A Week of Destiny

Today is Palm Sunday and Churches in every corner of the globe will be full of worshipers thinking about Jesus riding into Jerusalem on the back of that colt and being heralded and praised by a multitude of followers.

Churches here in the Eastern Time Zone are starting to fill with folks of all ages, with families dressed in their “Sunday best”, ready to commemorate and relive that ride and that day.

When this celebration comes each year, we see ourselves as a follower of the Master, as one who may have been there for the actual event.

This is as it should be.

But what was it like for Jesus?

What thoughts were going through his mind as that day unfolded?

None of us knows the particulars, of course, but there’s little doubt in my mind that destiny — or his thoughts around it — cast a long shadow over the events of that day, over what has been known for centuries as the Triumphal Entry.

As we go through all the events of Holy Week, it’s a good thing to keep in mind that the thanks and accolades that others may bestow on us from time to time can be wonderful.

But for most of us — as was true for Jesus — those accolades don’t always last and our lives will most likely not be a joyous and unending festival of gratitude and praise.

For some, a darker destiny may await.

Jesus said that no servant is greater than his master and when one makes a conscious choice to follow in Jesus’s footsteps — to live a life of service for others — there will most certainly be a cross to bear.

It’s certainly true that most people go through life acting mostly on instinct. Mostly doing what furthers their own interests and — at the end of the day — maximizes the chance that they’ll live, thrive and survive, as that saying goes.

Jesus, of course, is our ultimate example of a person who saw himself in a very different way. And he knew that his destiny was a life lived for others.

May we follow his example. May we always remember that, first and foremost, we choose a life lived — not for selfish reasons alone — but for others.

And may that be our focus throughout the events of Holy Week. And always.

Brother Ben

© 2019 The Fellowship of St Francis, Inc.

This homily was originally published on April 14, 2019

Sell Everything and Follow Me

17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

Mark 10:17-23 NRSV

We have come to an unexpected and very unusual place in the history of humanity. So many of us are very apprehensive about our futures and about our collective future.

That’s putting it mildly. It might be closer to the mark to say that many of us are terrified of what the future may bring.

Many experts and prognosticators have been warning of hard economic times coming. Some of the warning signs began to flash even before the crisis posed by the coronavirus came around.

And now that so many of us are staying at home, and most work and economic activity has ground to a halt, there is almost no possibility that a serious recession can be avoided.

Many who make their livings by studying such things say that we’re not headed into a recession, but that it will be a full-blown depression, the like of which we haven’t seen since October of 1929.

The story recounted here in Mark 10 can be instructive for us today. The Master plainly tells this 1st Century high-roller that his great wealth is an impediment to his ever entering God’s Kingdom.

We have been living in a time when people with great wealth — people who’ve amassed a lot of stuff — are greatly admired.

We write and read stories about them and may wish that we could get into that elite club.

Sometimes, we give them their own reality shows.

But — as was true in 1st Century Palestine — there are so many of our elites who are sitting on huge piles of cash today but are stunningly spiritually-impoverished.

Although we can’t know exactly how events will play out as this crisis unfolds, I have no doubt that many people who have been at the top of the pyramid, so to speak, are going see a lot of their wealth — and the power and influence that usually come with it — disappear.

And we’ll be reminded once again that great riches and prestige and all of that do not enrich us spiritually; that they are — for so many of us — great burdens we carry through life, burdens that may well keep us from entering into God’s Kingdom.

This is a time for all of us to desire above all else to enrich ourselves spiritually, to lay up treasure in heaven, as Jesus said to this would-be follower in Mark’s Gospel.

Those who amass this kind of wealth know well that these riches cannot be taken away by anyone or anything.

They know that their loving, compassionate actions bring them closer to their fellows, closer to true wealth and closer — most especially — to God’s Kingdom.

May we remember this as we go — together — through these uncertain and trying times.

Brother Ben

© 2020 The Fellowship of St Francis

In Their Own Angry Image

If you keep an eye on what’s happening in the Church here in the U.S., you’ve no doubt noticed that huge sections of the Church–including the vast majority of those who call themselves Evangelical Christians–have given enthusiastic support to the current administration and most of its policies.

I see this as being diametrically opposed to the teachings of Jesus and a very, very troubling thing.

The other major criticism of the way the modern Evangelical movement has clearly gone astray concerns its indifference to the plight of the Earth as she continues to suffer at the hands of rapacious and uncaring humans.

The near-total failure of Evangelicals to take any action to save our planet–or to even mitigate the damage–is a tragedy of the highest order and is one more reason why so many Evangelical Christians are running for the exits.

Trying to do something about these two tragic trends lies at the very heart of what the FSF is all about.

In one of our founding documents, I wrote:

“These two unfortunate trends–the abrogation of the clear teachings of Jesus to follow in his footsteps and live in a compassionate way and our failings to care for the Earth and all her inhabitants–must be resisted and must be countered with clear teachings and committed actions.”

from Why the FSF was created

The embrace of extreme right-wing views and practices by so many in the modern Evangelical movement bodes ill for them, for the American Church generally and for our Faith.

Their remaking of Jesus in their own angry, strident image is the greatest tragedy to befall the Church in America since the South’s embrace of slavery in the early and mid 19th Century.

John Pavlovitz is an activist Minister and blogger who’s been speaking out fiercely about how right-wing elements within the American Church have perverted Scripture to their own ends. And something he wrote in his blog posting for today is spot-on and deserves the widest possible dissemination:

We have read and extensively studied the Bible, and we know when someone is twisting it to their advantage; when they’re distorting it to oppress and discriminate, when they are making God in their own angry image—and we believe this is happening more egregiously than ever in America in the highest levels of Government and Church leadership.

from We Are the Christian Left

It is so urgent that the segment of the Church that has not embraced these two tragic errors to be continually engaged in speaking the truth and tirelessly calling the Church back to an authentic practice of Jesus’s teachings.

This we must do.

Brother Ben

© 2019 The Fellowship of St Francis, Inc.