Palm Sunday 2017: God’s Dream

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I have two sermons to offer this morning
but together they may be shorter than one.
The problem is an irreconcilable difference
between head and heart.

First comes the head sermon,
no less and no more important than the heart sermon.

The head sermon
has to do with how Matthew depicts
Pontus Pilate and “the crowd.”

First of all, “the crowd”
in the popular narrative of Christianity,
really becomes “the Jews” –
largely because the Church
has historically loved the Gospel of John,
which is a polemic against “the Jews” – as if Jesus and everyone who loved him were not also Jews.

So my head warns me as a preacher,
not to tell this story without challenging
its historic and erroneous religious narrative
that led to a millennium of anti-Semitism
and the Nazi Holocaust.

There are so many missing details of this story,
and so many details that are simply historically unlikely,
that we do not actually know who or what killed Jesus
other than Roman military authority –
which sentenced him to death for insurrection.
Was he an insurrectionist against Rome?
We do not know that for certain either,
we only know that was the charge
that qualified him for capital punishment.
Jesus got the equivalent of the electric chair,
hangman’s noose, or firing squad,
because he was convicted of insurrection.

We also know, that Matthew was a Jew
and that he was writing to convince
other Jewish Christians,
and those who were not Christian yet,
that Jesus and the emerging Christian Gospel
should be the future understanding of Judaism,
instead of the dawning movement
of what would become rabbinical Judaism.

Remember, Matthew is writing his gospel
fifty or more years after Jesus is dead.
But to make that distance even greater
than the number of years that it is,
he is writing his gospel a decade
after a horrendously violent Jewish-Roman war.
It was a three year war, from 66-70,
that not only destroyed the temple in Jerusalem,
but with murderous meticulousness
also killed anyone associated with the religion.
The remnant of Israel fled
and what we think of today as Israel and Palestine
was wiped clean of (Second) Temple-centered Judaism.

In fact, the Judaism almost went the way
of other historic religions that have not carried forward.
It hung by a thread,
kept alive by those huddled in the Diaspora
of the Roman Empire.
What we know as Judaism today
was reborn in that period
from what our Gospels call the Pharisees.
The Pharisees were not,
as our Gospels depict,
a bunch of legalistic scholars.

The Pharisaic movement was in fact,
a grassroots reform that had as much conflict with the Temple,
and the religious aristocracy that controlled the Temple,
as Jesus and John the Baptist did.
The Pharisees in Matthew’s day
represented his competition for the heart of Judaism
and what it would become.
So he depicts them in a negative light
because he wants Judaism to become a religion
centered on the teachings of rabbi Jesus.

In this early Christian telling of history by Matthew,
the Roman military governor, Pontus Pilate,
is let off the hook
and the Temple leadership
and anyone associated with them,
is put on the hook.
So much so,
that Matthew actually has Pontus Pilate
wash his hands of any blood,
AND incredulously,
has the locals – meaning ordinary Jewish citizens –
ask for the blood to be on them “and on their children.”
So Christian theology gladly obliged,
and for centuries persecuted European Jews
as “Christ Killers”
even though Jesus was executed
by State Power
as an enemy of the State.

That is the head sermon –
it is a challenge to bad theology
and bad history.
We should not take this story to be historical
but rather, a theological rendering of events.
A half a century after Jesus’ execution,
Matthew wrote the story from a particular perspective
of a generation and public far removed
from Jesus’ actual death on the cross.
He told us this story in the way he did,
so we would understand what he thought
was the meaning of Jesus on the cross.
What my head tells me
is that we need to grow up about this story,
so that the parts that infected our religion
are neutralized,
and we can then get on
with appropriating the wisdom embedded in it
for the twenty-first century.

Okay, now the heart sermon.

We think about the death of Jesus on Palm Sunday,
but what about the dream of God?
And what about God’s best dream for us?
Did those dreams get
and die
two thousand years ago?
Did you ever you think about what happens
when we try to kill a dream?

It comes back.

Like a bubble under pressure
it is irrepressible.

No one can kill a dream;
it is impossible to kill a dream
and that is exactly why the dream of God,
and God’s best dreams for us,
terrifies people –
especially people who wield coercive power.

Palm Sunday is a story about coercive power
trying to kill a dream;
but it is also, indirectly,
about you and I
when we try to kill God’s best dream for us.

I am not talking about fantasies
that are the work of a wounded ego
reaching for something that feels good
or dulls the ache
or otherwise wraps us in self-indulgence.

Nor do I mean magical thinking,
when our fears and anxieties
lead us to pretend that the safety and security
we want is also easily available
if only we will do the right thing
or say the right thing
or pray the right thing.

And I don’t mean wishful thinking either,
when we imagine that what we want
should be what we get,
and therefore if we wish hard enough
it will happen for us.

None of that is what I mean
by the dream of God
and God’s best dream for us.
Such things are often mistaken for authentic dreams,
but they are categorically different.

First of all,
the dream of God
is for all of us –
all people,
all species,
all Creation.
It is a dream imagined in the Book of Genesis
and again and again throughout the Bible,
especially through the voices of the prophets.

It is the dream of Earth and human society
as an exquisite ecosystem in balance,
so that life flourishes
and the abundance woven throughout the Creation
is shared by all life within it.

It is the dream that those with leadership
of corporate, governmental, industrial, military,
and other institutional responsibilities,
will practice stewardship,
so that resources are more equitably shared
rather than concentrated and hoarded by a few.

That is the dream of God for the Creation.

Jesus articulated that dream
and he practiced that dream on a personal level
so that it was reflected in his life.
It is a dream that terrifies coercive authority
and so they try to kill it.

But it is a dream that keeps coming back.
the dream of God for the Creation
keeps coming back
in voices throughout history,
and with struggles that strive for peace,
and movements that reach for greater justice,
and leaders who emerge to take us a step closer.
We keep trying to kill it
and bury it forever,
but the dream of God for Creation
keeps coming back.

And then, in addition to that dream,
the one God has for all Creation,
there is God’s best dream for us
for you and me as individual persons,
and as individual candles of light
in an often darkened world.

God does in fact
have a best dream for you, and for me,
and it never dies either.
It may change as we change,
from 16 to 35 to 90,
but it keeps ripening.
Our task, whatever age we are
and whatever our current capacities,
is to bring that dream out
from the fog of subconscious
into the light of wakefulness.
God’s best dream for us
wants to burst into the open air.
God’s best dream for us
wants to breath in the light of day
and you are the only one
in all of Creation –

in all the cosmos of a billion gazillion stars –
who can make that one dream come true.
It is God’s best dream for your life.

This story is about that dream
and about how it didn’t die
when you and I left it behind somewhere,
or tried to bury it,
or crucify it.
That dream,
God’s best dream for your life,
is alive today
just like God’s dream for the Creation
is relentlessly coming back at us.

This story is about the relentless dreams of God
and how they never die
no matter how hard we try.
So take that into your heart and go with it. Amen.