Orientation

Orientation
Rev. Christa Fuller Burns

Faith Presbyterian Church
Psalm 24 – Palm Sunday, March 25, 2018

Snow in late March? Who can believe it? Our first daffodils and hyacinths, those harbingers of Spring, have been shocked by frozen whiteness. We don’t expect snow this late in the year. The snow is disorienting, is it not? We may very well wonder if there is not some change afoot in our reality. We are disorientated.

Of course, there is much in our world besides snow in March that makes us wonder about our grounding, our relationship to the order of things. We march in Washington because our children are being shot in their schools. We worry about climate change and rising seas and, well, snow in late March. We don’t know from one day to the next what changes there will be in Washington, or who our friends are in the world, or whether what we read on public media is, in fact, orchestrated by a foreign government. We feel disorientated.

It seems to me that the mood in Jerusalem that day when Jesus arrived on a donkey was one of disorientation. People were anxious. Their country was under foreign occupation. There was a large military presence during Passover to keep the order. Religious leaders were trying to figure out how to hang on to their authority. Then, Jesus arrives on a donkey, the symbol of humility. People were waving their leafy branches and shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord – the King of Israel!” But is Jesus…the king of Israel? This one who rides, not on a fancy horse as you would expect of a king, but on a donkey…is he the Messiah? What will the authorities do to someone who claims to be king? What will the authorities do to us who proclaim him king? Who is this man who said that he came “not to bring peace to the earth” but, in fact, disorientation. (Matt. 10:34). Who is this man who said that we are not going to be able to know the day or the hour of his coming? We just have to keep watch in the midst of so much…disorientation. Who is this man who says we may not be able to read the signs; we will be disorientated?

Indeed, who is this man who ends up on a cross and the earth turns dark and the curtains of the temple are torn in two, and the earth shook, and the graves were opened? This man who brings disorientation, who shakes the world up – is he the Son of God?

Or perhaps the better question is: What does it mean to believe in a man who came, not to keep the status quo, who didn’t tell us just to wait it out, keep safe in our beds, everything is going to be OK? No. what does it mean to believe in a man who literally shakes everything up?

One of the things about travel is that it is basically a disorientating experience. You don’t speak the language. You have trouble reading the map. You find yourself in crowded, twisting souks fearful that you will lose your way. We were out in the seemingly endless expanse of desert in Morocco and there seemed to be that brick red sand for as far as the eye can see. How do you know where you are the desert? We passed piles of stones on the roads, here and there were piles of stones. What are those I asked? Our guide replied that they were markers to help you know where you were.

We visited ruins built by the Romans in yet another occupied land. The Romans were very good at making one feel orientated even in a far away place. Their forums and roads and market places and basilicas were always laid out in the same way so that if you were a Roman soldier in retirement in a distant land far from where you grew up you would always know your way around. You would always be orientated.

It seems to me that one way to read our story of faith is to see it basically as a story about being disorientated. Adam and Eve, after all, got uprooted from their garden and had to make their way in a place they did not know. The Israelites got exiled more than once in foreign lands where they didn’t speak the language, didn’t worship the same gods, didn’t have the same food. Then they wandered in the wilderness for years looking for home. Jesus’ family had to flee their home because of danger, ending up in a strange land. Disorientated. And, then, when Jesus discovers in the wilderness, what God is calling him to do – it is not all sweetness and life that he is to preach. No. Jesus has to tell folks that their world is being turned upside down. The old assumptions will not hold. God is going to trouble the waters. Yes. God is going to trouble the waters!

All of this disorientation frames the scene when Jesus rides into Jerusalem that day; when Jesus comes to die.

Walter Brueggemann’s classic book on the psalms points out that there are basically three types of psalms: psalms of orientation, psalms of disorientation and psalms of new orientation. In other words, some psalms are meant to describe seasons of blessings, seasons in which we are well-situated and grateful. Some psalms are intended to describe seasons in which we know despair, hurt, disappointment, and even hatred. Finally, some psalms are meant to express great joy at having been delivered from darkness into light and the realization that we have a new reality, a new orientation.  (The Message of the Psalms, p.19)

The psalm we read this morning is a psalm of orientation. Life is understandable in Psalm 24: “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it…”. God can be understood. Those who have clean hands and pure hearts will be able to climb the hill of God. The world is orderly. If you live right, follow the rules, those who do not swear deceitfully, those who do not follow after that which is false will receive blessing.

Why then do we hear this psalm on Palm Sunday when Jesus comes to mess up the order of things? Why do we hear this psalm when our world is such disaster? Why do we hear this psalm of orientation just as we are about to be radically disorientated? Shouldn’t we have one of those psalms that cry out “How long are you going to forget me, God?” or the psalm that begs God to save us from our tormentors, those who are out to get us, or the one about how the temple has been violated, or the psalm that specifically describes the disorientation of being in Babylon: “By the rivers of Babylon – there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion” (Psalm 137)? Shouldn’t we have one of those psalms on Palm Sunday when Jesus comes to die?

Maybe, just maybe, one of the most radical things we can do when we are disorientated is to announce to the world what it is we believe. This earth we inhabit is not ours to do with what we please. It belongs to God. It does not belong to any political empire whether it is the Romans or the Americans. The earth belongs to God. Despite the massive array of armed might in Jerusalem that day, this is not who is in charge. God is the one who is in charge!

Who gets to stand in God’s holy place? Not those with titles or money or power. The ones who get to stand in God’s holy place are those with pure hearts, those who tell the truth. They are the ones who will be blessed.

If you are in a jail cell, if you are in mourning, if you are afraid and feel powerless, indeed, if you see Jesus coming into town and you know, you know, things are not going to end well, maybe just maybe you will remember Psalm 24 and you will say in the midst of your disorientation that this is not forever. God is doing something even in this mess. And you will lift your head up. You will lift up your gates and open the doors to your heart because the one who looks so humble, the one who the world will scorn, is the king of glory. Let him in! Lift up your heads, oppressed as you are by so many things. Lift up your heads! Let the king of glory in!

 

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