End Game

First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Rev. Dr. Cynthia Lindenmeyer
Date: April 14, 2019
Palm Sunday
Wisdom Readings: Tao Te Ching—CH 16
John 12:12-19
Sermon: “End Game

As we sit here this morning, hundreds of Honduran migrants, many carrying children, march hoping to reach the United States. They come because they are fleeing death threats, choosing to endure hunger, fatigue and risk everything. They’ve seen family members kidnapped and killed. Can any of us begin to understand the decisions they are forced to make?

The song we just sang, Tenemos Esperanza, is a song they sing—written by Frederico Pagura, a bishop in the Methodist Church who wrote Tenemos Esperanza in response to the refugee crisis in Chili in the 1970s. “Tenemos Esperanza” means, “We have hope.” Hope is essential to cling on to as we navigate the maze of life. Today, this Passion Sunday, we reflect on the Christian drama and present day realities that possibly threaten our hope by asking ourselves, “What is our passion?”

Life is a complex and mythological labyrinth where we seek an experience of what it means to be alive, so that our life experiences will resonate with our passion, with what brings us joy. We discover our true passion by letting go of the cultural conditioning that constantly diminishes the joy in our lives.

We began our Lenten journey on Ash Wednesday, March 6th, and today enter into Passion Week, the most sacred and mystical passage in the Christian year. Our Gospel reading tells of Jesus entering Jerusalem and it’s easy to get caught up in the palm branches and I’ve noted several churches will have donkeys in their service today. However, what if we read this story as an allegory for our spiritual journey that portrays that the way of Jesus is the path of death and resurrection reminding us of the strongest force in all of the universe…?

There has to be a time in life where we really let go and embrace that love is the strongest force in the universe—stronger than fear, stronger than division, stronger than money. This is the moment, this week, when we journey into the labyrinth with Christ and confront our own fears and shadows to experience death, then rebirth. But to get there, Jesus demonstrates to us physically what we must do spiritually. We are asked to empty ourselves and discover our true passion.

We cannot be alive without passion. Not knowing what we are passionate about is like amputating our heart from our mind. Too often, I think, clergy preach a labyrinth full of mirrors that keep us focused on irrelevant questions that have nothing to do with the significance of Passion Week: Why did Jesus ride on a colt? Who betrayed Jesus? How many times did Peter deny him? The church has turned Passion Week into an American police procedural Criminal Minds episode, gathering evidence to determine who killed Jesus. And we miss the very meaning of WHY Christ enters Jerusalem.

In the great drama of Holy Week, we experience two passions fusing within Jesus—his passion for God and his passion for justice. These two passions combine, resulting in Passion Week: the fire of wisdom and love in action. Passion Week is meant to arouse in us the spiritual energy to empower us to follow in the steps of the labyrinth of Christ and discover the center, the heart—to reignite the fire within us to discover our passion for God and our desire for justice. Do you know what you are passionate about?
If you want to enter into a deeper spiritual realm, reconnect with your passion. August of 1992 I was with an infantry unit engaged in military exercises in the Mojave Desert at the National Training Center. Our unit had a few days off and I drove with friends to the San Diego Comic Convention where I met an older gentleman smoking a cigar pipe. He didn’t fit my stereo-type of the sort who would attend Comic Con so I engaged in conversation. He was very polite, asking me who my favorite Avenger character was, and I responded it was a tie between Captain America and Black Panther, wondering if he would even know who they were. I was impressed with his knowledge of both characters, and he seemed even more passionate about CPT America and Black Panther than I was—so I figured he must have grand-kids. I’ll get back to that story….

Currently, about 330 million people live in America. The great Christian drama of Resurrection, according to Gallup, will lure six in every ten Americans to church on Easter Sunday—so that’s 198 million. One of my favorite authors, Joseph Campbell, whose writings on myth and the hero’s journey shape the blueprint for great theatrical dramas such as Star Wars and the Matrix, emphasize how mythological stories teach us how to live under any circumstances.

The many characters whose stories bring us hope in the Bible remind me of the mythological characters in the Marvel Comic Universe, where we also encounter bad guys and good guys. Ten years of nearly 30 films culminated in an Infinity War where the bad guy, Thanos, obliterates half of the universe, turning the living to dust, to include Black Panther and other Avengers. Four days after Easter when nearly 200 million Americans will celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, an estimated 289 million people will flock to movie theaters to experience the Marvel Comic’s rendition of Resurrection, entitled End Game.

Back to 1992 Comic-Con…I spent about twenty minutes with the silver haired gentlemen smoking his pipe, whose passion about the Avengers transformed him into an energetic teenager. Later that night, attendees at the Convention were gathered in the hotel conference room when all the lights went off. The crowd was invited to sing Happy Birthday. The friendly gentleman I met earlier was escorted on stage. I turned to my friend, Art, and asked who he was, and Art gave me a look—one of those glares like, “You don’t know who that is? Are you serious?” I learned it was Jack Kirby and it was his 75th birthday. Jack Kirby is as much a legend as Stan Lee—and Jack Kirby created the characters of Thor, the Hulk, Iron Man, and…Captain America and Black Panther.

The next few weeks our unit spent two weeks “in the box” in the Mojave Desert and I had night shift—lots of time to reflect, gaze in wonder at the brilliant stars, and think about my faith. I was passionate about the Avengers, but had no idea who their creator was. And I wondered, “If I am passionate about Christ, do I really know his Creator?”

In the 90s, my Christian faith centered on the blood, gore and betrayal of Holy Week, which Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of Christ also fixated on; it is a mythology that portrays Jesus as victim, as passive—this focus leads to the sacrificial lamb narrative from which atonement theology hinges: Jesus must enter Jerusalem to appease an angry God to die for our sins so we can have eternal life. It’s a theology and teaching that I learned and believed for years, and it’s a theology that has good guys and bad guys. God becomes like the Marvel comics bad guy, Thanos, who destroys half the universe, and Christ becomes like an Avenger who has to sacrifice himself so others can live.

Makes for a great story, but misses the heart of the teaching of Christ. Worse, this type of theology does not ignite the fire within each of us to help us breath in order to keep us truly alive and passionate. What we miss in the sacrificial lamb interpretation of Passion Week is the inconvenient truth that Jesus becomes the Messiah not by atoning for sins, not in the domain of power, but demonstrating the universal epicenter of his teachings—Love. Passion Week invites us to experience WHY Jesus entered Jerusalem—Jesus completes the ultimate Hero’s Journey and reveals the depth of love, risking his very life (like the Honduran families on the via delorasa, the path of suffering) to communicate LOVE IS STRONGER THAN DEATH.

People who are passionate march: The Women’s March, March for our Lives, People’s Climate Movement, Poor People’s Campaign— echo the passion that brings Jesus to Jerusalem. We are called to follow the Passion of Christ—where we really let go and embrace that love is the strongest force in the universe—stronger than fear, stronger than division, stronger than life itself. This is the moment, this week, when we confront our own fears and shadows to experience death, then rebirth. If we defend ourselves or do what we can to maintain power, then we never are reborn. Easter requires letting go.

Our closing hymn was composed for the 1986 Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament in which 500 people who had a passion for peace and justice in the fear of nuclear weapons marched from LA to DC. Jesus shows us that in order to fully live, we must find our joy, our passion, confront the powers that diminish life for so many. This week, we are to accept the reality of death, understanding that pain, suffering and death are all part of the labyrinthian way of life towards the End Game.

Wisdom Readings:

Tao Te Ching—CH 16:
Empty your mind of all thoughts.
Let your heart be at peace.
Watch the turmoil of beings,
but contemplate their return.

Each separate being in the universe
returns to the common source.
Returning to the source is serenity.

If you don’t realize the source,
you stumble in confusion and sorrow.
When you realize where you come from,
you naturally become tolerant,
disinterested, amused,
kindhearted as a grandmother,
dignified as a king.
Immersed in the wonder of the Tao,
you can deal with whatever life brings you,
and when death comes, you are ready.

John 12:12-19
The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem.
They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!”
Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:
“Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.”
At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.
A crowd had been with Jesus when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead. So they continued to tell everyone about what had happened.
Many people went out to meet him. They had heard that he had done this sign.
So the Pharisees said to one another, “This isn’t getting us anywhere. Look how the whole world is following him!”