By Kwasi Kena
Lectionary (Year B): Liturgy of the Psalms, Psalm 118:1-2,19-29; Mark 11:1-11; John 12:12-16 or Liturgy of the Passion, Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 14:1-15:47
Theme: The Hope of Peace
Liturgy of the Psalms – Gospel Texts Mark 11:1-11 and John 12:12-16
Message: My heart is filled with conflicted emotions as the news media doles out more details about the tragic killing of the unarmed African American youth, Travon Martin. Behind the controversy lies the “Stand Your Ground” law. The intent of the law allows a person to “stand his or her ground and meet force with force,” if there is reasonable belief that such force is needed.
The news of Travon Martin’s tragic death comes on the heels of the senseless assassination of sixteen innocent noncombatants in Afghanistan; murders allegedly committed by a U.S. soldier. What have we devolved into as a people?
Violence saturates our senses as we gather on Palm Sunday to rehearse Jesus’ Triumphal Entry. If we’re not careful we will simply note the significance of the Prince of Peace riding on a donkey in sterile detached fashion. We will listen to judge the level of eloquence of the preacher as he or she reminds us that Almighty God came to us first in peace, not as a warlord or vigilante. But we need to remember that our present context has much in common with the violent society that Jesus encountered in biblical times. What is more brutal than a Roman crucifixion? What words are more horrifying than those of the psalmist who cries, “Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!” (Psalm 13137:9, NRSV). The penchant for solving life’s problems through deadly force seems to be an age-old practice.
Still, Jesus offers a peaceful act to the people in who lived in the violent context 2000+ years ago. Despite death threats against him and the coming betrayal by one of his own disciples, Jesus enacted the dramatic entry into Jerusalem declared by the prophet Zechariah “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, o daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey…” (Zechariah 9:9, NRSV).
Perhaps Jesus, like many of us, had tried every logical way to convince people to pursue right relationship with God and neighbor. Relatively few responded. Over time he probably realized that sermons alone don’t sway the masses. His teachings didn’t touch hearts enough to convince people turn from old ways. His parables lacked enough power to persuade folk to persist in righteousness. When you look around and see no sweeping change, no massive transformation, and too many satisfied with status quo, what do you do? Jesus resorted to the tactic that other prophets used after all else failed—drama.
Jeremiah used a loincloth to speak to the pride of Judah (Jeremiah 13:1-11, NRSV). Ezekiel shaved his hair, then burnt, struck and scattered it to symbolize the coming siege and deportation of the Hebrews (Ezekiel 5:1-4, NRSV). Jesus’ drama does not predict doom; instead he lifts a banner of hope. He dramatically rides on a donkey declaring himself the prince of peace to a people who sought a conquering king.
Last week Thursday hundreds of students from Carol City High School in Miami Gardens held a massive walkout protesting the slaying of Travon Martin and the lack of arrest in the case. That same week I received an e-mail from the Middle Collegiate Church in New York City urging people to wear a hoodie to church as a prophetic statement and witness to hope and peace championed by Christ followers. Current events are shouting too loudly to ignore. What will you say from the pulpit? What prophetic act needs to be done? What witness to Christ does your congregation need to voice to the on looking world? Will the Church be a step behind or a step ahead when injustice screams?
I know a preacher who understands the preaching task as “afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted.” If you are struggling to determine what to preach in the midst of this week’s current events, consider this closing thought. Rev. Dr. Safiyah Fosua wrote the sobering blog entitled “Where Have All the Prophets Gone? http://www.workingpreacher.org/columnist_home.aspx?article_id=570 underscoring the need for clergy to muster the courage to speak out prophetically. The blog concludes with these words Say as much as you dare say at this time, under these circumstances, spoken by Dr. Walter Bruggemann before a crowd of clergy at the 2011 Festival of Homiletics http://www.goodpreacher.com/festival/
May you find courage to preach boldly this week.
“Peace is not something you wish for; it’s something you make. Something you do. Something you are. And something you give away.” Robert Fulghum
“Each one has to find his peace from within. And peace to be real must be unaffected by outside circumstances.” Mahatma Gandhi
“If war is ever lawful, then peace is sometimes sinful.” C. S. Lewis
“Peace is costly but it is worth the expense.” African Proverb
Films with “peace overcoming violence” themes:
Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty
Rejoice Ye Pure in Heart
Litany of Peace
Leader: Jesus rode into Jerusalem humbly on a donkey.
People: Jesus is the Prince of Peace.
Leader: Jesus heard the cheers of “Hosanna” one week and “Crucify him!” the next.
People: We must be different.
Leader: The people laid down palm branches for Jesus.
People: Jesus laid down his life for us.
Leader: The peace of Christ is costly.
People: But worth the price.
Leader: Innocents now die in the streets.
People: If we don’t cry out for them the earth will.
Leader: The ground won’t speak for me.
People: The ground can’t speak for me!
Leader: Jesus left the legacy of hope and peace in our hands.
People: We will spread God’s peace, with God’s help.
Silence is not an option for those who serve righteousness. Delay is not a luxury afforded peacemakers. Indifference is not in character with unconditional love. Go from this place empowered by God’s Spirit to speak truth to power, make peace “in the moment,” and feel the pain and pleasure of serving Jesus Christ daily.