Unmuted

“Mute yourself!” The call rings out whenever I’m in the midst of a Zoom or Microsoft Teams meeting, and the speaker’s words become garbled. If everyone else on the call mutes their microphone, we’re able to hear each other more clearly. The first commandment of virtual meeting etiquette is, “Mute thyself.”

Of course, the opposite happens as well. If we want to respond to a comment, we have to remember to unmute ourselves. Otherwise, we’ll be gesturing wildly and in vain while making a point with no one having a clue what we’re trying to communicate. It’s not until someone points to their mouth that we realize we’ve neglected to unmute ourselves.

In the past two weeks, I’ve participated in 26 Microsoft Teams or Zoom meetings. I haven’t met with any group in person, which is critical in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus. We are all learning new ways of being the church in today’s coronavirus world. COVID-19 has taught us that we must be adaptive and willing to shift gears at a moment’s notice.

As I’ve unmuted myself dozens of times over the past several weeks in virtual meetings in order to be heard, I have also been pondering what it means to be muted. Have you ever had the experience of being silenced? I am an admitted introvert. I often remain quiet unless someone points out that my voice has been left out. I do not need to be the life of the party and am content to be silent, even though I have learned how to be extroverted as a leader when I need to be. I am also learning the importance of intentionally muting my voice so that other voices can be heard.

As I read the scriptures for Holy Week, I realize that Jesus also wrestled with when to be muted and when to use his voice. Imagine the scene. In Luke’s version of Palm Sunday, when Jesus reaches the outskirts of Jerusalem, he asks his disciples to find a colt (donkey). Of course, Jesus has a plan in mind. Jesus is well aware that by entering Jerusalem, he is signing his own death warrant. But Jesus also knows what he is called to do.

Roman military leaders who entered Jerusalem rode magnificent war horses as a display of the power and might of empire, intimidating the masses into submission and subservience. By contrast, Jesus deliberately enters Jerusalem on a lowly donkey, fulfilling the prophecy of the prophet Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion. Sing aloud, Daughter Jerusalem. Look, your king will come to you. He is righteous and victorious. He is humble and riding on an ass, on a colt, the offspring of a donkey.”

As Jesus approaches the road that leads down the Mount of Olives, his disciples begin rejoicing and saying, “Blessings is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heavens.” However, some of the Pharisees from the crowd say to Jesus, “Teacher, scold your disciples! Tell them to stop!” And Jesus answers, “I tell you, if they were silent, the stones would shout.”

Do you see what is happening? The Pharisees are trying to mute Jesus’ disciples. The last thing they want is for the crowds to be incited to riot because of this imposter, but Jesus is having none of it. He says to those who have ears to hear, “Unmute yourselves! You will be my voice and hands and feet and heart after I die. Soon it will be your turn to go out into the world in humility and faith to share the good news of my love and grace.”

My friends, Jesus came into our world to unmute our voices: to give us the courage and authority to speak truth to power, expose hypocrisy, and challenge injustice. At the same time, Jesus gently encourages us to lead with humility, seek out those who need to discover their voice, and extend grace and mercy to all who are suffering or feeling hopeless.

Think about Holy Week. Yes, Palm Sunday was a great day. Jesus used his voice and encouraged his disciples not to be silent. At the same time, Jesus knew what was going to take place, and he let it happen. The word “passion” comes from the root word, “passive,” which essentially means “letting go.” Jesus chose to be passive, yet his voice was heard clearly all week and from the cross.

Jesus was unmuted. In Matthew 22:21, when a Pharisees asks, “Does the Law allow people to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Jesus replies, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” Then a legal expert asks Jesus, “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?” And Jesus says, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind,” and “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39)

Then, two days before the Passover, when Jesus is visiting the house of Simon, a woman with an alabaster jar anoints Jesus with expensive perfume despite the disciples chastising her for not selling the money and giving it to the poor. And Jesus says, “Why do you make trouble for the woman? She’s done a good thing for me. You always have the poor with you, but you won’t always have me. By pouring this perfume over my body, she’s prepared me to be buried.” (Matthew 26:6-13)

Eventually, Jesus shares a last supper with his disciples, is arrested, condemned to death, and crucified. Yet, even on the cross, Jesus refuses to be muted, sharing seven last statements of faith in the midst of his agony.

  • “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (forgiveness)
  • “Today you will be with me in paradise.” (assurance)
  • “Woman, behold, thy son! Behold, thy mother!” (care for his mother)
  • “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (vulnerability and humanity)
  • “I thirst.” (pain)
  • “It is finished.” (surrender)
  • “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” (letting go)

During this Holy Week, we are in death, just as our country and world are in the midst of a COVID-19 Pandemic that threatens the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. As many of us live in a virtual world of muting and unmuting our microphones, I pray that our voices will never be muted.

Our world needs to hear us proclaim that in the midst of fear and uncertainty, Jesus is risen from the dead! Our country needs to hear that there is hope as, together, we will do whatever is necessary to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Our communities need to hear that we are praying for those who have been infected as well as for the millions of people who have lost their jobs. And our churches need to reach out to all those in need of our spiritual and material support, for we are all one human family.

“Teacher, scold your disciples! Tell them to stop!” And Jesus answers, “I tell you, if they were silent, the stones would shout.”

“Unmute yourself!” Jesus proclaims. “You are now my voice. Go and be the church.”

7 thoughts on “Unmuted

  1. Thank you, Laurie, for your sensitivity in connecting the Passion with our role as his disciples to be “unmuted.” Even these very stones shall cry out! We are still the church, unbound by walls. Yet knowing when to keep silence is also his gift. And yours. We remember you always, Bishop Laurie, and are still so grateful for your leadership in Michigan. God bless you.

  2. Thank you, Bishop Laurie, for your thoughtful commentary and suggestions and interpretations. We are looking to you, even as we distance ourselves, for your warm and exceptional leadership. You never disappoint! I’ll pass your words to the Adel UMC congregation in an Enews. Blessings!

  3. Thank you, Bishop Haller. These are wonderful words of encouragement to all Iowa United Methodists. I would suggest that on Easter Sunday all UM churches across the State of Iowa “unmute” their church bells and send an extended ringing message across this state, across this country and around the world that Christ has risen. He has risen indeed.

  4. This is an excellent piece. And yes, I have been silenced..by the institutional church and the powers that be. I am grateful to have found my voice again. Being muted by people in power is a horrible thing.

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