Libby Caes’ Homily from Palm Sunday, March 29, 2015

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Palm Sunday, March 29, 2015

Phil.2:5-11

Mark 11:1-11, 14:1-15:47

 

Today’s proclamation of the gospel embraces a very diverse cast.

There are the obvious players:

Jesus

The twelve disciples with the spotlight shining on Judas and Peter,

The high priest, Pilate.

And there is a host of unnamed people who give the drama depth and irony:

bystanders, the chief priests, elders and the scribes,

a man carrying a jug of water, the servant girl who questions Peter,

a young man wearing only a linen cloth who then escapes naked,

the slave whose ear is cut off, two bandits,

the person giving Jesus sour wine, the centurion.

And many others.

Have you ever watched a movie and the ending leaves you hanging?

Then come all the credits that scroll upward on the silver screen and you watch them with great interest.

Sometimes there is an epilogue that feeds you additional tidbits.

You are left pondering what you just watched.

Maybe there is even an ‘ah ha’ moment.

 

I am not a movie junkie and this week I did not watch any of the classics of the greatest story ever told:

Ben Hur with Charlton Heston

King of Kings narrated by Orson Welles

Jesus of Nazareth

And most recently, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of Christ

Instead I read and reread the gospels.

I sat in silence with it. I noticed. I read again.

And I listened with the ear of my heart, using the words of Philippians as my guide:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus

Who, though he was in the form of God,

Did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,

But emptied himself,

Taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. (Phil 2.5ff)

Jesus emptied himself:

The Greek word is kenosis.

To let go, to give it all away, empty oneself.

 

Cynthia Bourgeault in the Wisdom Jesus is most helpful in understanding this.

–First of all, kenosis is something that can only be comprehended with the heart, not the mind. This is so hard for us thinking educated folk, “I think, therefore I am.”

–kenosis is to be practiced, not stored in the head. It is praxis, the path.

–Kenosis is a reckless and extravagant path. We throw it all away, we give it all away. What do we give away? We give away our lives, our false self.

–Kenosis is a generous spirit.

–In the process of a giving away we learn in new and different ways what God is like.

 

Kenosis, I would venture to add, is NOT becoming a doormat. It is not letting people walk all over you. Instead, it is first an interior action, a letting go.

it is living as the beloved…the theme of the first Sunday of Lent.

it is becoming the grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies so that we can bear much fruit…last week’s gospel reading.

 

As I read the passion story with its huge cast I found only one person, apart from Jesus, who emptied him or herself.

Do you know who it is??

 

It is the unnamed woman with the alabaster jar who comes unbidden and breaks the jar open, pouring the costly ointment on Jesus head.

It is several days before the Passover.

Some who are present are furious, what a waste of a year’s wages.

Jesus defends her. “She has anointed my body beforehand for my burial.”

 

She gave it all away, she emptied herself. She practiced extravagant generosity.

I suspect that her actions are what Jesus needed as he focused himself internally, anticipating and preparing for what lay ahead.

By breaking the jar and pouring the ointment on the head of Jesus, the woman is enacting what Jesus himself will become…a broken body, giving his life away.

Her actions and the actions of Jesus are never forgotten.

 

But what about the rest of the cast in this drama?

Almost everyone else is driven by the false self, one’s ego or peer pressure. Each mirrors who we are.

The religious leaders twist the truth to justify their actions.

Haven’t we all done this when it seems to our advantage? I have.

 

Pilate wants to hang on to his position and power rather than do the right thing.

We all have been like Pilate, protecting ourselves.

 

Judas hoped for so much and got so little. He betrays Jesus.

When have our hopes been dashed and we do something we are ashamed of?

 

Peter is confused and cowardly.

So human. So like us.

 

The passion is such a human story.

It is about you and me.

But embedded in the drama there are the jewels.

There is kenosis, the radical self-giving that Paul invites us to.

 

Paul can be so legalistic, so driven. But, for a brief moment, Paul gets what it is all about.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus

Who, though he was in the form of God,

Did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,

But emptied himself,

Taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. (Phil 2.5ff)

 

I would like to close with a contemporary story  of giving it all away, of extravagant generosity. It is a true story I recently listened to as I was working out at the fitness center.

Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore

It is the story of two men:

Ron is a very wealthy art dealer in Fort Worth who began serving the Tuesday evening meal at the homeless shelter because his wife said it was the right thing for them to do. Over time he becomes aware of his softening heart. He began hanging out at the mission and in the hood at times other than Tuesday because he wanted to. He tried to befriend Denver but no luck.

Denver is the product of Louisiana plantations. He never went to school, never learned to read and write. He was basically a 20th c slave. For thirty years he had been either in prison or on the streets. He had carved out a life for himself as a homeless person and had no interest in being befriended by white folk.

 

One day Denver approaches Ron and apologizes for not avoiding him. Ron accepts the apology and suggests they have breakfast together. Denver says sure, how about tomorrow.

The next morning over breakfast Denver asks, “What you want from me?”

Ron replies, “I just want to be your friend.”

Denver: “Let me think about that.”

 

On the way back to the hood after breakfast Denver tells Ron that folks at the mission think Ron and his wife are from the CIA.

You and your wife come every week. Why would anyone want to know our names and birthdays and gathering information unless they’re from the CIA?

Both Ron and Denver had a good laugh over that.

 

A week later Ron and Denver have a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

Denver: I have been thinking a lot about what you asked me.

What did I ask you?

Denver: about being your friend.

Denver had spent a week pondering the question. Ron had forgotten about it.

 

Denver, giving his version, states that he had layers of street on him a mile thick. He never let anyone get that close.

“Why does he want to be my friend? What does he want? Being a friend is a heavy commitment. I was selfish. I could take care of myself and didn’t need anyone’s baggage.”

Ron realizes he has never formally asked anyone to be his friend.

 

Denver: There is something I heard about white folks that bothers me. It has to do with fishing. I heard that when white folks go fishing they do something called “catch and release” That really bothers me. White folk go through all that trouble to catch a fish and then they throw it back. We colored folk, we are really proud of what we catch and we show everyone and then we eat it. It sustains us.

So, Mr. Ron, it occurs to me that you are fishing for a friend and will catch and release and if so I have no desire to be your friend. But if you is looking for a real friend, then I will be your friend forever. Friends live together, fight together and die together.

Denver, if you will be my friend, I promise not to catch and release.

 

The two shook hands and the fear and distrust between them melted. They became the new odd couple in the hood. Both are changed…It is a relationship of radical self-giving and transformation.

 

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus

Who, though he was in the form of God,

Did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,

But emptied himself,

Taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. (Phil 2.5ff)

Amen.

 

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