We’re living in a new age. Everything is changing so rapidly. All the rules are off the table.
This week our bishop sent us a letter that included a statement issued by the Episcopal Bishops. The brief document, entitled “A Word to the Church,” was written in response to the “violent political rhetoric we are facing in our country today, especially in the current Presidential campaign.”
On Good Friday the ruling political forces of the day tortured and executed an innocent man. They sacrificed the weak and the blameless to protect their own status and power. On the third day Jesus was raised from the dead, revealing not only their injustice but also unmasking the lie that might makes right.
In a country still living under the shadow of the lynching tree, we are troubled by the violent forces being released by this season’s political rhetoric. Americans are turning against their neighbors, particularly those on the margins of society. They seek to secure their own safety and security at the expense of others. There is a legitimate reason to fear where this rhetoric and the actions arising from it might take us.
In this moment, we resemble God’s children wandering in the wilderness. We, like they, are struggling to find our way. They turned from following God and worshiped a golden calf constructed from their own wealth. The current rhetoric is leading us to construct a modern false idol out of power and privilege. We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others. No matter where we fall on the political spectrum, we must respect the dignity of every human being and we must seek the common good above all else.
We call for prayer for our country that a spirit of reconciliation will prevail and we will not betray our true selves.
Nothing should be lost on the synchronicity of the bishop’s letter being given to us to be read on Palm Sunday. I think what we are talking about here is what or who is our model of leadership.
I’m left with three questions. What kind of leader was Jesus? And how would Jesus fit into the 21st century American culture as that kind of leader? And how should Jesus’ model affect how we respond to our culture today?
We get a pretty good picture of Jesus’ leadership style on Palm Sunday. Jesus started his two-mile journey into Jerusalem from Bethphage, known as the village opposite. Bethphage is only mentioned in context of this specific story in the New Testament. What could that to mean about Jesus’ style of leadership? It means he was opposite of the norm. He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. The donkey was the symbol of the desert. The donkey was the symbol of Jesus’ new kind of leadership. Living in the desert, being the opposite of the accepted norm.
The palm leaves used were also opposite of the norm. Slaves used Palm leaves to fan the rich. Now the palm leaves were being thrown down onto the road for Jesus to ride over. The cactus of the desert and the palm leaf on the ground marked Jesus’ leadership. He brought the opposites together as symbols of how to lead.
Then, Jesus rode into Jerusalem and marched right into the temple. His first act was to drive out those who profited from the poor and the marginalized. That act made him so unpopular that the authorities began to look for ways to kill him.
For the rational mind, Jesus’ methods would make no sense. But, for the imaginative mind, Jesus’ style was filled with unlimited possibilities. To be the last was to be the first. To be poor was to be rich. To die was to live.
So I ask myself, could Jesus be a leader in 21st century America?
Could Jesus be elected as President of the United States? That’s laughable. A Jew has yet to be elected President. Jesus was Middle-eastern. He was a revolutionary. He preached peace, love, and equality. There was nothing about Jesus that would make him a popular figure in the American political scene. It seems so ironic though that Jesus’ name gets used like a badge of approval for almost every presidential candidate— actually except for one.
Would Jesus be elected a Bishop in the Episcopal Church or hired as the rector of parish? Well, No. He wasn’t an Episcopalian. Okay, well more importantly, Jesus wouldn’t fit into the expectations of being a CEO-type leader. The church most often wants an extravert, who is rational, strategic thinker, who can plan for every scenario imaginable. Ironically, most experts on the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator think Jesus was probably the opposite of that type. Jesus was most likely an introvert, who could envision a new future that could happen in the now of this very moment. In other words, Jesus was mystic not church builder. Think about it. He let Judas be the treasurer of his small band and he drove the money-changers out of the temple. Building a bigger budget was not top of his list.
So, would Jesus be a deacon in the church? Maybe. That sounds more like Jesus. But, I doubt he would jump through the hoops of the ordination process. Besides, I seriously doubt Jesus would wear a clerical collar.
So where would we find Jesus as a leader in America today? I imagine Jesus would be leading others to feed the hungry; gather clothes for the homeless; fill water stations at the border; help refugees; working in prison ministry; and I imagine Jesus would carry a Black Lives Matter sign at a protest; he would speak out against greed, violence, and injustice. Jesus would be doing the kinds of things that would get him crucified, not elected to any leadership position.
Few people have encouraged me to preach about politics in church. Someone suggested to me that given my sermons about Jesus and politics that I am probably left without a candidate to vote for in any type of election; much less President. But now is not the time to keep quiet.
There were those that wanted Jesus and his followers to stop preaching the message of God’s love in the Temple. Basically Jesus’ response was that he could not be silent. And neither can we. Jesus said that if we don’t speak up, surely the stones would cry out. What he meant was, that if his followers, those of us in the Jesus Movement—if we don’t have the courage to speak up, someone else will. In other words, if we don’t speak out against the violent forces being released by the political rhetoric, then our silence becomes our consent to the violence. Would Jesus be silent? No. He would not. So we, as followers of Jesus have to speak up against the violent rhetoric and we have to vote.
Being a follower of Jesus is all very weird and it changes everything. But, somehow, asking people to be civil doesn’t seem to all that weird. Evidently, though, following Jesus does change everything. Being in the Jesus Movement changes what we eat, what we buy, how we treat other people, and even how we vote. Amen.