This week’s guest blog is written by Doug Klassen, pastor of Foothills Mennonite Church in Calgary, Alberta. His reflection is based on a sermon he preached on Palm Sunday (April 13, 2014), on Luke 19:28-40.
I was recently asked to participate in an interview as part of an Advocacy Research Project being conducted by MCC. So the whole question of advocacy has been looming in the back of my mind. It also hit me as I began working with the Palm Sunday and Good Friday scripture texts.
In the Palm Sunday story, Jesus is on his way into the city and his reputation is preceding him. By him the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are made clean, the demonized are delivered, the dead are raised, the powerful are chastised, and the outcasts are welcomed and commended for their faith.
As he enters the Kidron Valley, people welcome him like they would a king. They tear down palm branches and lay their cloaks on the ground. “Hosanna, Hosanna,” they shout. “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”
For us, “hosanna” has become a praise word. But in Jerusalem in Jesus’ day, it was a political word. Directly translated, “hosanna” means, “Save us!” or “Save now!” People believed that if Jesus could heal the sick and raise the dead, surely he could kick the Roman occupiers out of Palestine and restore Israel to her fortunes. So they were singing and crying out Psalm 118 at the top of their lungs.
The Pharisees, who had a love/hate relationship with Rome, became nervous because, if the crowd really got going, they could spark a crackdown. So they say to Jesus, “Tell your disciples to be quiet.” Jesus replies, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the very stones will cry out.”
Jesus was actually repeating the words of Habbakuk, a prophet in the Southern Kingdom around 600 BC. Habbakuk saw corruption, injustice, oppression and evil-doing all around him and demanded that God act. God responded:
“Woe to anyone who builds his house by unjust gain, Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and establishes a town by injustice! The very stones will cry out from the wall, and the plaster will respond from the woodwork.”
There may be few stones crying out in the world today, but we do know that there are millions of people in our world today who are crying out loud, “Hosanna, hosanna! Save us now!”
Thousands face the threat of flooding in refugee camps in South Sudan, and 5000 people are running the gauntlet to flee Syria every day. Human trafficking and slavery abound. The gap between rich and poor – even in our own country – widens.
How do we advocate for people who are crying out today?
It is my feeling that all church-based advocacy work has to be anchored or founded in God’s story of redemption. Our starting point is the cross of Jesus Christ and God’s action in raising him from the dead. A new day has dawned. The peace of heaven has come to earth and everything is turning. And one day heaven and earth will be remade and wed into one.
So, practically speaking, how do we advocate? What do we do? I think the place for us to start is in prayer. Where there is no prayer, there is no power.
We pray for people, we pray the words of the Bible, we pray the words of Habakkuk when we see what is going on around us. We pray and pray and pray and pray. The starting point for advocacy must be a massive church-wide call to prayer and intercession. From the hours in prayer and Bible study we get our perspective and power for the task ahead.
Second, we must place ourselves where Jesus placed himself. Jesus chose to live with the poor. He addressed his gospel by preference to the poor. And he lashed out at the rich and the powerful. Jesus came to proclaim the kingdom of justice and liberation, to be established in favour of the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized of history.
So if we want to do advocacy work with any kind of integrity, before we speak a word, we need to be in relationship with those with whom Jesus shared his life. That gives advocacy integrity because we can speak from experience.
Third, we move is in the direction of the cross. We don’t come to advocacy with any effort to exercise power over someone. We move from power to powerlessness, in the peace-loving footsteps of Jesus, and with a vision of the Kingdom of God before us.
There are no easy solutions to the world’s problems. But the role of the church is not to be silent. We do know what the future holds and who holds the future. So whenever we speak out for others – and join our cry with theirs – let us be sure to declare the hope we have for the world.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the one who is bringing peace to the earth from heaven itself.