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April 2023

healing water

I recently watched Lawrence of Arabia in its entirety: I had only seen bits and pieces before.  (It clocks in at 3 and a half hours.)  It’s a great movie, and I could give a summary of the plot, but I want to focus on one aspect of the voyage to Aqaba.  It was occupied by the Ottoman Turks during World War 1.  It had a strategic position on the Red Sea coast.  Aqaba was primarily defended against a naval invasion, since approaches from the desert were thought to be too hazardous.

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Wadi Rum, Aqaba, Jordanphoto by Juli Kosolapova on Unsplash

Nonetheless, that’s the route T. E. Lawrence and his Bedouin allies took.  I have never made a desert trek, let alone one as grueling as through the deserts of Arabia.  Clearly, the most important commodity is water.  I recall the scenes of the burning sun and frightening heat, the whipping wind of the sandstorms, and the camels laboring in that oven.

There is another desert trek that comes to mind, and it involves Moses and the children of Israel, having fled the slavery of Egypt.  They have been in the wilderness for three days, without finding water—at least, not water fit to drink.  Exodus 15 tells us of the people’s grumbling.  I think “grumbling” would be putting it lightly!

Imagine three days without water.  Imagine their thirst and the thirst of their animals.  When they do come upon water, it is useless.  It is bitter, so they named the place Marah, meaning “bitter.”  Moses finds a tree with curative properties, after some prompting by the Lord.  It is used to render the water clean, potable.  Theologians, scientists, and madmen have weighed in on the nature of this plant.  Ultimately, its power flows from the obedience of Moses to the Lord’s direction.

“If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in his sight, and give heed to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians, for I am the Lord who heals you” (v. 26).

I am the Lord your healer.  I am Yahweh Rapha (רָפָא).  Listen to my voice because I am the Lord who heals you.  The foul, bitter water is healed.

So they are indeed on this trek into the desert, into the wilderness.  The Hebrew word for “wilderness” is מִדְבָּר (midbar).  It has a secondary meaning of “mouth,” as used in speaking, as opposed to eating or breathing.  God is speaking to them in the wilderness.  Do they have the ears to hear?  What about us?  Do we have the ears to hear?

However, the Israelites are moving their mouths.  They are grumbling; they are raising Cain!  Still, as we saw, it is difficult to blame them.  Thirst can have one doing things one would not ordinarily do.

Quickly looking ahead, in chapter 16, the problem is hunger.  The Lord provides quail and manna.  The Lord is their provider.  In chapter 17, the multitude again faces lack of water.  Moses cries out that they’re ready to stone him.  The Lord has him get a big stick and give the stone a good whack.  Water comes surging out.

(Don’t say God lacks a wonderful sense of humor.)

The biblical month of Iyar began at sundown on Friday.  Iyar is the second month on the calendar.  It has a focus on healing.  It is also a month of transition.  In the case of Moses and the people of Israel, it is a transition from slavery to freedom, from the diseases in Egypt to healing in the wilderness.

What transitions are we in need of?  What healings are we in need of?  Are we willing to receive them?

Speaking of willingness to receive, John tells us the story of Jesus at the pool of Beth-zatha, or Bethesda.  We will see that water and healing are, once more, again linked.

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Banu and I have been watching the tv show, The Chosen.  It is a series about Jesus and the people who met him.  It is very well done.  Not to give offense, but many Christian movies have one-dimensional story lines and bad acting.

Season 2, episode 4 is called “The Perfect Opportunity.”[1]  It begins with a scene of a little boy running to climb a tree.  However, a branch snaps and he falls to the ground and is left paralyzed.  He has to be carried wherever he goes.  Jumping ahead, his mother dies while giving birth to his little brother.  We see the boys as they grow up.  The older brother is identified as Jesse.

As young men, they come upon a Roman soldier beating and kicking the crap out of a Jewish man.  You can see the hatred in the younger brother’s eyes.

The lame brother winds up at a pool surrounded by others in need of healing.  The younger brother takes his anger at the Roman occupiers and joins a group where he receives military training.  Again, we see the two as they age.  Jesse is never able to get in the pool, which periodically bubbles up.  The water is said to have healing properties.  It was likely an underground spring.  As time goes by, his hair gets more and more disheveled, and his clothes get grungier and grungier.  His hair starts turning gray.

It turns out the younger brother is Simon the Zealot.  Of course, the scriptures don’t say the two are brothers, but the creative imagining works well in the episode’s plot.

Now, back to the gospel!

Jesus visits the pool and sees the man, as we’re told, who has been ill for thirty-eight years.  Verse 4 is left out of many translations since it’s often considered to have been added later.  Here it is following verse 3: “many ill, blind, lame, and paralyzed people [lay] waiting for the stirring of the water, for an angel of the Lord went down from time to time into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was made well from whatever disease that person had.”

Jesus sees the man, knowing he’s been there for a long time.  I don’t imagine Jesus needs any special insight.  Just looking at the poor fellow speaks volumes!

3Now, back to the idea of willingness to receive, Jesus puts the question to him, “Do you want to be made well?” (v. 6).  Do you want to be healed?  He doesn’t exactly answer the question.  Rather, he laments that he’s never been able to get to the water in time.  No one helps him.  Jesus doesn’t use any special medicine; he doesn’t wave a magic wand; he doesn’t utter any exceptional words.  He just tells the guy to get up, pick up your bed, and go for a walk.

Returning to the episode of The Chosen, long ago Simon wrote a letter to Jesse saying if he ever stood on two legs, that would mean Messiah has come.  Simon is with a hit squad to assassinate a Roman magistrate.  Just as the signal is given, Simon sees Jesse walking around.  He abandons his life with the Zealots—he knows Messiah has come.  He casts in his lot with this wandering rabbi, Jesus.

This is the month of Iyar.  There is healing.  There is transition.  The children of Israel had healing.  They had transition.  The lame man had healing.  He had transition.  Simon the Zealot had healing.  He had transition.  He was healed of his violence.  He had transition to following Jesus.

I asked before, “What transitions are we in need of?  What healings are we in need of?  Are we willing to receive them?”

Over these three past years, I’ve had a bit of transition and healing.  Please forgive me; I know some of my comments might be hard to hear.

When Covid started, I supported the lockdowns.  I can’t say I didn’t have greatly mixed feelings about being told we couldn’t worship together in person.  Still, I was reluctantly okay with casting a wide net, even knowing the devastating effect it would have on small local businesses.

We weren’t allowed to touch each other; in fact, we had to maintain a distance of at least six feet.  I will confess that when a friend of ours feared she might have locked her mom’s keys in her car, I reflexively put my arm around her shoulders to console her.  (As it turned out, it was a false alarm.  The keys were quickly found!)

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Children, when finally allowed to attend school, in many places found themselves behind plexiglass walls, aside from falling miserably behind in their studies.

And I won’t get started on the vaccines.

So, I feel like I’ve had my own transition and healing.  I’ve had my own taste of that fresh, flowing water.

After the incident at Marah, when the Israelites finally had fresh water, we are told, “Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they camped there by the water” (v. 27).  They arrived at an oasis, which relatively speaking would have been small, considering the large number of travelers.  Twelve springs wouldn’t have produced an abundance of water, but it seems to have been enough.

That seems to be the way God deals with us.  We usually have just enough.  In chapter 16, when God provides the quail and manna, the people are warned against keeping some manna until morning.  They are either greedy or afraid God won’t take care of them.  Whatever the case, the manna rots and is infested with worms and maggots.

We have just enough, and indeed much more than enough, when we come to Christ—when we approach him for the water that is always fresh and never runs dry.  As it says, “On the last day of the [Feast of Tabernacles], the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.  As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water’” (Jn 7:37-38).

5photo by Sergio Cerrato on Pixabay

Jesus says to us, “Come to me and drink, and I will give you life.”

 

[1] www.imdb.com/title/tt14457406/?ref_=ttep_ep4


fear and great joy

There are a number of certain commercials I think we’ve all seen.  They go along these lines: “But wait!  Your culinary experience isn’t complete until you’ve savored our luscious dessert.  Layer after mouth-watering layer of deep, rich chocolate!  It has a taste that is absolutely decadent!”

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I realize, of course, that the intent is to describe a delight that is a guilty pleasure.  However, unless one has a particular preference for the flavor of rotten rations, that dish might be one to avoid.  After all, the original meaning of “decadent” refers to something in a state of decay—something in the process of decomposing!

Still, at some level, descriptions of decadent dessert are true.  Nothing lasts forever.  I’m reminded of the song by R.E.M., “It’s the End of the World as We Know It.”  (And I should add, “And I feel fine.”)

As the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7, “the present form of this world is passing away” (v. 31).  The Revised English Bible says that “the world as we know it is passing away.”

Plenty of cosmologists say the same thing.  At some point in time, all of the current creation—everything we now see—will be reduced to its constituent elements.  And even they won’t hold together.  If the cosmos continues to expand, that would mean we have in the neighborhood of 20 billion years before every atom, every subatomic particle, in our present universe gets ripped apart.  (At least, that’s one school of thought among many!)

In an Old Testament reading from the book of Isaiah, the prophet has a vision truly looking beyond our present reality.  In the first verse of the passage, he relays the message God has given him, saying, “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind” (v. 17).  Today we recall and celebrate an event that in the timeless, eternal mind of God, shows a door opening to that new dimension: the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The scripture reading ends on a note recalling the Garden of Eden—and the reversal of what went wrong.  “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent—its food shall be dust!  They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord” (v. 25).

If we recall in the book of Genesis, the serpent was given the sentence “upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life” (3:14).

2[Edward Hicks, "Peaceable Kingdom" (1844)]

The resurrection is often thought of as the eighth day of creation.  “And on the eighth day…there was a new creation.”  On the eighth day, God raised Jesus from the grave.

It shouldn’t be too hard to figure out why the text in Isaiah 65 is one of the Old Testament lessons read at Easter.  All of that stuff about a new creation, a new vision, a new Jerusalem—all of that lends itself very well to reflections on resurrection.

Still, having said that, we have to be aware of trying to shoehorn Jesus Christ into the Hebrew scriptures.

I said how the passage begins with God’s promise of a new creation—how the former things won’t be remembered.  Hear verses 18 and 19: “But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.  I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.”

There will be no more crying.  The infant mortality rate will drop to zero.  “They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit” (v. 21).  There are also the images I mentioned earlier that recall the Garden of Eden.

This poetic language of a seemingly unreal, dreamlike, future appears throughout the Bible.  It’s in some of the prophets, some of Jesus’ words in the gospels, and the book of Revelation is filled with it.  It’s called apocalyptic language.  “Apocalyptic” literally means a “revelation” or an “uncovering.”  It tends to emerge when the community of faith is under great persecution.  It states, in often very colorful terms, that the high and mighty will be brought down and the lowly will be lifted up.

The prophet is telling the people that, besides the need to get their act together, they need not worry about the past, the former age.  It is said earlier in Isaiah, God is “about to do a new thing” (43:19).  What they’ve been doing hasn’t worked.  It has led them to a dead end.  That’s true in more ways than one.

They’re no longer ruled by the Babylonians (these words come after the return from exile in Babylon), but they’re still subject to the Persians.  The prophet is trying to expand their vision, to help them see how they are slaves to their own corruption, to their own decadence.  They are slaves to the powers of death.

In Luke’s version of Easter morning, angelic visitors pose the question to the women coming to the tomb: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” (Lk 24:5).

What does that mean for us this morning?  In what ways do we look for the living among the dead?  In what ways are we trapped by the past, trapped by the former age?  In what ways do we reject God’s new creation?  And on the flip side, in what ways do we yearn for that eighth day to dawn?

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There are plenty of ways to approach this.  Recall verse 18, where the prophet, speaking for God, says to “be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.”  We are called to joy.

Is there room in our hearts for joy?  I’m not talking about painting saccharine smiles on our faces.  I’m talking about something deeper than emotion; something that’s present, even in times of extreme sorrow.  Is there room in our hearts for the joy of resurrection—for the hope of life, where once there was only death?

In Matthew 28, that’s something Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” are facing.  (By the way, “the other Mary” could be any number of people.  Mary was a very common name.)

They are coming to the tomb of Jesus, preparing to care for the body.  There’s an earthquake, caused by the angel rolling the stone away from the mouth of the tomb.  (Please note: in Matthew’s gospel, there is only one angel.)  He took a seat on the stone, which prompted the Roman guards to tremble with fear and become “like dead men” (v. 4).  Maybe they passed out or were paralyzed with dread.

The angel comforts the women, saying he knows why they have come.  They’ve come looking for a body, but wait, the body has disappeared!  They are searching for Jesus, but he has been raised—just as he predicted.

Then he gives them an assignment: go back and tell the others.  You all (y’all) will be reunited in Galilee.  But then Jesus gives them a surprise visit.  Greetings!  As one might expect, Mary and Mary are terror-stricken.  Jesus repeats the angel’s message.  “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers and sisters to go to Galilee; there they will see me” (v. 10).

I did mention joy.  You might ask, “Okay, where is it?”

I want to especially focus on verse 8.  We are told, “they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to tell his disciples.”  With fear and great joy.  The Greek words are φόβος (phobos) and χαρά (chara).  We get our word “phobia” from phobos, and “cheer” comes from chara.

Along with love, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, joy is the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Ga 5:22-23).  Joy is part of God’s very nature.

For that precise reason—and this shouldn’t be a surprise—the devil has no part in joy.  The devil has no joy.  The devil laughs, but it is cruel laughter.  But as for joy, the devil hates joy.  The devil fears joy.  The devil is “joyphobic.”  Joy is a weapon against the darkness.

The women are filled with fear and great joy.  With great joy.  The word is μέγας (megas).  It’s mega-joy!  How often have we experienced mega-joy?

I am reminded of Psalm 126.  “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream” (v. 1).  We couldn’t believe it.  We were in a state of euphoria.  We were plunged into an ocean of joy.  However, what did we do to deserve it?

Again, hear the word of the prophet, speaking for the Lord.  “Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear” (v. 24).  Before they call I will answer.  Friends, that is a picture of grace.  Grace doesn’t ask if we are deserving.  Grace doesn’t ask if we are worthy.  If we do deserve it—if we are worthy—then it isn’t grace.  Grace empowers the joy that floods our soul.

Still, remember we’re told the great joy is joined with fear.  How can fear be joined with joy?  What is this phobos?  This fear is not a fear of punishment.  It is not a fear of retribution.  It is not a fear of being caught red-handed.  It is not a fear of being caught with your hand in the cookie jar.

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This phobos, this fear, is one of reverence.  It is one of awe.  As the psalmist says, it is like those who dream.  But this exceeds even their wildest dreams.  It is unimaginable.  The message Jesus gives the women is just that.  To their disbelieving ears, he tells them to bear forth the gospel.  Spread the good news: our Lord has risen from the grave.

Here are some prayerful words for us all on this day of resurrection: Come to the altar of the heavens, seeking the vision of the new heaven and the new earth.  Lay aside your fear and hatred of the other—our phobia of the other.  Watch your words.  Guard your heart because that is where evil festers.  Practice agape—God’s selfless love.

Indeed, bear forth the Gospel.  We stand on holy ground.  Pray for each other; refrain from gossip.  Pray for the community of the remnant in which God is shaping the harvest.  There is not a sin which cannot be redeemed.  Welcome the mega-joy of the Lord.

To God be the glory.


herd mentality

On Palm Sunday, we remember an ancient practice.  When the conquering hero would ride into town, people would welcome him by carpeting his path with palm leaves.  In the case of Jesus, the people are expressing their hopes.  He’s there to lead them against the Romans!

Of course, he’s not mounted on a mighty stallion; he’s riding a lowly donkey.  Connection has been made to the book of Zechariah, which says in chapter 9, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!  Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (v. 9).

In his gospel, St. Mark tells us, as Jesus rides a colt into town, “Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields.  Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (11:8-9).

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Are the people cheering really interested in being his disciples?  What would that mean for them?

Maybe they don’t realize this is the one who said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:44).  And I guess that includes the Romans.

I’m not the first to point out how the crowd on Palm Sunday bears little resemblance to the crowd on Good Friday.  Or does it?  In neither case is the spirit of discipleship demonstrated.  Jesus shows how fleeting and fickle fame really is.  In a matter of days, the people go from calling for a crown on his head—to calling for his head.  In doing this, the crowd has a mind of its own.

A text in the book of Isaiah has an interesting Hebrew word.  In verse 4, we hear, “The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher.”  The word used for “teacher” (לׅמֻּד, limmud) can also mean “disciple,” one who is taught.  God has given me the tongue of a disciple.  That word is also at the end of the verse.  “Morning by morning he wakens—wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.”  Those who are taught:  to listen as disciples.

According to the prophet, the teacher is a disciple.  The disciple is a teacher.  This is a person who always wants to learn, and who always wants to share what has been learned.  We’re reminded that “the speaker is aware of his need to learn, and has the humility to confess that need.” (201)

The path of discipleship is one of endless training.  It is one of endless training of others.  That’s a calling that we share with the prophet, the Servant of the Lord.  Being a disciple of Christ means wanting to be like Christ.  That requires both meekness and courage.

On the point of the crowd having a mind of its own, I have a story to tell, one I’m not too happy about.  It involves the Texas state Capitol, the KKK, some hardened clumps of dirt, and a moment about which I’m not terribly proud.

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[some photos of "KKK day"]

In 1983, during my freshman year of college, I went with a friend (and more than a thousand other people) to watch the Ku Klux Klan as they marched on the Capitol building in Austin.  Police and news helicopters were flying all over the place.  It felt almost like we were about to be occupied by an army!

Among the crowds were people carrying signs, people yelling at the Klansmen, and others (like me) who were just curious and wanted to see what was going on.  As the marchers made their way toward the Capitol building, they moved through thicker and thicker crowds along the road.  You could feel the hatred in the air.  It was just a matter of time before someone got bored with hurling insults and decided to hurl something else.

It began with a couple of small stones and quickly escalated into a barrage of rocks.  Even though the Klansmen came equipped with plexiglass shields (maybe they expected this kind of reception!), some projectiles managed to hit home.  There was more than one bloody face among them.  (I should say they were wearing their pointy hoods, but they were unmasked).

When they reached the spot where their cars and vans were parked, demonstrators started smashing the windows.  It was the final angry act of the day.

There’s one moment, though, in that afternoon of violence that remains with me.  At one point, when the Klansmen had circled around behind the Capitol, people were running in all directions.  I had stopped and was surveying the scene (being careful to avoid the crossfire of rocks!).  Suddenly, a young black man who was about my age stopped running and knelt about ten yards from me.  He was gathering some hard, dry clumps of dirt to fire at our white-robed friends.

He must have noticed out of the corner of his eye someone was standing there; he just froze and looked up at me.  There we were—two young guys, one white and one black—the black one probably wondering what the white one would do.  And what the white one did was to give the black one a little smile, as if to say, “Go for it!”  He returned the smile, picked up his weapons, and disappeared into the crowd.

I believe now, as I did then, that the constitutional right to peacefully assemble is vitally important.  To my mind, today we find that right under renewed attack.  Even a group I find as repugnant and honestly pathetic as the Ku Klux Klan has the right to express its opinion, as long as they’re not advocating violence.  (Admittedly, that’s a tough sell with a group like the Klan.)

The irony on that day was the KKK was being peaceful, if it’s possible for them.  Those bedsheets stir up the legacy of terrorism.  Still, at the very least, they were just walking; they weren’t shouting or shaking their fists.  The onlookers were the ones who were violent.  And I was a part of that violence.  In my own way, I became a contributor to mob mentality.  That’s not a good feeling.  I allowed the crowd to do my thinking for me.

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For those interested in being interim pastors, the Presbyterian Church requires two weeks of training, at least six months apart.  One of the main things we looked at was the congregation as a system: a family system, an emotional system, and so on.  We also looked at how systems get stuck—how they get paralyzed and can’t seem to progress.

There are a number of reasons, but one of them is something I’ve been talking about.  It’s the mentality of the mob, the herd mentality.  Maybe some of us have had an experience of church like this.  There can be a group dynamic in which the congregation bands together and shames those who have questions.  There can be cult-like behavior.  Compulsion is used to whip people into shape.

Many studies have been done about herd mentality.  As individuals, we can feel anonymous in a crowd—or on the internet.  No one knows who we are.  Sometimes it leads us to do things, that if we were by ourselves, in person and alone, we would never dream of doing.

This doesn’t have to work for the bad.  When the community of faith works in a healthy way, those things we would never dream of doing are awesome and beautiful.

For example, by ourselves, it takes added courage to protest for justice.  With others, we are heartened in an amazing way.  By ourselves, singing and praising the Lord is definitely a beautiful and soul-enriching thing.  But with others, singing and praising becomes a powerful and magnificent wave.

In the Palm Sunday story, along with the sincere adoration of Jesus, can’t we also sense an element of desperation—the desperation of a people who feel beaten down?  When these desperate people realize that Jesus won’t comply with their wishes, things get ugly.  They get anxious, with a vengeance.  (But we’ll hold off on that one for right now.  That’s the story of Good Friday!)

When we’re anxious, we become reactive, as opposed to responsive.  A good way to think of it is to compare “reacting” to a knee-jerk “reaction.”  It’s automatic.  It doesn’t take any thought.  When we respond, we’re taking a moment to actually think things through, to weigh the options.

Being reactive is often a good thing; it can save our lives.  If your hand is on a hot stove, that’s probably not the time to think through and weigh your options.  It’s not the time to run a systems analysis.  Get your hand off the stove!

Getting back to my story about the Klan, we see an extreme example of reactivity.  (I would say that throwing rocks at people qualifies as “extreme.”)

Going along with this, we see violence cloaked with righteousness.  Too often it seems like justice has to be served by wiping out somebody else.  It helps if the other one can fit the bill of “morally reprehensible.”  If I disagree with you, then you’re my enemy.  Forget for a moment what Jesus says about loving our enemies.

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Church consultant Speed Leas has done a lot of work on congregational conflict.  He is best known for devising his five levels of conflict.  At level five, he says that situations sometimes get to the point where people “won’t stop fighting because they feel it’s immoral to stop.  They believe they are called by God to destroy the evil.”

At our interim pastor training, a story was told of a minister who, after leaving a church, moved to the other side of the country.  However, there was a husband and wife determined to track him down.  To put it bluntly, they decided to stalk him.  Upon discovering his new address, they came up with a plan.  They took a frozen fish, allowed it to thaw, put it in a package, and mailed it to him.

What could have been their motivation?  Maybe they felt like he didn’t pass the smell test.  Or perhaps there’s another explanation.  Could it be the couple had a reputation for always carping about something?

As we can see, giving in to the herd mentality can lead to some unpleasant, even fishy, outcomes.

So, today on this Palm Sunday, where are we?  (Presumably, not gathering up rocks or thawing out fish!)

The Franciscan priest Richard Rohr reminds us, “Once we let the group substitute for an inner life or our own faith journey, all we need to do is ‘attend.’  For several centuries, church has been more a matter of attendance at a service than an observably different lifestyle.” (276)

Sometimes we’ve been swept along with the herd; we’ve disappeared into the crowd.  At such times, we have lost ourselves; we have forgotten who we are and whose we are.  Sadly (and speaking for myself), we might have chosen the path of cowardice.

But much more importantly, we have also experienced communion, the solidarity of the saints.  We have discovered and welcomed the courage of Christ.

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So, regardless of what the herd says or does, be it the cheering and joy of Palm Sunday or the jeering and rage of Good Friday, we take hold of Christ and confidently say with the prophet in Isaiah 50, “The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame” (v. 7).