If you're a casual college basketball fan, March is the most exciting month of the year. The reason, of course, is the NCAA Basketball Tournament which will be taking place over the next three weekends.
Sixty-eight teams were selected to participate in a big two-hour made-for-television special on Sunday, March 11th. Play begins on Tuesday. By next Sunday, that list will be pared down to sixteen, then four the following weekend, and on Monday, April 2nd, there will be only one team left standing. The eventual champion will be crowned.
Crowds will flock to the sites where the games are played, significantly boosting the revenues for those communities. Many sports bars and other entertainment establishments can count on balancing their annual budget on the income from these three weeks alone. Televisions will be tuned in to the games in just about every conceivable location. Though I've never seen any official survey, I imagine productivity in workplaces is at its lowest ebb of the year.
Adding to the entertainment will be those who attempt to predict the eventual champion by filling out a tournament bracket sheet or two in an attempt to pick out the winner of each game. Ridiculous amounts of money are wagered on the outcome of the tournament by people who have never seen a basketball game all year, if ever.
It's called March Madness because of its appeal to everyone from the hard-core to even the least interested.
This mania over college basketball is how I've imagined Jerusalem at Passover when Jesus was on earth. Many came from neighboring lands and traveled great distances, even from as far away as Rome. The great processions of pilgrims, travelling in caravans of hundreds, and even thousands, swelled the numbers of people in the Holy City, transforming it during this most special season.
It was into this environment that Jesus, a few verses before in the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday, made his triumphal entry, riding on a donkey's colt, with the people waving palm branches. This was the third Passover that Jesus would celebrate during the time of his public ministry; his third, and last.
And each time I come across this reading - it's also the assigned Gospel for Tuesday of Holy Week - I can't help but wonder why the author singled out two Greeks out of a mass of humanity that traditionally numbered in the hundreds of thousands.Did they simply stick out like sore thumbs, or is this a first century version of ethnic or racial profiling?
I can't help but wonder how those Greeks must have felt in the midst of that massive crowd. They certainly had to be in the minority. They certainly couldn't have felt at ease among people who were not like them.
Yet in spite of the discomfort, in spite of the anxiety, in spite of being strangers; they took the risk of going to Jerusalem to SEE Jesus.
Chances are you've hardly ever noticed the racial disparity of the people in the stands attending a basketball game and those who are playing on the court. My guess is that, like the Greeks who came to see Jesus, you're there to see the game, not to do a demographic study.
This scene came to mind recently as I read an article in the New York Times about
why Black worshippers are leaving White Evangelical churches
. The article speaks more to the clash between our current polarized political climate and faith, but it raises the question that is at the core of our debate - what brings people to church?
Do people come to your church to see Jesus? I wonder about that every time I think of a visitor who steps inside the doors of one of our ELCA congregations. As we are singing loudly and excitedly about God's goodness, do those who are visiting have any idea what we're talking about? Do we live out what we profess to believe?
How comfortable are visitors in our presence, whoever they may be? How good a job are we doing in receiving and welcoming those who come to us as they did to Philip saying, "Please, we want to see Jesus?"
As part of our ongoing struggle, I will be back in Chicago this coming Wednesday and Thursday to begin our discussion about developing a strategy toward authentic diversity in the ELCA. I look forward to the beginning of this conversation and what our church may envision for the future, knowing that there are no simple answers, no quick-fixes, no easy solutions.
On my return from Chicago Thursday evening, I will be attending the annual Global Leadership Seder, hosted by the Cleveland Chapter of the American Jewish Committee, at The Temple-Tifereth Israel, in Beachwood. This event celebrates our common struggle over issues of tolerance and celebrate our shared dream of freedom, equality, and peace.
Sunday, I will be with the people of God at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Jefferson. Stop in to visit with the Lutheran Youth Organization (LYO) Board as they continue planning for the Assembly Gathering as well as the ELCA Gathering Houston.
Once again, I want to remind rostered ministers of our annual Renewal of Vows and Blessing of Oil liturgy on Tuesday, March 27, at 10:30 a.m., at Trinity Lutheran Church in Kent.
I would encourage your attendance at this important liturgy in which we renew our vows of ordination, or consecration, and bless the oil which we'll use for anointing during the next year. Holy week is a busy time for pastors and deacons, which is why a few hours in worship, and the moments of collegial fellowship that follow, are vital to the support and nurturing of your ministry.
This week and always, may we continue to follow and serve Jesus, as we journey together to the cross, where we will see the glory of the Lord.
+Bishop Abraham Allende