There is a great quote attributed to Jacob Nordby, the author of Blessed are the Weird: 

Blessed are the weird people – the poets and misfits, the artists, the writers and music makers, the dreamers and the outsiders – for they force us to see the world differently.”

It is the gift of square pegs in round holes. Those who go against the grain … dance to the beat of their own drummer, think outside the box. Eric Elnes, author of “Gifts of the Dark Woods” explains why the Gift of Misfits is crucial:

There are processes in this world that seek to tame the wild energy inside you. If you live an unreflective life, and you allow these forces to shape you unaware, they will take away your name, give you a number. They will not ask what brings you alive in this world, but will demand instead that you keep their specific processes alive, running 7 days/week, 24-hours/day. When we find our blessed community of misfits – other wonderfully weird folks, they give us the courage to break outside that box, to live a reflective life – one that encourages us to find our specific good that feeds our fullest humanity. These are the people who see us with God’s eyes. 

How many of you ever felt like a Misfit? Felt differently, loved differently, believed differently. Perhaps even in your own family or churches you’ve attended, in society in general. Feeling different or out of step from others. Yet, Being a misfit – learning how to survive in the Dark Wood ultimately made us stronger.

Elnes: We’ve been considering the quest for our life’s path primarily from perspective as individuals. Each of us must find our distinctive path through it, but given the difficulties & challenge we encounter, in the Dark Wood, it is good to walk with experienced companions to provide guidance & encouragement. Those who can point out the trails that lead to dead ends or over cliffs or in a direction that isn’t right for us. It is often through those companions that we receive our clearest glimpses of the gifts God is revealing. Finding people who struggle, not necessarily with the same obstacles, but struggling just the same. In the book, Elnes calls it The Gift of Misfits. As our exploration of the Dark Wood culminates in Holy Week, we acknowledge the fellow Sojourners in the Dark Wood do not go it alone but are blessed with the presence of others who help us see, reflect with us as we discover together the riches of a life lived with intention.  They are not always the companions we expect or the ones we would choose. But companions nonetheless. The Gift of misfits is about finding companions to make the journey through the ups & downs, the sideways parts & rocky paths – so we don’t have to suffer the scrapes and setbacks, the lost & vexing moments by ourselves.

As Jesus enters Jerusalem at the beginning of that fateful week, he is is not alone, but surrounded by his disciples and followers — some might call them a Ragtag band of Misfits from the country. Jesus had been  a distant irritant, befriending outcasts, eating with sinners, breaking rules, healing on the Sabbath, stirring up the poor, the oppressed, the sick, the homeless, the hungry. He was an annoyance on the outskirts of town, but not a threat. But then he rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, one could say a misfit riding a misfit, with misfit followers waving palm branches, and shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David!” The road to Jerusalem became a spontaneous parade route with loud, poor, no account misfits having the audacity to celebrate.  Eric Elnes describes misfit as those who are intentional about embracing the gifts of the Dark Wood and finding their true calling in this world. Jesus discovered who he was, and what God was calling him to do, to proclaim and embody the or kin-dom of God, here right now, not yet realized. 

When Jesus came into Jerusalem, It was Passover, the holiday when Jewish people celebrate their freedom from captivity in Egypt. There were those accompanying Jesus who were confident that this Carpenter from Nazareth would accomplish the 2nd Exodus from Roman bondage as Moses led their ancestors in an Exodus from Egyptian slavery. The crowd cries out: Blessed is the ONE who comes in the name of the Lord! This parade is the opposite of a Roman procession —with powerful officials in full regalia, riding on war horses, with symbolic golden eagles, polished swords. Jesus faces the danger of entering Jerusalem and confronting the powers-that-be, for the liberation of all people. It was a triumphant processional, but short-lived.

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, Order your disciples to stop! Jesus gave a forceful reply: If these were silent, the stones would shout out!

If you silence me and any of my followers, God will upset the natural order of things so that the truth will be heard! God bursts out in unexpected places & disruptive ways. Jesus and his followers don’t fit in with the Jewish religious leaders and scholars, or with the Temple traders, or with those who wanted to use weapons to revolt against the Romans. They are non-conformists who challenge the way things are in the world. The political and religious leaders didn’t have the words to call Jesus a socialist or communist –  or misfit – instead they labeled him a trouble-maker, rabble-rouser, insurrectionist, blasphemer.

Archbishop Helder Camara: “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food they call me a communist.”

Jesus was a misfit because he opposed the status quo, challenging the hypocrisy of the priests and empire and he wanted to reverse the economic exploitation of the people. In their Book, The Last Week, Theologians Marcus Borg & John Dominic Crossan point out that:

“It is important to realize that who and what killed Jesus was nothing unusual. As empires go, Rome was better than most. There was nothing exceptional or abnormal about it; this is simply the way domination systems behave. So common is this dynamic that it can also be called the normalcy of civilization. Good Friday was the result of the collision between the mission and passion of Jesus and the normalcy of civilization.”

Pilate did what he he had to do to keep the peace – get rid of one more dangerous misfit.

UMC pastor Lisa Caine: Still today we live in a very “normal” society. The normalcy of our civilization keeps the powerful in power, protects the wealth of the rich, and makes it difficult for the poor to escape poverty. The normalcy of our civilization keeps certain types of people like refugees out. The normalcy of our civilization gives white people the benefit of the doubt and and puts black men in jail or worse. When Jesus or anyone else asks: What can be done to economic systems that will alleviate poverty, so that the rising tide does truly float all ships and not just some, there is immediate objection. The working poor were and are kept poor through indentured labor by default on debt. Blame them for their misfortune; they brought it on themselves –  thus making a distinction between the deserving & undeserving poor and withholding aid. 

    Father Richard Rohr: “Because structural sin is accepted as good and necessary on the corporate or national level, greed and ambition are thus considered virtues.”

Have you ever felt as though you didn’t fit in? Perhaps because you didn’t agree with the majority opinion? When you have spoken up on behalf of a worthy cause or someone in need? Many of us are feeling that need to speak up, to speak out for responsible gun control in a culture where it is far easier to purchase a gun, than it is to vote in some of our states; we are called to speak out against racism that would arrest a black woman who wanted to be in the room where it happened, where injustice occurred to spur on voter suppression; we are called to be in solidarity with Asian Americans who are encouraged to be the invisible “model minority”. Executive Director of YWCA Miriam Barnett proclaimed yesterday to a group of misfits at the Rally to End White Supremacy and hate against Asian Americans at the Chinese Reconciliation Park:  Silence hides Violence. I put on our Reader Board, Silence will be Our Complicity. We are called to Speak up, to speak out. 

We are called to be misfits, as individuals and as a Christian community. It takes great courage and perseverance to go against the flow and challenge the status quo. In the midst of a society that often urges us to avoid, deny or escape difficult struggles, misfits try to face them. There are all sorts of unexpected things that interrupt or disrupt our lives. That’s why we need wise misfit companions who will walk with us. We may begin to drift away from what God and we truly love or care about.

In what ways are you a misfit? Do you see some misfits in the pews around you? It is good to have at least a few misfit companions on our journey. My hope is that this congregation may be that misfit community of faith for you. Together we can transcend differences to come together in support, in compassion, and in grace. I believe a church such as ours is called to take on the responsibility to widen & deepen our reach into community, to be visible & vocal in our efforts to bring people together through a shared vision. Let’s be a congregation that goes out into the fray with Jesus knowing that we do not go it alone, but are blessed with the presence of faith-filled companions. Jesus challenges us to be a misfit community of faith that embraces his passion for the liberation and reconciliation of all people. 

Let’s explore this idea of misfits, non-conformists, people of faith who seek to come fully alive, actively encouraging others to find their true calling. Palm Sunday asks us to join in the misfit parade. We must be the ones to speak out. Fortunately, we do not do this alone. We have one another; fellow misfits who want to walk fully in the path of Jesus. Holy Week serves as a template for would-be misfits. Sometimes we celebrate on the parade route, sometimes we will stumble over rocks; sometimes we are affirmed; sometimes criticized. But if we want to be a misfit like Jesus, even knowing the cost, we, like him, must press on asking questions, protesting injustice when we see it.  

As we descend deeper into the Dark Wood of Holy Week, we remember that Jesus comes into Jerusalem surrounded by those who will live the uncertainty, temptation and emptiness alongside him. In the midst of future struggle they will carry out the mission, trusting God revealed through Jesus Christ is always present.