I got back last night from a wonderful three-day “Mission u” conference for United Methodist Women, where I was privileged to preach, serve Holy Communion, and facilitate workshops on “The Call: Living Sacramentally, Walking Justly.” The workshops focused on baptism, communion, spiritual disciplines, and works of justice. I hadn’t known I was going to preach, but I was asked to say a few words before serving communion. I preached “off the cuff,” but the Spirit was present in power, and gave me the words to say. Here is a summary:
I preached about Jesus, whose mission statement (from Isaiah) was “God has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captive, recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of God’s favor.” Many scholars believe that this was a reference to the year of Jubilee, when debts were supposed to be cancelled, land redistributed, fields left fallow, and slaves set free.
Jesus lived out this mission and ushered in a new form of community, which included the poor, outcaste, and even women and children, which was unheard of in his day. This community was an example of the kingdom of God (or the “kin-dom” of God) that we pray for when we say the words of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Jesus wasn’t killed because he taught everyone to love each other, but because he spoke truth to power and engaged in actions of nonviolent resistance to empire. He broke the law by healing on the Sabbath and by ignoring the purity codes. His strongest direct action was overturning the tables of the money-changers in the Temple, directly challenging the heart of the economic system upon which the Roman occupation was built. Afterwards, Jesus and his followers “occupied” the Temple every day. The authorities wanted to have him arrested, but they couldn’t, because “they were afraid of the people.”
This led to the plot by the elite religious collaborators to have him put to death. They were afraid that the disruption caused by Jesus and his followers might endanger the precarious order they had established with Rome. In a specially-called meeting, the religious leaders said, “If we let him go on like this, the Romans will come and destroy both our place and our name.” It was a matter of national security. Then Caiphus, the Chief Priest, said, “It is expedient that one man die for the people rather than the whole nation be destroyed.” Jesus was executed by Rome because he was considered a threat to the established order, the system of injustice that ruled in his day. The argument of expediency is still used to justify state-sponsored killing today, including capital punishment, drone attacks, ecocide, and the dismantling of life-saving social programs for the most vulnerable among us. Such policies are often supported by religious collaborators who actively or passively support the status quo.
In my sermon I quoted Dorothee Sollee, who said, “Naturally one can develop a theology that no longer has the somber cross at its center. Such an attempt deserves criticism not because it bids farewell to Christianity as it has been, but because it turns aside from reality, in the midst of which stands the cross.” As we prepare to partake of Holy Communion, we must consider where Christ is being crucified today.
The good news is: the death of Jesus is not the end of the story. He is alive in us today, bringing us new life. His Spirit is moving through us, guiding us, motivating us, inspiring and empowering us to follow him directly into the heart of the struggle for a better world.
I came home from the conference tired in body, but inspired and motivated to continue on doing the work of justice, as the Spirit leads and empowers me to do. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, after the long march from Selma to Montgomery, “Our feet our tired, but our souls are rested.”
Thanks be to God!