerned with who is or isn’t “saved” as much as how we can better love our neighbors.
But the dividing line between eternal blessedness and damnation increasingly felt unloving, no matter how many ways I heard it justified (“God’s ways are mysterious” or “God loves us by giving us free will”).
I now believe two things: 1) belief in Jesus doesn’t save you, God’s love does; and 2) I do not receive eternal life because God preferred me or because I chose God because A) I don’t believe God’s love is preferential and B) I believe I am only partially responsible for my choices, sharing such responsibility with, for example, my family, my social influences, and plain luck.
I follow Jesus because this is the truth as I’ve experienced it. I don’t believe the consequences of your different beliefs warrant a different ultimate fate. We’re in this together, no matter our present understanding of “this.”
  1. The shift in my understanding of the Bible. I strongly resist verse wars-where we each pick the verses which most support our point and, typically, don’t convince one another of anything. I think it reflects a misunderstanding of what the Bible is. I don’t believe the Bible is a constitution to be taken literally. Of course, who does this? Even conservatives who recoil at progressives’ use of the Bible actually demonstrate a selective literalism, overemphasizing what conveniently supports their present beliefs and values.
Rather, the Bible is a record of numerous individuals and communities’ experiences with God. They encountered God and wrote about it. Now we can read about their very valid experiences of God understood within the limitations not only of their own historical-social context but their own personal biases.
We don’t have to accept that God slaughters others because “he” is angry (nor do we have to accept that God is masculine). We can instead recognize that people often resort to violence and assume God is on their side to feel at ease with such violence and because we are biased toward “our own.”
We don’t have to accept that women should not be authoritative. We can instead recognize that someone like Paul was either A) prejudiced against women or B) concerned for the survival of early Christian churches and so had to carefully navigate between maintaining the status quo or rejecting it.
Where the Bible supports Love, I follow it. Where it conflicts with Love, as I understand it, I reject it. Where the Bible calls into question my present understanding and character, I hope I have the wisdom to see it and the courage to act upon what I see.
  1. The shift in my view of sexuality and gender. God’s “design” is love. Love respects, challenges, cares, endures, and liberates. Since I believe the greatest commandment is love, I “read” every other situation or possible moral conundrum as it relates to love. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and every other sexual or gender identity in themselves are not only not bad: they are good.
This issue also exemplifies how conservatives can misjudge themselves when claiming the Bible as their ultimate authority in condemning LGBTQ+ identity and sexuality. No, the Bible is not your ultimate authority. It is a secondary (if that high) authority that affirms your primary authority: your present, right-in-this-moment combination of your likes and dislikes, worldview, hopes and fears, knowledge, biases and preferences, sense of right and wrong, and conglomeration of lived experiences.
You know what ultimately “saved” me from my prejudice toward LGBTQ+ persons, more than any philosophical or scientific or biblical argument? People. Like, actually having friends who are LGBTQ+. Turns out they are just like me! Their love is really love-not selfish, twisted, or God-hating.
Real people mess with your theology. And that’s how it should be. Theology can help, but it can also become a blinding idol, distracting us from really loving others.
  1. The shift in the importance of social concerns. In fairness, there are a lot of socially conscious conservative Christians, acting to alleviate poverty, racism, environmental degradation, et al. But many of them know they are in the minority, fighting not just for these good causes but perhaps also to redeem the conservative “brand.”
I have found, however, that progressive Christian communities more naturally nurture our human impulse to help other people. I think there are many reasons for this. It could be that progressives have abandoned the “this world is not my home, I’m just passing through” mentality ingrained in their minds from their youth and have come to see that, no, God cares very deeply about this world. And so should we.
There’s a propensity toward resignation to the status quo in conservatives that tends to turn people inward and upward-toward our personal, private relationship with God and/or toward the next life. Progressive Christians can believe faith is both personal and eternal but also communal, social, and ecological.
We are stewards of the earth and all its forms of life. There’s no room for neglecting the planet and ignoring the impact our lifestyles have on the earth. There’s no room for saying “the poor will always be with you” as though Jesus meant we should not work to eradicate poverty. There’s no room for accepting racial and gender inequities and saying with a shrug “must be God’s plan” or anything remotely like it.
Stewardship means taking care of what God has given us. Does your “care” for your children involve a total indifference to their needs, knowing that it doesn’t matter what they become as long as they know God loves them? Of course not, unless you’re the worst! Our love, while it will always (naturally) be strongest for those closest to us, should extend to all creation.
  1. The shift to a welcoming rather than defensive posture toward science. I grew up assuming evolution was a farce, a view supported by well-meaning and kind-hearted spiritual mentors who wanted to build my confidence in the truth of the Christian faith. It was energizing for a time-learning how to defend my faith against doubters and persecutors!
Except, I’ve had a relatively privileged life, and most of the religious persecution I received was in my mind and vastly over-exaggerated. Most people accept my Christian faith, as long as I’m not a jerk about it. I increasingly grew out of this defensiveness, which for some conservatives extends beyond a fear of science: “they’re taking away our prayer in schools! They’re taking away our marriage.”
Progressive Christianity is not anxious about what “they are taking away” or fixated on my religious freedom; it is anxious about the fact that someone will die tonight because she either has no food, no shelter, no caring persons in her life, or because her community and society do not have “space” for or value her.
As for science, to say what has been said countless times: the Bible is not a science book! No science should be based off of anything in the Bible. Science should be based on what actual, real scientists are doing. Moses was not a scientist. Jesus was not a scientist.
Science is, of course, provisional. Paradigms change, understanding grows. But I can’t imagine we will ever discover something about the galaxies or the neurons in our brains that threatens my belief in a very real love of a very real God.
I think Christians would do well to recognize their religious tradition in the same way scientists do: as an ever-developing story, listening to and drawing upon the past but creatively building upon it. We have nothing to fear.
  1. The shift to an emphasis on practice over doctrine. I think this is why my Quaker meeting (our name for a local congregation) works as well as it does. Our meeting is, on the whole, progressive, but it’s not as simple as that. We actually have a range of theologies among us, from people who sound more like traditional evangelicals to others who sound more like Unitarians or even agnostics. What binds us together is not a particular doctrine on which everyone signs off.
What binds us are our shared practices. We are Christ-centered, but there are no boundaries that you must cross to suddenly be “in.” We practice listening-to God, to Christ as our present teacher, and to one another. We practice corporate discernment in our decision-making, valuing unity and dialogue over voting or argumentation. We practice silence, recognizing the value of simplicity in worship and the need to counter the constant wall of sound in our day-to-day lives. We practice justice, knowing that love not expressed practically in our community is not really love at all but a cheap imitation of it.
We may follow Jesus and worship God, but have spacious understandings of what it means to do these things “rightly.” What matters most is practicing love for one another.
This is also why I, and many others, welcome the spiritual guidance of Muslims, Buddhists, and other non-Christian spiritualities. What most interests me is not what to think about God but how to experience and live out the love of God. If Muslims and Buddhists can help me in my journey of love, then they are my allies. Love is not automatically “tainted” if it’s not explicitly Christian love. Love, if it is Love, is Love.
I cannot speak to where your experience of God’s love has taken you theologically, but I can speak to my own. I am not defensive about my theology, but do seek to defend the way of Love by walking it. Even though it is, at times, a rather bumbling walk.
Prayer: Holy One, help me to keep learning about you and making sense of my faith. Amen.

 

2841 N Ballas Road | Saint Louis, Missouri 63131
314-872-9330 | www.parkwayucc.org

PUCC Lenten Devotion – Palm Sunday, March 25, 2018

Don’t forget to add info@parkwayucc.org to your address book so we’ll be sure to land in your inbox and not in your spam folders!

 
You may unsubscribe if you no longer wish to receive our emails.

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.’ – Matthew 21:1b-2
 

A Palm Sunday poem, prayer and pondering to challenge our minds as we discern the meaning of this day…
 
The poem 
 
The Donkey by G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936)
 
When fishes flew and forests walked
      And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
      Then surely I was born.
 
With monstrous head and sickening cry
      And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
      On all four-footed things.
 
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
     Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me:  I am dumb,
     I keep my secret still.
 
Fools!  For I also had my hour;
     One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
     And palms before my feet.
 
**
 
The prayer 

A Prayer for Palm Sunday by John W. Vest
 
God of transformation,
we are reminded this day
that Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem
was more than a show,
more than a simple provocation,
more than the beginning of a cute celebration.
It was a signal that things are changing,
an unmistakably potent message
to the powers that be
that the world as we know it
is becoming the world as it should be.
It was a radical act of defiance
directed against those in his day
who wielded power
through violence, oppression, and tyranny.
It is no less radical, and no less tame,
for those who do the same today.
This simple ride reminds us-
and tells the whole world-
that you are indeed coming to make all things new.
You are coming to turn weapons of war
into instruments of peace.
You are coming to release those
who find themselves in all manners of bondage:
chains of injustice;
chains of addiction;
chains of conformity and apathy.
You are coming to provide for the poor:
food for the hungry
and shelter for the homeless.
You are coming to assure the dignity and equality
of all who are marginalized or oppressed.
You are coming to end violence and divisions,
to provide safe communities
and opportunities for education.
You are coming to offer healing and wholeness,
comfort, consolation, and hope.
You are coming to transform all that we know.
You are coming to save us.
But like humble Jesus riding into town on a lowly colt,
you aren’t coming in grandeur,
you aren’t coming with thunder and lightning,
you aren’t making an epic entrance.
You’re coming through the mystery of love incarnate,
through your church empowered by your Spirit,
through lives transformed and inspired,
through ordinary people like us,
blessed by you to do extraordinary things.
Come, gracious God
into a world that longs for change,
a world that needs your love,
a world full of your own children,
a world ripe with hope and potential.
Blessed are those who come in your name, O God.
We have come.
We will go.
And now we pray-we pray for your coming kingdom
emerging all around us.
Amen.
        

**

The pondering 
 
Jesus’ Subversive Donkey RideA Progressive Christian Lectionary Commentary for Palm Sundaby Carl Gregg

                                                                                                                                  
In Mark’s fast-paced style, we see three different days of Holy Week in chapter 11 alone. The first eleven verses are what we celebrate as Palm Sunday. But in verse 12, we see a clue (the words, ‘On the following day’), which indicate that the events regarding the fig tree and the aggression against the Temple happened the next day. Monday continues through Mark 11:19, where we read that, ‘when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.’ And in verse 20, Mark lets us know that Tuesday has arrived when he describes the second encounter with the fig tree as happening, ‘In the morning.’

Although Holy Week liturgies have tended to focus on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Holy Friday, and Easter Sunday, the events of “Holy Tuesday” are much more extensively described in Mark than any of the other days. All total, Mark devotes 115 verses to the Tuesday of Jesus’ last week, a statistic which is helpful to keep in mind when considering the relatively paltry eleven verses Mark affords to Palm Sunday. And Mark spends more than half of those eleven verses detailing the odd procurement of Jesus’ donkey.

Anyone familiar with the book of Zechariah would immediately recognize why Mark spent so many precious verses on the simple act of getting the donkey. Zechariah 9:9 says, ‘Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River [Euphrates] to the ends of the earth.’
 
Many commentators have speculated that Mark emphasizes the details of retrieving the donkey to give his readers time to have “ears to hear” the allusion to Zechariah’s prophecy: the one who comes riding on a donkey will nonviolently bring peace.

This connection between Zechariah and Mark is not merely the speculation of modern scholars. Remember that both Matthew and Luke had a copy of Mark on their desks when they wrote their respective Gospels a decade later. And when Matthew copied Mark’s account of Palm Sunday, he adds in Matthew 21:4 that, ‘This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet.’ Then Matthew quotes Zechariah to make clear Mark’s allusion.

But here’s where the story gets strange. Whereas Mark simply has Jesus riding a donkey colt, Matthew curiously switches into the plural. In Matthew 21:6-7 if you read closely, you’ll notice that it says, ‘The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.’ Matthew’s version sounds like Jesus rode in on both beasts at the same time, straddling two animals like a circus act.

In Matthew’s defense, Zechariah said that the prophesied one would come ‘on donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ But any Hebrew scholar would tell you that Zechariah was simply speaking poetically using Semitic parallelism, which was commonly used to describe the same object in two different ways. But Matthew, reading the Greek translation of Zechariah (in the Septuagint), may have misread the prophet as speaking literally, and then changed Mark’s account to conform to Matthew’s understanding of Zechariah’s prophecy. In other words, many scholars have maintained that Matthew must have thought, “If Zechariah said two animals, then Jesus must have ridden two animals no matter how odd that seems.”

This alteration is one of those cases that some scholars gleefully point out to show inconsistencies in the Bible. My goal is not to claim that the Bible is inerrant. Rather, the more I study the Bible, the more I am convinced not that the biblical writers were infallible or perfect, but that the biblical authors are operating at a much more sophisticated and challenging level than is typically recognized today.
The historical Jesus scholar John Dominic Crossan has sought to debunk the argument that Matthew was a scriptural literalist who altered Mark’s story to the absurd length of Jesus riding in on two animals at the same time to conform to Matthew’s misreading of Zechariah. Crossan proposes what I believe to be a much more compelling interpretation of Matthew. Crossan writes that Matthew [my emphasis]: wants two animals, a donkey with her little colt beside her, and that Jesus rides “them” in the sense of having them both as part of his demonstration’s highly visible symbolism. In other words, Jesus does not ride a stallion or a mare, a mule or a male donkey, and not even a female donkey. He rides the most unmilitary mount imaginable: a female nursing donkey with her little colt trotting along beside her.
 
I find Crossan’s reading compelling because Jesus riding an unmilitary mount matches the rest of the Zechariah prophecy – that the one who comes riding on a humble donkey into Jerusalem will nonviolently bring peace. Remember the language from Zechariah about ‘cutting off the chariot, war horse, and bow into to command peace.’

This interpretation is even more convincing when you consider that historically triumphal entries into Jerusalem would have been exactly the opposite of what Mark, Matthew, and Zechariah described. The triumphant military leader would not have come nonviolently on a humble donkey to cut off the chariot, war horse, and bow; but would have come riding a chariot and war horse and wielding a bow or other weapons.
 
Crossan notes that in 332 BCE, three centuries before Jesus’ Palm Sunday entrance, Alexander the Great, having conquered “Tyre and Gaza after terrible sieges . . . Jerusalem opened its gate without a fight.” And we can “Imagine the victorious Alexander entering Jerusalem on his famous war-horse, the black stallion Bucephalus.”

Similarly, Crossan highlights that the custom likely would have been for Pilate to make a similarly militaristic triumphal entry to Jerusalem – with war horse, chariot, and weapons – each year in the days before Passover to remind the pilgrims that Rome was in charge. Such a demonstration would have been especially pertinent at Passover since Passover was explicitly a celebration of the liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. Thus, Jesus’ subversive donkey ride reminded all those waving Palm branches that Rome was the new Egypt, and the Emperor was the new Pharaoh.

In many ways the lampooning and satire are the easier part. The next day, Jesus continued the trajectory that had begun with his unusual entry to Jerusalem when he overturned the tables in the Temple to interrupt, if only briefly, business as usual. As indicated by the odd symbolism of the fig tree, Jesus’ issue was that the current religious and political establishment, like the troublesome fig tree, was not bearing fruit.

Suddenly, we find Jesus making broad, increasingly public and controversial demonstrations in the big city of Jerusalem in the middle of Passover (the height of the pilgrimage season) in contrast to merely making controversial teachings in the small towns and villages around Galilee. I do not think that Jesus wanted to die, but his passion for justice and his anger at injustice – a passion and anger he inherited from the Hebrew prophets before him – led him to take increasingly large risks to show the contrast between the status quo (where Herod was king) and the kingdom of God. These risky acts of nonviolent activism led directly to Jesus’ tragic martyrdom.

This account is not to say that following Jesus necessarily means we will die a tragic death. There are those like St. Francis of Assisi, Clarence Jordan, and Dorothy Day who followed Jesus in radical, controversial ways and died of old age. But there are also those like Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Gandhi who – like Jesus – were killed when they risked following Jesus’ way. Thus [my emphasis]: Rosa Parks is an imitator of Christ, not because she suffered for taking her stand (or keeping her seat, in her case), but because she had the courage to believe in her own dignity and fought for it in spite of the conflict that resulted. Nelson Mandela is an imitator of Christ, not because he suffered in prison, but because he held out for peace and justice, and led a nation to resurrection. In each case it is not the suffering that is redemptive, but the courage to pursue justice in the face of pain and evil.
 
This Holy Week, may Mark’s story of Jesus continues to haunt us, to challenge us, and to inspire us as we discern how God is calling us – today, in our time and place – to follow the Jesus’ risky way of nonviolent activism, loving-kindness, and gracious compassion.

Notes:
1 For Crossan’s interpretation of Palm Sunday, I am drawing from the study guide he wrote to accompany the 2009 DVD series First Light: Jesus and the Kingdom. However, for a less-expensive alternative to buying the DVDs, I recommend his book co-written with Marcus Borg, The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem, which, however, was published in 2006 and does not include Crossan’s interpretation of Matthew 21 about the female donkey and coal.
2 “Rosa Parks is an imitator of Christ” – see John R. Mabry, Crisis & Communion: The Remythologization of the Eucharist – Past, Present, and Future (Berkeley, CA: Apocryphile Press, 2005), 129.

The Rev. Carl Gregg is the pastor of Broadview Church in Chesapeake Beach, Maryland. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter @carlgregg 

            

Prayer:  Holy One, help me to be open to the words and wonders of today. Amen.  

2841 N Ballas Road | Saint Louis, Missouri 63131
314-872-9330 | www.parkwayucc.org
Parkway United Church of Christ, 2841 N Ballas Road, Saint Louis, MO 63131
Sent by kevin@parkwayucc.org in collaboration with
Constant Contact