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Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday

Jesus said, “I am.” Mark 14:1-15, 47
The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday – March 16, 2000
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul – (the Rev’d) Elizabeth Kaeton

Pray with me: (sung) “You’ve got to walk that lonesome valley. You’ve to walk it for yourself. Oh, nobody else can walk it for you. You’ve got to walk it for yourself.” Amen.

This is not a guilt trip, but let me ask you, “Are you innocent?”

Are you? Innocent? Are you? And, you? And you, there: are you innocent?

I’m sure you’ve heard it said that we listen to the story of the Passion of our Lord three times in Holy Week – Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday – so that we all may take our roles in the crucifixion of Jesus. After all, he died for our sins, didn’t he? Who among us is not sinful? Who among us is innocent?

I beg to differ. I don't / can't buy into that "I-am-a-worm-and-no-man-wretched-sinner" stuff from Calvin. That line of thinking follows the traditional Pauline theological position which holds fast to the idea that the Atonement was necessary because of the sin of Adam and Even in the Garden. I have a great deal of trouble with this position for a variety of reasons which we have discussed in the Lenten Study Program this year. This is not the place for that discussion, so I’ll just leave it at that for now.

We hear the story of the Passion of Jesus and we walk the steps of ‘The Way of the Cross’ not to take a guilt trip but rather to remember and never forget the liberation we enjoy in Christ Jesus who came to show us The Way.

We do this because our Christian tradition was built on our Jewish heritage, one of the cornerstone being that of anamnesis – remembering.

We put ourselves into the story, we reenact and relive the story, in order that we might take the story into our hearts and minds. Indeed, we live the story that it might live in us – in the fibers of our sinews, in the marrow of our bones, in the very stuff of our DNA.

We live the story so we will never forget. We live the story so that our children and our children’s children will live the story so that the story of The Passion of Jesus will never be forgotten.

Finally, we live the story so that the precious gift of our liberation in Christ Jesus will always be cherished.

So, let me ask the question again: Are you innocent?

Have you forgotten the lessons of the Passion of Jesus? Do you cherish the liberation you have in the divine gift of ‘free will’? Do you treasure the gift of grace, freely given and completely undeserved?

Jim Wallis, my favorite Evangelical (yes, I do like Evangelicals and I even have favorites), says that Jesus faced the four political options of his day.

One was collaborationist – to ‘go along to get ahead.’ That was the path Judas took.

One was pietist - the path taken by the religious leaders of the Sanhedrin who made a big show of their religion.

One was withdrawal – or that of Peter, who ran away when Jesus was arrested.

The last was that of political insurrection or revolutionary violence – the path taken by many in Jerusalem at that time, which made both the religious leaders and those in governmental power very, very nervous.

Jesus rejected them all. There was a fifth option - the option He took - called the Kingdom of God.

It is the path of the one who lives out their vocation and makes the sacrifices necessary to be authentic and have integrity. It is a very high calling, one which very few choose to take.

Having said all that, I’ll return now to my original question: Are you innocent?

Have you sacrificed what you believe on the altar of expediency?

Do you ‘go along to get ahead’?

Do you use your religion as an excuse not to use your intelligence?

Do you run from confrontation, avoiding it at all costs – even to the cost of your own soul?

Are you ‘the angry young man (or woman)’ of that popular song, ‘with your fist in the air and your head in the sand’?

If you are, then you are decidedly not innocent. You are as guilty as Judas. Or one of the members of the Sanhedrin. Or, Peter who ran away and denied Jesus three times. You are as guilty any one of the members of the angry crowd who shouted “Crucify him!”

You have a fifth option. It’s the one that Jesus took. It’s the option called the Realm of God.

It’s the option to choose the greatest good for the greatest number, even if it means the sacrifice of one. It’s the option to tell the truth, no matter how costly. It’s the courage to remain silent when the truth is too complicated and dangerous to tell. It’s the choice to live with integrity, even when compromise seems most expedient.

Are you innocent? This is not a guilt trip. It is a journey down, way down deep into your soul. It is an expedition only you, yourself, can make. Don’t miss out on the opportunity for this journey. It is, quite literally, the trip of a lifetime.

There’s still time to humble yourself and have your feet washed on Maundy Thursday. There’s still time to carry the cross on Good Friday.

The good news is that you won’t be alone. You will be with other pilgrims who will be searching to take the option of the Realm of God. It’s the journey of those who worship a Mystery whose real glory can be found in an empty tomb.

(Sung) “You must ask the Lord’s forgiveness. You got to ask it for yourself. Oh, nobody else can ask it for you. You got to ask it for yourself.”

Welcome to Holy Week. This is not a guilt trip.

This is a journey into your soul.



Paul Powers said...

Beautiful homily, Elizabeth. Thank you. Having long ago learned to embrace my "inner Puritan," I do buy into the whole "I am a worm and no man," atonement deal, but it's great that you have shown a way to make the Holy Week route more accessible to those who can't/don't.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Why thank you, Paul. You may be my second favorite evangelical. It's so important, is it not, to find a way to talk about the sacrifice of Jesus in a way that makes sense to one's particular audience. It's very Pauline.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Elizabeth, it's a wonderful sermon, one that makes me think, and that's what sermons are meant to do. I am not innocent.

I buy into the atonement more than you do. I love the "Prayer of Humble Access". However, I don't buy into the idea that God the Father willed the sacrifice of his own Son for the forgiveness of our sins. I could not believe that and, at the same time, believe in a God of love. Yet, I do believe that Jesus sacrificed himself for us, and that his sacrifice was efficacious toward out salvation.

You said:

It’s the option to choose the greatest good for the greatest number, even if it means the sacrifice of one.

I don't understand that, Elizabeth. Are we ever to choose to sacrifice one for the greater good? We can choose to sacrifice ourselves for the greater good, but we cannot make the decision to sacrifice another for the greater good, can we? Perhaps, I'm misunderstanding you here.

FranIAm said...

This is wonderful- your words really touched me. I am an intermittent visitor here, but when I do come by I am gifted richly by your words and all that they mean.

Thank you also for the four paths and the fifth that Jesus took, the Kingdom.

Peace and blessings in abundance to you this Holy Week.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Actually, I was thinking of what Jesus did - sacrificed himself for the greatest good for the greatest number. What I was trying to say is that sometimes we need to follow the model of Jesus and be self-sacrificial for the same reasons. I meant it as a choice one makes, not a sacrifice someone else places on you (ie ++KJS's unfortunate request that LGBT people stand in 'a crucified place' for the rest of the church).. But, I can see how it might be misconstrued. Thanks for your comments.

Diane said...

It IS a journey into your soul. thank you. perfect.

Diane said...

p.s. I think there is more than one way of thinking about "atonement", and part of our job as pastors, is to help people widen their perspective that way of what it means. you did a wonderful job.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Elizabeth, KJS' sacrifice of others immediately came to my mind. I'm glad to know I misunderstood.

A blessed Holy Week to you and Ms. Conroy.

Jim said...

Rev Elizabeth

"Welcome to Holy Week. This is not a guilt trip.

This is a journey into your soul. "

Beautifully well said.


Jim's Thoughts

susankay said...

I liked this. I suspect that it is all less about us (worthy or worm) than it is about Who we say He is.

Kirstin said...

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this meditation. I've been struggling with my own self-righteousness; your clarity about choosing wisely (I'm flashing back to Raiders of the Lost Ark...) is helping me do exactly that.