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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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Las Vegas and a Broken Church (October 8, 2017)

I was going to write an inspiring stewardship sermon for today. One that would move every person who hears it to increase their giving and joyfully re-write their 2018 Estimate of Giving cards with a much higher dollar amount. Everyone would discover the joy of generous giving, and would put that into practice today.

That was my intention. But it’s not what I’m going to do.

Some part of me is tearing open. And the violence last Sunday in Las Vegas, and especially our responses since then, have ripped open that tear in ways that are proving difficult. I’m recognizing the work of the Holy Spirit there. That, combined with my own awareness of the gospel of Christ makes a sermon about increased financial giving seem out of whack. At least today.

Something is broken in Christ’s church. It’s being torn open. Are you aware that (as of Oct 5, according to www.massshootingtracker.com) there have been 3 mass shootings in our country since Las Vegas? Two in FL and one in CA. They are the 340th and 341st mass shootings in the United States this year. This year. 341 mass shootings, which comes out to 12 mass shootings every 10 days. 12 every 10 days. More than one every day. All year.

Somehow, I don’t think Jesus is very happy about that. And I don’t think he’s very impressed with how we are responding to them. These are beloved, precious, holy children of God that are being gunned down every day. And as a country, our response is anything from weak to non-existent. That’s unacceptable. That’s incomprehensible.

But I’m more concerned about the attitude of Christ’s church, people who represent Jesus here on earth. Something is broken in the church. It’s being torn open.

I’m not talking about gun legislation or the 2nd Amendment. I’m talking about the fact that the disciples of Christ seem to be ignoring the teachings of Christ. Ignoring scripture. Ignoring our faith, our discipleship, our baptismal promise to be lights in the world.

Something is broken in the church. Deeply, systemically broken. It’s being torn open. We have become complacent about this kind of thing. We have accepted it as inevitable. We chalk it up to “evil,” which puts the blame “out there” somewhere and excuses us from dealing with it. Daily mass shootings are a symptom that the American church has lost its way. The church is people who are disciples of Jesus Christ, the one who said things like,

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God”

“And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?”

“So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.”

We are disciples of Jesus Christ, who, for saying things like these, himself became a victim of violence—he was killed for it. That’s the Christ into whom we are baptized. That’s the light we are to shine in the world. Many Christians seem to have stopped. Something is broken in Christ’s church. It’s being torn open.

Maybe we’ve made it too easy to be a Christian. Maybe we’ve sold our collective soul for the sake of increasing our numbers. Maybe we’re more into power than into walking with the vulnerable. Maybe we have become so focused on believing in Jesus that we forget to follow him. Maybe we just don’t care anymore.

But whatever we’re doing as the whole body of Christ in the name of Christ isn’t cutting it. Something is broken in the church. It’s being torn open.

That also includes the Lutherans. According to the Dean of Students at Luther Seminary, of the six most heinous domestic terrorists in recent years, three of them were Lutheran. One half. Something is broken in our church. It’s being torn open.

That also includes us in this room. When we tell our kids that sports and homework and jobs are more important than following Jesus, something is broken in this church. And let us not fool ourselves—we are telling them that. When we care more about the convenience of worship than we do about Jesus in worship, something is broken in this church. It’s being torn open.

And that also includes me. I’ve spent way too much time avoiding criticism. I’ve kept too quiet about the things that matter to Jesus, putting energy into things that don’t matter nearly as much, because it makes my life easier. I’ve tried so hard to receive congregational approval that I forgot about Jesus’ approval—and these not always the same things. Something is broken in my church.  And I’m being torn open.

A man I respect said recently about the church, “Our diagnosis doesn’t go deep enough, so our prescriptions aren’t strong enough.” That rings true for me. There’s a deep brokenness in the church. A tear that is deeper than we are diagnosing. But it’s a tear that is making room for Christ, which is more than we’re prescribing. The depth of this breaking is painful and hard—we recognize that we are being torn open, because we talk about it in terms of “the decline of the church.” We know we are being torn open, because it feels like the church is dying. But it’s only when we are torn open that we are healed in Christ. Healing that is our resurrection.

There’s something broken in the church. It’s being torn open. But we must be broken open in order to be healed in Christ. And until the mass shootings are stopped, we will continue to be torn open and more deeply healed in Christ. It’s the people who are torn open and healed who follow Christ into the world’s brokenness. You see, something’s broken in the world—it’s being torn open. And its healing is why we are here. Our hope is in Christ. Amen.

 
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Posted by on October 8, 2017 in Sermon

 

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When Faith Fails (Mark 13:1-8)

With the attacks in Paris, as well as Baghdad, The West Bank, Beirut, Cameroon Chad, Egypt (just in November), I have to admit my faith is challenged. I am not sure what God is doing in the midst of such violence and evil. And I imagine I’m not alone in that. For each of us, there are times when we discover that our faith just isn’t big enough to wrap around what’s happening in our lives and explain where God is and what God is doing. Sometimes, in the face of new life experiences or new difficulties, we are forced into the realization that our faith isn’t working.

What do you do then?

Sometimes we try to force our complex life into a small faith container. Even though our life matures, our faith remains childish. We ignore life and cling to an immature and unreal faith.

Sometimes we see our faith can’t hold the realities of our life and so we throw out the whole concept of God and of church. We ignore faith and cling to the realities of life.

Sometimes we tweak our faith just enough to allow parts of our life to fit into it. Then both our faith and our lives are unsatisfactory.

But I think here in the church, we need to be honest—sometimes our faith just isn’t good enough. Sometimes it just doesn’t work. Sometimes it seems like our faith isn’t trustworthy. And sometimes we’re right.

Our faith in God is really like the stones of the temple in this gospel reading. The bricks and mortar of the temple reveal God’s presence. The temple is trustworthy. We can see it and feel it. As long as it’s there, we trust God is near. Isn’t that how our faith works? As long as we have faith, we can trust God is near. So we depend of the physical temple. We depend on our faith. We put faith in our faith.

But what happens when the temple is destroyed? What happens if our faith no longer works? How do we know God is near? How do we trust what God may be doing?

Like the temple, our faith isn’t the most important thing. It’s not our ability to trust in God that counts—it’s actually God that counts. We can get so caught up trusting our faith is that we don’t realize God is trustworthy, whether our faith is working for us or not.

Our faith isn’t sacred. Our faith doesn’t save us, it doesn’t comfort us, it doesn’t love us. God does those things. Faith is merely a recognition of that.

As your life has changed, has your faith changed? Have the difficulties of your life challenged your faith? What was the situation that made your realize your faith wasn’t working?

  • Death/illness?
  • Loss of job or income or financial security?
  • End of a relationship?
  • A church that wouldn’t answer your questions or judged you for asking them?

Wherever it is that our faith in God fails us, the reality of God steps in. If our faith can’t sustain us, God can. Our faith doesn’t conquer death, God does. Our faith isn’t divine, God is. Our faith doesn’t hold us and comfort us and love us, God does.

So if your faith is not enough for you, if it’s failing you, if it cannot provide what you need in your life, good. Quit relying on it. God is there. And regardless of your faith, God is sustaining you and holding you and loving you and walking with you. Especially if you doubt it. Especially if you can’t see it or understand it. Especially if you don’t believe it. Especially if you have no faith in it.

In this gospel text, Jesus goes on to warn the disciples not to get all caught up in signs of the destruction of the temple. Don’t get all excited about wars and earthquakes. Don’t be distracted by people claiming to have truth. How easy it is to focus on that stuff! Because the temptation is to see those things, hear those things and then trust in those things. But they cannot sustain us any more than our faith can. At their absolute best, the most they can do is remind us that God is actually near and is still at work in our lives.

Even if you pay attention to signs and wonders, exciting philosophies and thoughts, new discoveries and ancient wisdoms, that doesn’t change who Christ is or how he walks with you. Even if your faith evolves and changes, is renewed and refreshed, is torn down and built up anew, that doesn’t affect how much God loves you.

If you can’t believe that today, don’t worry about it; that’s OK. There are others here who can continue to remind you of God’s grace and love. They can love you with God’s love, walk alongside you with God’s presence, they can trust God’s mercy for you.

Maybe your life has outpaced your faith right now. But it hasn’t outpaced God. You may not be able to trust your faith, but you can trust that you are loved, you are forgiven, you are not alone. Because Christ is really here for you. Christ is here for Paris, Baghdad, Israel, Palestine, Cameroon, Chad, and Egypt. Christ is with you. We are here with you too.

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2015 in Sermon

 

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