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Monthly Archives: March 2010

Luke 19:28-40.

After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?” just say this: “The Lord needs it.” ’ So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’ They said, ‘The Lord needs it.’ Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, 
‘Blessed is the king
   who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
 and glory in the highest heaven!’ 
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’

Today is Palm Sunday and if my experience (in the North American evangelical church) is accurate then you’d be hard pressed to hear much about politics from the pulpit this morning. Unfortunately we don’t often associate politics with Jesus. Who is Jesus? Well, we say, Jesus came to forgive us and free us of our sins so that we can go to heaven. While this is in a sense true I think we stop too quickly. We preach the good news about Jesus but rarely do we preach the good news of Jesus. The good news that Jesus proclaimed was nothing less than the in-breaking of the reign of God. Look at the gospels and ask yourself how many times Jesus calls people to “repent”. This isn’t just about repenting for thinking hateful thoughts about that jerk who just cut you off in traffic (although it would include that). This sort of repentance is about abandoning a particular way of life and embarking on a new way. It’s about receiving and entering the reign of God: “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15). What is the reign of God? It is nothing less than all of life coming under the authority of God and the redemption of all things broken. It is a new way of living. A new way of ordering society. Heck, we even refer to the church as a Body and when we hear Body we ought to hear “Body politic”. The church is a political Body because we are a community who has received the kingdom and is seeking to enter into it and represent it in the midst of a watching world.
Ok, so back to the text from Luke that I quoted above. We often hear this text preached on Palm Sunday morning and the preacher usually has something to say about Jesus being recognized as the Messiah and Saviour. This is most certainly true which is why I find it shocking that we rarely pick up on the political undertones (or overtones!) of passages like this (Messiah is a political figure of sorts). Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is politically hot so why don’t we look at a few things in the text.

1) This sort of entrance into a city would not have been an unfamiliar sight. In fact, this was how kings would return to their city after battle or after a visit to another city (say Rome). For example, when Herod went to Rome to be made king he would not have returned to Jerusalem under the cover of darkness. This would have been a spectacular event. Any time a king was returning home the city would go out to meet the king and parade home with him. Therefore, when we read of Jesus entering Jerusalem like this we should instantly hear the political undertones. Jesus doesn’t just walk into Jerusalem with a few friends. No, he parades in.
2) If this is the case then Jesus is in a position where he resembles a king. In fact, look at what the crowds proclaim as Jesus is entering the city: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” Blessed is the king?! How can this man be king? There is only one king in Jerusalem and that is Herod, king of the Jews! Can you feel the tension?
3) However, Jesus does not enter the city as Herod would. Imagine Herod returning to Jerusalem from Rome. You can imagine the scene! I’m sure there would have been a massive parade with horses and music and Herod riding into the city on his chariot. The majesty! The power! The authority! How does Jesus enter the city? On a colt. A colt? Not even a horse? Jesus enters Jerusalem not on a chariot but on a poor colt. What does this say about real power and authority? What does this say about the politics of king Herod vs. the politics of king Jesus?

Can you imagine what this scene would have meant and looked like? Here is Jesus entering Jerusalem in a royal procession (of sorts!) and as he enters the city the crowds proclaim “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” You can picture the religious leaders who were there. “No! Jesus, order your disciples to stop. Stop saying these things. Be quiet all of you!” Why was this the reaction of the religious leaders? I think they were worried. Here is Jesus entering Jerusalem as king but there is only one king and that is Herod, not Jesus. Imagine Herod hearing of this? No wonder Jesus was crucified. This kingdom that he proclaimed and announced was a threat to many people, especially people in positions of power and influence. It’s also interesting to note what the Synoptic Gospels tell us was one of the first things Jesus did when he entered Jerusalem: he cleared the Temple (talk about abrasive politics)!
So, today on Palm Sunday as we reflect on Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem may we get a glimpse of the political, economic and social implications of such an act. May we realize that Jesus proclaimed the reign of God and that this reign is indeed “before us.” The only proper response then is to repent and enter God’s kingdom. However, we should count the cost because this requires nothing less than an entirely different way of doing life together, a way that subverts and undermines worldly understandings of power and economic life.
Lord Jesus, forgive us for prostrating ourselves before idols. Forgive us for bearing the image of these false gods. May we be a people shaped by you, a people where you speak and are made manifest, a people who bear your image, a people that enter and embody your reign here on earth so that all may look, taste and see your goodness. We forsake all things to follow you. May your kingdom come here on earth as it is in Heaven where you are.

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It’s hard to beat a great story.

This morning in one of my classes a local pastor came for a visit with two of her congregants. They were new to the faith and as they shared their stories I felt like I wanted to break down and weep. Not weep out of sadness. Rather, to weep out of joy, a deep, deep joy that is born out of great suffering and despair.

I think one of the big challenges about being in seminary and studying the faith at a secular university is the fact that in the ‘real’ world a lot of what we’re doing doesn’t translate well. I mean when it comes down to it who really cares who wrote Hebrews and likewise are everyday people really grappling with issues of systematic theology. Sure, these things may have their place but my prayer is that academia would never rob me or my classmates of a beautifully simple faith. One that enables us to come alongside others in their despair and rejoice with them in their triumphs.

What if, as a local church leader, someone walked into my office one day out of the blue and out of a deep sense of despair and depression asked me the question, “Would God send me to hell if I took my own life?” Sure, we can talk about this and I can theologize about the situation but I think if my first reaction isn’t to be broken along with my brother/sister then I should probably just walk away from what I’m doing now.

As I listened to this young couple talk about discovering the stories of the Bible for the first time and being hungry for more and more it reminded me of the importance to never lose sight of the simplicity of the story. So much of theological study is about trying to grasp the text. Yet, what is truly important in life is not grasping the text but being grasped by the text. Reading the scriptures with open eyes and ears and a sense of wonder and awe.

Some of the comments that they made that stuck out to me in particular were:
“The church just never played a messy part in my life before.”
The young woman (who had never set foot in a church until 6 months ago) kept talking about the church as playing a “messy part” in her life. I thought this was awesome! So often those of us who have been around the church for a while think that the church ought to be some place that is clean and sober and tidy. But this isn’t true to life, especially to people who have experience with the messiness of life. May the church play a messy part in all our lives.

“We’re hanging out with people that we normally would never have had any contact with.”
– This strikes me as one of the beautiful thing about church communities. The only thing that we all have in common is Christ. We come from all sorts of different backgrounds and walks of life to worship Christ and be sent into the world. What then does this say about church communities where everyone looks the same?

The young woman who was sharing said that being part of the community has given her a different perspective on what she wants and the direction she wants to go. Amen. Also, it’s interesting to note that she was baptized after being a part of the community for 5 weeks. Amazing!

Just some rough thoughts from this morning.

If at the end of my life I have a few stories like this about the beauty of God and others then I will consider myself honoured to be witness to the work of God in the world.

A dear friend of mine wrote this recently and I asked her if I could re-post it to which she replied, “Re-post away!” I think it’s a great example of some of the “costs” of the Northern way of progress. Costs to the environment and to our relationships with others. As we look forward to a day when Christ will return and finally make these wrongs right may we be signposts that point towards what is yet to come and yet now breaking in.

_____

Written by Stacy Topouzova.

The mouth of the Baram River in Borneo is the color of the earth. To the north, the soils of Sarawak disappear into the South China Sea and fleets of empty Japanese freighters hang on the horizon. Some 150 kilometers upriver is another world, a varied and magical landscape of forest and soaring mountains, dissected by crystalline rivers…This is the traditional territory of the Penan.

In myth and in daily life, they celebrate the bounty of a forest whose biological richness and diversity surpasses that of even the most prolific regions of the Amazon. In fact, the Penan passage through the forest is cyclical and resource dependent; thus, the forest for them is a series of neighborhoods, wild and potentially dangerous, but fundamentally domesticated by generations of human presence and interaction. Every feature of the landscape resonates with a story.

A sense of stewardship permeates the Penan society, dictating consistently the manner in which they utilize and apportion the environment. They had no notion of paid employment, of work as burden, as opposed to leisure as recreation. For them, there was only life, the daily round. There was little sense of hierarchy.

How do you measure wealth in a society in which there are no specialties, in which everyone can make everything from raw materials readily found in the forest, a society in which there is no incentive to accumulate material possessions because everything has to be carried on the back? The Penan explicitly perceive wealth as the strength of social relations among people…The priority is always the solidarity of the group.

There is no word for “thank you” in their language because sharing is an obligation.

When the Penan came to Canada to campaign for the protection of their forests, nothing impressed them more than homelessness. They could not understand how in a place as wealthy as Vancouver such a thing could exist. A Canadian or American grows up believing that homelessness is a regrettable, but inevitable feature of life. The Penan live by the adage that a poor man shames us all.

The Penan lacked the written word; the total vocabulary of the language at any point in time was always the knowledge of the best storyteller. The Penan perceive the voices of animals in the forest. Every forest sound is an element of a language of the spirit. Trees bloom when they hear the lovely song of the bare-throated krankaputt. Birds heard from a certain direction bear good tidings. This remarkable dialogue informs the Penan life in ways that few outsiders can be expected to understand.

Tragically, within a single generation the Penan world was turned upside down. Women raised in the forest found themselves working as servants or prostitutes in logging camps. Children in government settlement camps who had never suffered the diseases of “civilization” succumbed to measles and influenza. The Penan elected to resist, blockading the logging roads with rattan barricades. It was a brave yet quixotic gesture, blowpipes against bulldozers, and ultimately, no match for the power of the Malaysian state.

The essence of the government’s position was such that nomadic peoples were an embarrassment to the nation-state. In order to emancipate the Penan from their backwardness, the government had to free them from who they actually were. Indigenous people like the Penan are said to stand in the way of development and becomes groups for dispossessing them and destructing their way of life. Their disappearance is then described as inevitable, as such archaic folk cannot be expected to survive in the 21st century.

In 1992, a Penan delegation did in fact travel to New York, and on December 10, addressed the UN General Assembly: “The government said that it is bringing us development. But the only development that we see is dusty logging roads and relocation camps. For us, their so-called progress means only starvation, dependence, helplessness, the destruction of culture and the demoralization of our people.”

In ten years, these logging jobs will disappear and the forest that has sustained us for thousands of years will be gone with them.

“Our society seems to be increasingly full of fearful, defensive, aggresive people anxiously clinging to their property and inclined to look at their surrounding world with suspicion, always expecting an enemy to suddenly appear, intrude, and do harm. But still – that is our vocation: to convert the hostis into the hospes, the enemy into a guest, and to create the free and fearless space where brotherhood and sisterhood can be formed and fully experienced.

Henri Nouwen.

“The religious quest, the spiritual pilgrimage, is always taking us into new lands where we are strange to others and they are strange to us. Faith is a venture into the unknown, into the realms of mystery, away from the safe and comfortable and secure.

Parker Palmer.

In a society (faith, even) where we are told that a goal in life is to be safe and secure, and to create these sorts of environments for our families, we follow Jesus. Jesus who calls us into unknown places to enter into communion with unknown people. The life of a follower of Jesus is not a safe and secure life. Rather, it demands that we lay down our idolatrous notions of safety and security (idolatrous in that we can make these things for ourselves).

As a man I’m told that I need to provide for my wife and family. Provide for their needs. Provide a safe and secure environment for them. Essentially, to be closed to the stranger because they are unknown and, therefore, to be feared. However, these sorts of ideals are not dictated to me by Jesus. Rather, they are dictated to me by a culture that lives in fear of the stranger and the unknown and that seeks to build for itself Shalom. But I cannot build for myself Shalom. I can only receive it and it must be received and entered into with the stranger; with the enemy that becomes a guest.

Hear the word of the Lord, O people of Israel;
 for the Lord has an indictment against the inhabitants of the land.

There is no faithfulness or loyalty, and no knowledge of God in the land.

Swearing, lying, and murder,
 and stealing and adultery break out;
 bloodshed follows bloodshed.

Therefore the land mourns, and all who live in it languish;

together with the wild animals
 and the birds of the air,
 even the fish of the sea are perishing.

Yet let no one contend,
 and let none accuse,
 for with you is my contention, O priest.

You shall stumble by day;
 the prophet also shall stumble with you by night,
 and I will destroy your mother.

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge;
 because you have rejected knowledge,
 I reject you from being a priest to me.

And since you have forgotten the law of your God,
 I also will forget your children.

The more they increased,
 the more they sinned against me;
 they changed their glory into shame.

They feed on the sin of my people;
 they are greedy for their iniquity.

And it shall be like people, like priest;
 I will punish them for their ways,
 and repay them for their deeds.

They shall eat, but not be satisfied;
 they shall fuck, but not multiply;

because they have forsaken the Lord
 to devote themselves to fucking.

Wine and new wine
 take away the understanding.

My people consult a piece of wood,
 and their divining-rod gives them oracles.

For a spirit of fucking has led them astray,
 and they have played the whore, forsaking their God.

They sacrifice on the tops of the mountains,
 and make offerings upon the hills,
 under oak, poplar, and terebinth,
 because their shade is good.

Therefore your daughters play the whore,
 and your daughters-in-law fuck.

I will not punish your daughters when they play the whore,
 nor your daughters-in-law when they fuck;

for the men themselves go and fuck with whores,
 and sacrifice with temple prostitutes;

thus a people without understanding comes to ruin.

Though you play the whore, O Israel,
 do not let Judah become guilty.

Do not enter into Gilgal,
 or go up to Beth-aven,
 and do not swear,

‘As the Lord lives.’

Like a stubborn heifer,
 Israel is stubborn;

can the Lord now feed them
 like a lamb in a broad pasture?

Ephraim is fucking idols—

let him alone.

When their drinking is ended, they indulge in sexual orgies;
 they love lewdness more than their glory.

A wind has wrapped them in its wings,

and they shall be ashamed because of their altars.