Preparing for JerusalemPosted: February 21, 2016
Preparing for Jerusalem
SLIDE 3: JESUS WAS A PHARISEE
By the standards of his day Jesus probably would have been considered a Pharisee, a very liberal Pharisee, but a liberal interpreter of the Law, in the tradition of the great Rabbi Hillel. Despite the tone of the Gospels, not all of the Pharisees were opposed to Jesus, and some of them came to warn him that Herod had sent his secret police out looking for him. Jesus thanked them for the warning and basically shared the information that he had no intention of being caught in Galilee. Instead he would remain on the move, allusive and head for Jerusalem for the final show down.
SLIDE 4: JESUS WAS POLITICAL
Our scripture this morning offers us several lessons. First, Jesus was considered “political.” He was opposed to the rulers of his day – Herod, the Romans and the Temple collaborators. He was opposed to an economic system where the rich got richer, and the poor got poorer as peasants found themselves squeezed off the land by taxes and predatory lending. The upper classes lived lives of luxury, while everyone else lived in abject poverty. Many people were selling themselves into slavery, because they could not pay their debts. It was indeed a rigged economic and political system. Sound familiar?
SLIDE 5: ANY CRITICISM OF THE RULING CLASS PUNISHABLE BY DEATH
Fortunately, today we enjoy political freedom. We can criticize our leaders. We can complain about our economic system, and we are free to participate in our political life to try to change the system. That was not true for Jesus. Any criticism of the ruling classes was considered to be treasonous punishable by death. Jesus knew this as he prepared to journey to Jerusalem.
SLIDE 6: FISHERMEN BEATING THE TAX MAN
But let us not miss the truth that Jesus was political. He was opposed to the Romans, the Herods, the ruling classes, the corrupt leadership of the Temple and the rigged economy that oppressed common ordinary workers. We have evidence that the fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were being squeezed by Herod’s fish monopoly and newly imposed taxes on their catches. Peter, Andrew, James and John were in partnership but living in different political jurisdictions. Capernaum was part of Herod Antipas’ territory, and Bethsaida was part of Herod Phillip’s region, and that is how they tried to stay one step ahead of the tax collectors. No wonder the fishermen were so willing to hear Jesus’ call for the Commonwealth of God and follow him.
As followers of Jesus we may find ourselves called upon to participate in the political process to try to bring about justice. And let me mention an issue that has arisen in this election cycle. Now I know some people will get nervous, because we are mentioning an election in church, but I think is important for our congregation as a faith community.
SLIDE 7: CAPITAL PUNISHMENT FOR GAYS AND LESBIANS
A leading Presidential candidate attended the National Religious Liberties Conference, where he received the endorsement of a prominent evangelical leader, Kevin Swanson, who calls for capital punishment for Gays and Lesbians. Not only does Swanson want to roll back marriage equality, but he reiterated his call for the death penalty, adding that “homosexuals should first be given some time to repent before the executions begin.” For me it is unthinkable that a Presidential candidate of a major political party would allow himself to be identified with such a character. I cannot stand idly by while people advocate executing 40% of my congregation.
SLIDE 8: OPEN AND AFFIRMING CONGREGATION SHOULD OPPOSE OPPRESSION OF GAY AND LESBIAN COMMUNITY
I also think as an Open and Affirming Congregation of the United Church of Christ, United Church should also add its voice of protest against these kinds of threats made against our Gay and Lesbian community. Like Jesus, sometimes good people of faith need to be political. I am hoping that a little later this Spring, Dakota Fox will lead some discussions at the Sharing Table, and perhaps in Young Adult Sunday School about other ways that people of faith can be appropriately political.
SLIDE 9: KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE PRIZE
Enough said about Jesus and politics for now. The other topic our scripture lifts up this morning is preparing for Jerusalem. Jesus was no fool. He knew what had happened to John the Baptist. He knew the Romans executed anyone who questioned Roman rule. And yet he went to Jerusalem anyway. He went because he believed he was building a movement that could change the world, a movement that could even survive the death of its leader and rise stronger than before. That is real faith. And if we want to change the world, we have to have faith, because world changing takes more than one life time more than one generation. As they said in the Civil Rights movement, we have to keep our eye on the prize. And the prize for followers of Jesus is helping to bring the Commonwealth of God into the here and now. Even for those of us who don’t think of ourselves as world changers, we still aspire to realize the Commonwealth of God in the midst of us.
SLIDE 10: PREPARE FOR JERUSALEM
And in that journey toward the Commonwealth of God each of us needs to be prepared for our Jerusalem. Life is not a series of triumphs one after the other. God does not promise every day will be sunshine and roses. God does offer us faith, because we will all have to face our own Jerusalem complete with Garden of Gethsemane moments and crosses to bear. Preparing for Jerusalem is something every follower of Jesus must face.
SLIDE 11: STRUGGLES IN RELATIONSHIP
I don’t know all of the hardships and crises you will face. I do know that anyone who undertakes a significant relationship, marriage or friendship will experience trials, anger, frustration, even feelings of betrayal and abandonment. Remember the Jesus story, betrayed by one of his closest followers, abandoned by his friends when the going got rough. Anyone who is in significant relationship with people will experience emotional pain. And because of the reality of death, spouses, partners, friends all die. If we dare to love other people, we will know the pain of grief. So each of us needs to prepare for our Jerusalem.
SLIDE 12: ANXIETY & HEARTACHE OVER CHILDREN
I also know that anyone who becomes a parent, will know anxiety and heartache. It comes with the territory. We worry over our children, no matter how old they become. We worry, when they get sick, when they get in trouble, when they run up student loans, when they enter into relationships with other people. Will this person be good for them? How will it turn out, if there is a break up or a divorce? And if there are children of the relationship, how will they fare? So many reasons for anxiety and heartache. So each of us needs to prepare for our Jerusalem.
SLIDE 13: WORRIES ABOUT LIVELIHOOD
I also know in this current climate no job, employment, or career path is absolutely secure. At any time we can be given a pink slip, asked to clean out our desk, or have our livelihood disappear. Years of training and thousands of dollars in student debt can be for naught, when a whole sector of our economy becomes technologically obsolete, or it can be outsourced to some third world country. And often losing a job is accompanied by a tremendous sense of betrayal. After all the sacrifices we made for the company, the long hours, the devoted service, and then to be put out on the street. It just doesn’t seem fair. We need to prepare for our Jerusalem.
SLIDE 14: PROCESS OF DYING
Despite our best efforts to exercise, eat right and take care of our health all of us grow older every year. While we can pray for a peaceful death and indulge the fantasy that we will live to be ninety-five years old in perfect health, fall asleep in our rocking chair and never wake up, most of us will experience illness and some suffering as part of the process of dying. Our bodies betray us. Arthritis, cancer, diabetes, hardening of the arteries, hypertension, cataracts, dementia take your pick, most of us will experience one or more significant health challenges as we age. We need to prepare for our Jerusalem.
SLIDE 15: PRAYER
So how do we prepare to meet the spiritual challenges of our lives? Jesus was sustained by his relationship with God through prayer. Over and over in the gospels we read, “and Jesus spent the night in prayer.” Prayer is always advisable, but cultivating our spiritual lives can best begin before there is a crisis. And there is no better way to begin to learn to pray, than by cultivating gratitude. Every morning wake up and think of ten reasons you are thankful. If you can’t think of ten things for which to offer thanks, go back to bed and try getting up again. Get up on the other side of the bed. When we start our day by offering thanks, we give perspective to everything else that will happen in our day.
SLIDE 16: GOOD SPIRITUAL FRIENDS
We can also prepare for Jerusalem by finding good spiritual friends who will agree to pray with us and for us. Of course having friends who will pray with us and for us means we have to be willing to ask them to pray for us and share the spiritual challenges of our lives with them. For some of us that is way too much like being vulnerable, admitting to weakness. Learning to trust others to support us in our spiritual struggles is humbling. We can’t do it all by ourselves. Only when we are weak can the strength of friends help to see us through.
SLIDE 17: PRAYERFUL REVIEW
Practice prayerful review at the end of the day. What happened in your day? Where was God in your day. Were there moments of grace or miracles that shown through in your day. Prayerful review helps us learn to trust God’s presence in our lives. Bidden or unbidden God is always with us, we are just not aware of God’s presence most of the time. Prayerful review reinforces our awareness of God’s abiding grace. And when we learn to trust that God is with us always, we begin to be prepared for Jerusalem.