HE DIED TO MAKE YOU INNOCENT!
In the Church in the Struggle
The nation has continued to talk about the murder of Trayvon Martin. New facts have come out. New witnesses have come forward. It is clear he was murdered by Zimmerman, the self-proclaimed protector of the rich. But Zimmerman has not been arrested-even as the people are marching, demanding justice.
Now we learn that the police officer who came to the scene wanted to arrest Zimmerman for murder – but the chief of police and the District Attorney said no. We have learned also that Zimmerman’s father was a judge.
But something else has been happening this week. Those who would defend Zimmerman have been leaking information about Trayvon Martin. The media now reports that Trayvon was suspended from school for having a bag with traces of Marijuana. They reported that he had been suspended from school twice before. In other words they are trying to get the victim dirty in order to justify his murder – and to make Zimmerman’s lies about what happened more believable.
We should recognize this. Those who do injustice always try to make the victim seem like a criminal. Sometimes this works to justify what they are doing to the public. Sometimes it also works to keep us quiet, to keep us from fighting back. They cause us to have doubts about ourselves. That is what happens when they break up a family by deporting a father or a mother. They say the person is illegal – and then they look at his record and try to find other things, traffic tickets, anything, to justify what they are doing –which is unjust – by criminalizing the victim.
None of us are perfect. We accept our imperfections and that keeps us silent in the face of injustice. It also keeps us from expecting and struggling for the lives and the relationships we could have. Because we are imperfect, because we are unfaithful, even if only in our thoughts, we give up on relationships of faithfulness. Because we are sometimes dishonest, we give up on having honest relationships.
Because we are imperfect, we lower our standards, our expectations for our relationships, our lives and even our faith.
We are in the last week in the march of Jesus on Jerusalem. It is called Holy week. It is the last week of his life and the final week in his ministry. The question for us today is, what was his plan? What was his purpose? And was he successful in accomplishing his purpose.
I want you to remember that Scripture teaches us that Jesus came preaching repentance and the forgiveness of sin. He ate with sinners. He healed those with imperfections. He drove out demons of violence from people who were possessed by them and made them clean. He offered forgiveness and made them innocent.
On his way to Jerusalem he preached and he performed many miracles. People began to follow him. They came to believe that he was the savior, the liberator, who came to free them from oppression.
He also confronted those in power who unjustly oppressed the poor – and he invited the oppressed to join him. Let’s look at what he did in the final weeks of his ministry.
God’s hand is on him. He knows that he is fulfilling a prophecy. He tells his disciples to go into town and get him a donkey. That also spreads the word that he is coming into Jerusalem. When they return, he mounts the donkey and begins to ride into Jerusalem. Crowds of people gather to welcome him, throwing their coats down on the road before him and shouting “Hosanna, our liberator as come.” This is the event we celebrate today, the day we call Palm Sunday.
Then he walks into the temple and throws out the men who are doing business there. He stays in the temple, preaching and healing the sick. He is also denouncing the hypocrisy of the priests and the lawyers and the rich landowners. And the people love what he is saying. He is taking their side against injustice. He is standing up for them. And it seems like God is with him-and with them.
The evil priests and lawyers are conspiring together, trying to find a way to kill Jesus. They confront him, demanding by what authority he has taken over the temple. Jesus responds with a question.”Was the ministry of John the Baptist from God or from man?”
They cannot answer because they had killed John the Baptist and the people believed he John was a prophet. So Jesus said,”Then neither will I answer your question!”
They were not able to criminalize Jesus before the people because the people had seen his miracles, heard his preaching and knew he spoke the truth. So they conspired in darkness.
Jesus ate with his disciples in honor of the Passover. This is the meal we celebrate when we celebrate communion each week. He asked them to remember him and his ministry for he knew what was going to happen to him. He also told them that one of them would betray him to the authorities. And he told Peter that he would deny him three times before the morning.
Then he went to the garden to pray. While the disciples slept, Judas brought the police to arrest him. They took him to a trial in the dark of night. Outside, Peter denied him three times. Then the priests and the lawyers turned Jesus over to the Romans to be crucified, saying that he had been preaching rebellion against the empire.
He was crucified, abandoned by all but his mother and a few women. But the people knew. No matter what the authorities said about him, they knew he was an innocent man. They had conspired with the Roman conquerors to kill an innocent man? And then, three days later, Jesus disappeared from the tomb and appeared to Mary Magdalene, to the disciples and to hundreds of poor people.
Jesus knew that when he went into Jerusalem and took over the temple, he would be crucified. He knew Judas would abandon him. He knew Peter would abandon him. What was his purpose? What did he hope to accomplish?
Because of his ministry, the people did not believe the priests and the Pharisees when they said that Jesus was a criminal. No matter what they said, even when they said he got his power from the devil, the people knew that Jesus was innocent, a man of God.
But Jesus wanted to do more than just discredit the priests and the Pharisees. When he was crucified, he was hung up between two thieves. One of the thieves mocked him. But the other asked him,”take me with you when you go into your Kingdom.” And Jesus told him he was forgiven of his sins and would enter the Kingdom of God.
You see Jesus was not just a martyr to the cause. Jesus offered forgiveness to those who would repent and turn their lives to God. He offered innocence to sinners, innocence that would allow them to speak out against injustice without feeling guilty, innocence that would allow them to struggle for a perfect love and faithfulness in their relationships; an innocence that would allow them to struggle for honesty in their lives.
Did this last week in his ministry work? After his resurrection, Peter and the disciples, who had abandoned him, reorganized the movement and spread it everywhere through the Roman Empire. Thousands joined that movement – and that movement survived the destruction of the powerful Roman Empire. It survived dozens of empires after the Romans. When the Europeans conquered the continents of the Americas, they tried to use the Christian religion to criminalize the people. But the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared to the people to say that the teachings of Jesus were for them, not their oppressors.
Jesus is still with us, today, in this church, in our communities. He offers us forgiveness for our sins. He is among us, with all of our imperfections. He offers us innocence – so that we can stand together against injustice. He offers us innocence – so that we can struggle for love and faithfulness in our relationships. He also teaches that we must forgive each other, as we are forgiven by God, so that we can begin again our relationships with each other, and stand with each other against injustice.
When Elvira Arellano went into sanctuary she had gone through a transformation. She was not ashamed. She did not feel guilty of any crime. No matter what terrible things they would say about her, to try to discredit her, she would remain strong. God had his hand on her. He made her innocent so that she could convict this country of the sin of separating a mother from her child. She stood before the world and said,”I am not a criminal. I am not a terrorist. I am a mom. I am a worker. She stepped into the movement that Jesus began with the sacrifice of his life.
There is nothing they can say about Trayvon Martin that can convince the people that he was not murdered. We know evil and hypocrisy when we see it. They cannot crucify his reputation to justify his killing. They cannot because the movement of truth that Jesus gave his life for is still alive.
This morning, this Palm Sunday, let that movement live in you. Let God make you innocent. Trust in him. Learn to forgive each other as he forgives you. Stand strong in the innocence he gives you against those who would destroy your families and turn your children into criminals so that they can be imprisoned or shot down. Stand strong in the innocence that God offers you when you repent to build new relationships, to renew your marriages and your church.
We are almost ready now for the mission God calls us to this year. Soon you will be called to be leaders, to make the church your own, to accept the call that Jesus gave us. We will begin next Sunday, on Easter, when Jesus rose from the tomb. We are not afraid of the crucifixion because we are sure of the resurrection!
Holy Scriptures for Palm Sunday
Mark 14: 22-28 Jesus at the Last Supper
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. “You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”
Mark 11:1-19 Jesus Comes to Jerusalem as King
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’” They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Mark 11:15-18 Jesus Clears the Temple Courts
On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’ The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.