In the scripture Meghan read, the people don’t understand that the cross is what’s looming. Now certainly Jesus was frustrated with their inability to perceive this, but I don’t know… I have to believe there must have been a certain soreness in their bones. Maybe their infants were extra quick to cry. Surely the instability of the season had to be jarring something deep in their soul. These are the people whom Jesus was teaching.
Next you’ve also got the people who are hearing the Gospel of Luke several generations later. They know the old age will pass away and the new age will take over; it’s already beginning. But the fullness of the promise has not yet come, and it sure seems like it should have by now. When exactly will this day arrive? So you’ve got the people in the story feeling the political tension rising. You’ve got the people sharing the Gospel: thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven, but who knows when.
Now in our world you’ve got the people who wish we could show up together at the corner of Twelfth and Twelfth, but we’ve got to be here instead. The prophets and the poets keep telling us: The arc of the moral universe is still bending toward justice. Hold on. They say: There’s always light. If only we’re brave enough…1the first quote is by Rev. Martin Luther King Junior; the second by Amanda Gorman
And you know they’re right, but we’re still asking the question our ancestors asked. How long, O LORD… Will any of us be alive to see a world where white supremacy has been overcome and the harm has been healed? Will any of us be alive to see a world of peacemaking? Maybe Jack, or Olivia, or Kellyn, or Anthony Junior, or Simon, or Everly…
The people listening to Jesus could tell that what they were living through was not normal. Somehow the whole world was about to crash, and turn, and rise. And nobody could tell you how, and nobody could tell you when. But they did know, there’d be no going back to normal. So Jesus looked at the people, and loved the people. Look again, he told them. You think you understand, but you don’t understand.
And he might as well have been talking to us. You think the Galileans who got massacred by Pilate deserved that? You think the people who died in the tower crash were being punished by God for their sin? No! Yes, there is violent suffering in the world, and it often results from sin, but it’s not what you think. It’s not God who’s doing this!
Jesus tells them they had better repent or perish, and if that’s not a threat, I’m not sure what is. It sounds like if we don’t repent we’ll get struck down dead! It’s just… We already know about the perishing. We come from dust and to dust we shall return; so yes of course we’re going to die one day. What if that’s not the threat?
What if the threat is that if we repent, we might find ourselves coming back to life? If you don’t die from sin, Jesus is telling us, you just might have to repent…
Now I know. If hearing this triggers your defenses, you’re not alone. In our world, we think repenting means feeling bad about something or beating ourselves up. But that’s not what Jesus means. In the Gospel, to repent means to change our orientation in the world. Repenting means looking again and changing our minds.
And so it is that Jesus looks at us and loves us, and the whole world is about to crash, and turn, and rise, and nothing will ever go back to normal. If only you could see what I’m trying to show you, says the Lord. You will see the promise of the Holy Spirit begin to flourish, and it will be a revolution, but not like any revolution you have seen before. Look again, and you will live…
Friends, you remember what happened on Epiphany this year. On January Sixth, protestors stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempted insurrection. Many people were injured; several people died from the violence and from suicide resulting from the trauma.
If you’ve seen any of the footage, you’ll notice there’s a spiritual fervor that has seized the crowd. With the flags waving, and eyes shining, and chants crescendoing, you can believe the people who testify that they got swept up in the exhilaration. It was going to be a revolution for Trump!
And if it were only a revolution for Trump, that would be one thing. It was also a vivid demonstration of white supremacy. It was also an unapologetic expression of praising Jesus. And on this day, the whole world watched those commitments wrap around each other.
My friend and colleague, Pastor Blake, at South Park Presbyterian preached a brilliant sermon on January Tenth highlighting how many of the protestors were demonstrating in the name of Jesus. I encourage you to listen to that sermon. (I’ll link to it in the sermon manuscript on the Church of Peace website.)2https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1DS75uNH1v4&t=2432s
I will share with you this description from an article by Luke Mogelson in the New Yorker. He writes: “In the Senate chamber… Jacob Chansley took off his horns and led a group prayer through a megaphone from behind the Vice President’s desk. The insurrectionists bowed their heads while Chansley thanked the ‘heavenly Father’ for allowing them to enter the Capitol and ‘send a message to the tyrants, communists, and globalists.’”
Mogleson also quotes Joshua Black who said on YouTube: “I praised the name of Jesus on the Senate floor. That was my goal. I think that was God’s goal.”3Mogelson, Luke. “The Storm.” The New Yorker. January 25, 2021. page 48.
The invasion on January Sixth was an act of racial intimidation. It was an act of Christian worship. The world watched and saw that being Christian was the same thing as being proud of being white, and being proud of being white was the same thing as being Christian. And if that offends you at your core, me too.
I want to condemn this as clearly and completely as humanly possible. I want to say to the Lord: Don’t you see what they’re doing to your name? They’re making you authorize their white supremacy! They are being Christian wrong. They need to repent! And I’m right. And they do.
And you know Jesus. This is when he looks at me, and sighs, and says: Once there was a man who had a fig tree in his vineyard. For three years, it produced no figs. So the vineyard owner called the gardener to come take a look. He said to the gardener what any reasonable person would say: I’ve run the numbers. I’ve done the cost benefit. Tree’s no good. Take it out! But the gardener told him, You don’t have to do that. I’ll dig around the roots, put down manure. Come back and look again next year. Who knows? You might wind up loving this tree…
All right, Jesus, I get it. In this scenario, I’m the vineyard owner, the Capitol insurrections are the fig tree, and I shouldn’t demand that they get kicked out of the Christian faith. Who knows, they might repent? But Jesus is shaking his head. Really? He says to me: Who died and made you the vineyard owner? It’s a parable; it doesn’t work to assign parts like that! God is all three —the vineyard owner, the gardener, the fig tree. But get this, so are you. Look again. So are they. And you know he’s right.
In this country, white supremacy and Christianity have grown up together so their tree trunks are intertwined. And I’m right to see that. And I’m right to name that repenting is exactly what’s needed. It’s just… It’s not about them over there needing to repent —Why is it so easy for me to notice the speck in their eyes?!— It’s me. It’s me, It’s me, O LORD. Maybe it’s you too.
It matters what we believe in the secret regions of our hearts. I’m sure that some of the people who stormed the Capitol were just there on a whim, but some of them were there for the revolution. Some of them, many of them, were led by their faith. So it’s worth paying attention to where our faith is leading us. It’s worth realizing that we can change our minds. We can even change what we’ve come to believe.
This is the work we’re taking on as a church this Lent. The book we’re reading, the conversations we’re sharing on Wednesdays, you might not think that’s much of a revolution, but look again.
We’re working to search out our own racism and repent from it. And what if every time a person repents from racism, that begins to make a path for someone else to follow and someone else… Because I know how this sounds! I know it doesn’t seem like one person doing the spiritual work of repenting is going dismantle white supremacy, and it’s not. But it’s going to make a dent.
And as more of us do the work in our own hearts, they will take notice. They will look again at us and see that being Christian isn’t about being proud of being white. Not at all! As we’re facing our own shame and turning our hearts toward Christ, they’ll look at us and see that being Christian is about repenting. There’s no way to try this and not have it make a difference! There’s no way to pursue repenting and not find yourself coming back to life.
And so it is that Jesus looks at us and loves us, and the whole world is about to crash, and turn, and rise, and nothing will ever go back to normal. If only you could see what I’m trying to show you, says the Lord. Look again, he’s telling us. You will live… May it be so.