Friday, March 27, 2015

Are We There Yet? Making Christ's Presence Known (Palm Sunday 29 March 2015)

RCL Palm Sunday
29 March 2015

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Are We ‘There’ Yet?

Chapter 1:  Making Christ’s Presence Known
         Exactly sixty-two years ago today my parents and family in England celebrated Palm Sunday.  I was also part of the celebration, but I was not aware of it.  I would arrive on the scene twenty-nine days later on the 27th of April.  I’m sure that my mother was very much aware of my presence and my father was probably pondering what it would mean for him to become a father.
         This year will mark the sixty-first time I have consciously walked this road to the cross and, beyond it, to the resurrection.  Some of us here today have walked this road more than I and others not so many times.  But I find myself this year asking a question that I’m sure others have asked over the two thousand years that women, men and children have been following the pilgrim’s road we call the Christian faith:  Are we ‘there’ yet?
         What I mean by asking, ‘Are we “there” yet?’, is this.  Eighty generations of Christians have travelled this way before us, each one generation hoping that the promise that God has made known to us in Jesus of Nazareth might come true in its own span of time.  Yet, as we look around us, we can see all too well the signs that the promise has yet to come in its fullness.  The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has recently stated that in this  century, less than fifteen years old, there are more refugees than in all of human history.  Christian and other religious communities that have lived in the Middle East for hundreds if not thousands of years are under persecution and many have fled, some here to Canada.  Wouldn’t this be a good time for the Messiah to come and to establish God’s reign of justice and peace for all creation?
         So, after eighty generations of Christian living and teaching, why are we not yet where our ancestors in the faith hoped we would be?  Let give four reasons --- not all today --- but between today and Easter.
         Today we celebrate the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, an event that Hollywood has dressed up in grandiose style, but an event that probably only drew the attention of a few people and some anxious Jewish and Roman authorities.  Despite the warnings of friends and supporters, Jesus has chosen to come to Jerusalem after three years of teaching, preaching and healing in the northern part of what we now know as Israel and Palestine.  He has come at a politically sensitive time --- the celebration of Passover, the festival that commemorates the liberation of the Hebrew people from their slavery in Egypt.  As you can well imagine, the Roman colonial government had its spies and collaborators on the trial of any hint of sedition and revolution.
         Jesus allows himself to enter the city in a manner that fulfills the words of 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, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.  He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war-horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.” (Zechariah 9.9-10 NRSV)  Among the Jewish authorities Jesus’ entrance leaves no doubt as to his intentions and the meaning of his entry was, no doubt, quickly shared with the Roman governor.  This obscure rabbi from Galilee has made his presence known.
         Why aren’t we where we want to be yet?  Perhaps we’re not ‘there’ yet, because the presence of Jesus has not yet been made fully known to all of humanity.  Some Christian traditions are thoroughly committed to making Christ known to every human being and spend millions if not billions of dollars sponsoring missionaries to every country --- even ones that have a majority Christian population!  Many of these groups are motivated by the conviction that any person who dies without confessing Jesus as Saviour is lost.
         I must be honest with you; I do not share this conviction.  But I do share their commitment to making the presence of Jesus known in every corner of the world.  The presence of Jesus that I seek to make known is the presence that Paul writes of in today’s reading from his letter to the Christian in Philippi:  “though [Christ] was in the form of God, [he] did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2.6-8 NRSV)
         For many people in the world today, even a fair number of those who live within this neighbourhood, Jesus is not known as one who serves.  In many parts of the globe, the Christian legacy is not one of humility towards those who do not share our convictions.  It’s true that in many places we built schools and hospitals, but we often did so with an ulterior motive.  Rather than offering education and health care because ignorance and disease are evils that deface the image of God at the heart of every human being, we sometimes used these services as carrots to lure people into nominal membership.  Is it any wonder, given this legacy, that there are countries where bringing in a Bible is illegal?

         Are we ‘there’ yet?  No, we are not ‘there’ yet.  The real presence of Christ, the presence of a community that is committed to humble service after the pattern of Jesus, has not yet arrived in all those places where that presence is desperately needed.  Some of those places are prosperous and peaceful, other places poor and violent.  But all these places are awaiting the arrival of the One who comes in the name of the Lord, arriving not in splendour but simplicity, bringing good news in the form of faithful disciples whose only purpose is to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to love our neighbours as ourselves, to strive for justice and peace among all people and to respect the dignity of every human being. (cf. The Book of Alternative Services 159)  When this happens, then, perhaps, we’ll be able to say, ‘We’re still not “there” yet, but we’re getting closer.’

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