It's time for the Palm Sunday shout! Palm branches in the air, familiar hymns to sing, bible readings we've heard before. The congregation cries out "Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!" We shout out "Lord save us!" Save is what hosanna means. Come save us! It is a Palm Sunday shout that affirms our craving for God's way in our lives. The shout announces our yearning for God's way in the world. Save us Lord. Hosanna!
If it were only that easy; God's way not our way. In his recent book, God's Ambassadors: A History of the Christian Clergy in America, historian E. Brooks Holifield traces a few themes present in the life of the clergy in every generation in America. One of those ever-present realities for clergy is what the author describes as "a paradox at the heart of Christianity." The paradox is a Gospel that is at the same time world-denying and world-affirming. God is above or beyond culture, institutions, our way. God is revealed in and through culture, institutions, our way. God's transcendence and God's immanence are the fancy terms. So clergy embody what Holifield labels as the Gospel's "irreducibly paradoxical relation to American culture ... Priests and ministers called to serve within the culture and yet offend it repeatedly."
Irreducibly paradoxical. That means it's not easy proclaiming the Gospel in the world in which we live. In the Reformed theological tradition that gave birth to the priesthood of all believers, that means that every one, every single disciple, each and every person living the faith has the privilege of joining clergy like me in the paradox of living in our world and offending it repeatedly.
Have you ever had a coach or a teacher or driving instructor who helped you to know the right way by showing you the wrong way to do something? Have you ever gone about the process of picking a color of paint by eliminating the ones you clearly didn't like? Have you ever tried to describe something complicated by telling someone what it isn't? Helping someone understand a word by giving its opposite, its antonym? As difficult as this whole God's-way-our-way conversation is, when you look around at the world, at your own life, at life all around us, when you look around, there are those moments, those times, those instances, those relationships, those realities, when you find yourself saying, "No, this isn't it." When it comes -- the kingdom, abundant life, resurrection, hope, the promise of God here and now -- there can be a different shout. Instead of looking down the Palm Sunday road and shouting "Hosanna!" you can look around and shout, "No, this isn't it!" This isn't God's way. This can't be it! No, this isn't it. It's another Palm Sunday shout.
A week or so ago, a report was released on the compensation of Hedge fund directors. Twenty-five people made $22 billion. Just after I read that story, I clicked on another that quoted statistics on poverty in America. Poverty has reached the highest rate in 15 years. Forty-four million people. One in seven people. One in five children. That's a poverty line defined as $11,000 for a single person. Twenty-two thousand dollars for a family of four. If one adjusts for the "real poverty line," how much it really costs to live, think how many millions more are really suffering. Twenty-five people, $22 billion. Forty-four million people and many millions more barely making it? No. No. This isn't it! This can't be it.
God's way; our way. It isn't all that easy. But nothing is made clearer by just elevating the religious rhetoric in the public square. It doesn't get any easier just because leaders invoke the name of God. With your own piety you just can't settle for living in the world without being of it. It doesn't get any simpler if you just cling to doctrine, patting yourself on the back for being right, while those around you are hungry or cold or lost or lonely or oppressed or abused or bullied or invisible. And you can't make the whole challenge of life in the world go away by announcing that religion and politics don't mix; that your prayer closet is for God and the voting booth is about your own best interest; that what goes on in church, stays in church; that wishing that the preacher would just stick to the Gospel and leave life "out there" out of it.
Maybe it won't get easier, but it will get a whole lot more holy when justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream. Maybe it won't get any easier, but it will get a whole lot more sacred when you love your neighbor as yourself. Maybe it won't get any easier, but it will get a whole lot more divine when the wolf and the lamb start to lie down together, when there is no more hurt or destruction on God's holy mountain, when we learn war no more, when swords are made into plowshares.
Maybe it won't get easier, but it helps to shout.
No, no, this isn't it! Hosanna!