1. This past week, I caught a few minutes of a movie,
a. The HBO production of Angels in America,
i. Tony Kushner’s shattering play about AIDS in 1980s.
2. The movie is different than the recent Broadway revival.
a. It is softer, more magical
i. And decidedly more theological.
ii. . . . and of course, the theological interests me.
3. Anyway, the part I caught takes place towards the end
a. when the protagonist, a young man dying of AIDS named Prior Walter,
b. gains access to the heavenly court
i. where a group of bedraggled angels
ii. are frantically trying to hold the world together.
4. Why? Where is God? Well, that is the point. God is gone.
a. Wandered off, according to the angels,
b. in 1906 to be exact,
c. to, well, God knows where.
5. Prior is enraged – for he wants to know where God is as well.
a. Where is God after a century of World Wars and genocide?
b. Where is God after centuries of slavery and discrimination?
c. Where is God in a world of death and disease,
d. most notably the disease that was killing him?
6. The angels have no answer, to which Prior Walter responds,
a. “The only thing I have to add to all this theology is,
b. if God ever does show his face again
c. Take him to court – he walked out on us!”
7. “He walked out on us.”
8. The statement sounds harsh – maybe even blasphemous.
a. But it finds its roots in the Hebrew scriptures
i. and their description of heaven as a court,
b. in the lamentations of the book of Job
c. and the cries of the prophets such as Jeremiah.
9. For the people of Israel had suffered so much at the hands of others.
a. Their kingdom was torn apart,
b. their land invaded,
c. their capital city Jerusalem destroyed,
d. and their people carried off into forced exile.
i. They were supposed to be God chosen people! God was supposed to be with them!
ii. Where was God?
iii. He must have walked out on us.
10. That statement was the cry of the countless people
a. who first watched Angels in America,
b. many of whom suffered from the same disease
i. Prior Walter was dying from
c. or knew friends and family who were.
11. they were rejected, judged and hated,
a. by both state and church,
12. abandoned by family and friends.
a. Where was God? He must have walked out on us.
13. That Statement is still the cry at the start of the 21st century.
a. Crime, terrorism, endless wars, political instability, climate crisis and now a new pandemic have caused many to join Prior’s cry of anger.
b. For many it seems
i. that God has stopped speaking,
ii. stopped acting,
iii. stopped protecting us.
1. Where is God? Gone. He walked out on us.
14. The people who lined that road that Palm Sunday in Jerusalem, however,
a. were there because they believed that their lamentations were over.
15. For months they had heard of a powerful preacher,
a. a leader, chosen by God
b. come to liberate them from their oppressors,
c. restore their kingdom
d. and rule as their king.
16. For months he had been traveling through the countryside
a. But now he was arriving in Jerusalem to begin his rule.
17. Little wonder they shouted “Hosanna” Or in English, “Save us!”
18. Little wonder they waved palm branches in their hands
a. in the first century equivalent of a tickertape parade.
i. God was finally walking back in!
19. It does not say however, what their reaction was
a. when they first saw WHO it was they were welcoming.
20. But all we have to do is continue reading,
a. to see how quickly their excitement turned to disappointment
b. and their hope turned to anger.
i. For it was not a warrior, but a carpenter who arrived.
ii. Not dressed for battle, but clad in peasant’s robes,
iii. not riding a war horse, but a donkey.
c. And most importantly,
i. Not there to conquer their Roman oppressors
ii. but to be conquered by them.
iii. To be arrested, tried, and killed as a threat to the state.
21. Little wonder his followers abandoned him.
22. Little wonder his friends abandoned him.
23. As he hung on the cross
a. it seemed that even God had abandoned him.
24. Luke’s story of Jesus’ trial and death echoes those of Matthew, Mark and Luke.
25. Together they form the core stores of the Christianity
26. and we read them, sing them, listen to them each year
a. as part of the week we begin today.
27. One wonders why.
a. For don’t they confirm what many have long since believed?
b. That God has stopped speaking, stopped acting; that He walked out on Jesus and on us?
28. Perhaps they can be read that way.
29. But that is NOT why Luke writes this story.
a. He does not write his gospel lamenting God’s absence
i. But revealing God’s presence
b. He is not recounting God’s silence,
i. but recalling God’s proclamation
ii. made to people in the first century as well as to us in the 21st
iii. that God is still speaking, still acting, still here.
c. He is not just claiming that God somehow would return,
i. but that God has never left.
30. We have just lost the ears to hear and the eyes to see.
a. We look for God in the same places these people on that first Palm Sunday looked for God,
i. lining the road awaiting some king.
b. We look for God in the power of leaders
i. who promise greatness but perpetrate crimes
c. We look for God the protection of politicians
i. who proclaim peace even as they pursue war.
d. We look for God in the person of religious leaders
i. who purport to be holy but really have feet of clay.
31. Because we look to these and so many others who sooner or later disappoint,
a. it is little wonder that the cry of a gay man in a play from the 1990s still is relevant to so many of us.
b. AS it would have been to Luke.
32. Which is why he says to us today:
a. Look at the donkey.
b. Look at the peasant carpenter.
c. Look at the one whose only real power was his words and his example.
d. Look at the one whose trust in God did not fail,
i. even when he was arrested tried and crucified.
1. Look at Jesus.
33. Why? Because he is where God is still speaking.
a. His life shows us how God acts.
b. And his death and resurrection are a key
i. to where find God in our world.
ii. Right there, on the cross with us all.
34. In the final scene of Angels in America
35. Prior delivers a soliloquy about living with AIDS.
a. In his speech, without even mentioning God, he blesses the people,
i. both those sitting in their theater seats,
ii. and every one of us who ever hear his words, with “more life”.
iii. This man, who claimed that God had abandoned him, them, us all,
1. proclaims that there was a purpose to all the suffering and death.
a. That after it all there is still More LIFE.
36. What is he doing?
a. What Luke does.
i. And what Matthew, Mark and John do, for that matter.
37. He does what the Church has done for two thousand years
a. by inviting us to walk with Jesus and his friends
b. from Palm Sunday to Easter.
38. To listen and look as God is glimpsed
a. not in the actions and decisions of the rich powerful leaders
i. who succeed in putting Jesus to death.
b. but glorified in Jesus
c. who is God’s word spoken to us.
d. and reveals to us, that
i. God walks with us in the face of these challenging times.
39. And starting with that parade on that first Palm Sunday
a. we are all invited to walk with him.