I love irony. It makes a great story, but it makes an even better sermon.
If I am given the opportunity to preach on Palm Sunday or Easter, I am so much more eager to preach Palm Sunday. There is something about the people wanting to make this guy king, and then wanting to kill him when he doesn’t do exactly what they want, when they want it. It’s an intriguing sermon to preach on a yearly basis, mostly because it lies at the heart of the human condition.
We have expectations that we want to be met and when they don’t get met, we turn ugly. We get irrational. We get angry. But mostly, we stop listening.
In these last 30 days, I have had the opportunity to be a part of visioning in four different arenas of the church. At the board of directors meeting for Hesston (Kan.) College; within my own congregation, Zion Mennonite in Archbold, Ohio; at the Constituency Leadership Council for Mennonite Church USA, representing Ohio Conference; and at Ohio Conference’s annual conference assembly.
While each gathering had its own particular flavor of vision and mission, ultimately each gathering was the same. We, the church, are in such a state of flux and disorientation. We know deep down inside that something has to change.
But it is in times like these that I know full well what they say, “We don’t fear change. We fear loss.” And there is a whole lot fear going on.
I read somewhere that in times of disorientation, especially after suffering a great loss, we have a tendency to double down on the things we know for sure. In times of disorientation, we want things to stay more the same than we do when things are going great. We want predictability and security wherever we can find it.
This is not helpful for the church, especially now. As the church continues to experience the crumbling of the foundations of Christendom, and as all of our established institutions are contracting with the loss of engaged followers, we need to be more willing to change, not less willing.
The problem is, however, when our institutional infrastructure comes before us for review and pruning, we cannot imagine living without what we have always known. We cannot imagine church differently than it is, especially when there are people’s livelihoods attached to what the church is.
This is a problem, because we, the leaders of the church who are given the task of visioning her forward have the most to lose if anything is to change.
This is painful irony.
As a pastor, I am a professional Christian who is given the luxury of leading the church full-time. I recognize my discomfort when imagining a future in which I may be called to be a tentmaker; a future in which all of us are called to become tentmakers.
But the truth is that if we are to truly embody the missional church we long to become, we cannot do it from the confines of our houses of worship. I cannot embody the gospel from my office, in which only a fraction of congregants visit, let alone those who have never heard the gospel.
We can no longer pretend like the way we are doing church is working, because it is not. And I recognize that, because we are losing the normalcy of what we know for sure, not to mention our livelihoods, that we just want to do what we have done, but better.
I love the irony of Palm Sunday. The occupied people wanted a king to come in and wipe out the Romans. They expected a Messiah that was going to come in and solve their problems in one fell swoop.
But that was not what God had in mind.
We American Christians, who have been cradled by the promises of Christendom, aren’t too far off from this expectation. We want somebody to come and fix all of our problems so that we can get on with our lives filled with safety, security, comfort and convenience. Anything short of this litany of expectation will be met with anger and frustration that someone is not doing their job.
On Palm Sunday, the people couldn’t imagine a different way of being the people of God and neither can we. But we must try.
Do we really think that maintaining an oversized infrastructure for the size our denomination is really going to help us fully embody being God’s sent ones into the world?
We need to let things go. We need to let things die. We need to confidently walk toward the Passion, knowing what lies ahead; knowing that we will have to let go of our expectations.
We need to be leaders willing to risk much for the sake of the gospel, even if it means our livelihoods are at stake in order to become the church God has called us to be, a Church that really does believe in power made perfect in weakness and the power of the cross which ultimately leads to the greatest of all ironies: the power and promise of the resurrection.
May we live into that promise!
Image from Creative Commons.