Sermon: Hosanna! and Crucify!
Sunday March 20, 2016 Palm Sunday
Scripture Lessons: Luke 19:29-40 and Luke 23:13-25
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells
After seeing the movie “Spotlight” this week, I thought, it’s a good thing it’s Jeff, my husband, that works for the Catholic church and not me, because I don’t think I could take another paycheck from the Catholics. We’d be down by one income. I know that I tend to be rash and prone toward self righteous grandstanding, but the cover up of the molestation of children by the church, the people of “Let the Children come, for to such belong the realm of heaven,” well, that was just too much for me.
But before I get too focused on pointing a finger at the Catholic church, I want to point out that there are plenty of reasons for the rest of us, who aren’t part of the Catholic Church, to point the finger at ourselves. There are many things for which we bear collective guilt.
Shall we go back to the crusades? Or the treatment of the indigenous populations in the Americas? Or slavery? Or the interment of Americans of Japanese descent during World War 2? Or the ethnocentric immigration policies that kept Jews from emigrating to the US around World War 2, even children? Or the economic policies of the US government that permitted the economic crisis of 2007 and are largely still in place today? And that’s before we even get to what we have done and are doing to the actual Earth itself. Yes, there is plenty of collective guilt for us to share. There are many more travesties, known and unknown to us, for which we bear responsibility.
As this Holy Week begins, this is a time to consider our complicity and the collective guilt that weighs us down and prevents our moving freely into the future. Let’s remember that this problem is not new. We heard this morning the story of Jesus riding through the streets of Jerusalem, God’s chosen, inaugurating a reign of peace. He comes on a donkey, not the stately stallion of a military conqueror. He comes in humility and peace. And we’re told of the crowd gathered and cheering:
Blessed is the One who comes in the name of Our God!
Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!
We also heard the story of the crowd, later in the week, gathered and cheering, Crucify him!Quite a change of heart. Yet we, too, know the cruelty that we are capable of. Think of the lynchings which took place, some right here in this city. We recognize that we, as a society, should not have been letting that go on. And there is much going on today about which we can say the same.
There are three things I would like to say about collective guilt this morning.
First, it takes a lot of time, energy, and effort to deal with collective guilt. We hide things. I wasn’t taught about the Japanese interment camps in school. Nor the mass deportation of Mexicans in the 1930’s. Estimates project that up to 2 million Mexicans and Mexican-Americans were repatriated. In 2005, the state of California passed an official “Apology Act” to those forced to relocate to Mexico, an estimated 1.2 million of whom were United States citizens. I didn’t learn about this until I read the book Esperanza Rising with my third grade son. I went to high school in Minnesota, so they did a better job with the Indians. But collective guilt requires that we doctor our history, that we stick to a certain story in our text books, that we hide, and deceive, and lie about things. And these secrets, these lies are corrosive. And they are demanding. We have to keep watch all the time to make sure the truth is not getting out. Think of all the time and money that we spend on prisons to make sure all those criminals don’t get out. Well, it takes even more resources and energy to keep the truth at bay and deny it. For example, there are people today, people who are educated and who are leaders in this country, that are trying to deny the detrimental effects of human activity on global warming. Keep the genie in the bottle. Don’t let out the secret that human action is magnifying global because then we’ll have to deal with why we didn’t do something about it and why we still aren’t doing enough about it. That’s just one example of the kind of mental gymnastics and twisted manipulation that happens when we try to hide our collective guilt.
The second thing I want to say about collective guilt is this: When we don’t deal with the problems, past and present, in an honest way, they fester. It’s like an infection. And it doesn’t just go away. It makes us sick. The problems get worse when people continue to be denied justice and honesty. People get more angry. Perhaps they get poorer and more marginalized and that leads to greater desperation which can erupt in disastrous ways – look at Al Qaida and The Lord’s Resistance Army, and Daesh, and Hamas, etc. In this country, over 150 years after the abolition of slavery, there should not be the degree of racism that is still present in American society. This is a problem that should have been addressed generations ago. So there is guilt. But ignoring the guilt will not make the situation go away. Without healing, true and genuine, we all will continue to feel the pain that this problem creates for everyone. In schools, courts, prisons, the economy and in countless other ways, we pay a high price for racism. And all the while we are all deprived of the contributions that people have to make to society from which we could all benefit. I’m not so naive that I believe that this is an easy issue to tackle. The cure will come at a cost and be painful, but we are enduring pain as a society now over racism and ethnocentrism. And it is not clearing up. Collective guilt, even when denied, exacts a price. If we think we can’t pursue reconciliation and justice because they re too costly, then we are denying the toll being taken by our problems and collective guilt.
The third thing I want to say about collective guilt pertains specifically to Christianity. This is supposedly a religion of grace and forgiveness. We extol God’s grace. We say there’s nothing humans can do that can separate us from the love of God. And we claim that God’s grace is demonstrated in the life and death of Jesus. God loves us so much, in spite of our sin, that God is willing to face the cross for us. From the cross, we are told that Jesus says, “Forgive them Father, they know not what they do.” In Acts, Peter declares God’s forgiveness and grace for those who shouted, “Crucify him!” and were responsible for the death of Jesus. Even the crucifixion of Jesus cannot exhaust God’s grace and love. God’s love is stronger than any evil or sin that humanity can devise. God is about forgiveness and reconciliation. There is no breach that cannot be healed. No wrong that cannot be resolved. No hatred or violence that cannot be transformed by Divine love. These are core teachings of Christianity. That’s what this Holy Week is all about.
So, to ignore our wrongs, to perpetuate deception, to deny our sins, to cover up our collective guilt, is to deny the very power of the God we proclaim. To continue to mask our collective guilt is a denial of the reconciling death of Jesus. It is a direct undermining of the life of Jesus and his trust in the power of God’s love and grace. So, to ignore our collective guilt, to put our heads in the sand is to deny the reconciling power of God. It is to deny that “the truth sets us free” and love is stronger than death which is what Jesus and Easter are all about.
When we really believe in God’s grace as we see it in Jesus, we are not afraid to repent. We take off the masks and stop the denial. We submit ourselves to the transformation wrought by reconciliation. We follow Jesus who broke the mechanism of violence, the spiral of denial, and the perpetuation of the lie. To say that Jesus died for our sins, and then deny collective guilt, is basically saying that Jesus’ death was in vain. It is allowing collective guilt to hold sway and letting ourselves be held hostage by fear and self interest.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ offers us a constructive, healing way to respond to collective guilt. And we see this borne out in the life of the church. In the United Church of Christ, the church has made a public apology to the state of Hawaii for the ways that missionaries took advantage of the land and people. The UCC has apologized to the indigenous peoples of this country and has returned land that was taken to its tribal owners. The Southern Baptist church has repented of the sin of racism. These are a few of the ways that the church has sought to deal with collective guilt seeking honest, mutual reconciliation.
I started out by talking about the movie “Spotlight,” so I want to be sure that I share with you the way this situation is being addressed by the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg. When it began to be revealed that there was a pattern of priests engaging in sexual misconduct and pedophilia, leaders in the local diocese were told that they were to find the victims. They were to look for anyone who had been abused by a priest. They were to encourage people to come forward with their stories. As victims have come forward, the bishop meets personally with each one that is willing. And right away. The response is immediate. The church is taking responsibility for what has been done and help is offered. A counselor was designated to work on this full time all the time. Again, immediate response. The wrongs are acknowledged and help is given. It has been the opposite of a cover up. It is a manifestation of the healing power of the grace of God extended through the church.
As we make our way through this Holy Week, while our hearts are heavy with the sorrow and suffering of Jesus and all the other innocents who have come after him, may our spirits still ring with our Hosannas for we have a faith that gives us a constructive way to deal with our collective guilt and our sin. Through this week may we be reminded once again that the power of love is greater than the power of sin and death. May we walk through the valley of the shadow of death with Jesus who shows us the way of reconciliation, regardless of the harm we are party to. Let us honor the one remembered for declaring forgiveness from the cross by being honest about our collective guilt and shame. When we uncover our sin, the grace of God covers our sin and makes new life possible. Hosanna!
A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.