I met a guy named Neaners a few months ago. That was his street name, anyway, and it seems to have stuck. He is from Burlington, in the Skagit Valley north of Seattle, where, like here, a lot of people are dealing with poverty, addiction, violence, and a lot of struggle. Neaners was a Latino gang leader and had spent 7 1/2 years in prison, much of it in solitary.
While he was there, he had a dream. He said he envisioned a “lil’ farm with flowers and pigs and animals ‘n shit” where “homies can kick back in their chanclas [sandals]” and the “unloved and wanted” could make meals, sing, plant vegetables and “be in a lovin’ kinda place.” He dreamed of a farm and a place where kids just coming out of jail and prison could come, could work and earn a living, and could find love and acceptance. When he got out, he has built that dream.
Together, kids who used to belong to white power gangs work alongside the sons and daughters of Latino farm workers. Former tweakers and gang members work together.
I was impressed by Neaners and I was even more impressed by his vision and his leadership. Here, in our School of Hard Knocks, we have been dreaming too, dreaming of ways to build a movement to end poverty here on the harbor. Dreaming of ways we can work together and build a better world.
And, in the middle of our everyday grind, dreams of a better world can seem pretty far off, cant they?
That’s why we celebrate Easter.
Jesus was a backwoods carpenter turned religious teacher who lived under occupation. That is, he lived under the Roman Empire, lived in deep poverty, and lived in a time where everyone was wondering if there was any way out.
And he preached a different kind of world, a different kingdom, he called it. He hung out with all the people the religious people didn’t like—criminals, sex workers and hustlers, fisherfolk and farm workers. Beyond that, he was one of them; couch surfing during most of his ministry, sometimes homeless.
For three years, he built a movement, as hundreds and maybe thousands of poor people dreamed with him of a better world. Of a world where everyone had enough, where no one was hungry, where all were healed and whole. And, just one week before Easter, he marched with those people into the capital city of Jerusalem, announcing a new movement, announcing a new kingdom. He marched into the temple, and threw out the business owners who were making a profit off of people’s poverty, and declared a new kingdom.
And he was a threat. The religious leaders and the political leaders of the city realized that he was a threat to their power. He had masses of people behind him, so they waited until he was mostly alone, sleeping outside in a garden park. He was arrested and his followers ran for their lives. He stood trial and was sentenced to be executed by crucifixion.
It seemed, at that moment, that the Empire had won. That Jesus’ movement was over. That the kingdom he preached about would never come. That the poor would never have enough, that the hungry would stay hungry. That despair was going to win.
And then we have this strange story of resurrection. Jesus comes alive again. Its like God is saying; “Oh, no. You can’t end my kingdom that easily. You, Rome, are not going to win.”
And that resurrection ignites a huge movement. Jesus’ movement for the liberation of the poor continues after all.
That is why we celebrate Easter. That is why we sit here and remind ourselves that another world is possible. That is why we continue to dream and work for a better world. That is why Neaners started his garden and his farm.
I love to watch us dream. Dream of better housing as too many of our people are homeless. Dream of good and meaningful work. Dream of starting farms and gardens. Write letters to those who are behind bars. Dream of a better world for our young people. Dream of building a community that truly cares for each other. Lets keep dreaming. Lets keep working toward Easter, living Easter.
Alleluia, Christ is risen.