Trading Our Palm Branches for Tomahawk Missiles or White Helmets? – a Palm Sunday sermon

In the wake of a week that saw sarin gas released once again on the people of Sryria, followed by the firing of U.S. tomahawk missiles, parading around waving Palm Branches seems as foolish as it did when Jesus lead a parade into Jerusalem to face the Roman Empire on an ass. Today’s gospel picks up where the Gospel According to Matthew’s story of Jesus’ parade into Jerusalem ends, when Jesus overturns the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple – Matthew 21:12-16. Listen to the sermon here:

Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna! Save us! Save us! Save us! This morning, as we shout our Hosannas to the world, the world remains entangled in a vain attempt to achieve peace through violence. The two most powerful nations on earth are leading the charge: as I speak the United States has dispatched an aircraft carrier-led strike group to the waters off the coast of North Korea, while the Russian Navy has dispatched a frigate to the Mediterranean Sea so that its cruise missiles will be in striking distance of Syria. We’ve been here so many times before; seeking peace through violence.

On Friday, according to CNN, “Raytheon, the company that makes the Tomahawk missiles used in the air strikes on Syria by the United States, saw its stocks rise. Investors seem to be betting that President Trump’s decision to retaliate against Syria after the chemical attack on Syrian citizens earlier this week may mean the Pentagon will need more Tomahawks. The US Department of Defense asked for $2 billion dollars over five years to buy 4,000 Tomahawks for the US Navy in its fiscal 2017 budget last February.

Nearly five dozen Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched at military bases in Syria from U.S. warships in the Mediterranean Sea late on Thursday. Raytheon wasn’t the only defense stock that rose sharply on Friday. Lockheed Martin which partners with Raytheon on the Javelin missile launcher system and also makes Hellfire missiles, gained nearly 1%. Defense stocks General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman also rallied Friday, a day when the broader market was flat due to a mixed US jobs report. It’s unclear whether President Trump and his Defense Secretary James Mattis will ask for a lot more money for Tomahawks once they officially submit a fiscal 2018 budget request. But Trump said in his preliminary budget blueprint last month that a brad increase in defense spending was needed.  A sizable chunk of that was earmarked for upgrading warships, fighter planes and missiles. So it should come as no surprise that defense stocks are among the top performers on Wall Street not just on Friday, but for all of this year.”

What this CNN report doesn’t say, is that according to his own disclosure forms filed during the election, Trump hold a substantial amount of stock in Raytheon.   Now, the cynic in me can’t help but marvel at the Commander-in-chief’s selection of Tomahawk missiles as the pathway to peace. If I only I could figure out which tables to over-turn I would lead the parade. Continue reading

Jesus: Human or Divine? – A Question for Palm Sunday

SPONG Living pastordawn“….when he returned to the city…Jesus entered the Temple precincts and began teaching. The chief priests and the elders of the people came to him and said, ‘By what authority are you doing what you do? Who gave you this authority?’ And I,” replied Jesus, ‘Will ask you a single questions; if you give me the answer, I will tell you my authority for these actions. What was the origin of John’s right to baptize? Was it divine or was it human?” They discussed it among themselves and said, ‘If we say, ‘divine,’ he will respond, ‘Then why did you refuse to believe him?” But if we say ‘human’ we have the people to fear, for they regard John as a prophet,’ So they replied to Jesus, “We don’t know.” (Matthew 23:23-27)

Divine or human? We don’t know? Really? Of course we know? Divine or Human? You bet we know! We’re just afraid to say. These few verses are usually ignored during the lead up to the big events of Holy Week. It seems to me, that they may well provide those of us who live in the 21st century about as much angst as they provided to people of the first century, but for entirely different reasons. I think perhaps, the writer of the gospel according to Matthew, whoever he was, may have been messing with his first century audience. “Human or divine?” was just as much of a loaded question in the first century as it is in the 21st century but for entirely different reasons. The writer of the Gospel According to Matthew may have placed the question in the mouth of Jesus, but today, just as I’m sure it did all those centuries ago, the question echoes back and forth between Jesus and the listeners to the narrative until it is not so much about John the Baptist’s authority to baptize as it is about Jesus himself. Which is exactly what the author designed the interchange to do in the hearts and minds of his listeners. “By what authority are you doing what you do? Who gave you this authority?”

In good rabbinic style the author of this text has Jesus reply to a question with a question. “I will ask you a single question; if you give me the answer, I will tell you my authority for these actions.” Do you want to know why I came riding in here on an ass? Do you want to know what gives me the right to mock your notions of Messiah? Do you want to know by whose authority I rube the Roman’s noses in it, parading into town mocking their leadership with a farce designed to make you laugh at the way they dare to laud their power over us? Do you want to know what or who gives me the right to march into the Temple at Passover and turn the place upside down, attacking the financial system that lies at the heart of our peoples’ collaboration with Roman oppression? Do you really want to know by whose authority I challenge the injustice that surrounds us? Do you really want to know? Well I’ll tell you if you answer me this? “What was the origin of John’s right to baptize? Come on you tell me. Was it divine or was it human?” They lopped of John’s head for daring to challenge injustice. Served it up on a silver platter for the crime of challenging Roman authority. Do you really want to challenge my authority? Human or divine? Come on tell me, I dare you.

They discussed it among themselves and they knew they were trapped. “If we say, ‘divine,” he will respond, ‘Then why did you refuse to believe him?” But if we say, ‘human” we have the people to fear, for they regard him as a prophet.” So they replied to Jesus, “We don’t know?”

Human or divine? We don’t know. Of course they knew! They know and we know. We are just afraid to say. Because if we say, we know full well what the next question will be and we don’t want to go there. Human or divine may not be a 21st century question. It is a question that has different implications in our day than it did back when the writer of the Gospel According to Matthew put it into the mouth of Jesus. To question someone’s authority in the first century meant pretty much what it does today. We, like our first century ancestors in the faith, want to know if Jesus has the right stuff to challenge the system. If Jesus has the right stuff; then maybe just maybe he’s worth paying attention to. Show us your credentials Jesus. We want to know who you are before we take any advice from you; especially advice that will have us taking a stand against the powers that be. Continue reading