Monday, March 21, 2016

Savior or Scapegoat? Palm Sunday Sermon, 2016

Rev. George Miller
March 20, 2016
Psalm 126

Welcome dreamers, laughers, and all who rejoice!

Are you ready for your fortunes to be restored? Are you ready for the great things God can do?

Welcome, those who are waiting, those who are weeping, those with tears too great for words.

Are you ready for your fortunes to be restored? Are you ready for the great things God can do?

Welcome all who are grounded in the Good News- each and every one of you bare seeds that are ripe for sowing!

Are you ready to flourish in the presence of the Lord?

If so let me hear you say “Hallelujah!”

If so, let me hear you say “Hosanna!”

Are you ready to say yes we can? Are we ready to make the nation great again?

…because, as it turns out it has not been an easy time for the nation; it has not been an easy time for the people of God.

The system is broken; the system is corrupt. And it’s the everyday person like Joe and Joanna who are paying for it.

For far too long the nation has been under what is called the “Domination System.”

It’s a system that has been around for centuries. There are 3 components to the Domination System.

The 1st is political oppression- this is where the government is run by a few, made up of the wealthy elite; people with deep, deep pockets who have friends in all the right places.

The 2nd component is economic exploitation, when working class folks are kept trapped in a cycle in which they are underpaid, overtaxed, overcharged, given loans with exorbitant interest rates, and constantly reminded that if they don’t adhere to the rules they’ll be arrested and locked away.

The 3rd component is religious legitimization. This is where the name of God is repeated over and over again by those in power, in which leadership is wrapped in words of faith, the idea that God has deemed things so, and anyone who disagrees must not believe in God, and therefore must be an enemy of the nation.

The Domination System has been used before; the Domination System will be used again.

Keep the elite in power; keep the working class in place, and say it’s all part of God’s plan.

However, the people are not fools. The people are not as asleep as they seem. And the people remember- the people of the nation remember when things were good.

They recall when there was laughter and joy. They recall when the Lord had done great, great things.

They remember the gifts of life, liberty, and freedom. They recall when there seemed to be abundance for all, leaders did what was right for the people, and they were kept out of harm’s way.

They remember when things were like Camelot…

…But now the nation is feeling dry; dry like a riverbed in the dessert. Dry from all the weeping, and worrying that has been going on.

Instead of people shouting “Yes we can!” they are feeling like “No we cannot.”

So the people are angry, they are mad. They are simultaneously looking for a scapegoat, and hoping for a savior.

The people are ready to make their nation great again, just as they remember…

…Of course, ya’ll know what nation I’m talkin’ about, right? You know who the people are, don’t know?

I’m talkin’ about the Israelites living in Jerusalem about 2,000 years ago.

I’m talking about the people of God who remember when life was good, when God freed them from slavery, when David was their king.

I’m talking about people who recall when they were freed from the Exile, when God led them back to the Holy City, singing and skipping along the river.

I’m talking about people who recall the good times but have now found themselves living in chaos, who realized their current conditions were corrupt, who grew sick and tired of being sick and tired.

I’m talking about the Israelite people living in Jerusalem who wondered just where God was, did God still care about them, was God punishing them, or was God asleep.

And sadly, these feelings did not go away any time soon. Sadly, the nation continued to be challenged. Sadly, the nation continued its identity crises. Sadly, the nation was corrupt and in chaos.

And by the beginning of Holy Week in the year 30-33, the whole nation was really, really ready for someone to be their savior, and they were really, really ready for someone to be their scapegoat...

…and that’s where Jesus comes in.

Into a cultural climate in which 90% of the population is living on a farm, forgiveness of sins can only come from the priests, and the Roman government gets a cut of all the Temple offerings.

Jesus’ ministry to the people takes place during this time.

Piece by piece, people with unclean spirits have their demons cast out; and how good it is.

People living with leprosy and dreaded diseases are offered healing; and how good it is.

People who have been paralyzed, kept in place and left for dead are restored to abundant life; and how good it is.

Except for the business men, religious leaders and government officials who benefit from having people marked as outsiders and outcasts- how good it is not.

Piece by piece Jesus has the audacity to forgive sins.

Jesus shamelessly speaks his mind. He is seen with all kinds of people, from women, to kids, to immigrants, to those with open sores and who are dripping with blood.

He not only welcomes them, he not only heals them, he teaches them, and he talks about living a different kind of way.

How good it is.

Except for the business men, the religious leaders and the politicians- how good it is not.

Piece by piece, Jesus shares with the people stories. Stories in which despised foreigners like Samaritans can be the hero of the tales.

Jesus shared with them stories about the Kingdom of God; a Kingdom where great banquets are held in which the crippled, the blind, the lame, the poor, and the common every-day woman, man, and child is invited to sit, to eat, and to be.

How good it is.

Except for the business men, the religious leaders and the politicians- how good it is not.

So today, when Jesus enters into Jerusalem, we have him entering into a political climate in which the wealthy elite are in power, the working folk are economically exploited, and religion has been used as a weapon.

So today, when Jesus enters into Jerusalem, 90% of the population is disenfranchised, angry, sad and mad as heck.

They are hoping for a savior. They want someone to step up and speak on their behalf. They want someone to right all the wrongs.

They want someone to restore the fortunes of their once great nation back to the way things were.

They want someone to make their nation great again; they want someone who will lead the way, destroy their enemies and make them say “Yes, we can!”

They believe Jesus is the One. They believe he has come to right all the wrongs. They believe he will restore their fortunes, erase their tears, and make them bountiful again.

So when they hear that Jesus is coming to town, they great him with cheers. They great him with palms and leafy braches that symbolize triumph and victory.

They greet him with Hallelujahs and Hosannas.

How. Good. It. Is.

The people have been waiting for a savior…

…but deep, deep down, if they are to honest with themselves, they are also looking for a scapegoat as well.

They are looking for someone to place all their tears, all their fears, all their frustration upon.

Deep, deep down, 90% of the nation is really looking for someone to demonize, make an enemy, and punish so they can find a way to deal with all their weeping, their worries, and their woes.

And the other 10% made of up corrupt businessmen, politicians and religious leaders are looking for someone to misdirect the population’s anger, rage and fear.

They are looking for someone to set as an example, to feed the frenzy of the crowds, and to keep the people in place.

Folk are cheering for Jesus now, but before the week comes to an end they will call for his death.

…So we ask this question, this week:

Where do you stand? What do you believe?

Are you for the Kingdom of God or for the Kingdom of Man?

Do the teachings of Jesus and the life example he sets make you say “How good it is” or “How good it is not”?

Do you welcome all that Jesus stands for with leafy palm branches of green, or do you welcome all that Jesus stands for with two rugged pieces of wood, a hammer and a set of nails?

Are you resigned to a life of weeping, waiting and worry?

Or are you ready to dream, laugh, and rejoice?

Where do you stand; what do you believe?

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