Sunday, March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday - "Good morning, Christian Leaders"

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, March 28, 2010

Good morning Christian leaders.

Now my guess is you’re not used to being called that. But that’s who you are. It’s who we are. Every one of us. We tend to think of leaders as other people … people with more power, authority and position than we have. But we are … every one of us in this room … leaders. Every one of us has arenas in our lives where we have authority, where we exercise leadership. And I know that because every one of us is in relationship with other people and every relationship has the opportunity for leadership.

Some of it is easy to spot. Do you have children? Do you have employees? Do you have constituents or even parishioners? Are you the chair of a committee or do you hold an office? Well, then it’s pretty obvious that you’re a leader.

But it goes beyond that. Do you have friends? Do you have co-workers? Do you have brothers, sisters, classmates, playmates? Do you have a spouse or a partner or even a really good buddy? Do you have people you’re in a book group or a fantasy baseball league or a knitting group with? Do you have anyone in your life or are you ever in a situation where someone is watching you or listening to you or you have a chance to affect the way someone else thinks or acts or feels? Well, then you are a leader. You have authority.

Jesus had people leaving everything and following him all over the country not because he held an office or had a degree or his own show on Fox News Galilee. People followed him because he spoke and lived and loved – and this is what scripture says -- as one with authority. An authority that came not from a position or a title or some letters after his name – He didn’t have a line in the service leaflet at the sermon on the mount that said “Preacher: Jesus of Nazareth, BA., M.Div.” And yet he was the greatest leader the world has ever known. He changed the world more than any leader before or since. His authority came from how he lived and who he was. Same for us.

And that’s what makes today so interesting. So interesting that year after year we either miss or ignore or just plain forget what Jesus teaches us as Christian leaders about leadership today.

I never really liked that we read the passion gospel on Palm Sunday. It feels like jumping the gun. But I’m coming around to it. Because I’m thinking the point is the contrast. The contrast between the leader the people wanted Jesus to be and who Jesus was. A contrast we as Christian leaders are faced with every day of our lives.

And predictably, it’s about power.

When we blessed the palms and had our festival procession and told the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem we were re-enacting a coronation. It was Jesus’ Grant Park on election night or Inauguration Day. Full of hope and excitement … and expectation. The people who were screaming Hosanna wanted Jesus to be a king who used his power to drive out and establish … who used power coercively over and against others. That was really no different than Pilate except for one thing … he would be using it for them and against the Romans. His power would be their power. He would be the way they would get their agenda accomplished.

I wonder what it must have been like. Have you ever had crowds of people shouting your name? Crowds of people who are casting their hopes and dreams on you? Probably not. Few if any of us have. But we’ve all felt it on a smaller scale.

We’ve all heard the words.

You’re wonderful. You’re just the right person for this job. I know you can do it. You’re just who we need. You’re so much better than that last person who was here. You’re just who we’ve been waiting for. We like you.

We’ve all heard it. And the words can be heartfelt and sincere and still incredibly seductive. They feel great and part of us just wants to keep ‘em coming. And so we want to keep those people who are saying them happy.

Think about when you’ve felt like that … and then multiply that by a couple thousand and that’s how I’ll bet Jesus felt coming into Jerusalem.

How easy would it have been for him to try to be who the crowd wanted – the divinely appointed revolutionary leader at the front of the army of insurrection. To ride the crowd’s energy and cast out the oppressor. It would be a win-win-win. He wouldn’t have to disappoint. He could get that adrenaline rush that comes not just with praise but with feeling that you are the righteous one defending the downtrodden. And who knows, it might even work … and then he could go down in history as the man who defeated the greatest empire the world had ever known.

How incredibly seductive the crowd’s voice must have been. And for a moment this morning, we were there, too. We heard and even sang the song of the crowd: Use your power, Jesus. Use your power for good. Do what we know you can do … what we want you to do … and do it to those people we want you to do it to. And it felt good. It felt triumphant. And then in an instant we were given the contrast.

Even as the echoes of that song were still in our ears and on our lips, we heard a new song. One of the most beautiful in all of history – the Christ hymn from Philippians. The anthem of a totally different insurrection, a totally different way of using power. And as the crowd continues to scream Hosanna, the authority of Jesus’ life quietly and powerfully begins to sing these words:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.

And then we told and heard the rest of the story. The story of what that song looks like when it’s not just sung but lived. The story of the journey not to the throne but to the cross.

Putting these stories – the story of the triumphal entry and the story of the passion side by side is a clear message to us as Christian leaders. We have a choice. Well, two choices actually.
The first choice is do we even go on the march at all. We all have power and authority, and our first choice is whether we’re going to claim that at all or whether we will shrink back and consider ourselves powerless and spend our time in the crowd shouting our hopes at others believing that’s all we’re good enough for or even afraid to do any more.

But if we claim that power that God gave us when God made us in the divine image, we have a second choice. And that is how are we going to use it? Will we use it the way the vast majority of the world uses power … coercively, using it over and against people to get our own way, suppressing dissent in the name of efficiency and fear that it might get us off track, and even feeling righteous and good while doing it.

Or will we truly be Christian leaders. Will we recognize that even the ultimate authority – equality with God – is not something to be exploited and wielded but to be claimed by giving away in servanthood, in emptying ourselves for one another.

The choice of Palm Sunday is, in our hearts, whom do we want to be. And that’s all we have to do today … not commit to doing it without fail, not even knowing how to do it but just saying, “Yes, I want to be a Christian leader.” Or maybe even, “Yes, I want to want to be a Christian leader.” And if you can say even that, then the next step is to join us not just next Sunday for Easter but throughout this week as we physically walk through, embody and live what it means to claim that authority. On Thursday as wash each other’s feet, share a meal and wait fearfully in the garden. On Friday as we come forward and kiss the cross. On Saturday as we huddle in the empty darkness and then watch the light of Christ grow … and then finally on Sunday for the victory of Easter, where we claim the love of Christ lived in us still as the only empire that can never be overthrown. AMEN

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