Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles...
To answer Paul’s question this week: the debater of this age is a young bisexual Latinx woman who attends Parkland HS.
The RCL this week is a feast of images. Our four readings this week are all deserving our attention. They consist of –
The Ten Commandments
A beautiful Psalm reminding the people of the grace that the law has inherent in it.
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Nobody gets us or the cross anyway
Jesus turns up and shows up
But I want to actually write about the Gospel of John and how often I hear this particular text used in a way that I think is harmful. As a justice minded preacher, I often see the Gospel message, and scripture as a whole, through the lens of how it relates to those who are the most vulnerable, those on the margins of our society, and for whom the power changing dynamic that is the gospel is good news. So, it would seem that today’s RCL gospel reading would be my bread and butter. But I want to share with you the cautionary tale that is inherent with this piece of scripture I see played out over and over again on social media where 2 or 3 clergy are gathered. But first let’s look at the text.
3The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
How many times have we seen this text used in a way that goes like this-
Pastor 1 - XYZ is happening and my people need to hear about it.
Pastor 2 - feeling the same XYZ is God awful it’s our duty to say something!
Pastor 1 - wish me luck, I’m just going to tell them the truth and let the chips fall where they may.
Pastor 2 - Well remember...
Pastor 2 - How did it go?
Pastor 1 - Not good. My church council president stormed out. But I don’t care because I’m preaching a radical gospel of truth.
Pastor 2 - Right on.
Now there are two ways to view this very common exchange. Pastor one was correct and the truth is the truth and sometimes Jesus is disruptive. I mean, this website is named after that concept. We are onboard. The power that is Jesus Christ of Nazareth is transforming and at times chaotic and a good preacher afflicts the comforted and comforts the afflicted. Full stop.
But, there is another way you could view this exchange and so called “progressive leaders” would do well to give themselves a gut check and ask this question. Is this is spiritual abuse? Am I placing my own needs to be “radical” above the slow and often frustrating work in the vineyard of bringing God’s people to place where they can stand shoulder to shoulder with me on a Gospel issue?
An elder in the Black Lutheran community once said “If you are leading and no one is following you are just out for a walk.”
Say #blacklivesmatter from the pulpit. Talk about how the NRA is a demonic organization. Move the social ministry team to a social justice team. Get your ladies’ auxiliary and the sewing circle out with signs in the protest telling people how their faith has called them to advocate for an equitable health care system. Push your council to help you to write a liturgy of affirmation of baptism for a trans youth and celebrate the new and holy name Jesus will call them by on the day of resurrection. We are called to do this work. But if we aren’t doing the holy and spiritual acts that empower our people along the way they won’t follow us. They will hang us from a tree. They did it to God.
My motto that those close to me often hear is simple: If you can’t love the people at least be strategic. It’s hard to love a member who post #whitelivesmattertoo. It’s hard to love a member who is transphobic. It’s hard to love someone who is a bully and constantly gets in your way. But at the bare minimum we can be strategic, just like Jesus in the reading this week. He has just entered the city of Jerusalem and the people are screaming Hosanna! Save us! He has used the previous few years to build a relationship that is full of trust and power with his disciples. The people are expecting every act he is going to make on this festival to be symbolic. Thousands of eyes are on his every move. The flipping of the tables and the cleansing of the temple is the culmination of years of ministry. It is a climatic and powerful event built on years of trust and charism.
I’m not saying not to do those things. Some truths have to be told. Some things the people need to hear, and we are called to lead them not be afraid of their wrath. But if we aren’t doing the work that builds trust and love with them, so they are willing to sit in the discomfort that is discipleship, what are we doing? If we can’t love them, how are we, as faith rooted organizers and leaders in the church, strategizing to make sure if they aren’t on board, they at least stay the hell out of the way?
These are trying times to be clergy. They just are. But liturgical acts of resistance in preaching have to move us as church along a path towards liberation. They have to be strategic and edifying. You are too important to God’s plan to be removed from your call. We need you. Remember that after Jesus cleansed the temple a few days later he was hanging from a tree. If it’s worth it, by all means be bold.
But ask yourself am I feeding the people, or my own ego. Because you can’t do both at once.