Thursday, March 29, 2007

Palm Sunday

"As Jesus drew near to Jerusalem...the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, 'Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!'

"And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, 'Teacher, rebuke your disciples!'

"Jesus answered, 'I tell you, if my disciples were silent, the very stones would cry out!'"
- Luke 19:37-40 (ESV, adapt.)

I like this snippet of the Triumphal Entry as recorded in Luke's Gospel, and it may be because, relative to the average age of pastors in our Conference, I'm young.

Sometimes, older, "more seasoned" pastors are amused when those of us who are younger get excited about things. Being naive, I suppose, we tend to take very seriously the call of Jesus to spread the feed the comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. We can get very excited about Jesus and about mission, about justice and about what's right. We tend to take doctrine and ethics very seriously, even while we are gracious and fluid in our dialogue and understanding.

The Pharisees in this passage remind me of some of the more experienced pastors in our Conference who "don't get" us, and who have become so wrapped up in the institutional side of things that the fire in their bellies is significantly cooler. We sometimes refer to this ladder-climbing group as the "Old Boys' Club"...a well meaning bunch of pastors who have maybe become a little too respectable, forgetting that Jesus and his gospel were (and are) quite subversive and countercultural.

When the Old Boys' Club requests that we calm down or slow down or stop taking things so seriously, it can be likened to the Pharisees: "Hey, calm down; shhh!"

The only reply must be, "We can't calm down. If we don't do these things...get excited...take all of this so seriously...God will raise up someone else!" I have no way of knowing for sure, but this could be one reason we see our Bishop raising up so many younger pastors to more prominent appointments in the last year or two...passion. I know plenty of more experienced pastors who ooze passion, but that isn't universally so.

My prayer for all younger clergy, particularly in Western PA Conference, is that on Palm Sunday (in just a few days), we view the palms we wave as signs of our excitement, as subversive symbols, reminding us that we have been called not only to make disciples in the communities to which we have been sent, but also to continually light the fires of passion in our Conference, serving the mission of Christ among the poor and the lost as well as among our colleagues in pastoral ministry.

"'Hosanna in the highest!' that ancient song we sing,
for Christ is our Redeemer, the Lord of Heaven our King.
O may we ever praise him with heart and life and voice,
and in his blissful presence eternally rejoice!"

- "Hosanna, Loud Hosanna" by Jeanette Threlfall
(The United Methodist Hymnal #278)


Brett Probert said...

Wow...that's good stuff. You go boy! Keep that fire burnin'!

Randy Roda said...

I admire you in so many ways. You are an idealist and your passion is evident in everything you say and write. But tell me something...what does one do when they still have passion for ministry, but loses the zeal for the institutional life?

I guess in many ways, my own personal experience in ministry has taken my idealism away. I have become jaded and skeptical. Not being told the truth will do that to one.

I think that too often people fail to stand up and be counted for what they believe. As an institution we are losing the resolve to hold leaders accountable for decisions they make.

That being said, I think you are right. We need to be subversive in order to promote a gospel that calls for such radical transformation. But are we being radical or just political? We must seek to really discern the will of God, rather than just doing what fits our agenda. I hope we are doing that. I'm not sure.

Thank you for reminding me about this radical gospel we proclaim.

Jeff V said...

That'll preach, Keith! I may use some of these ideas this Sunday. Thanks for the insight! (And thanks for making me feel young - if you're a younger pastor, and I'm younger than you, I must still be young!)
P.S. Brett, let's "Keep that fire burnin' in a figurative sense only, please.

Keith H. McIlwain said...

I pray we always hold onto the passion, but it is very easy to lose faith in or interest in the institution.

I have to remind myself (often) that the Church is more than what we've made it; it's the holy Body of Christ empowered and sent to transform the world for Christ. The Church as an institution may help, and, when it does, praise the Lord! When it doesn't, my mission doesn't change.

Some good words from The United Methodist Hymnal #589...

The Church of Christ in every age,
beset by change but Spirit-led,
must claim and test its heritage
and keep on rising from the dead."