Holy Saturday: Between Despair and Hope

excuse the inconvenienceToday is Holy Saturday, a space between despair and hope, between death and resurrection.

This in-between time is an analogy for where we are as a species at this critical time in the history of life on earth.  Will we preserve and pass on the wealth of nature and culture to future generations, or will they inherit a wasteland?  This is the primary spiritual issue of our time.

I know from personal experience how the power of God, at work in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, transforms hearts and lives.  But for those of us who see the earth dying and hear the cries of suffering humanity, personal transformation is not enough. We long for major social change, change that shakes the foundations and turns the world upside down. We long for a new community, for the “upside down kingdom” that Jesus initiated, where the hungry will be fed, the naked clothed, the oppressed set free, and slaves released. We hear the groans of the earth, and we ourselves groan inwardly, in labor for the day when the whole creation is set free from bondage (Rom. 8:21). We long for the transformation of the world.

I am a follower of Christ.  With Paul I can say, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:19b-20).

I am also a member of the human race and of the wider community of life.  I share in the suffering of my fellow creatures.  I share in the “passion” of the earth.

The fact is, we really don’t know how this human journey on earth will turn out.  According to theologian Jurgen Moltmann, we cannot know:  “Will humanity survive the crises we have described? We cannot know, and we must not know. If we knew that humanity is not going to survive, we should not do anything more for our children but would say, `after us, the deluge.’ If we knew that humanity is going to survive, we should not do anything either, and by doing nothing we should miss our chance for conversion. Because we cannot know whether humanity is going to survive or not, we have to act today as if the future of the whole of humankind were dependent on us—and yet at the same time trust wholly that God is faithful to his creation and will not let it go.”

On this Holy Saturday,  I choose to live in hope, entrusting myself, my loved ones, and future generations to the God who raised Jesus and who lives in me.  I choose to rest in the silence and stillness and spaciousness of God.

The Scandal of the Cross

“A man planted a vineyard and leased it to tenants, and went to another country for a long time.”  When Jesus tells this story in Luke 20:9-19, he is talking about the relationship between God and human beings.  God created the world, a “vineyard,” a beautiful garden, and, as our ancient creation story goes, God put the human being, “adam,” in the garden “to till it and keep it.”

Our first vocation as human beings was gardener, tillers and keepers of the garden, God’s wonderful gift of creation.  Someone has said, “We have done a good job of tilling, but not a very good job of keeping the garden.”  Nevertheless, that’s our job — caretakers of the earth, tenants of the vineyard.

When the season came, the master sent a servant to the tenants in order that they might give the master his share of the portion of the vineyard.  Again, this story is about God and us.  We are tenants, stewards, accountable to God for what we do with the fruits of the earth and with our lives.  We are accountable to God.

But in this story, when it’s time for the tenants to give to the master what is rightfully his, they balk, they hold back, they resist, they rebel.  They would rather do whatever they want with the gifts of creation.  They would rather use them for their own purposes.  This has been the human story for long time.

So the master sends his servants to convince the tenants to do what is right.  Here Jesus is talking about the servants God sent through so many generations — Moses and the prophets, who tried to convince the people of Israel to be faithful to God, to refuse to worship idols, to share the fruits of the earth with those who were in need, to establish justice in the land.  But so often, like the tenants in today’s story, the people refused to listen.

So, Jesus says, at that point the master decides, “I know.  I’ll send my beloved son to them to represent me, to reason with them, to speak on my behalf.  Perhaps they will respect him.”  But when the son arrives, the tenants kill him, in order to keep the vineyard and its fruits for themselves.

Now this brings me to the heart of what I want to talk about today:  Why did Jesus die on the cross?   There is a scene in the movie “The Apostle” in which the preacher, Robert Duvall, takes a baby in his arms up in front of the church and uses the baby to demonstrate God’s love.  He says, “See this baby, this innocent baby.  See this little hand.  Can you imagine having so much love that you could put a  nail right through this tender hand?  I couldn’t do it.  But God could!  That’s exactly what God did when he gave his son Jesus to die for us – for you and me.

I reject that idea of God.  I don’t believe in a child-abusing God.  I can’t accept a God who could nail anyone to the cross, not even Jesus.

God didn’t need Jesus to die.  And Jesus didn’t want to die. Why did Jesus die on the cross?  Jesus died because the rulers plotted against him, because the power structures were corrupt, because the religious leaders were threatened by the direction he was taking the people, because the high priest Caiphus argued in favor of it, because Judas betrayed him, because Peter denied him, because the people were swayed by propaganda and mob mentality, because even the people who believed in Jesus kept quiet, were afraid, and turned away.  That’s why Jesus died.  Jesus died because people killed him — people not that different from you and me.

God sent Jesus, not to die, but to show the world God’s great love and to show what human life can be in the presence of God. Like the master in this morning’s parable, who sent his son after trying many other things, as a last resort.  “I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.”

And what about Jesus?  He’s the one who went through the rejection, suffering, agony, and death.  How did he feel about it?

Friends of mine who visited the Holy Land told me that one of their most striking experiences was in the Garden of Gethsemane.  It is situated outside Jerusalem, between Jerusalem and the wilderness.  As my friends stood in the Garden, looking out over Jerusalem, they thought of Jesus on that night , praying in the midst of deciding whether to go into the city, to the certain death that awaited him there.  And then looking in the other direction, realizing how easy it would have been for Jesus to take off in the other direction, to freedom and anonymity.  His choice was real.

According to Luke, as Jesus prayed there in the garden, his sweat was like great drops of blood falling on the ground.  He prayed there in agony, knowing he had a choice.  Jesus didn’t want to die.  He wanted to live.

But he could see that in order to be true to himself, and to his followers — and in order to be true to God in this particular set of circumstances, he would have to face what awaited him there in Jerusalem.  And so he waited and prayed, alone in the garden, and was finally arrested, and taken into the city to his death.

The choice Jesus made is similar to the choice made by Deitrich Bonhoeffer, a follower of Jesus, so many years later, in the twentieth century.  He was a world famous German theologian, a part of the underground church that opposed Hitler during World War II.  At one point, Bonhoeffer was touring America, speaking at seminaries.  He was given great honors.  He could have stayed here.  But for the sake of the people of his country, he chose to go back to Germany, even though with his high visibility he faced almost certain death.  And indeed, he was imprisoned and put to death by the Nazis.  But because of the way he lived and died, he ended up converting even some of his prison guards.

The choice Jesus made is similar to the choice made by Shannon Wright, the school teacher who flung herself in front of one of her students when she saw her being targeted.  She literally gave her life for the sake of that child.  Like Jesus, who gave his life for the sake of others — out of love.  It was a very real sacrifice.

As Christians, we have heard the story of the death of Jesus so many times, we may lose sight of the impact of it all.  And we hear people talk about it as if it was all God’s idea and God’s plan, as if that makes it all okay.

But that is a distortion of the gospel.  That takes away what Martin Luther called “the scandal of the cross.”  It takes away the pain, the disappointment, the wrongness of it all.  It puts God on the side of Caiphus, the high priest, who said, “It is expedient that one man die for the people.”  Like the theology of the preacher in the movie, it paints God as one who would nail someone’s hand to a cross.

Oh no!  Let’s not blame God!  Let’s not forget that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to God.”   The scandal is that human beings rejected and killed the very one who came to us full of the presence and power of God, who showed us what God is like and what human life can be.  Like the wicked tenants in the vineyard, who killed the master’s son.  It was evil.  It was a travesty.  It was an affront to the goodness of God.  That’s the scandal — the scandal of the cross.

The scandal of the cross continues even today!  Every time a child goes without food in this world of plenty, every time a species that God created is destroyed, every time an act of violence or cruelty is done, the scandal continues.  For surely, God is present in the midst of the suffering world, and in the pain of each of the least of Christ’s brothers and sisters here today, as surely as God was present in Jesus Christ.  And surely the shocking and painful image of Jesus dying on the cross is a reminder of Christ’s solidarity with all who suffer unjustly, as well as a reminder of the forgiving love of God.

Out of love, “Jesus became obedient to death, even death on a cross.  Therefore, God has highly exalted him…”  The good news is that even human evil couldn’t extinguish the light of God that was in Jesus Christ. Even the worst that humans could do — put to death God’s own son — wasn’t enough to put out that light.  But that’s another story — the story of Easter.

We are living on the far side of the story.  We know that Christ is risen, that we have been given another chance.  We are still tenants, however.  God has entrusted the vineyard to us. We are the new tenants and we, too, are called to till and keep the garden, to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, to establish justice in the land.  But now we have the master’s son, the Risen Christ, who comes to us in the power of the Holy Spirit, to show us God’s unconditional forgiveness and love, to set us free from all that binds us, and to enable us to live in God’s way.

Who knows?  Perhaps we will respect him.  Let it be so.

Jesus, Resister, Part II: Betrayal and Death

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Yesterday was Holy Thursday.  At a special communion service, we reflected on Jesus’ prayers and betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Tonight at a Good Friday service we will meditate on the crucifixion of Jesus and consider how Christ is still being crucified in our world today.

By the time Jesus was in the Garden praying, he knew that the authorities wanted to kill him.  The Jewish religious leaders, who collaborated with Rome, were afraid that the Romans would come and destroy their nation because the movement Jesus led was so popular.  At a specially called meeting of the religious council, the chief priests and Pharisees said, “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation” (John 11:47). The high priest, Caiaphas, responded to the gathered assembly: “You know nothing at all! You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed” (John 11:50). Or, in the words of the King James Version, “It is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.” It was expedient. This kind of justification for political violence is still going on today.

Jesus, a faithful Jew, could see where his resistance actions were taking him. When he prayed, his sweat was like great drops of blood (Luke 22:44). He knew he had a very real choice. He could have turned around and gone away from the confrontation that awaited him in Jerusalem to freedom and obscurity. But he refused to be intimidated. He refused to back down. Instead, he submitted to arrest, where he faced certain death at the hands of the governing authorities. He was taken into custody as a political prisoner, charged with sedition, tried, beaten, mocked, and finally crucified by the Roman Empire. Biblical scholar Allen Callahan says: “Why was Jesus killed? The Roman answer is good enough for me. He was causing trouble. He constituted a security risk and he was dealt with the way the Romans always deal with security risks in the provinces. This was a matter of not even so much politics, as policy. This is how the Romans handled trouble-makers, even if they didn’t intend to make trouble . . .”  According to biblical scholar L. Michael White: “The plaque which names him as Jesus, the king of the Jews, suggests that the charge on which he was executed was one of political insurrection. A threat to the Pax Romana but he’s also now a victim of the Pax Romana.”

Jesus stood for what he believed, loved God and neighbor above all, directly challenged those who were in power, and refused to back down. He resisted, nonviolently, to the point of death. In the words of Marcus Borg: “Jesus was killed because he sought, in the name and power of the Spirit, the transformation of his own culture. He issued a call for a relationship with God that would lead to a new ethos and thus to a new politics. For that goal he gave his life, even though his death was not his primary intention.”

In short, Jesus and the movement he founded threatened the network of religious, economic, political, and military Powers, so they executed him for sedition. It was a matter of national security. His death, however, did not put an end to the movement. After his brutal death, Jesus appeared to his disciples, who proclaimed that he had risen.

We have seen the Lord” became their rallying cry.  The movement spread quickly. Early Christians followed what they called the “Way.” They sought to reflect the values of the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed and to demonstrate, as Jesus did, how human life can be lived in close relationship to God, under the power and influence of the Holy Spirit, in loving community and in resistance to Powers that would degrade or destroy life.

It wasn’t long before distinctions were made, lines were drawn, creeds were developed, and hierarchies established in the early church. Under Constantine, Christianity became a religion of empire, and to this day Christianity in many of its forms has cooperated with the ruling Powers. Wars have been fought and genocide carried out under the banner of the cross. This is one of the great ironies of history, since its founder nonviolently resisted Empire at the cost of his own life.

But for the first three centuries, Christians were a persecuted minority, living in nonviolent resistance to the Roman Empire, refusing to bow to the emperor or serve in the Roman army. Many were martyred, courageously following the example of Jesus, who demonstrated the nonviolent, self-giving love of God.

Both Gandhi and King pointed to Jesus as the inspiration and model for their movements of organized nonviolent resistance. In this age of corporate globalization and empire, Jesus’ unwavering spirit of resistance and hope for transformation can give us a sense of the depth of courage and commitment that is possible in a human life lived in faithfulness to God.

(This posting includes excerpts from “Jesus, Resister” in Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization by Sharon Delgado.)

Speaking Peace on Palm/Passion Sunday

This blog post is taken from the speech that Sharon gave at a Tour de Peace event with Cindy Sheehan in Nevada City, California, on Palm/Passion Sunday, March 24, 2013.

Hi friends.  It’s good to be here with all of you.  I’m so glad to be part of a community of people who are passionate about peace.

The first peace group I ever attended was the Nevada County Anti-draft Coalition. Our kids were young teenagers, and the government had just re-instituted draft registration.  It was 1979.  Not long after that, I became involved in the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign.  I was motivated to work for peace out of concern for my children.

I was also motivated by my faith.  The first time I was arrested for peace was over 30 years ago, at the Nevada Test Site, on Good Friday.  We prayed and sang under a rustic cross, then held the barbed wire for each other and stepped through onto the test site.  I felt connected to Jesus, who had engaged in nonviolent direct action against Empire so many years before.

Today is Palm/Passion Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, the first day of Holy Week.  This morning all the children were marching around the church singing “hosannah” and waving palm branches, because that’s what the people of Jerusalem did so long ago when Jesus came into the city riding on a donkey.  Then we went downstairs and played “Pin the Jesus on the Donkey.”

On that first Palm Sunday, the people shouted “Hosannah.”  Many wanted to make Jesus king, like his ancestor David.  They wanted him to defeat the Romans, who were occupying their country, to drive them out and set up their own kingdom through military might.  They gave Jesus a hero’s welcome.  But the story quickly devolves from there.

Jesus stops and looks out over Jerusalem, and he  begins to weep.  He weeps over Jerusalem, saying to the people, “Would that you, even you, had known this day the things that make for peace, but they are hidden from your eyes.”  He warns that they and their children and their children’s children face disaster if they don’t turn around.   Jesus weeps.

I feel like that sometimes.  I look at how the future will be for my grandchildren and for their grandchildren,  and I can see that they’ll face disaster if we don’t turn around as a people.  I weep.

From there Jesus, a faithful Jew, goes to the Temple and engages in nonviolent direct action. He overthrows the tables of the money-changers there. He always challenged unjust laws, but for the ruling authorities, both political and religious, this was the last straw. This symbolic action went to the heart of an economic system that oppressed the people, a system upon which Jewish collaboration with Rome had been built. This infuriated the elite religious leaders who benefited from cooperating with the Roman occupation. Within days Jesus was arrested, tried and convicted of treason, tortured and executed on a cross, the Roman Empire’s preferred method for doing away with subversives and traitors. Just 30 years before the Romans crucified over 2000 people because there had been a revolt in Galilee.

From there Jesus goes to the Temple and engages in nonviolent direct action.  He overthrows the tables of the money-changers there.  He always challenged unjust laws, but this was the last straw.  This symbolic action went to the heart of an economic system that oppressed the people, a system upon which Jewish collaboration with Rome had been built.  This infuriated the elite religious leaders who benefited from cooperating with the Roman occupation.  Within days Jesus was arrested, tried and convicted of treason, tortured and executed on a cross, the Roman Empire’s preferred method for doing away with subversives and traitors.   Just 30 years before the Romans crucified over 2000 people because there had been a revolt in Galilee.

Empire requires the willingness to use massive and overwhelming force.  It was true in the time of the Roman Empire, and it’s true in today’s global Empire.

There’s a new book out called “The Passion of Bradley Manning.”  This book is a comprehensive look at the case of Bradley Manning, who released classified information to get the truth out about the Iraq War.  The book tells about his passion, the sufferings he has endured-solitary confinement and mistreatment.  He’s being charged with aiding the enemy–that’s treason.  The government is making an example of Bradley Manning in order to prevent other soldiers from also becoming whistleblowers.

What does this say about our values as a nation?  What values are we teaching our children?  Our children are being sacrificed on the altars of money and military power.  As a culture, we do not know the things that make for peace.

This is part of the passion of our time.   It’s a time when international law is ignored, kill lists are created, war crimes are covered up, whistleblowers are punished.   It’s a time when drone “pilots” sit at computer terminals and kill people by remote control thousands of miles away, a time when we talk of supporting our troops while so many veterans suffer from PTSD, or are disabled, or homeless, or suicidal. It’s a time when there are seven times as many empty houses, many of them foreclosed, than there are homeless people.  It’s a time when health care, schools, the post office, libraries, and vital services are cut rather than raising the taxes on the 1%.  It’s a time when corporations regulate governments rather than the other way around.

We live at a time of global empire, held together by an interconnected global economy, dominated by huge corporations, supported by an ideology of unrestrained free market capitalism, dependent upon a permanent war economy, and enforced by militarized police forces and home and the most powerful military industrial complex in history.

The world desperately needs people who are passionate and willing to take action for peace.

Cindy Sheehan has gone through her own passion.  She has suffered, of course.  What can be worse than the death of your child?  So many families have lost loved ones in these endless wars, military families here and also families in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan.  But Cindy also has a passionate commitment to work for peace, so that the insanity and evil that took her child will end.   That’s the point of the Tour de Peace… to revitalize the Peace Movement, so that the death, and destruction, and torture, and endless war, and war on nature will cease.

Since my name went up on the poster saying that I’d be speaking at the Cindy Sheehan event, several people have shared their thoughts with me.  Some people react with passion.  One mother told me, “I can’t go there.  My son is in Afghanistan.  All I can do is visualize him safe until he comes home.  I can’t go any further than that.”

Another mother said to me, “Some people bad-mouth Cindy Sheehan.  But I totally support what she’s doing.  If that was my child who was killed, I’d be doing the same thing.”  Then she said, “I’m Cindy Sheehan.”

I get that.  I care about the children.  I care about the future.  I care about the things that make for peace.  I know you do, too.  Each of us could say “I’m Cindy Sheehan.”  But instead we need to

ask ourselves what we can do, what gifts do we have to bring to this struggle, what are we uniquely able to contribute.  Our challenge is to go deep within ourselves, to find the spiritual resources that will enable us to bring our whole selves to this struggle to help create the “other world” that is possible.  There are many things that we can do:

Support the Tour de Peace through donations and in other ways–Cindy will tell you how.  Support the Peace Center, which does so much in this community.   Support our local Move to Amend Coalition, working with national groups to enact a constitutional amendment to abolish corporate personhood and make it clear that money is not speech.  Check out the Earth Justice Ministries display, buy my book, follow my blog.  Prepare yourself spiritually, mentally, and physically so you’ll be ready when the next right action for you to take comes along–maybe even nonviolent direct action.

Today is Palm/Passion Sunday, but Easter is coming–a celebration of new life, of resurrection.  Take it literally or take it as Archbishop Oscar Romero put it when he called on the soldiers of El Salvador to lay down their arms, just days before he was killed while serving Holy Communion.  He said, “If you kill me, I will rise in the Salvadoran people.”  We don’t need to fear.  We can take strong and passionate action for peace.  We the people will rise.  We are rising.

Blessings of Creation

pathWhat beautiful Spring-like days we’ve been experiencing here in Nevada County.  I love taking walks with Guari on the path along the canals near our home.

My life is so full–of people and things that I love, of challenges and opportunities for growth, of passion to share the good news that transformation is possible, for us as individuals and through us, for the world.  Through it all I remain confident and convinced that “God is for us,” which, according to Martin Luther, is the core of the gospel.

But God is not just “for us” as individuals.  The Spirit of Love who brought us into being is “for us” as the Earth Community, interrelated and interdependent in all its various parts.  We are all part of what Matthew Fox calls “the original blessing” of creation.

Along these lines, Thomas Berry said, “The earth is the primary revelation.”  He went on to issue a warning:    “The natural world tells us: I will feed you, I will clothe you, I will shelter you, I will heal you. Only do not so devour me or use me that you destroy my capacity to mediate the divine and the human. For I offer you a communion with the divine. I offer you gifts that you can exchange with each other. I offer you flowers whereby you may express your reverence for the divine and your love for each other. In the vastness of the sea, in the snow-covered mountains, in the rivers flowing through the valleys, in the serenity of the landscape, and in the foreboding of the great storms that sweep over the land, in all these experiences I offer you inspiration for your music, for your art, your dance.”

Sometimes, when my many commitments have taken over my consciousness, a walk along the path in the woods brings me back and reminds me who I am–a child of Earth, a child of Spirit, a follower of the Way of Jesus, a person among persons, a friend among friends, an integral part of the community of life.  May I live accordingly.