Nov 8 Sermon – “What is God’s dream for humanity? See How They Love”, Rev. Morgan Schmidt
A Part of the Series:
Friends, we are gathered hearing this sermon on Sunday morning, but I am filming it ahead of Election Day and so it feels a little strange to be to be addressing you without knowing what our week will hold.
One thing that that I am holding that gives me hope, one thing that I am holding in the midst of all this tension is that no matter what happens on Election Day, the gospel remains the same.
And what’s interesting, what you might not have thought about is that gospel actually was a word that was originally used by the Roman Empire.
The Romans would go throughout the lands that they conquered and they had a huge territory. And as they conquered, they would they would kill people. They would abuse people. They would destroy people’s homes. They would go throughout the land and and just oppress the people. And as they paraded back through, they would announce that victory as the gospel of Caesar, as the good news of Rome. And I want to juxtapose that today with a different kind of gospel where we have Jesus coming onto the scene into this Roman Empire and saying the good news isn’t what you think it is.
If you think that the good news in the gospel is a narrative that orients itself around violence, that orients itself around fear and hatred around one group of people rising above another, then you’ve missed what it means to think about good news.
Jesus comes on the scene and he says, I have a different gospel message for you. And that gospel over and over and over, Jesus says, is about the kingdom of God coming to Earth, being present in our midst, happening right here, right now.
Now, the other thing the Romans would say is that the Pax Romana was the law of the land. It was it was it was known that a Roman citizen could walk from from basically what we know is Great Britain to the Far East and not have a hand laid upon them. So great was the fear of the Roman Empire that peace only extended to those Roman citizens. And so Jesus again comes on the scene and says, I have a different vision for what peace looks like.
I want to show you what the gospel and what peace mean outside of this narrative of empire, outside of this narrative of those who have power and those who do not have people being taken advantage of, or being abused by violent systems that oppress that are unjust.
And so our story this morning is a story we usually talk about during Holy Week, and it feels a little weird even to me to be going back to the story. But it’s the story of the triumphal entry.
And in that story, we have this really cool historical moment where Jesus is actually orchestrating almost this political theater. This is a really intentional move on Jesus part to get a message across because he knows as he is heading to Jerusalem for Passover that there’s another parade happening that day. It was tradition in that time for Pontius Pilate or whoever was sort of governor over Judea and over Jerusalem to march with incredible military force, with all the shows of the empire’s power, with with chariots and horses and foot soldiers geared up for battle, they would march from the West, from actually Caesarea by the sea, which was kind of a coastal resort town of Judea with beautiful weather and blue blue seas.
They would march 60 miles to Jerusalem and enter through the west gate, which would have been like the front door of the city. And as they paraded in, their goal was very clear. And people gathered in support, maybe not because they loved being under the subjugation of Rome, but because they were afraid of anything else. This was a show of force. So to say “you better not try anything during Passover. We know these are your high holy days.”
We know there will be a lot of people coming into the city. We know that you might be full of a revolutionary fervor that makes you less certain about Rome’s rule. Don’t even think about it. And so Pontius Pilate would make that march, that procession into the city from the West with all the pomp and circumstance that you can imagine this show of incredible force and power to scare people into submission. To scare people, into being quiet, to scare people, into going about their business from the other side of the city.
We have this amazing choreographed movement by Jesus, which is really an act of political resistance. All throughout his life, he has been saying, “I have a different idea of the kingdom”. There’s a different idea that has nothing to do with violence and war. It has to do with loving your neighbor, feeding the hungry. Clothing the naked. Healing the sick. It has to do with God’s dream for humanity being realized on Earth. And so Jesus connects his story in this moment to a long line of prophets, to even the prophet Zechariah, who says your king will come to you riding on a donkey, a king of peace, victorious.
And so Jesus even sends his disciples to go get a nursing mom, a donkey and her colt. And he arranges it so that he is coming into Jerusalem from the opposite side of the city, from the eastern gate. And his procession is much different. He is surrounded probably by the poor that he loves so much, probably by the disenfranchised that found so much hope in them. And they are shouting together, Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
And that is to say, God save us in this parade. We get a sense that these people who have been under the thumb of Rome for so long, who have been oppressed not only by Rome but by empire after empire and nation after nation, they have this swelling sense that maybe finally the Messiah has come and it’s this guy on the donkey, maybe it is Jesus and maybe they will finally be free of Roman rule. And so Jesus processes in and you hear these chants, but you can you can see these parades juxtaposed with one another one touting the power of power, the other saying, what if there’s a different way?
What if peace and love and humility and a leader who comes in on a nursing mom, a donkey, what if that’s where our hope lies?
Friends, I’m now at the Drake Park Amphitheater. We started off in front of the courthouse just because so much of our world has been oriented around politics lately. And and I want us to enter in somewhat bravely to the notion that maybe the gospel is political. Again, not partisan, not meant to separate us, not meant to divide, not meant to say us versus them, but to say we’re in this together and that politics really is is an expression of what justice looks like in public, what love looks like in public.
And so now we’re at Drake Park, where I’m sure many of you have heard of various First Amendment gatherings where people get to share how they’re feeling about what’s happening in the world, where we’ve also had events where people can lament and grieve what’s going on. I wanted to come here because part of the most one of the most intriguing parts of this story to me is to imagine being someone in the city of Jerusalem knowing these two processions are happening, knowing these two parades are on the way.
I just want to put myself in the shoes of people who are looking up in awe and fear and and just maybe some wonder at at the glory of Rome marching by and all of its power. And I want to put myself in the shoes of of of the people just with so much hope, waving palm fronds and shouting with hope about Jesus and laying their cloaks down in front of that mom and donkey. And I want to think about the people who heard that this was happening and chose instead just to go about their days in the city of Jerusalem, because I imagine this week we’ve all been in different places.
I imagine that we are coming to this morning, that we are coming to this message. We’re coming to this moment perhaps unsure, perhaps trying to go about our business, perhaps trying to push out the many voices that ask for our attention and just focus on the next thing we have to do. Maybe we come to this moment. We’re tired. We don’t have the energy to go tracking down different parades or having yet more conversations around the dinner table with tension and difficult topics.
Maybe we find ourselves hurt. Maybe we’re deeply wounded. Maybe we are disappointed at our core. Maybe we haven’t been able to shake this pit in our stomach for a few days. Maybe we’re full of fear. Maybe we’re full of awe. Maybe we’re full of hope. Wherever you are, there’s a place for you today and God meets us where we’re at. God meets us and says, “come” because of all those people in the city. What I think is most powerful was their expectation, people gathering for one parade saying this is where our hope will be found.
This is where salvation lies. This is where power is located. They expected this to be the way things would always be. Even going about their business in the cobblestone streets. They were probably thinking to themselves, why bother showing up? This is the way it is and this is the way it will always be. Standing in awe of those chariots thinking, “there’s no way it could be different than this… there’s no way”. And then even the people celebrating Jesus entry thinking, this is the guy, this is the guy that’s going to free us from Roman rule.
He’s finally here. Our messiah hopes have been realized. And we know we know that all of those people had to work through those expectations later, that none of it panned out the way they thought it would pan out.
The question that helps me in this moment of tension, in this moment of feeling so many feelings is to turn to what Jesus actually says before he makes that trip into Jerusalem. We have this passage in Luke where he says that he weeps over the city and he says to himself, he sort of whispers this prayer over the whole city of Jerusalem and says, “if only you had known the things that make for peace”. Friends, if only you had known what makes for peace.
And isn’t that our question? Not only this week, but every week, not only today, but every day. What are the things that make for peace? Where do we find ourselves in this drama? How do we give ourselves space to be in this liminal place where maybe everything is not the way it’s meant to be, but we can find in ourselves and in the stories of Jesus in the grand narrative of God that there is hope, despite our expectations maybe being off base.
What are the things that make for peace? I was at a protest in Redmond about a month ago. Time has no meaning anymore. And a gentleman approached me knowing I was in my my clerical collar. And I looked like a pastor when I’m at these things. And he approached me and he said, “What are you doing here? This is not what God would want”. And I asked him, “well, what do you think God wants?” And he couldn’t really answer.
He kind of stumbled for a second and he said, well, what do you think? And I said to him, The truest answer I know is that God’s dream for humanity is that everyone would flourish.
To my heartbreak, this made him laugh and walk away. But what if? Friends, what if in this season after the election, we find ourselves attuned more and more to that question of what makes for peace? What if we find ourselves more and more attuned to the story of the true gospel, not based in violence, but based in hope and based in love, which says that God’s dream for humanity is flourishing, that wherever we find ourselves in our emotions, in our expectations, in this liminal space between what was and what is and what will be, what if we find ourselves trying to live our answer into that question of what makes for peace? And what if we see ourselves as crucial parts of how God is dreaming of this world to flourish?
So friends, now we find ourselves on what is known in Bend as Peace Corner, and this is where oftentimes people will gather to speak their minds about the dream they have for the world.
God’s dream, again, like I shared in Drake Park, is that everyone would have a chance to flourish. Everyone. And that dream requires our participation. Our Jewish brothers and sisters have a phrase that is “tikkun olam”, and it means in Hebrew “the repair of the world”. It suggests that we have this vision for what the world can be like, that we don’t just settle for whatever parades are going by. We don’t just settle for the rhetoric that we hear or the headlines that we read.
But we together build a dream of what is possible. We say to ourselves, despite whatever discomfort we might find, however hard it might be, however inconvenient, however risky we believe, we believe that everyone can flourish as God intends. Jesus even opens his ministry with this moment in his hometown of Nazareth, where his very first sermon, so to speak, in the synagogue was reading a passage from the prophet Isaiah saying “The spirit of the Lord has come upon me, that I would be good news to the oppressed, that I would have this message of freedom for those who are captive, of comfort, for those who mourn”.
And then he proceeds to live out that dream by feeding the hungry, bringing literally life from death, healing the sick. And that’s the kind of dream he invites us into. We include in our prayer every week that prayer that Jesus taught us where he says. Our father, who art in heaven your will be done on Earth as it is in heaven, we pray it every week and yet we sometimes find it really hard to live into that dream.
We find it really hard to live into that dream in our present reality. And that’s heartbreaking, regardless of what happened this week, what if we become people who devote ourselves less to fear, less to division and more to being? People of love, more to being people who want to see everyone flourish. And this happens as individuals, but this also happens collectively.
The thought that came to my mind is that we had an election day.
But every day can be voting day. Every single day we have a chance to vote for human dignity. We have a chance to vote for equality and equity for all. We have a chance to vote for kindness, for love, for our common humanity. We have a chance to vote to rehumanize others, even those we disagree with. We have a chance to vote every day to build the world that God dreams of the world that can become our dream.
And I know it’s hard to get there. I know sometimes there are risks involved and it might make us uncomfortable to listen to the stories of people who are different than us, to have a dream that goes beyond, well, “it is what it is. And this is just the way it is and this is the way it will always be”.
I’ll tell you something, friends, that mentality is the antithesis of the gospel. That mentality reflects the gospel of Rome. That mentality reflects the gospel of fear and not the gospel of love. It’s not the gospel we were made for and it might cost us. But I’ve been thinking a lot about the last few months, and this is the collar that I wear in my in my pastor shirt. And you can tell, it’s seen some things. I think I expected to wear that shirt just every now and then, and it’s become something that I just keep in my car in case those who don’t have a voice call and want me to come support them and help their voice be heard, because God’s dream includes this, this this movement for justice, this movement for revolution, that it’s all about love and it’s all about collective flourishing.
It’s about the common good.
It can be costly to stand up for a new dream. I brought this sign with me to Portland this summer and it says, Love wins. It’s about it’s about as pastoral and as Christian, as I think a sign gets. This for me is a phrase that encapsulates God’s dream for humanity. And right here, I don’t know if you can probably see is a bullet hole. It’s about the size of my fingertip, from a rubber bullet.
And I held up the sign in a moment in Portland that kept it from hitting me in the shoulder. The truth is that living under this dream, voting every day for love, voting every day against fear, against hatred, against division and for hope and for solidarity and for collective flourishing, it costs us something. Not everyone will always agree. Some people will call us crazy. But this is what it means to follow in the way of Jesus.
This is what it means to find ourselves building with God a new reality. There’s a Christian message that says God will take care of it. Everything is in God’s hands. A popular country song says, just let Jesus take the wheel. And nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, God is in control, but God wants to partner with us in the restoration of all things. This notion of tikkun olam means that we help God with the reparation of the world.
We just don’t just throw up our hands and say God will take care of it or it’s someone else’s job. We jump in, we help. We do small things. We do big things. We work as individuals to show kindness every day and vote for love. And then we participate in these big systemic ways so that we can have better systems of more justice, so that our neighbors who are most vulnerable don’t go unseen. And everyone has a chance to flourish as God intends.