Political Jesus: The Protestor
Rev. April S Blaine, Given on Sunday, January 26, 2014
So, as we enter into our final week on the Political Jesus, exploring all the ways that Jesus was political in his teaching and in his actions. And when we say political, we aren’t talking about political parties – but how Jesus’ ministry had implications for the way in which the community was ordered – It had implications on public affairs.
And as we get started – I feel I have to make a confession.
Up to this point – I have been really excited and energized by talking about the Political Jesus.
I love the idea of Jesus as a Healer – and seeing how his healing was a form of suggesting and advocating for change in the social order. I am down with that. Let’s heal some people and let folks deal with that.
And story telling – let’s reframe a new perspective – let’s challenge people’s thinking.
And even agitation – crossing boundaries across divisions, I can even get on board with that – seeing the need to open up doors across the barriers that separate us.
When I see Jesus creating a Disruptive Protest and creating a scene in the middle of the place of worship
I have to confess to you – I get a little uncomfortable.
And a lot of this has to do with my own issues.
I don’t like disruptions. I like harmony.
I don’t like conflict. I want people to get along.
But the bigger part of my issues are that – when I see Jesus as a protestor – the fear is that I am also called to be a protestor – that there are moments where I too may be called to be disruptive – to confront authority – and to speak the truth
So I’ll be honest – it makes me a bit uncomfortable.
But I also know that if we want to follow Jesus, to really follow him, we can’t just follow him to the places that make us comfortable. We cant just follow him to the places that make us feel good and affirmed and SAFE.
So, let’s dive into this story – to try and understand what was at the heart of this particular moment of protest. And what it may say to us today.
One of the things that Jesus simply couldn’t stop talking about during his ministry was the Kingdom of God. If there had been soapboxes, Jesus would have been standing on one. He talks about it more than anything. This idea – that there is this bigger thing that God is doing in the world – this way of living that is rooted in love, in an honoring of ourselves as all equally created in the image of God – in a way of living that honored that same thing in one another – that recognized our need for God and for one another.
It was the thing that seemed to drive his mission – he wanted people to see it, to touch it, to taste it, to experience it, to understand it. He wanted people to know that this kingdom was coming near – it was accessible – he didn’t want anything to get in the way of people finding and knowing and living in light of that kingdom.
But over and over again throughout his ministry – he was encountering a system that was, in the name of God, seeking to do the opposite. A system that was trying to make it more difficult and more complicated to come before God. A system that said some were acceptable and some were not. A system where the leadership benefited and the masses were exploited.
For 33 years, he had seen it in the faces and lives of the people he knew and loved.
And the center of this system was found at the temple.
And so the first table he turns over is the moneychangers.
People at the temple weren’t allowed to use their normal money for the temple offering because it had an image of Caesar on it. And the book of Exodus specifically forbids making an offering with a graven image on it – so they can’t use it.
But what has happened in its place is an elaborate banking system that makes it both more costly and more complicated for people to be able to access and participate in Temple worship. The exchange rates are high and those in power are making a killing. And of course, since they were the only show in town – access to the temple began at this temple.
And he also turns over the tables selling the doves. Doves were a requirement for people who were considered impure to be able to even enter the temple. Women and lepers who were considered impure – before they could even enter the temple they would need to purchase a dove – and this of course would be on top of the other things that they might need to have sacrificed.
For people who were already marginalized – there was an additional hurdle to come before God.
Jesus turns over both tables. The elaborate banking system and the excessive requirements put on people who were already oppressed and marginalized.
No more – he says.
And he speaks powerful words of truth –
This is supposed to be a house of prayer.
But you have made it into a den of robbers
He is challenging not just the high prices but the WHOLE system.
There is this other bizarre story that comes before and after the story.
Just before Jesus enters the temple, on his way there, in fact, he passes by a fig tree…
And then he enters the temple, turns over the tables.
And then after the story – Jesus and the disciples pass by the fig tree again and notice that it has now withered from the roots up.
And Jesus says – almost triumphantly – that whatever you ask for in prayer – believe that God will do it.
Jesus’ use of the fig tree as a symbol is very intentional.
Just as many of us would see the symbol of the Bald Eagle and associate it with America, The fig tree – was a symbol for the Jewish temple state.
Jesus was strategic.
He wasn’t making an emotional outburst.
He is speaking truth to power in a very intentional way.
And - He is passing judgment on the whole temple system.
And then he is teaching his disciples that all that he has just done – it’s a matter of prayer – To challenge the unjust system -
that THIS is part of what it means to be faithful.
And that they will be able to do it too.
Bringing the kingdom of God near to people is also about setting them free from the very system of oppression that has kept them from knowing about it in the first place.
And so - He is building a movement of people who will carry the work forward. Who will be unafraid to preach and teach about the kingdom of God and to do so even in the face of the very system that works against it.
I spent some time this week talking to some of our current students and recent graduates – young people who have connected with this church largely through Freedom School and whose current work in the world is to serve in significant ways to bring about large scale change to the systems in our country that are unjust.
And as I was sitting and talking with one of the young ladies – I asked her – when did it shift for you?
And she said – you know, I was raised in a family that emphasized community service and the importance of doing charity work. It was ingrained in me from a young age.
But at some point, amidst passing out food and clothing to people, I began asking the question – why are people poor at all?
And the more I sought an answer to that question – the more I learned about the systems that needed change –
And that change simply wouldn’t come from community service.
As a person raised to value community service, I could relate to her story…
Because things have been shifting in my own understanding and especially when I become a pastor at this church.
Things have shifted when I’ve listened to your stories.
When you’ve told me the stories of how you were kicked out of a church because you were gay.
When I learned about the ways you have been discriminated against in the workplace, or denied the right to sit with your child in the hospital because you can’t be listed as the legal guardian as a same sex couple.
Things have shifted for me as my eyes have been open.
As I’ve learned how very many of our children whose names and stories I know – continue to fall further behind in school.
And as I see them watch their loved ones killed in the street.
Things have shifted for me
As I am more fully understanding the systems that are perpetuating these problems.
And realizing that these are
Systems that I am too often a part of, and have sometimes benefited from.
So, I’m coming to know that it isn’t enough.
It’s not enough just to make things better for the people who come through our doors at Summit.
The system has GOT to change – so that all of us can be free.
And so with some trepidation – and uncomfortability – I want to learn what it means to be a faithful protestor.
I’ve been dipping my toe in the water with a few things – but mostly I’m trying to learn. And my hope is that I won’t be on that journey alone.
So – what I want you to do today is really ask yourself the question –
Where do things start to change for you?
Where do these abstract ideas about political engagement become real for you because of someone in your life?
Because of an experience you have been through or someone you love has been through?
Where do you see something happening in the world that you know is wrong and it stirs something deep in you?
Maybe it’s a person, a group of people, maybe something you’ve overcome but that you know deep in your heart – you want to be able to help other people heal also?
What I’m asking for is for you to get in touch with that place of love and light in yourself and to name it
And to write it on these 2 post it notes in your bulletin.
And when you do that – take 1 of them and bring it forward – put it on this wall.
And take the other home with you.
Put it somewhere where you will see it every day for the next month.
Maybe your bathroom mirror. Maybe your speedometer of your car or on the screen of your computer.
And ask God to speak to you. Pray for guidance.
I’ll share my things with you –
Children who continue to fall further and further behind in school
A church that practices full inclusion of all people, regardless of the rules and restrictions of the denomination
The wise young people I’ve spoken with say that much of the work involves education and finding concrete ways of taking next steps. And that is why we are devoting the entire month in February to conversations that will lead us toward some practical ways that this can be a part of our lives.
Each of the four themes we have done in January will be mirrored in February.
So, the first concrete step you can take is to be here in February. Be a part of the conversation, continue educating yourself.
And as we pray together, as our hearts are stirred – I imagine that God will continue speak about the work that we can do together -