Thursday, March 12, 2015

Sometimes the greatest expression of love is anger.


Jeremy and Mario and the choir and Bob

This is the third Sunday of Lent. The weekend of the 50th anniversary of the crossing of The Edmund Petttis bridge. Mario and the Work center’s open Choir are with us this morning.  Sean is asleep on the steps. I saw a body there last night as I passed by. This morning, I saw the blankets. Had no idea it was him. Politely asked the person to move. Didn’t realize it was him. The printer’s not working have to run to the Bangladeshi copy shop to print the bulletins.

We begin by singing Create in me a clean heart O God and renew a right spirit within my soul. And after the greetings and announcements, we begin with Psalm 19: 1-14 and use Bob Marley’s O let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, which comes at verse 14, as our refrain.

Then our gospel lesson, John 2: 13-22:

13The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

I lift up the anniversary of the bridge crossing. And last week’s anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X. Our theme today is righteous anger. We’ve been through a season of anger. With the murders of  Michel Brown and Eric Garner and the failure to indict any of the police involved. And the Black Lives Movement that spontaneously erupted in response. The headline last week in the Times referencing a pattern of bias in the Ferguson police force. To which one would say, Ya think?

When the Ferguson community first erupted, the Presbyterian National leadership sent out a letter calling for calm and prayer. My son in Berlin e-mailed me, seriously? Sometimes anger is the only right response.  Even as Jesus flew into rage in the Temple. Why?

The money changers were there because the law forbade human images and the Roman coins all bore impressions of Caesar. To purchase the doves and other small animals needed for sacrifices, the Roman money had to be exchanged for temple money. Some of that’s not so foreign…when this sanctuary was first constructed in 1889, our ancestors did not believe in human images. If you look at our north and south Tiffanies, what you see is Celtic iconography. It wasn’t until 1929 that someone with enough money could persuade the congregation to commission this Jesus and children you see behind me.

It wasn’t that the money changers were short changing people has tradition has it. Even if they were giving full value, that was not the point. It was the whole temple establishment and system that offended Jesus. It wasn’t the selling of doves but the selling of souls that offended Jesus.  It was the temple establishment’s collaboration with the empire that drew Jesus’ ire.  It was oppressed and sold out humanity that was symbolized in his body and that would inevitably wind up in political  execution. It is a liberated humanity that will be rising again after his paradigmatic death.

The songs we will hear later come from a particular place, the African diaspora of the Southern United States where the experience of worship carved out liberated territory in the midst of chattel slavery. As James Cone has said, in the African-American worship experience, the canon is more than the Bible, it is prayers and sermons and songs as well. These are those songs that created liberated territory until existential liberation could be achieved, the full realization of which still awaits.

Dr. King in Selma, at the bridge, was angry. Non-violent direct action is not passive, it is active. And strong. Sometimes the greatest expression of love is anger.

As I finish, Mario and the open choir come forward. Begin their songs, moving to the music, call and response, swaying, moving.  Songs rising and falling in a movement like the ups and downs of the long road to freedom. 
Singing freedom

…all along my pilgrim journey, I want Jesus to walk with me…we sing as we prepare for prayer.

Congregation and choir join in our circle of blessing.

The Session meets. The existential challenges are big and stressful. You fix one thing, a dozen more arise. Sisyphus wears out, eventually. There can be anger. Not always righteous. Somewhere in this is love.

Outside, Sean still asleep on the steps.

Mario and Bob

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