April 5, 2009 The Rev. Dr. Charles Rassieur page 1 Resistance Mark 11:1-11 I guess I might as well tell you right now that I’m a little worried. I looked over this manuscript several times, and I could find hardly anything that might get a laugh or even a chuckle. My worry is what I think Lisa Larges told me once that if you tell people the truth and you don’t make them laugh, they’ll kill you. You can see why I’m worried! If I told you that today is Passion Sunday, I don’t know what you might think. However, on our Presbyterian calendar this first day of Holy Week is designated with two names: Passion Sunday, anticipating the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus, and Palm Sunday. Never mind that in Mark’s scripture reading today you did not hear anything about palms or palm branches. In fact, only in John’s later gospel is there a single reference to the people taking palm branches with them to cheer Jesus. So, why give today a name based on such a casual reference to a part of a tree? Why not call it Colt Sunday or Hosanna Sunday? Better yet, I’m for naming today Resistance Sunday! And a few of you are smiling because you know that Resistance is the name of the book edited by John Cobb that the 3:45 discussion group just finished, and it is also the name of one of the concluding chapters in Marcus Borg’s latest book on Jesus entitled, Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary. In fact, Borg offers a dramatic contrast for us to envision the setting for the events described today by Mark. Thousands of Jews were gathering in Jerusalem for the annual observance of Pentecost. This scene was a colossal crowd control headache for the authorities, both civil and religious. The presence of overwhelming military force was the only way to ensure nothing would get out of hand. So Borg paints the picture for us as tensions in the streets began to rise that Passover week in Jerusalem. On or about the same day when Jesus made his entrance, the Roman governor Pontius Pilate rode into the city from the opposite side, representing Roman imperial power with weapons, helmets, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold, accompanied by the pounding of horse hooves, the clinking of bridles, the shuffling march of hundreds of feet, the creaking of leather, the beating of drums and the swirling of dust. On the other side of Jerusalem, Borg tells us, it was quite a different scene. Jesus came seated on a young donkey at the head of a procession made up of his followers who had come with him all the way from Galilee in the north. And many of them were heard shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” Pilate was marching to orders issued from Rome. Jesus was marching to a prophetic message from the Hebrew scriptures that spoke of a humble king who would enter Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey, intending to banish chariots, war-horses, and battle bows from the land and commanding peace to the nations. Pilate commanded the instruments of war; Jesus heralded the kingdom of God, a kingdom of peace, not violence. Borg sums up the meaning of those two processions this way: “The juxtaposition of these two processions embodies the central conflict of Jesus’ last week: the kingdom April 5, 2009 The Rev. Dr. Charles Rassieur page 2 of God or the kingdom of imperial domination. What Christians have often spoken of as Jesus’ triumphal entry was really an anti-imperial entry. What we call Palm Sunday featured a choice of two kingdoms, two visions of life on earth.” (p. 232) The last verse of our reading from Mark says that after entering Jerusalem Jesus went into the temple and looked around at everything. Was this the act of a tourist visiting the top item on a must-see list? I don’t think so. The temple and everything it represented as part of the dominance system in cooperation with the Romans was right where Jesus had come to draw the line in the sand! It was here that Jesus’ resistance to and confrontation of that oppressive dominance system was to play out over the coming days. Speaking so much truth to authority, Jesus’ resistance could only end as it did. Those he resisted so powerfully wanted him dead, and dead as soon as possible! Jesus’ resistance to an oppressive dominance system was the inevitable consequence of his message proclaiming that the kingdom, the sovereign realm of God, was at hand. Never mind that Caesar thought his should be the only kingdom. So Borg declares, “The kingdom of God is about a great reversal of the way things are.” The kingdom of God is the great imperative for you and me to resist everything that is unjust, that does violence to peace, that dominates and imprisons the human spirit, that threatens life on this planet, and everything that uses lies to oppress faithful Christians. The temptation is to let today’s story about Palm Sunday amount to little more than a Sunday school parade for us. Far more uncomfortable is to consider the dominance systems the kingdom of God is confronting today. Especially those dominance systems that we, ourselves, are part of. I don’t know if you would agree with much in the book I mentioned earlier, edited by John Cobb. On page twenty-three is the assertion that there is a profound injustice at the core of the contemporary world. Then, in five different chapters, the book calls us to focused areas for resistance. The first is consumerism, with the declaration that the culture of consumerism is profoundly contrary to the Christian gospel, and that in this country consumerism fueled by maxed-out credit cards is the religion that most fundamentally challenges Christianity. The second area is the growing economic and financial inequality in our country and our world. The concentration of wealth in our country among the few in the upper percentiles is not only higher than it has been since the 1920s but also higher than that of any of the world’s other developed nations. The third area for Christian resistance is American imperialism. Among other things, this is a call to resist the suggestion that the United States should be free to impose its will anywhere. The fourth area Christians are called to resist is what the editor, John Cobb, calls scientism. A thorough scientific outlook on reality and the world in which we live rules out ultimate meanings and reduces everything to interactions of molecules and cells with no place for God. And the fifth area identified for Christians to resist is any suggestion that global warming is not a threat to the planet and all species of life on the planet. I’m sure we would have a variety of opinions about the points made in that book on Christian resistance. But that does not change the fact that, as Christians, we, like April 5, 2009 The Rev. Dr. Charles Rassieur page 3 Jesus and as the Body of Christ in the world, are called to resist, because that is the call of the kingdom of God in our midst, the kingdom of the great reversal of things as they are. I trust you won’t kill me for telling you this. Because it is the truth. I am in the company, here, of faithful Christian resisters. You are marchers and not reluctant to demonstrate in the name of Christian resistance. The threat of arrest and going to jail has not deterred you. You have courageously given voice to your convictions of resistance. You have made quiet decisions and faithfully lived out lifestyle choices of Christian resistance. You inspire me to greater self-examination in my satisfaction with things as they are for me in my place of dominance, especially as a comfortable, white male, unconcerned about having enough of life’s necessities, and a whole lot more. Do you remember Dorothy Hennessey and Gwen Hennessey? The two sisters were in the national news in 2001 for their inspiring acts of Christian resistance. Dorothy has since died, but in 2001 she was 88, and her younger sister, Gwen, was 69. They were Franciscan nuns. Sister Dorothy participated in a Peace walk across the United States in her 70s to protest against the U.S. cold war buildup. And, both Dorothy and Gwen took part in the protests at the Army’s School of the Americas in Georgia. They were both arrested and sentenced to six months in a federal jail for their 2001 protest. Since Dorothy was 88, the judge offered her house arrest rather than prison. But she told the judge, “I am not an invalid. I don’t want to be treated any differently.” I think, in the kingdom of God, today is Resistance Sunday, just as every day is a resistance day for reversing so many things as they are, so many things that are wrong, that are unjust, that are violent, that are oppressive, and that are killing people. Though we won’t agree on all of the issues to be resisted, surely as we follow Jesus now into Jerusalem, there will be lines in the sand each of us will have to draw somewhere in the name of resistance and for the sake of God’s kingdom of peace and love and justice! Amen.