Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Desperate Cry

The Desperate Cry
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
April 13, 2014
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Exodus 1: 1-14
Mark 11: 7-10

Let us pray, for a welcome mind and a loving heart
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives
            For your eyes show the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.

23 In the course of those many days the king of Egypt died. And the people of Israel groaned under their bondage, and cried out for help, and their cry under bondage came up to God. 24 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 25 And God saw the people of Israel, and God knew their condition.
9 And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. 10 Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring forth my people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt.” 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” 12 He said, “But I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought forth the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God upon this mountain.”
13 Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: this is my name for ever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.
 Over the next three weeks I hope to bring to us the experience of what Easter means. This week, this holy week, we will come together to worship four times, in the next week Sunday to Sunday, I want us to try to experience, in our minds, in our senses, in our memories, in our hearts,  the truth of Easter, alongside the parallels that are there in the Exodus story, and the parallels that we as human beings, created by God, feel in our own lives, in this God's world, for this is the way that God created the world to be, and how God creates it each day anew. Since the beginning, we have seen, looking this year especially starting back in January, there at the creation story at the beginning of the Bible, the beginning of Genesis, we see God bringing light where there was darkness, as if from the darkness, God works, bringing the light, not merely introducing light where there used to be darkness, but instead bringing the light out of the darkness itself, speaking the light into being and it being, as if the darkness is part of it, part of it yet no match for it within God's control. And we see that pattern again and again throughout the Biblical narrative. We see God continually bringing light out of darkness. And we see it in the person of Jesus Christ, as the Gospel writer John calls him the light shining in the darkness, John also says that the darkness could not overcome that light. . . but then he suggests that people choose the darkness over the light, having forgotten the light, having misunderstood the light, having become blinded to the truth of the light. This is the Exodus story, this is the Easter story, and this is our story.
 Over the next three weeks we will see this cycle. We will see the darkness, we will see the light, and then we as human beings  will make our choice. . . is there safety in the darkness, is it comfortable, is the light too blinding, is it too perfect, too free, too true for us? And so of these three parts, we have to begin somewhere, and so today is the darkness, and today will be dark, and today will be bleak, and today will be harsh. . . for today includes the cross, the lash, the taskmaster's whip, the toil, the burdens, the thorns, the burning vinegar, betrayal, sin, the scorns of time, and the proud man's contumely, the heartaches and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to, the laws delay and the pangs of despised love[3], corruption, and injustice, and control, and frustration, and tax day, and war, and violence, and declining church attendance, and active shooters, and terrorism and extremists, and political correctness and bullying, and on and on and on. . . the picture will be intentionally bleak, intentionally sad, intentionally desperate. . . for though we wave our palms and celebrate, shouting hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. . . we cannot forget that hosanna is not hallelujah, hosanna is not amen. Hosanna calls out from the pit, out from the belly of the fish, out from being surrounded by our enemies, out from fear and slavery. Hosanna is as old as humans and as old human need. Hosanna means "save us now!" Hosanna is not the call of the strong, but the weak, not the together but the broken, not the perfect but the sinner, not the call of the master but the call of the slave, not the call of the free but of the oppressed. We must remember always that Hosanna is the cry of the desperate! The desperate calling out for God to save us now! Save us now from each other, save us now from them, save us now from us, save us from us and them, and save us from ourselves, from the darkness that we choose. Save us now. Hosanna!
Are you desperate enough to wave those palms throw down your clothes and hope that the man riding the colt is who he says he is? If not its most like that you will instead call out crucify him later, that before the cock crows it will be safer to deny, that on the other side of the parted Red Sea, with the newness of the desert looming, the shadows of doubt spreading, the giants of fear growing, the known, no matter how dark, may seem to be better. No never I Lord, never I. . . but yet it's part of the story, just as much as the other. Forgive us we do know what we do.
The Israelites have been in heavy bondage, building cities they will never live in, made of marble they've hauled on their broken backs, like stone, stone they've broken to build, like bricks made of mud and straw they've marched, dancing it, mixing into being with their shackled feet and legs. Their strength, building with tasks completed, but for someone else. Fruitful and multiplying as their God commanded them, they have filled the land, but it is not their land, and now they are paying the price for threatening those in control with their strength. Oppressive labor crushes them, not owning themselves demoralizes them, challenging their sense of self, their sense of accomplishment, and their sense of dignity, their pride. And if that weren't enough their children were being taken, killed, murdered, but just the boys, the girls suffered a fate worse than death, the slavery of their bodies for the young, the taking of children from the mothers, and those somehow living long enough, new days filled with the toil of each day, sunrise, sunset. It is these people that cry out to God, save us now, send us a deliverer, we struggle to believe that there is a God who keeps promises, for here we are, where are you, and where is our hope, from whence does your promise come, Lord? They the desperate cry out Hosanna!
The people who flocked the streets of Jerusalem when Jesus rode in on the donkey, were occupied by the Romans, and though for the Romans it was the beginning of the Pax Romana, that Roman peace, like the cities of the Egyptian Pharaohs, was built on the backs of the people that they had conquered. Taxes, tribute, protection, blood  money, this was all required as payment for the Roman way of life, that the conquered people didn't want. This was the price of progress, the price of empire, the price of civilization. Like their forebearers, these people knew the danger of being born a threat to the powers that be. Herod, like that old Pharaoh had once sought to kill every child in a little town called Bethlehem, hoping to end the threat, the challenge to his rule as puppet, the sweet sellout deal that put him above his fellow man as their king. . . all under the Roman authority of course, but being king certainly had its privileges, and privilege  is not something anyone parts with easily. The last thing I need is a Messiah, stirring up these people, making them challenge the way it is, think that their ideals, their hopes their dreams, the promises of old might just be real, no better not to dream, empower, and seek life, better that everything stay as it is, and if a few children have to die to seal my authority, so be it. Yeah, but he didn't get that child after all that, and now here he comes. The mighty shake, but here comes this man, with an army of twelve, fishermen, no swords, words, more promises, more faith required, no mighty steed, just an old borrowed donkey, but in my desperation I'll believe, what have I left. . . Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna. . . look Caiaphas their right outside your door. . . . Tell the Rabble to be Quiet, we anticipate a riot, this common crowd is much too loud. . .  they are a curse they should disperse[4]. . .  Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna. . . Save Us!
 Are we desperate enough now to call out Hosanna? Or do we prefer the order of the status quo? Do we want the riot to be quiet? Do we only whisper Hosanna in secret, afraid to offend? These are the hard questions of palm Sunday, and they are the hard question of our world today. People write all the time for the need for something to step in and break the cycle, but how often do we just create a new system to avoid cycle busting change?
Remember Advent. . . remember the need, the waiting, the anticipation, the prophets, people like Isaiah, the hope for a new possibility and a new world. . . that feeling that something had to come, something had to change, God needed to act. Consider these descriptions of our world taken from not just now, but the last hundred years. They scream out a need to break free from the cycle, a need for change, and if we aren't in desperation, we have ask ourselves why, and we comfortable Christians may not like the answer? Listen:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.[5]

The evil and armed draw near;
The weather smells of their hate
And the houses smell of our fear;
Death has opened his white eye
And the black hole calls the thief
As the evil and armed draw near.
Ravens alight on the wall,
Our plans have all gone awry,
The rains will arrive too late,
Our resourceful general
Fell down dead as he drank
And his horses died of grief,
Our navy sailed away and sank;
The evil and armed draw near. [6]

The eastern world, it is exploding
Violence flarin', bullets loadin'
You're old enough to kill, but not for votin'
You don't believe in war, but what's that gun you're totin'
And even the Jordan River has bodies floatin'
But you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don't believe
We're on the eve
of destruction.[7]

The sale of pills are at an all time high.
Young folks walking round with their heads in the sky.
The cities ablaze in the summer time.
And oh, the beat goes on.
Evolution, revolution, gun control, sound of soul.
Shooting rockets to the moon, kids growing up too soon.
Politicians say more taxes will solve everything.
And the band played on.
So, round and around and around we go.
Where the world's headed, nobody knows.
 Ball of confusion, that's what the world is today[8]

There's too many men
Too many people
Making too many problems
And not much love to go round
Cant you see
This is a land of confusion.[9]

And it is, confusion, fear, loneliness, hunger, skepticism, pessimism, cronyism, extremism, hate, and violence, and war, and blind eyes, and kids not  being taught the truth, but how to pass tests, not how to think, but how to conform, how shave off corners of square pegs, to fit the ever shrinking round holes, and if they can't do it with discipline and love, we have drugs for it, better living through chemistry, new chemical realities, new politically correct realities, I read this week in a Dietrich Bonhoeffer Sermon, he was talking about how often we seek to try to cover over truth, ignoring its difficult reality, preferring to gloss over rather than deal with it. He says love never does this, love requires truth, no matter how it hurts us, why mask evil in a pretty package, it only makes it more ugly.
In 1934, don't you hear it, what has changed. . . nothing. It is like Jeremiah's time, when he wrote, "Men crying Peace, Peace, when there is no peace." We still blind ourselves to the realities with new terms and euphemisms, thinking that if we get rid of the words we can get rid of the thing, but we don't. . .  we just blind ourselves to our desperation, thinking we can do it all ourselves, that we are in control, but yet we lack perspective, we lack knowledge, we lack understanding of eachother and eachother's needs, we need to break these cycles, these chains, this world is broken.
And the lonely voice of youth still cries what is truth? Many people in the world have no clue, and that has led so many people to believe that there is just no such thing as truth. Truth has become an ugly thing, a restrictive thing, a divisive thing, a thing misrecognized and called hatred and ignorance. . . I could go on and on, but I don't want to. . . I want you to. I want you, and all of us to recognize our desperation this week. Recognize that we don't have it under control. That it is bigger than any of us, and much bigger even than all of us. . . the solution is not found in our doing, in our systems,  in our drugs, in our force fed progress, or our taxes, or our elections, not in Washington, and not in the States, but in our realization. . .  finally. . .  of our desperation. . . crying out Hosanna. . .
And before the words come out of your lips, before the synapses of the thought cross your mind, completely unconnected, but now in view because our eyes are finally open. . . we see a bush that does not burn. . . and we cast off our shoes. . . kneeling on the holy  ground. . . and we are called, and our life is put into motion, awake, eyes open, motion in the light of day. . . and we are told that the God we serve is the God who has been. . . the God of our Ancestors, the God of history. . . but not relegated to just history. . . but I Am, in the eternal present. . . then, now, and always. And he hears when we call because he never leaves us, even in the darkest places, in the valley of the shadow of death, in the desert, and on the cross. . . And so our desperation is not desperation at all, but a realization that the world we thought was isn't, the darkness enveloping us isn't, our fear isn't, what is, is God, who loves us enough to show us, in our slavery, in our oppression, in our fear, on the cross, in the ever growing light. . . that the light is winning and will win, the contest is just another illusion, a dream, a nightmare born in the darkness, the children of idle brains, composed of nothing but vain fantasy[10]. The light is real, and light is ready to be born into the world. . . That's what those palms signify, that's what the communion we gather to take on Thursday signifies, that's what the cross that we seek to experience on Friday signifies, and that's what the empty tomb screams. . . it screams it. The Son rises, and is risen and it brings the needed light to our desperate world again. So now that we know what it means, can you, will you, pick up a branch with me, pick up a branch next to each other,  pick up a branch and cry out Hosanna to the king of kings, loud for the entire world to hear. . . cry it in your weakness, cry it in your desperation. Cry it, knowing that you are loved. Amen!

[1]The Revised Standard Version. 1971 (Ex 2:23). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
[2]The Revised Standard Version. 1971 (Ex 3:9). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
[3] Shakespeare, William, Hamlet, "To be or Not to be. . . "
[4] Rice, Tim. "Hosanna" Jesus Christ Superstar.
[5] Yeats, William Butler. "The Second Coming" 1919.
[6] Auden, W.H., "For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio" 1941.
[7] Sloan, PF, "Eve of Destruction" recorded by Barry McGuire, 1965.
[8] Whitfield, Norman and Barry Strong, "Ball of Confusion" recorded  by the Temptations, 1970.
[9] Rutherford, Mike, "Land of Confusion" recorded by Genesis, 1987.
[10] Shakespeare, William, Romeo and Juliet