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C’mon, Jesus, Give Us a Win! (April 14, 2019)

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Luke 19:28-40

After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32 So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35 Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38 saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” 39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Let’s go back in time to March 20, 2012. That was the day Peyton Manning signed with the Denver Broncos. Remember how excited we all were? After several years of falling short, we in Denver wanted another Superbowl victory, and we believed this was the quarterback who could give us that. We wanted the win. On March 20, 2012 we were all filled with renewed hope. It was a new day, a new era. We had reason to be excited, because the chances of victory had just increased exponentially. And it proved true. Two Superbowl appearances and one Lombardi Trophy back in Denver. March 20, 2012 was a day we could celebrate.

OK, so what if we later found out that Peyton Manning’s agenda wasn’t to win a Superbowl, but was something else entirely? What if his whole purpose in coming to Denver in 2012 was to make the NFL into a completely new sport? Not even a sport at all, but into more of a book club?

If we found that to be true, all of us who had put our hope in him for a Broncos Superbowl victory would be pretty disappointed—even angry—when we found out about that, wouldn’t we? We’d feel betrayed.

That’s kind of the feeling of Palm Sunday. Only rather than a Superbowl win, for Israel it’s freedom from Roman oppression. That’s the Lombardi trophy; that’s the victory; that’s the hope; that’s the excitement.

Jesus, the hero of this hope, is on his way, riding on what Luke describes as a colt, descending down the path from the Mount of Olives toward Jerusalem. As he makes his way, people keep spreading their cloaks on the path in front of him because he’s going to bring us this victory. He’s got winner written all over him. He will bring the trophy of Freedom back to Jerusalem and all Israel.

Now, as he is getting closer to the city gates, “the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice . . . saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Can you see why this crowd is so excited? Jesus is entering Jerusalem, which means victory is at hand. So of course they are calling him a king. He is the one who will restore Israel. He will bring our victory. He is our hope, our savior.

The crowds are hailing him as king because they want a victory and they think Jesus can get it for them. But how do they think Jesus is going to fulfill this hope? . . . Their expectations can only match their experience. Victory will come through what they know—power, strength, violence, overcoming Rome with some kind of military victory. That’s how you score a win.

Jesus is coming into Jerusalem, but he does it with a completely different agenda. He comes knowing that what he stands for will get him killed. For Jesus this isn’t about getting a win for the home team over their arch-rival, Rome. For Jesus this is about putting into practice everything he’s been teaching and preaching his whole ministry. It’s about the presence of the reign of God, the kingdom of God, the will of God being done on earth as it is in heaven. It’s not about achieving victory over Rome, it’s about living God’s way of compassion, unconditional love, peace, and forgiveness right up to the end. It’s about living in God’s way regardless of the consequences. It’s about his words and his actions matching up. He will show compassion, even if he’s arrested. He will show love, even if he’s tortured. He will show forgiveness even if he’s killed.

The crowd hails him as a king, which is true, and therefore needs to be celebrated! But ironically his kingdom is way different than they think it is. Jesus will reveal God’s kingdom of compassion with every breath he has because it is God’s way—whether anyone agrees or not.

And when the crowds, who do disagree, discover that his victory isn’t what they think it ought to be, they feel betrayed. They won’t be able to contain their disappointment. In their anger they will turn on him. That’s the undercurrent within the parades and celebrations of Palm Sunday. You could see that in the video (“Hosanna, Hey-sanna” from Jesus Christ Superstar, 40th Anniversary edition, 2000 film).

We live in this same Palm Sunday tension. We have expectations of Christ, and they aren’t always met. We want the win, but we don’t see how the way of Jesus can ever bring it. We think that only strength and power can bring triumph, yet the will of God doesn’t ever go there. We want victory over all evil, sickness, war, poverty, and hardship. And we turn to Jesus for that. Sometimes we can even celebrate him as king over those things. But when he doesn’t act in power, when he doesn’t intimidate our enemies and conquer all the wrongs of this world with his mighty arm, we have a hard time containing our disappointment. Like the Palm Sunday crowds, we just don’t see how this commitment to compassion and love for all can ever accomplish what needs to be accomplished.

Jesus, we thought you were the one. But evil and suffering and poverty and adversity are still very much a part of our world. We put our hope in you, Jesus, and you’ve let us down. We call you Lord and Messiah, but you just aren’t getting the job done. So we’ll do it our way—with force and violence if necessary. If you won’t protect us, we’ll protect ourselves.

God’s way of peace, of compassion, of dignity for the poor, of unconditional love don’t always make sense in our world of where the strongest win. But they are God’s ways nonetheless, which makes them necessary. And God’s way for the world has come in Jesus! If we don’t celebrate that, “the rocks and stones themselves will start to sing.”

Yes, praise, sing, shout, celebrate! God’s reign is on the move! It may not be what we think we want, but it is even better news than that! It is God’s good news for all creation! The reign of God is here! And as we’ll find out in the events of this coming Holy Week, ultimately nothing can stop God’s ways. Not strength, not violence, not power, not money. Not even death. And so we do shout and sing, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Power, Strength, and Might vs. forgiveness, compassion, and humility (Palm Sunday, March 25, 2018)

Mark 11:1-11

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields.9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 10Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!  Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 11Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Adults have those familiar formulas too. How many of you have ever watched a Hallmark movie? I hesitantly admit that I’ve watched more than my share. But in watching, there are certain things that are consistent: the main character is engaged but to the wrong person; the main character meets the right person but just doesn’t get along with them; the main character’s best friend is black; there is a straight-talking wise elder who advises the main character to follow her/his heart. It doesn’t matter how many story lines follow that pattern, people keep watching them.

This isn’t new. Every good little Jewish girl and boy knew how the story went. The Hebrew army, against incredible odds, pulls off an amazing victory against a godless nation. In recognition that God has given the victory, the commander—often a king—leads the victorious army into Jerusalem and, riding upon his mighty war stallion, is met with adoring crowds who throw their coats onto the road ahead of him and shout “All hail the king! Thanks be to God for this great ruler!”

Then the victorious king rides directly to the temple and offers sacrifices of thanks to the faithful God who has, once again, shown the might of his arm and saved the good people of God from defeat! Just read 1 and 2 Maccabees in the Apocrypha and various parts of the Hebrew scriptures to hear it for yourself.

It was a familiar formula. And it taught kids a lesson: God is mightier than our enemies and stronger than other gods. And as long as you are faithful to this God you too can be granted mighty victories.

Don’t we still kind of like the formula for that story and expect life to work that way? As long as we love God and confess Jesus, we are supposed to be granted victories in health, in wealth, in power. There are preachers on TV who swear by this. And they attempt to prove it with huge houses and luxurious cars. If you give them money—because you love God, of course—you can receive these same rewards. A mighty victory for the faithful!

Unfortunately, there’s Jesus. Including Palm Sunday. The way gospel-writer Mark tells it, this same beloved formula is followed, but opposite. Jesus is really kind of making fun of it here. It’s satire. Instead of a mighty military victory over godless foes, Jesus has been merciful to beggars, the sick, the demon-possessed, and the blind.

Instead of coming into Jerusalem on a mighty war stallion, Jesus comes in on a young donkey. Greeted with shouts reminiscent of hailing a mighty and victorious king, here the poor cut branches from the fields in the countryside to throw down before him. And instead of offering a sacrifice of thanks in the temple to the God of might, Jesus, kind of irreverently, walks into the temple, looks around, and leaves.

A familiar formula, but a completely different message. The kingdom of God isn’t like that. It isn’t about might and strength and power and victory in war. No, God’s reign is pretty much the opposite of that. It’s about humility and generosity and compassion and mercy. Rather than overcoming enemies, Jesus loves them. Rather than intimidating your foes, Jesus forgives them. Rather than being more righteous than those who believe differently, Jesus cares for them. Rather than putting sinners to death, Jesus dies standing up for them.

Make no mistake, Jesus shows us on Palm Sunday, these two kingdoms are not the same. These two world views are not complementary. They are opposites. One based on overpowering, intimidating, ruthlessly beating your opponents. The other based on mercy, compassion, even loving those who oppose you. As we will find out a week from now, one of these ways leads to death, the other overcomes it.

This is all well and good, and certainly fascinating! But as Christ’s church, the body of Christ, it’s more than that. The kingdom that Jesus reveals so clearly on Palm Sunday is the way of Christ. To follow Jesus includes embracing what he shows us about God’s way. A show of force and intimidating power only leads to death. It opposes God’s way. Jesus mocks it, ridicules these displays of strength.

To the very end, Jesus stands firm in forgiveness, grace, compassion, humility as the way that overcomes death. It is love that leads to life, and Jesus stakes everything on that.

To the very end, Jesus brushes aside our versions of power. Even though that power put him to death, he faced it with forgiveness and compassion, and he was vindicated on the third day.

The worst that our world’s power could throw at him, execution and death, was not enough to overcome the power of love and mercy. It is what Jesus shows us on Palm Sunday and the week following. It is the way of life.

How do we, as a congregation bearing Christ’s name, deal with our world’s versions of power which leads to death? It’s tempting to buy into it, to trust the might, the show of force, the power. It’s easier to follow the old formula of God’s might overcoming evil. But as Jesus shows us, it is God’s grace that does that. It is God’s love that saves us. It is God’s mercy that gives us life. And the power of this world can never touch that. We follow Jesus into compassion, mercy, and love. Because that is the reign of God, it is what Jesus shows us on Palm Sunday, and it is the way to life.

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2018 in Sermon

 

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A Tale of Two Visions (Palm Sunday) March 13, 2016

Luke 19:29-40

When [Jesus] had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”34They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” 39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

One of the hardest things about this Palm Sunday is the contrast between Jesus and Pilate.

1 - Copy Slide 1  Because it’s more than that. It’s a contrast between God’s vision for the world and our vision for the world. Palm Sunday reveals the difference—the gap—that still exists between God’s ways and our ways.

Look at Pilate’s arrival in Jerusalem next to Jesus’. Both have to do with the entrance of a king/power, yet drastically different.

Pilate comes on horseback, in strength, in a mighty parade, surrounded by glamour and armor and legions of Roman troops.

Jesus comes on a colt, in simplicity, surrounded by the poor and the sinners in Jerusalem.

These are not just differences in parade planning. They reveal a deep, core perspective on the way we live, on what it is we truly trust.

We say we believe that Jesus reveals God’s ways, which the Bible refers to as the kingdom of God, right? So what does this contrast on Palm Sunday say about this?2 - Copy

Slide 2 In real life, who would we rather trust, someone armed with incredible strength and power, who (we hope) wields it for good, or someone armed with humility, who’s biggest weapon is a command to love one another?

You see? This day is more than waving palm branches and calling Jesus a king. Palm Sunday goes way deeper than that. Palm Sunday exposes the reality of God’s reign, right here among us, that we have a hard time with.

When you look at 3 - CopyJesus’ message and life and teachings as a whole, it becomes clear that God’s ways still aren’t our ways all the time. We have difficulty with God’s ways because they contrast with some aspects of our preferred culture and lifestyle. For instance:

Slide 3 Which way would we rather live? And yet, Jesus continuously tells us to quit worrying about what we have or don’t have. But it’s hard to trust God’s ways, isn’t it?

Slide 4 Sometimes we eve4 - Copyn try to make our priorities look like God’s priorities. But on Palm Sunday Jesus makes it pretty clear that we’re fooling ourselves. Jesus exposes the difference between the way God actually works and the way we wish God worked. God’s ways are the ways of generosity.

But more than philosophical differences, Jesus calls us to actually follow him. He says that his ways are the ways of truth and life. If Jesus is about God’s reign, and we are disciples of Jesus, then our lives are called to reflect God’s ways in the world. Easier said than done.

Slide 5  God’s ways are the w5 - Copyays of humility, of lifting up the other person. Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem reveals God’s vision that has no room for revenge.

6 - CopySlide 6  Following Jesus means we seek to care for others more than we seek to control our lives and our future and our surroundings.

 

Slide 77 - Copy  Jesus reveals that the way of God is the way of reconciliation. There is no room in God’s vision for aggression and violence.8 - Copy

Slide 8  As disciples of Jesus we follow him into the ways of peace, trusting Jesus when he says “Blessed are the peacemakers.” We work with him in moving toward a future when the wolf and the lamb lie down together. This isn’t easy, nor is it simple. Sometimes we are left with only bad options. And we have to choose the least bad one.

 

Slide 9 The way Jesus chooses to enter Jerusalem reveals that God’s ways are found in meekness rather than might. We stand with those who are pushed aside rather than seek 9our own advantage.

Slide 10 As disciples we do this not because we understand it or even think it’s better. Rather, we are aligned with Jesus in God’s ways because Jesus reveals that God’s ways really do lead to life.

10As we grow in our realization that God’s vision for creation is our call, our identity, our core as people created in God’s image, we contribute to life in the world. To do anything else, no matter how much sense the world around us says it makes, does not reveal God. It does not show love to the world. It does not move us forward in the ways of God. God’s ways, revealed in Jesus this Palm Sunday, reveal God.

God’s love, revealed by Jesus, reveals God.

God’s vision, revealed by Jesus, reveals God.

God’s life, revealed in Jesus, reveals God.

And we, who are surrounded by, immersed in, and filled up with the love and grace of God revealed through Jesus, are even now being changed by it. And today, on Palm Sunday, we have the chance to see our life in Christ even more clearly. To follow him more closely. To reveal the ways of God more fully.

Happy Palm Sunday.

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2016 in Sermon

 

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Swords vs. Palm Branches: Sermon, 4/1/12 (Palm Sunday)

Palm Sunday

Zechariah 9:9-10; Mark 11:1-10

Some scholars claim that there are actually two processions into Jerusalem happening simultaneously on that Palm Sunday.

One is the procession we are celebrating: From the east comes Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a simple colt, the common crowds lining the street and waiving branches.

And from the west comes Pontius Pilate to keep order during Passover. He comes draped in all the glory of Roman power: horses, chariots, rows of soldiers in gleaming armor.

As Jesus enters, the multitudes of disciples are throwing their coats on the road and waving branches and shouting, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

As these two processions enter Jerusalem, there will be a clash of kingdoms when they meet. Who will win? Who will be king? Caesar or Christ?

Rome is dominating, powerful, ruthless. By virtue of sheer might and intimidation it has brought submission and accompanying lack of conflict to the known world. Yet this is the kind of kingdom Jesus refused when tempted in the wilderness. It is this kingdom of force, of power, of violence, of control that he rejects.

The kingdom of God that he is bringing is one of mercy, forgiveness, love, giving away power and strength. It is letting go of domination and siding with the powerlessness. It is getting to know the lowest in society while turning away from the privilege of being highest. And doing all this very publicly in the face of the culture.

Who will win?

In the next several days during this Holy Week, we will hear the clash of these two kingdoms. We will hear on Maundy Thursday about the betrayal and the arrest of Jesus, and his command to love one another anyway. On Good Friday, we will hear the crowds as they cave in to the influence and seduction of worldly powers, crying out for the crucifixion of Jesus.

But the clash of these two kingdoms isn’t confined to the events of Holy Week. It is something we live with every day.

Every day we experience clamoring for power and security, backstabbing, gossip, resentment: both as things we do and things that are done to us. And there is also the gospel call to forgive, to serve, to love. Every day we experience the lure of our culture: the yearning for control, the temptation to keep more for ourselves, the longing to secure our own futures, even if that means ignoring the suffering of others around us. And there is also the gospel call to give away money, power, control.

This is the story of two kingdoms colliding, culminating in the life and death of Jesus the Christ. It is our story, the story of our struggle of living in both these kingdoms at the same time.

We long for the allure of power, comfort, and security that the world around us offers, the culture that surrounds us with messages of supremacy, influence, greed, getting ahead.

But we are also at our baptism given a new life in Christ, a kingdom-of-God life, an eternal life. We are called through our baptism into Christ to reveal God’s kingdom of grace, forgiveness, generosity, and mercy in the face of our culture’s power.

At times, it looks like our culture is winning. Through the events of this Holy Week, it will look as if Rome has won.

Jesus will be killed by the power of Rome.

In our lives we are confronted by the powers of this world.

But we know that the death of Jesus at the hands of his culture is not the end. So in the same way we can trust that the illusion of the victory of our culture is also only temporary.

We are in Christ. Though we experience the influence of our culture in this world, can be overwhelmed by it, and sometimes fall victim to it, it is not the end. There is more. Though the world around us can corrupt us, feed our greed, overpower us, prey upon us, break us, cast us aside as useless, hate us, wear us down, shame us, judge us, it will not be the last word about us or for us.

The kingdom of God has the last word. The kingdom of grace, love, forgiveness, and hope cannot be stopped by the world’s deceptive victories. Not even the death of Jesus can prevent the kingdom of God.

Nothing we experience can stop the ultimate victory of the kingdom of God. Nothing the powers of this world do to us will stop God from forgiving us, from loving us, from being present with us. That is the victory of the kingdom of God. The victory we not only experience, but are called to share.

There’s a clash of two kingdoms. Regardless of how it appears today, the kingdom of God emerges victorious.

We are in Christ.

Though we know the power of this world, it cannot prevail against the kingdom of God.

Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!

Who will win? The victory has already happened.

 
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Posted by on April 2, 2012 in Sermon

 

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