Reflections on Our Lenten Journey (Laura Crow) 4.14.19

Today, we’ve arrived. Jerusalem stands before us and the import of everything we have seen and heard comes together in this moment – the miracles, the teachings, the predictions of suffering and death – and we are faced with a question.

audio version of Reflections on Our Lenten Journey

Words & Music by Julie Mazer & Gr 2-5 Music Connections

Is He King? – verse 1

Scary, gloomy, frightful, Hosanna!
Threatening, wondering, “Is he king?”
Stranger, Friend or Foe, Hosanna!
Curious, Questioning, “Is he king?”

Is He King? – verse 2

Hopeful, loving caring, Hosanna!
Spread the mission, full of love.
Welcome, colorful, Hosanna!
Fill your enemies full of love.

Lent is a journey. It is a journey we walk with Jesus as he turns for the last time toward Jerusalem. Today, we’ve arrived. Jerusalem stands before us and the import of everything we have seen and heard comes together in this moment – the miracles, the teachings, the predictions of suffering and death – and we are faced with a question.

Is Jesus king?

This morning’s scripture text has the feel of a celebration – crowds cheering and palm branches waving.  Excitement is building, the air is electrified. The people lining the streets of Jerusalem were tired of living under the thumb of Rome.  They were ready for a change, and Jesus represented change. Though none could name exactly what that change was going to look like, or what it might mean for themselves or their community, there was a feeling that a new way of living was possible, a new path was opening.  

Were they ready to place Jesus at the center in defiance of Cesar and in hope of a restored Israel?  What would that look like? What emotions were present that day among the crowd? These are the questions I gave to Julie Mazer for the children to explore.  What you hear today are their answers.

Listen, as we take a brief look back at where we’ve been along this journey…

Temptations

Our journey begins in the wilderness, far away from familiar landmarks and the comforts of home.  Times of transition can feel a whole lot like the wilderness. The ground is shifting, familiar patterns are being disturbed.  Change exposes our vulnerabilities and we are tempted to find a short cut – or a long way around to avoid the unsettledness that change brings.

But God leads us time and again into the liminal space.  In the wilderness we can see ourselves and listen for God’s call with more clarity, away from the chatter of other voices and the distractions of everyday.  Here we are cast out of our familiar patterns and confronted with questions – who are we? Where is God leading? What does it mean to be a Christ follower in our world today?

If we are wise and patient, Jesus meets us here.  He is familiar with the wilderness. He reminds us that we are more than mere physical dust; we are infused with the holy.  God’s breath fills our lungs and gives us life. We are meant for real life, for thriving not just surviving.

Here in the wilderness, where we are most vulnerable and where temptations abound, we are asked to choose – the comfort of what has been or the future that God has yet to reveal?

Is He King?” – verse 1Julie Mazer & Children alone

A World of Violence

The path of faith is a refuge, but it is not rose-colored or Pollyanna-ish.  Its power is not in pasting a happy face on the world’s problems with “thoughts and prayers” but is seeing reality in all its dimensions and finding God in the midst of the chaos.  Faith shines its light into the murkiest corners so that we can join with God in doing the work of reclamation and redemption.

Our world can be a scary and dangerous place.  The fox is always looking for new prey – the weak, the isolated, the lonely.  Jesus wants to protect us, like a mother hen gathering all her chicks under her wings.  Jesus knows we are safer together, in the shelter of love. But love – even God’s love – can feel confining in a culture where the highest virtue is FREEDOM.  

When I say I want freedom, what I often mean is I want CONTROL.  I want the freedom to choose for myself, the freedom to judge the actions and motivations of others, the freedom to build walls and fences to keep some things out, and to keep others from being lost. I want the freedom to take what I need and to stand my ground in the face of danger.  I want the freedom to walk away, to retreat from anything that makes me uncomfortable or causes stress or anxiety or fear. I want the freedom to say YES and to say NO, even to God.

And God grants me that freedom.  God grants us all that freedom.

Sometimes my freedoms conflict with the freedoms of others.  Throughout history, humans have struggled with how to handle conflict, and even the most trivial of conflicts can escalate to violence, because our world tells us that only the strong survive.  We can so easily hoard and wield power, money, and resources. And before you know it, we become like the fox, preying on the weak, shaming the suffering of others, justifying our own violence (when we even recognize it) as necessary, as collateral damage, as just how the world works.

Violence is not the way of God.  Jesus say to be first is to be last, to be the servant of all.  Jesus instructs us to love one another, even our enemies. Jesus reminds us that God is in control.  What does that do to our freedom and pride of place in the pecking order? What does it mean to put Jesus at the center of our lives, to seek shelter under God’s protective wing?  

Is He King?” – verse 1ALL sing

Recognizing God in the Other

When we choose to follow Jesus we step into the world with a new orientation and new eyes.  Once we used our minds to see differences, diving the world into binaries of self/not self, good/bad, safe/unsafe, tribe/not tribe, right/wrong, true/false.  These distinctions are important and necessary as we learn to navigate our world. We are able to recognize patterns and create categories that make living more efficient, and we grow and adapt to tackle more complex reasoning.  

Until some point when we realize all our categories are insufficient.  The world is not black/white and people do not fall into categories of good/evil.  There is a rainbow – not even a ROYGBIV rainbow, but an infinite spectrum of color stretching in either direction into shades our physical eyes can’t perceive.  

The relativity of our world can lead to an existential crisis.  At times we can choose to double down on our categories – what we KNOW to be true – and retreat to the safety of our tribe. At other times we heed that inner voice that says we are all one.  We look at the distinctions our world creates to keep people in boxes and uphold hierarchical structures – distinctions of gender, race, class, ethnicity, religion, ableism, sexuality – and we expose them all as lies.

We know ourselves to be good people with good hearts and a passion for justice.  But this earth is not yet God’s kingdom. There is more left to do, more trees that have not yet born fruit.  Jesus invites us to take one more step toward dismantling the structures that put people in boxes that in any way diminish the humanity of ourselves and others.  We can choose to stay where we are or we can invite God to dig around us one more year.

Is He King?” – verse 1ALL sing

Unbinding the Past

At various points along our journey there are thorny places, tangled knots of roots that make our steps difficult, slow, even painful.  History – both individually and collectively – is always a mixed bag of triumph and tragedy, beauty and horror. It is hard to look at suffering and not try to explain it away, justify it, deny it was really as bad as it was, or deflect blame to some other “bad people” in some other time and place.  Often when we get too close to suffering, we simply look away, preferring to leave it unexamined.

But such distractions bind us more tightly to the past rather than setting us free from it.  God’s work of redeeming the word isn’t just dusting off the surface of things. Jesus shows up at our tombs and commands us to remove the stones so that we are confronted with the fullness of our darkest secrets, fears, and shame.  Jesus looks directly into the worst humanity has to offer and calls us out.

It is only when we get up close that can we begin to untie the knots of our past and be free to walk into a future that is waiting to be revealed.  Lazarus didn’t ask to be brought back from the dead. Mary and Martha did not ask Jesus to bring their brother out from the grave. Jesus was not yet done with Lazarus.  Lazarus had an important role in showing the world the power of God, the power of love to conquer even death.

We do not always get to choose what transitions happen to us.  Change is often unwelcome and unpleasant, but freedom comes bit by bit as the knots are loosened and we begin to move muscles that we had forgotten we had.  Jesus is not done with this faith community. There is more living to be done, more of God’s glory to shine forth from this place. Jesus has called us into this time of transition.  Which knots need to be loosened up?

Is He King?” – verse 1ALL sing

Blessed to Be a Blessing

If Lent teaches us anything it is that the walk of faith is costly.  It will consume everything we have, and it may even take our life. Why, then, do we persist?

Love.  Love of God.  Love of Neighbor.  Love of Self.

We persist because the love we receive and the love we give is healing balm in a world that can be hard and cruel.  We persist because this life is finite and whatever comes next is a matter of belief.

We persist because loving lavishly now brings moments of kingdom justice in a world that is ready for change, weary of Rome and the false promises of empire.

We persist because loving lavishly is the path to freedom for all of creation.

We persist because this is a journey we do not have to walk alone, but is something we do together as a faith community lifting one another, carrying each other burdens, reminding one another that we are beloved sons and daughters of God.

We persist because God has called us into this place.  One era has ended and another is yet to be. This land of unknowing is filled with questions – who are we now? Where is God leading?

We persist because God is in this space, accompanying us on this journey.   

Our circumstances are not the same as those of our ancestors in faith, but we too approach this day with a desire to place Jesus at the center, in defiance of those who say that religion and Christianity are no longer relevant or necessary and in hope of building a restored global community, one that is spiritually alive, joyfully inclusive, and committed to justice.

Is He King?” – verse 2First time, children alone – ALL sing second time

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