Archive for March, 2016

The Donkey-Rider’s Very Different Way

thetriumphalentryLast Sunday Christians celebrated King Jesus’ grand entrance into Jerusalem. We remembered how he came “triumphant and victorious…humble and riding on a donkey…” (Zechariah 9:9 NRSV) We waved palm branches, the way those first-century folks generally welcomed a conquering hero. With that ancient crowd we shouted and sang “Hosanna!”, “Save us!” Jesus’ choice of transportation was a message that Jewish crowd couldn’t have missed. Conquering heroes didn’t ride dumpy little donkeys. They rode magnificent white stallions. Jesus’ alternative transportation recalled Zechariah’s prophecy. Speaking through the prophet, God  continues (this part we rarely hear):

” I’ve had it with war—no more chariots in Ephraim,

no more war horses in Jerusalem,

no more swords and spears, bows and arrows.

He [the donkey-riding king] will offer peace to the nations,

a peaceful rule worldwide,

from the four winds to the seven seas.” (Zechariah 9:10 MSG)

Hopefully last Sunday our pastors taught us the radically different nature of this king and Kingdom. Perhaps he/she chose another direction. Perhaps it was one of those services where other concerns intruded and the message got lost in the shuffle. Some of us may have gone home wondering why Jesus’ friends didn’t insist on getting him a more impressive ride for his grand entry. Some of us wondered (with desperate hope) how that donkey-riding king could make a transforming, life-and-death difference in our angry, violent world.

Monday morning the bombs exploded in Brussels. Monday morning we cried “Save us!” to our guns, our armies, our security and surveillance systems, our present and would-be future leaders—and yes, to the God whose offer of “peace to the nations” still falls on deaf ears and hardened hearts. Monday morning we were brutally reminded–again–of the climate of inescapable anger and violence in which we live. We felt the devastating grief of the victims and all who were connected to them—which is all of us. We felt the fear that mistrusts all that is unknown and unfamiliar. This fear builds walls of exclusion and prejudice against all who are “different”, especially those who bear any resemblance to the “enemy”. Those walls go up instantly. But when we realize we’ve overbuilt, or that we’ve walled out the wrong people, those walls come down only with the greatest difficulty–or not at all. Monday morning politicians and others began proposing various ways to strengthen our security. Some offer reasonable and effective steps. Others offer fear-based proposals that will intensify the hate and fear rather than leading toward healing.

When I watch the coverage from Brussels and the response around the world, I sometimes see a lonely figure moving across the screen. The man on the donkey rides past the wreckage, the hospital scenes, families coping with tragedy or celebrating reunion, stunned men and women trying to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives, politicians and others seeking a way to use this disaster to enhance their standing. The donkey-riding king moves silently through our world. His very presence judges our fear-full and faith-full responses. His presence proclaims anew the impossible promise of “peace to the nations…from the four winds to the seven seas”. He is in our midst as we work through our shock, our fear, our outrage, our grief. He is alongside us and all his followers as we live out his way of strong gentle humility and unconditional love.

Some of our United Methodist leaders remind us what following Jesus looks like in a time like this:

  • “We are praying for all who lost loved ones and for those who are wounded. And we pray and work that we overcome fear and do not answer evil with evil…”—Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, Germany
  • “As those who follow Jesus, the crucified and resurrected One, we need to continue in doing good as much as we can, in building respectful community, in working for peace and justice, in being agents of reconciliation and never give up despite blind violence, hatred or paralyzing fear, wherever we live,”—Bishop Patrick Streiff, Central and Southern Europe
  • “[news of this attack] comes on the heels of violence in other parts of the world, including Cote d’Ivoire earlier this month and more than a hundred incidents in various parts of the world just this year…I am touched by this pain to the fabric of humanity. It’s a pain we must face and seek to heal with love and justice, but we recognize that controlling or preventing these kinds of tragedies is beyond our power alone. We turn to our God who creates justice and loves and embraces us all.”—Bishop Warner Brown, San Francisco, President of the Council of Bishops.

Our donkey-riding King invites us to share his journey as he moves through our world. He brings peace, love, healing, a sense of community that unites those who never thought it possible. He leads us into a way of self-emptying love that is incredibly fulfilling. His very different way gently and powerfully refuses to give in to anger, fear, and violence. Our crucified and risen Lord leads us toward the kind of world I want to live in; the kind of world I want my children and grandchildren, and all the children of the world, to live in. Will you help build that new world? The world where “We overcome fear and do not answer evil for evil;” where we “Continue in doing good as much as we can…; where we “…never give up despite blind violence, hatred, or paralyzing fear;” where “We turn to our God who creates justice and loves and embraces us all.”

Praying for the Other Side

Please don’t click away without reading and praying this prayer. While it’s titled “…for Mr. Trump”, I believe it speaks to all of us caught up in this bitterly contentious election. If your political perspective doesn’t match the author’s, pray for the politician on the opposite side of the spectrum–you know, the one who makes your blood boil! Feel free to lovingly adjust some of the specifics accordingly.  This prayer reminds us that even those on “the other side” are human beings created in God’s image, just like ourselves. We can’t self-righteously “aim” this prayer at “them” when it’s equally about “us”: “Let all of us see the same suffering Jesus” and “God who set aside all comfort”. It invites all of us equally to repent of giving in to the temptation to “look strong” and “mask our weakness”. It points toward deep, authentic unity as we pray beyond all that divides us,

“We need to make ourselves less again,
So that you can be Great.”

A Lenten Prayer for Mr. Trump

[Reposted with the author’s permission]

Father,
We’ve been astounded, frustrated, angry, resentful, defensive.
We’re feeling indignant, maligned, misrepresented.
We, as Christians, have reacted to the brand of “Trump.”
We confess it keeps us from praying for the man, Trump.

We bring your son before you, this man who claims your name.
We can’t understand him.
But you know his heart, you know his deepest thoughts.

Father, In his efforts to look strong,
You know where he feels weak.
You know the parts of himself he works to protect.
You know his defense mechanisms.
You are not fooled by them.
You are not limited by them.

Let your Spirit find those places of shame, of pride, of emptiness.
Meet him there with your grace, your kind challenge, your fullness.
Reveal to him the power of asking forgiveness.

When Mr. Trump goes to church this Easter
Let him see the suffering Jesus.
Show him the way Jesus laid aside his rights,
The way he defended the oppressed,
The way he listened, welcomed,
The way True Power was revealed in nakedness,
The way True Fullness came through emptying.
In church, reveal to our brother, not a comfortable institution,
But a God who set aside all comfort.

And when we go to church this Easter,
Let us see the same Jesus.

We confess that the news has shifted our attention.
We confess our hope has not been in your power.
Regardless of how the primaries go,
Who the candidates are,
What happens in November,
Our hope lies in You.
 Use this prayer, birthed from frustration, to change our hearts.

Let us see the ways we are also tempted to look strong.

We repent from our own efforts to mask our weakness.
We repent, as your Church, from our desire to protect an institution.
We don’t need to make America great again.
We need to make ourselves less again.
So that you can be Great.

Amen.


Categories