Passion Sunday Sermon – April 5, 2009
by the Rt. Rev. Stephen T. Lane
Trinity Episcopal Church
Isaiah 50:4-9; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 14:1-15:47
I got a wakeup call over last weekend when President Obama forced the CEO of GM, Rick Waggoner, to step down. At first I was surprised, then perhaps, even a bit outraged. I was surprised that GM hadn’t been able to come up with an acceptable plan. I was surprised that our government was considering the possibility of bankruptcy. I wasn’t sure that the President should try to replace the leadership of a non-governmental entity.
But then it occurred to me that perhaps the auto industry is the perfect symbol for the economic crisis we’re in. Years of pursuing ever higher profits, years of selling ever larger vehicles in the face of irrefutable evidence that energy efficiency is essential, years of protecting the corporate prerogatives of the leaders – all these led to this day. And even now, the industry can’t let go of the old ways. I heard a news analyst say that lenders, in this case the government, always call the shots and that Franklin Roosevelt did similar things during the Depression and was named, by some, “a betrayer of his class.” I was confronted with the reality that this crisis is not simply about the collapse of the credit markets. It’s about coming to grips with the environmental and financial limits of our economic system. We aren’t just going to ride this one out. We aren’t going to return to the life we’ve known, a life of endless expansion fueled by cheap and abundant petroleum. We’re going to work our way out by slowly rebuilding our economy through new enterprises, new energy sources, new employment, and new and less expansive lifestyles. The Chevy Tahoe and the Dodge Ram Truck are dinosaurs, symbols of an age that’s gone and not coming back. The future is made up of solar panels and windmills, hybrid Toyotas and Fiats, and a retooled economy that actually manufactures something. Like it or not we’re in a period of fundamental change requiring new dreams and new vision.
New dreams, new vision for a new world. What we’re talking about is not unlike what confronted the people of Jerusalem when Jesus entered their city on a donkey. The poor people of Israel were sick and tired of life under the Roman boot. They were sick and tired of oppressive taxes, of foreign tyrants, of religious leaders who betrayed their interests. They wanted liberation. They wanted justice. And here coming into town was the famous rabbi, called by some the Son of David, leading a great crowd. He would set them free. He would oppose the power of Roman arms with armies of angels. He would overturn the unjust market system. He would overthrow the Temple and its taxes. He would set up a new kingdom. He would rule with justice. The crowds hoped Jesus would lead an insurrection.
But he did not. He did not bring an army of angels – though he said he could. He allowed himself to be arrested and tried. He did not defend himself before the religious leaders. He talked about a new order of peace. He talked about loving your enemies. He even said his kingdom was not of this world. He betrayed their hopes, dashed their dreams, and they turned on him in rage.
Some scholars have argued that the crowds that followed Jesus in and out of Jerusalem were different crowds. The crowd which cheered Jesus into Jerusalem was made of the urban poor, the nameless, faceless anawim, the dust people. The crowd that jeered Jesus out of Jerusalem was made up of the relatives of the religious leaders, the priests, the scribes, and, perhaps, some hired thugs. That analysis may be correct. But whether they cheered or jeered, both crowds got it wrong. They misunderstood who Jesus was and what he came to do. Both filtered what they heard through their expectations and their fears. Both failed to understand the new world order Jesus came to proclaim. They could not imagine it. They could not envision a new world ordered according to the love of God.
And what about us? Most of us here have heard this story many, many times. We already know the ending. Perhaps we’re already in our hearts leaning toward Easter Day. But do we grasp the essential nature of the conflict – two world views, one ordered by human power, one ordered by the love of God? Where would we have stood as the crowds passed by?
What Jesus was proclaiming was a change in worldview far greater than the one we are wrestling with in our day. Jesus was talking about far more than climate change. Jesus was talking about cosmic change; a new heaven and a new earth. A new way of living on the earth. A new way of living with our neighbors.
It is so hard to change. It is so hard to give up the old world in favor of a new one. And we are so complicit in defeating the necessary change. We kowtow to the powers and principalities because of what we get from the present world. We don’t want to give up our privileged status, our SUV, our comfortable lifestyle to save the planet. We don’t want to live with less so others can have more. And how much more difficult is the cosmic change that Jesus inaugurates. How hard it is for us to love our enemies, to share what we have with the poor, to see every person as a brother or sister for whom Christ died! Don’t we really want the world overthrown for a new world that favors us? Don’t we wish to stand on Jesus’ right hand in his kingdom? Don’t we really want change that doesn’t ask us to change?
But consider this: Jesus, the Word made flesh, who spoke the universe into existence, this very Jesus, emptied himself of all that power, took our human nature, and joined us death. And all to show us that God’s love sets us free from the power of death. If we believe Jesus is the Son of God, then such self-emptying is change beyond comprehension and a call that invites us, by his grace, to change as well.
If there is a silver lining in the economic crisis, it may be that these times call us to consider fundamental things: the nature of community, the essentials of the good life, the meaning of neighbor, the place of God in our lives. And this Passion Sunday does the same. Where do you stand? In which parade are you marching? Are you ready to follow Christ into a new world of love and grace? Christ’s crucifixion marked the beginning of the end of the old ways. The new ways are now being born.
God grant us grace to follow where Christ leads. Amen.