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Here Comes Jesus

I love a good parade. I’m sorry I missed the Boulder St. Patrick’s Day Parade, though I understand it doesn’t take much to miss it. The world’s shortest parade is another superlative for us to brag about in Boulder.

Some of my best childhood memories are of sitting on my Dad’s shoulders at parades in our small town on Long Island. Noisy drum corps and screaming fire engines were pretty exciting for a four year old. Some of my best memories as a Father are of hoisting my own small children onto my shoulders to watch a parade.

In contrast to the shortest St. Patrick’s Day parade is the longest, which of course is in New York City. Ten years of effort have resulted in the first LGBT group being allowed to march in that parade, although many such groups, including one from Ireland, were have still been forbidden. The history of exclusion in the 254 year old tradition runs pretty deep. At one point or another, women, persons of color, and even those in wheelchairs, along with others, have been kept out. Mayor deBlasio boycotted the parade for the second year in a row, saying that the willingness of organizers to step toward inclusion was still too meager. Apparently parades can be highly political.

The parade that began on the Mount of Olives and led into Jerusalem was infused with political tension as well. There was a lot of shouting and waving and watching, and the atmosphere was thick with anticipation as well as suspicion. In addition to parade-goers who genuinely celebrated Jesus’ arrival and hoped he would bless or heal them, those who represented religious and political divisions were on high alert.

Our office administrator, Manisha, has been in Israel all week, and I can’t wait to ask her about what Jerusalem was like just before Holy Week. Typically, religious pilgrims from throughout the world crowd into the narrow street reenacting scenes from the gospels and dragging wooden crosses from stations one through fourteen, ending within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Everyone is there to commemorate Jesus as they have come to understand his life and ministry.

Not long ago, an article in The Guardian suggested that there are two Jesuses. At least, there appear to be different Jesuses based on how Christians describe him. If you were to look at how Jesus is understood in two quite different churches, you might wonder how their Jesuses could possible be the same person. Obviously, there is only one historical Jesus, but how we understand him differs based on the assumptions we hold.

UCCers are often accused of not respecting or properly revering the Bible. That springs from our refusal to claim its inerrancy (the belief that it is without error in everything from the stories it relates to the punctuations marks on each page.) Most of us believe it is far more important to take the message of Scripture seriously, which is in fact what we attempt to do.

Taking the Bible seriously means that we don’t look away from difficulties within the written text or the stories themselves. We are OK with asking hard questions, and we certainly are not expected to park our brains at the door when we arrive at church.

Mostly, taking the Bible seriously means that we take Jesus very seriously.

If there are different Jesuses, or at least different understandings of Jesus, then in practical terms we will at least need to decide if Jesus is the one who brings us to heaven, getting us “in”, or if Jesus is the one who brings heaven to us, answering our prayers that God’s Kingdom will exist on earth as in heaven. Most often that understanding sees Jesus a one who seeks justice for all persons, including those far away or very different from us, rather than the one who makes us comfortable and shares our values regardless of what they might be.

Those lining the streets in Jerusalem had requirements for Jesus. They had definite expectations for him to meet. The week that followed showed once again that he wasn’t what they wanted, so many rejected him.

If Jesus were to show up in our town and walk with us for a week and flip tables over in our church and talk about taxes and politics and money and religious hypocrisy, we’d have to decide whether this is someone we’d be willing to follow. If so, would we be steadfast through persecution and rejection by our friends or would we join the crowd that reassembled on Friday shouting for his execution? The words he spoke and the passion with which he spoke them resulted in his death. He angered people and the truth Jesus taught undermined the power of those who loved ruling more than they loved the people they were supposed to serve. Jesus wasn’t like that. He was willing to challenge corruption and hatred despite the cost. And the price was his life.

Here comes Jesus down the road. What will we do with him?

I believe Jesus is worth following. I mean the actual Jesus whose amazing story is related by various writers in the gospels and whose spirit still influences our life and our work together.

Following Jesus is a risk. It’s not just joining a nice bunch of people. Those united with the membership of our church today should know that! It means standing for justice like Jesus did. It means adopting Jesus’ own priority to serve the poor and those pushed to the side. It means welcoming and affirming the value of all human beings when those around us would rather push people away. It means choosing not to hold on to prejudices that reflect culture values but can never co-exist with the realm of God.

We’ve had new opportunities this week to discuss the meaning of religious freedom thanks to new laws in Indiana and Arkansas. What do we need to do to make sure that the religious freedoms of all people of all faiths in our country are protected? And how can we do that in ways that do not elevate the faith of some over the faith of others, and how can we make sure that the unjust discrimination of some does not happen in the name of the religious freedom of others? I imagine we will be discussing that for quite a while, and I believe that the message of Jesus is relevant to the discussion.

A progressive Christian writer and former evangelical pastor named John Pavlovitz posted yesterday in his blog called “Stuff That Needs to be Said.” He titled the post “A Letter to the Christians in Indiana – from Jesus.” In it, he quotes a Greek man named Aristides who wrote these words about the followers of Jesus to the Emperor in Rome in the year 137 AD when the church was still a subversive, underground movement:

“It is the Christians, O Emperor, who have sought and found the truth, for they acknowledge God. They do not keep for themselves the goods entrusted to them. They do not covet what belongs to others. They show love to their neighbors. They do not do to another what they would not wish to have done to themselves. They speak gently to those who oppress them, and in this way they make them their friends. It has become their passion to do good to their enemies.

They live in the awareness of their smallness.”

I think that means that they did not expect the world around them to bow to them. There have been many words spoken in defense of the religious freedoms of some. The Buddha said “Words have the power to both destroy and heal. When words are both true and kind, they can change our world.” What words can we speak, and what is the change God really desires?

Those who shouted “Here comes Jesus!” in Jerusalem had only a partial idea of who was entering their city. They would watch and learn, especially during the days we call “Holy Week.” Some would end up following whole-heartedly, and like the women who stood by the cross on Friday, they would risk everything. Others would discreetly hide or outright reject him. But those who persisted gained lives that were extraordinary. They had adventures that only those who dare to dance on the edge can ever experience.

Here comes Jesus: into Jerusalem; into history: into our own minds and hearts many years later. May this week of shouting and remembrance and sorrow be a sacred time for each of us. Amen.

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