A House & A People of Prayer

On April 15, 2019, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

A House and a People of Prayer Palm Sunday 2019 Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Let us dwell together in peace; and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression. And now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. Jesus and his friends make a pilgrimage to the […]

A House and a People of Prayer
Palm Sunday 2019
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

Let us dwell together in peace; and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression. And now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen.

Jesus and his friends make a pilgrimage to the Holy City and its Temple today. He rides in on a borrowed donkey, people who have heard about his ministry of healing and empowering people and challenging injustice get excited when they see him ride into town. They break out with improvisational street theatre, pretending Jesus is a conquering hero riding into town gloriously like a general or a king. They even sing choruses from their hymnal, the Psalter: “Save us! Rescue us! Hosanna!”

Of course, Jesus has no fortress, no army, no influence in the Senate, no friends in high places, not even a proper horse…he comes into town on rent-an-ass.
He’s just a progressive preacher telling people that they are innately whole and forever loved by God. The palm waving, song singing, hero cheering spectacle is funny, and seditious, and it’s empowering, and dangerous.

People treating Jesus, even in jest, like a king could get him into really hot water.
A prophet? A preacher? A healer? Those things are fine, but kings don’t just pop up in Caesar’s empire. If Caesar didn’t hand pick you as a puppet, you ain’t going to be a king. So, even pretending to have kingly ambitions can be deadly.

Immediately following the impromptu street performance where Jesus plays the role of a warrior king to a small audience of enthusiastic would be resisters, he goes to the Temple.

Now remember…it’s the time of Passover, a feast that recalls Moses, with divine aid, leading his people out of bondage from the Egyptian empire. The Passover feast is a memorial of oppressed people placing thumb to nose and waving fingers at the Empire, and getting away with it.

Passover reminds us that God is deeply concerned with the oppressed – the poor, the outcast, the ill, the refugee, the asylum seeker, the transgender soldier, gays and lesbians who remain the target of toxic fundamentalism…Passover is a time where we hear true spiritual leaders advocating for the oppressed, demanding of Pharaoh, “Let my people go!”

And Jesus is going start some mess at Passover?! He and is palm waving fans are basically saying to Caesar, “Let my people go!”
Oh yes, there will be hell to pay and in just a few days.

And now Jesus has a fit and falls in it in the Temple.
The Temple is government sanctioned. At this point the Temple system is a loyal and cooperating part of the empire. And Jesus goes to the Temple.

He sees businesses profiting from Passover. They have set up money exchange counters….like at the airport, so that people can exchange their coins that have Caesar’s image on them for coins that do not (because you can’t have graven images in the Temple, not even coins with graven images on them).

So, enterprising people have set up shop. For a fee, they’ll exchange your currency.
But this is the Holy Temple…not an Amway convention, not Mary Kay, not a Tupperware Party…this is the sign and symbol of our faith. These shopkeepers aren’t offering fundraisers for ministry. They aren’t trying to raise Passover bonuses for the hard working priests. They aren’t funding social services or trying to repair the Temple roof, they are just using the Temple to put money in their own pockets and Jesus can’t stand it.

He quotes them a scripture from the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah comforted enslaved eunuchs, telling them are forever part of God’s family, they are forever loved by God, and God’s house is their house – a place of refuge and hope and healing for the wounded and oppressed.

Jesus uses a scripture meant to comfort the oppressed, the outcast…to remind leaders of business, religion, and politics that the Temple is a place of prayer for all people, not a place where the privileged increase their personal power and profits. Religion isn’t meant to maintain white privilege or heteronormativity or gender binaries…religion isn’t meant to be a tool of oppression, its meant to be a house and a people of prayer, of communion with omnipresent, divine love.

And then, Jesus does what the Temple is meant to be used for…he starts praying with people, blessing them, healing them. And the establishment gets angry.

Jesus, on the anniversary of people escaping an oppressive empire, has roused rabble and has confronted the beneficiaries of empire. It should come as no surprise that by Friday, he’s toast. Not because God wanted him to suffer (let us forever be done with the idea of god as a cosmic child abuser…God does not order, ordain, require or rejoice in torture). No, Jesus will suffer because he wouldn’t stay silent about others who suffer.

Since Jesus wants to protect the house of worship as a place of life-changing prayer, I want to lift up three observations about prayer from the text.

On the way to Jerusalem, they stopped in Bethphage. They weren’t yet ready for what Jerusalem had in store. The City of God promises peace, but peace is not apathy. God’s peace includes justice. It takes work, it takes commitment, it takes strength, and we aren’t always ready to do what we must to live out God’s will.

They stopped in Bethphage to pray, prepare, get their stuff together. Prayer helps us prepare for the work in the world we are called to do.

Then they leave Bethphage and journey to Jerusalem. They stopped in Bethphage to prepare, to pray. And prayed up, fueled up, poised and prepared, Jesus can confront injustice. When we’re prayed up, we find that we are powered up to do what is difficult. When it gets ugly, he doesn’t fall apart because he’s prayed up and he’s standing on the principles by which he lives his life.

After challenging the powers that be, Jesus and the gang choose to spend the night in Bethany. We know from other gospel stories that Jesus’ chosen family lives in Bethany. Lazarus, Mary and Martha are his people. They help him feel loved, safe, cared for. He goes to his friends for encouragement. They’ll love him, and pray with him, and remind him of his potential. It’s a house and a family of prayer. He’ll face the music for what he’s done today, but if he reconnects, recharges with the people who believe in him and in whom he believes, he can continue to do what must be done.

Jesus let the people have a cathartic, theatrical experience.
He challenged exploitation.
He ministered to the sick and weary.

He’s had a busy day, and he will pay the price for it…but prayer is how he was able to do all of that, and how he will be able to face the difficulties still to come.

Prayer helps us prepare for the challenges ahead.
Prayer helps us feel empowered.
And prayer helps us recharge.

Sunshine Cathedral is a house and a people of prayer. And this is the good news. Amen.

In this house of prayer
May we become

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