Jesus, A New Kind of King
April 16, 2017
Beth Henricks, Indianapolis First Friends
Christ our Hope: Daily Lenten Devotions by Henri J.M. Nouwen
A Wondrous Love: Lenten Devotional by Henri J.M. Nouwen and C.S. Lewis
Zealot by Reza Aslan,
Mystery – From the Journal Weavings: January/February 2006
What does Easter mean to you?
As the second week in being your interim pastor, preparing an Easter message for today was a bit daunting. Traditionally, this is the one Sunday each year where people come to church even if they are not regular attenders. Many come to a service expecting wonderful music, beautiful flowers and an inspiring message. We have definitely experienced the wonderful music today. Choir thank you for opening our service with that beautiful anthem. And Jim and Leslie, thank you for ministering to us through your song that touched my heart.
I am 57 years old and have been going to church since I was an infant so I am calculating that I have heard 56 Easter messages in my life. It is the one time a year that almost every pastor from every pulpit across America is talking about the same story – that of Jesus death and resurrection. It’s a familiar story and most of us know it well. It is the conclusion of the story of Jesus in all four gospels. The core of the story is essential to our faith. Yet how can we read this familiar story again today with a freshness and an open heart to what this means for you?
What does Easter mean to you? For many this story of Jesus death and resurrection is the foundation of their theology. God sending his son Jesus to reconcile humankind to God through the death and resurrection of God’s son. Jesus sinless life is sacrificed as a substitute for our sins and we are now God’s children.
For others, this story is more symbolic in representing the immense love that God has for each of us and that Jesus freely gives up his life as a way to show the world that death does not have to be feared, it is not the final answer and that love for our enemies and those who persecute us is the way to experience our own rebirth and resurrection.
There is no way to come to this story thinking we can ever understand it objectively. There is such mystery and a sense of awe to the story and yet many have tried to domesticate it and condense it into a set of 4 spiritual laws that fit nicely into a pamphlet to share with others as a summary of faith in a tidy package. The magnitude of this story can never fit into anything tidy. We must look at the life of Jesus in total to enter the mystery of this story.
When we read the gospel accounts of Jesus life, we have to be aware that they were written 50 – 80 years after Jesus died and the accounts were put together in their narrative through the oral tradition being shared in the early house churches.
This kind of explains to me why we don’t learn anything about Jesus life from the time he was 12 until he begins his ministry at 30. That seems like a really important period in his development and I wish we knew more about it.
When Jesus enters into his ministry, the Jewish land that had been promised Abraham had been invaded by the Romans. Roman policy for all their captured land was to forge an alliance with the aristocracy in each city and make them dependent on the Roman overlords for their power and wealth thus insuring local leaders would be invested in the Roman imperial system. In the Jewish land this alliance was with the wealthy priestly families who maintained the Temple and were charged with collecting the taxes and ensuring order among an increasingly disgruntled Jewish population. And they were richly rewarded for these tasks. Rome knew that to control the Jews they must control the Temple and they did including the High Priest. While this small group of Jewish leaders became very wealthy, the vast majority of the population experienced crushing taxes paid to the priestly elite on behalf of Rome. Many of the landless peasant Jews were beginning to seek some kind of revolt. They were looking for a messiah that would re-establish the nation of Israel and rebuild the kingdom such as in David’s time. What they knew through scripture was that the Messiah would come from the line of David, would free the Jews from occupation, would establish Jerusalem as God’s city and restore Israel.
At the time that Jesus enters his ministry, there was a growing feeling among the Jewish peasants that the present order was coming to an end and that the Kingdom of God would be established here on earth. They were looking for a messiah that was both political and religious to free them from occupation and restore Israel.
And Jesus begins to preach and to teach about establishing a new order where the first shall be last and the last shall be first. He declares that it is easier for a camel to walk through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get to heaven. He criticizes the priestly leaders for being more interested in power and rules than in showing God’s love. He cleanses the Temple of the moneychangers and vendors selling sacrifices. Jesus has a powerful message that advocates turning the economic system upside down. He believes the content of one’s heart is more important than the adherence to Jewish law. He travels over the countryside to share this message and performs many miracles and healings along the way. He speaks in parables and stories to convey his radical message.
The Jewish people are enthralled with this man and this message from God. As he rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, the people are shouting Hosanna, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed be the coming kingdom of our father David.
The Jewish authorities have been concerned about Jesus for some time and are now alarmed to the point of knowing they need to stop this movement. They make plans to arrest him and put him to death as a traitor to the Roman Empire.
It is a turning point in Jesus ministry when he is taken into custody. He turns from action to passion. After the years of teaching, healing and moving from town to town, he is now a suffering servant subject to other people’s actions.
And this is what changes the hosannas from Palm Sunday to the shouts of crucify him even when Pilate finds no case against him and offers to release him as is the custom at Passover. The crowds say no and asks for Barabbas. Jesus is not defying the authorities, he is not asking his followers to fight for him, and in fact he insists on no violence when they take him into custody. How can he be the messiah – their hopes are dashed in re-establishing the state of Israel and being released from occupation.
What the Jewish people missed was the heart of Jesus teaching and this idea of king and kingdom. Jesus was offering a new way of living in community but most of all a way of living in communion with God. John 14:31 says I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Henri Nouwen says “Jesus speaks about his Father as the source of all his words and actions. When he withdraws himself from the crowd and even from his closest friends, he withdraws to be with the Father…. All through his life Jesus considers his relationship with the Father as the center, beginning and end of his ministry. All he says and does, he says and does in the name of the Father.”
Jesus kingdom on earth is God’s kingdom and is not based on military might or political calculations, alliances and power. It is a kingdom that takes the sting out of death. The great paradox that Jesus shows us is that those who lose their lives will gain them. CS Lewis says “the principle runs through all life from top to bottom. Give up yourself and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day. Submit with every fiber of your being and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. “
Jesus foresaw a world full of cruelty, violence and conflict including the destruction of his beloved city Jerusalem. For Jesus, there is no happy ending in this life. He could not solve this world’s problems in his ministry. But he was faithful at all costs and became a suffering servant of God. He showed us another way. Jesus says if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
The story of Jesus resurrection was hidden. He didn’t make a victory statement or to give proof to those that crucified him. His resurrection was a sign to those who loved him and followed him that God’s love is stronger than death.
Jesus suffering love is transformed by death but not annihilated by it. There is nothing we can suffer that Christ does not know, has not shared, cannot somehow use in love with us for the healing of the world.
We have become obsessed with overcoming suffering. Our call is to compassion which means to suffer with. Our avoidance of suffering dilutes our witness to our Lord Jesus who took our suffering upon himself in love. When we can’t enter into the sufferings of our sisters, brothers and neighbors, the Christ we embody is a shallow distortion of the Jesus we encounter in Scripture.
Our dear friend Ann Panah has been an inspiration to me and I am sure to many of you. She has walked a journey of significant health issues and yet out of her suffering she shows us love and compassion. She is always looking for ways to help us , to care for for us and to bring us together. She has refused to allow her health issues to define herself. The last couple of months have been very difficult. And what has touched me in a significant way is to watch Ann’s husband Bob show his love to Ann through action. Bob is not someone that most of us know well at all. But in the last few weeks I have seen him devote himself to Ann, sleep every night on a cot by her bed in the hospital and advocate for her to the medical community. He also has shown what true love and compassion looks like through suffering.
Friends what does Easter mean to you? I hope it means that we will be faithful no matter what the cost. That our sufferings can give us prophetic hope of God’s presence. I hope that we do not fear death and that as a follower of Christ, we will take up our cross and help establish God’s kingdom on this earth. One that loves graciously, gives freely and offers compassion to all.
As enter into our time of Quaker communion and expectant waiting worship, we are about to enter into the invisible and eternal reality of the living Christ. Our unprogrammed worship isn’t something we do – it is a state of consciousness that we enter in to. Be still and listen to what the Spirit has to say to you today. Hold it in your heart if this message is for you. Be obedient to the Spirit if this message is to be shared with all of us today.