Rev. Martha Jacobs
“There’s Something About Jesus”
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29, The Gospel of Mark 11:1-11
Sunday, March 25, 2018
Can we join with those who are waving their palms and shouting Hosannas? Can we fully embrace the joy that those who actually saw and talked with and lived with Jesus felt, as they made their way into Jerusalem? Why were they following him anyway? What was it about him that was different?
Well, when one has power and doesn’t use it, does that surprise us? Does it scare us? Similar to more than 2000 years ago, in our society, power speaks louder than humility. What do you think it would look like if those with power chose not to use it or used it in a way that would empower others?
That is what Jesus did – he empowered the powerless. That was something different from the other religious zealots of the day. Perhaps that is why people could embrace the acceptance and love Jesus so freely offered them. This morning, I would like to remind us about a few of those whose lives were forever changed because Jesus did not use his power over them. Rather, he empowered them.
For example, the woman who had the issue of blood. This woman had been an outcast for more than 12 years. She was untouchable; considered unclean by her own community. She reached out and touched a stranger, a man, something that was prohibited, especially because she was unclean. But, she believed Jesus could heal her just by touching the hem of his garment. Jesus felt the power go out of him. According to societal norms, Jesus should have been furious with her and demand that she be punished. Instead he blessed her and by blessing her, he empowered her.
How about the Syrophoenician woman, whose daughter was sick. She begged Jesus to heal her. He equated her with a dog. She challenged him and asked for the crumbs from under the table. Jesus’ heart was changed; he healed someone who was other than Jewish. By Jesus listening to her, he empowered her.
When blind Bartimaeus heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth passing by, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Even though people ordered him to be quiet, he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me.” Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Another one he empowered by pointing out that his own faith gave him power.
How about Zacchaeus – the hated tax collector. He was trying to see Jesus, while hiding in a tree. Jesus says, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome Jesus. Now, the people hated this tax collector and grumbled to each other, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus said to Jesus, “Look, half of my possessions, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Zacchaeus became empowered because Jesus was willing to treat a tax collector as someone worthy of attention and care. Zacchaeus was a changed person because Jesus empowered him.
What led all of these people, and so many more, to dare to do such things? To try to see Jesus from a tree or challenging him to heal a loved one or oneself? This was not a society that encouraged those without power to step forward, to take a chance, to risk being ostracized more than they already had been or perhaps imprisoned or even killed.
There was something about Jesus. There was something about him that drew people to him; that made them willing to go beyond the norms of their time. To leave their families, their livelihood, their villages and follow this itinerant rabbi. These were the very ones waving palms and shouting Hosannahs!
What was it about Jesus? Maybe it was his willingness to give power to those who were the least of these. He empowered so many people! No wonder they were joyous!
There is something about Jesus….his compassion; his unconditional love; his being willing to talk with those that others considered outcasts; his humanness – he wept, he laughed, he lost his temper, just like us. By showing us that one could have power and use it to better the lives of others, Jesus gave us a new vision which included caring for the least of these.
So, this leads me to ask: what it is about us? Have we a new vision of caring for the least of these? What is drawing people to FCC?
I was at Pride Works a week or so ago. Pride Works is a one day conference for LGBTQ teens who live in Westchester county. It is a safe space where they can be who they are without fear. There were about 600 youth there. We were the only religious tradition represented. I was honored to be there as your representative, showing not only God’s acceptance of them but our acceptance and support for them. Many of the youth who approached me were surprised that a church would even welcome them, let alone be a sponsor of their conference.
There was one conversation in particular, that touched my soul; I want to share with you this morning. One young person asked me what kind of church we were. I was puzzled by her question since I didn’t think she was asking about our denominational affiliation. So, I asked what she meant. She said that her mother loved to go to church and that she used to go with her all the time. But then, her mother’s church, realizing that her child was not what they considered acceptable, stopped welcoming her and so her mother also stopped going to church. She looked at me with a hurt that went so deep. I looked her in the eyes and said, “Please take my card home and give it to your mother. Please tell her that not only is she welcome at FCC, but you are too – as you are and for all that you are.”
The reason I could say to her with such confidence that she and her mother would be welcome here without any hesitation or doubt, is you. You see, you welcomed me to this pulpit without hesitation. You welcomed Pat, not only as my spouse, but as one who was welcome here for herself. You empowered me through your following in Jesus’ footsteps, being compassionate, unconditionally welcoming, loving and being willing to be with those that others consider outcasts.
Your willingness to have a rainbow flag outside our doors is empowering those who feel powerless about coming to worship with a community that welcomes everyone as they are and for all that they are and wherever they are on their life’s journey. Out of our humanness, we are doing as Jesus did. We are thinking about and being considerate of those that others would just as soon ignore and try to be superior to, or hold power over by not welcoming them.
Mary Oliver in her poem, “The Poet Thinks About the Donkey”, our Lenten Devotional reading for today, catches the essence of powerlessness and hope, when she writes about the donkey. She writes,
On the outskirts of Jerusalem
the donkey waited.
Not especially brave, or filled with understanding,
he stood and waited.
How horses, turned out into the meadow,
leap with delight!
How doves, released from their cages,
clatter away, splashed with sunlight.
But the donkey, tied to a tree as usual, waited.
Then he let himself be led away.
Then he let the stranger mount.
Never had he seen such crowds!
And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen.
Still, he was what he had always been: small, dark, obedient.
I hope, finally, he felt brave.
I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly upon him,
as he lifted one dusty hoof and stepped, as he had to, forward.
So, as Mary Oliver notes, the donkey was powerless. He was a small part of the ragtag group of people who entered Jerusalem feeling triumphant that day as they brought their rabbi, the one who had empowered them, into Jerusalem. They did not understand what lay in store for Jesus – this one who had empowered them and lifted them up, fed them with food and with love and with acceptance. And, yet, Mary Oliver perhaps reflecting our own hope for not just Jesus but for our world, writes that even a donkey could have hope and move bravely forward. Who knows, perhaps Jesus empowered this creature as well. That is not so far-fetched considering he empowered tax collectors, prostitutes, the blind, those with leprosy and with demons, the women, the children and us. Why not a donkey?
Jesus shows us that we need to help those who feel powerless, to be empowered. We are doing that here in so many ways. Many of us have done that for our youth as we supported those who marched in Washington or locally yesterday. They marched for their lives and to promote gun safety and to push for gun legislation that will protect them, especially in school. They are taking the power, and as I said several weeks ago, we need to support them. We adults need to share our power with them especially since they are trying to do what we have not been able to do or have been unwilling to do.
Dear friends, we do have power. As a community of faith, we have a power beyond the tangible. We are choosing to use it to help those who experience powerlessness. We do fully embrace the joy that is Jesus. So, we can wave our palms knowing that even though power will appear to have won on Good Friday, on Easter Sunday, powerlessness will overcome power and humility will rise from the grave, victorious, even over death.
Yes, dear ones, there is something about Jesus and that something is us.