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Run, Hide, Fight

Speaker: The Rev. Jake Miles Joseph

March 28, 2021

Sermon, Sunday, 28 March 2021
The Rev. Jake Miles Joseph
Mark 11:1-11, NRSV
Run, Hide, Fight[1] 

What are the disciples thinking! Get Jesus down off that donkey immediately!

This wasn’t the first sermon I wrote this week, but this week called for something other than the joyful and funny antidote filled first sermon I wrote. (You would have liked it.) Sometimes, you just have to start over. Déjà vu is an expression from French that means literally “already seen,” but it is defined in English as much bigger than that. One popular source says that it is, “the intense feeling of being on the very brink of a powerful epiphany.”[2]

Today is Palm Sunday—the gateway into the heart-wrenching journey of Holy Week! It is also known as Passion Sunday because it is the beginning of a time that should spark an intense feeling of being on the very brink of a powerful epiphany or revelation. Easter and resurrection and hope are almost here, and yet they are still so far away. There are still many bridges to cross, tables to turn over, Last Suppers to cook and serve, gardens to visit, people to wake, ears to repair, friendships to alter, roosters to crow, crosses to carry, and stones to roll away. This year, rather than calling it Palm Sunday—this Sunday that happens every year like a repeat dream feels rather like Déjà Vu Sunday—the intense feeling of being on the very brink of a powerful change.”

As a Coloradan or Coloradoan (depending on the region of my very large home state), this week feels especially liminal with déjà vu caution, fear, bewilderment, and anger. The emotions back home this Sunday are just all too familiar.

When you look-up the word “Columbine” online, the first result should be an image of the stunning often purple and white wild flowers that blanket alpine meadows above tree line (what we call the timberline) and dot front yards from the Western Slope to the Front Range from Mesa Verde to the Pawnee Buttes. We Coloradans are very proud of our state flower. What should pop onto your computer screen at the mention of this, one of my favorite flowers, is something beautiful and delicate. 

Instead, upon being searched online, the word Columbine yields rows and rows, pages and pages, digital eternity of horror, sadness, fear, and déjà vu bad memories. I was in late Elementary School in 1999, and nothing would ever be the same after the Columbine High School massacre and the psychological impact on our country and my beloved state. It was a terrifying day imprinted on my memory even as a young person at a private Christian school some 60 miles north of Littleton. That first horrible day and the feelings of fear and despondency return every time—Sandy Hook, Aurora, Parkland, Pittsburg, San Bernardino, Atlanta, Boulder… a never-ending procession of déjà vu.

After these sorts of things, which seem to happen weekly in our world, I never really post on Facebook. It feels sometimes like clergy competing for attention for the “best post.” Often, and I am seeing this often now, the clergyperson will create sharable memes with their own quotes and a picture of themselves angry yelling somewhere. The comments are inevitably ego-boosting affirmations of the clergyperson’s genius. Even today, preaching to the choir—a church that already knows the importance and imperative of ending gun violence - feels futile at best and almost wrong at worst. What hasn’t already been said? What minds are left to change? Why is this a debate? Can’t we do more than preach the same sermon we have been preaching for over a decade about the need for gun control? Can’t we do more with our time than create Facebook memes in our own image? Church, can’t we do more?

Boulder and my hometown of Fort Collins are generally friendly nearby rival cities with Colorado State University and University of Colorado respectfully in each—but deeply connected sharing the Second Congressional District and common progressive culture.

The trauma is real. For those of us from Colorado, news from a place and even a supermarket I know well—makes me want to cower and cover: Run, Hide, Fight. It certainly doesn’t make me feel like standing on a five-foot platform in a brightly colored stole in front of a room on a main intersection with windows on all sides and delivering a talk on a controversial topic. Run, Hide, Fight are the words from the lockdown drills of my childhood constantly playing in my ears. I rehearse these words every Sunday before walking up here. 

Run, Hide, Fight. Last week it was my spouse, Gerhard’s, hometown of Cherokee County, Georgia where he grew up and found safety from Venezuelan violence, and Atlanta where we met, was the site of other gun violence. For Connecticut, we remember the gun violence in Newtown 2012. For California, we remember the attack in San Bernardino in 2015. Every state has many more than one such traumatic and recent memory.

This year, rather than calling it Palm Sunday—this year it feels rather like Déjà Vu Sunday—the intense feeling of being on the very brink of a powerful epiphany.” That powerful epiphany is one we have had before—This must stop. We must do more than create memes or speak into Social Media echo chambers—mirrors of our own ideas and politics. We must do more than preach to the choirs. 

Like the lectionary bringing this story of Jesus on the donkey headed into Jerusalem back to us every year—there is a déjà vu today in our midst. We want to yell, scream, break through the walls of time and history to reach out to Jesus—Turn around! Get out! Run! Hide! Fight! Don’t trust the crowd. What are the disciples thinking! Get Jesus get the **** down off that donkey immediately! Didn’t we do this last year! Didn’t we learn a lesson? Why this again? Can’t we stop killing Jesus every year—for the love of God—turn around and go back to Nazareth. Maybe we are too exhausted to call out. Maybe we just assume we can’t stop it. Maybe we have stopped feeling Palm Sunday as Passion Sunday with all of the embodied pain it carried. Maybe we are numb. Run, Hide, Fight.

I call Palm Sunday “Associate Minister Sunday”—I have preached it almost every year since Seminary seven years ago. It is intimate and familiar to me. It is always different and revealing new layers year upon year. But this year, this was my third attempt at this sermon. First it was a sermon about how we should stop using palm fronds as a progressive church because they are not sustainable. Maybe we use local tree branches instead. I ditched that because it wasn’t pastoral enough for this year. Then I wrote a sermon about how great it will be to be back in crowds celebrating Jesus and life. It was a happy story about vaccines. Then I wrote this one—because I read the Scripture again in the austere light of the two mass shootings that made the news and the other five that didn’t over the past week in our country. 

When I read our Scripture this morning, my heart jumped. Run, Hide, Fight. Jesus, get off that donkey. A donkey can be up to around 5 feet tall. Believe me, I was bucked off one when we owned a ranch as a kid. The average person in Jesus’ time was around my height—five foot, five inches tall. Jesus on a colt or donkey would have been almost a whole person higher up than everyone else. For a controversial leader like you, Jesus, a donkey high above the crowds is not a good idea anymore in 2021. That is unless you have bulletproof glass on that colt with you. Palm Sunday this year makes me nervous. Placing this story in today’s world and times, I panic for Jesus. A provocateur, a rebel, an anonymous crowd, a pending political storm. Run, Hide, Fight. 

This year, rather than calling it Palm Sunday—this Sunday that happens every year like a repeat dream feels rather like Déjà Vu Sunday—the intense feeling of being on the very brink of a powerful epiphany. This year, we beg Jesus to get down off the colt, to not enter the city where danger and death wait, and yet it happens again. Here we are again.

Friends, we need to do more than send prayers on Facebook and collect likes on our posts as affirmation of our own righteous anger. We need to do more than sermons like this. I don’t even count preaching as action anymore. We need to vote, donate, show-up to events, and make sure that one of these years—Palm Sunday isn’t just more déjà vu.

We cannot really have Easter in America until we take care of this evil pattern of accepting death and murder as par for the course.

We cannot have Easter in America until we make a change. Today is Palm Sunday, and we are spiritually stuck here as a people—at the gates. 

Every year we welcome Easter and the promise of new birth and Springtime and resurrection and the gift of new life (for us) in Christ… in America… when we have no meaningful restrictions on the sale of mass death devices. Easter seems almost ironic. We are kind of Spiritually stuck on a Groundhog Day version of Passion Sunday.

We cannot have Easter in America until we make a change. Sure, yes, the day will officially come, we will have chocolate and ham, but will we really have Easter? We are stuck at Palm Sunday. The story stops here until we get something right, until we choose to actually control this ethical problem for our country. Until then, until we care more… do more… love more…we should just call out, Jesus, get down off that donkey immediately! It isn’t safe here even for you. Get down. Get down. Get down. Run. Hide. Fight. 

[1] https://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/active_shooter_booklet.pdf
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Déjà_vu

The Rev. Jake Miles Joseph

Associate Minister

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