Monday, February 22, 2010

Day 1: Palm Sunday

Day 1: Palm Sunday
(Luke 19:29-46)

A. Introduction
We’re in a new series of sermons for Lent. I’m indebted to Adam Hamilton for the series theme, the “Final Week.” I’ve struggled with what to do on Palm Sunday every year. Should I emphasize Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday? How do I teach about all that went on, all that Jesus taught us, all that Jesus did for us that final week in Jerusalem? There was simply never time in one sermon. Yet the final week is the week of your salvation.

So in this series, rather than taking one Sunday, we are going to the Final Week the entire period of Lent, six Sundays. Then during Holy Week, we will be prepared to follow the footsteps of Jesus. As we indicated last week, Holy Week is special. It is the only week in the Christian calendar that Christians all over the world follow the footsteps of Jesus hour by hour. We enter Jerusalem with him. We go to the Temple with him. We go in prayer to the Mount of Olives with him. We hang on his teachings. We are there as he washes his disciples’ feet, as he institutes the Last Supper, when he goes to the cross, the grave.

So, to do that, to be prepared to do that, today we are going to examine Palm Sunday, the first day of the week; next week, holy Monday; the following Sunday, holy Tuesday; and so on, until the Sunday of Holy Week, we will be there following the footsteps of Christ to the cross.
Last week, we followed Jesus from Galilee to Jericho. Jesus had resolutely turned his face toward Jerusalem, fully aware of what awaited him. He spent at least three months on that Journey turning the world upside down. In fact, Luke spends from chapter 9 to 19, more than a third of his gospel on the journey. Jesus taught us about the kingdom, about God, about how to live as kingdom people, about who is in the kingdom.. We said we wanted to ask three questions during the sermon series: What kind of king is this? What kind of kingdom is he ushering in? And what does he expect of his subjects? We’ll learn more about what kind of king this is today.

B. Body
Jesus had arrived in Jericho late in the week before Passover. According to he gospels, he either spent Saturday, the Sabbath, in Jericho, or more likely, according to John’s gospel, Bethany at the home of Lazarus, Mary and Martha, about two miles from Jerusalem. If that was the case, about mid-day he begins his walk to Jerusalem. The crowds have gathered.

This is Sunday of Passover week. It had been Jesus’ plan from the beginning to arrive during Passover. That’s where the people are.

You recall that Passover is the annual festival that the children of Israel were called to observe commemorating God’s deliverance of them from slavery in Egypt. The last of the 10 plagues was the death of the first born through out the land of Egypt. The children of Israel had been instructed to take a lamb without blemish, to slaughter it at twilight, to take some of the blood of the lamb and wipe it on the doorposts and the lintel of their homes and seeing the blood, the angel of death would Passover their homes.

It was such a dramatic deliverance that the nation of Israel was to remember the Passover every year, on a day based on the Jewish lunar calendar. Easter is too is based on a lunar calendar. Easter varies from year to year. As a tidbit, Easter is the Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox of 325 AD which just happened to be March 20th. So the earliest date Easter can be is March 21st, and the latest would be April 18th.

Passover begins the 14th day of the first month of the Jewish calendar, also a lunar calendar, which also begins approximately, not exactly, with the vernal equinox. This year the Passover begins the evening of March 28.

So Passover and Easter are sort of the same time frame. This year, Passover begins Monday night of Holy Week. In the first Holy Week, the week Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, we believe it began Thursday night. But pilgrims began arriving early, to be in Jerusalem, to be ready for the Passover.

Jesus’ plan from the beginning had been to arrive during Passover week. Jews came from all over the world to be in Jerusalem during Passover week. Family gatherings of 10 or so would participate in the Passover meal the first night of Passover. They would take their lamb to the Temple to be slaughtered in preparation for the meal. How many lambs? How many people? William Barclay, Biblical scholar, reports that about 30 years after Jesus, the Romans did a census of the lambs killed in Jerusalem during Passover. The number was an astounding 250,000. With 10 people per lamb that would be 2.5 million visitors to Jerusalem, whose population was normally about 80,000. If it it was one-half of that, Jerusalem would have grown by ten times during Passover. Jesus was going to Jerusalem at Passover. That’s when the people were there. That’s when the king was to arrive. That’s when the Messiah was expected. Messiah the anointed one. King, the anointed one. In Greek, the work “anointed” one is Christ. So Christ is not Jesus’ last name, it is his title, King, Jesus King, Jesus Christ.

Some would like to argue that Jesus never claimed to be king. But on this day, Jesus clearly does so. Not just any king, but the Messiah, the one foretold by the prophets. He was coming to his city, Jerusalem, Zion, on his way to his palace, the Temple of God. For the people, he was the promised king entering his city. For Jesus, it was more. He was God returning to his throne.
So how was the king to arrive? The people knew. Five hundred years before, the prophet Zechariah had prophesized, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, you king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zech 9.9)

In those days, donkeys were respected animals. When a king came in peace, he came on a donkey. In this special case, a donkey that had never been ridden. There was something sacred about an object or animal that had never been used, never ridden, in this case, colt, a foul of a donkey.

And let’s be clear. The donkey didn’t just magically appear. Jesus had made arrangements. He had sent messengers before him. He was making a statement. He was playing out the drama of the king arriving in Jerusalem. He knew it. The people greeting him knew it.

And because the people knew it, it dictated what happened next. The people in all the villages throughout Jesus’ journey had known the king was coming and they had lined the streets to see him. On the outskirts of Jericho we’re told the story of the blind man calling out. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” The messengers had gone ahead, the people knew the king was coming. Let’s read Mark’s version. That’s probably the earliest written and most succinct. (Mark 11:1-11)

Cloaks, they spread their cloaks on the road. In 2 Kings 9, (this is ancient Israel now) Elisha anoints Jehu as king. Verse 13 says, “Then hurriedly they all took their cloaks and spread them for him on the bare steps and he blew the trumpet and proclaimed, “Jehu is king.”
Cloaks and branches. Cloaks, spreading cloaks to honor the king. Branches, used in Jewish festivals, and especially recognizing a king who had thrown off the oppressors.
Two hundred years earlier, Judas Maccabaeus had overthrown the Greeks and cleansed the temple and the people had greeted him waiving palms and offering hymns of thanksgiving (2 Mac 10.7)

And for Jesus, “Hosanna, (God save us). Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Blessed is the kingdom of our father David. Hosanna in the highest heaven.”
The people had it both right and wrong. Jesus was king, yes. But they were looking for Judas Maccabaeus to throw off the oppressor Rome. They were looking for King David to restore the greatness of the earthly kingdom. They wanted a king who was commander, a military victor as king.

And you see, that wasn’t the kind of king Jesus was. Jesus did not come with a sword, but humble, riding on a donkey.

Mark says, “Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the Temple.” The Temple, his palace, God’s palace. Matthew tells us “12 Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13 And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’” (Mt 21:12-13)

Jesus had long been at odds with those who had distorted God’s intentions, especially at the expense of the poor. And that’s what was happening here. The money changers and those selling doves for sacrifice were taking advantage of the poor.

The priests and religious rulers who ran the temple were essentially stealing from the poor. In order to run the Temple, there was a Temple tax, about two days wages. Jesus had no problem with that. But it had to be paid in a certain currency. No Roman coins with Caesar’s face on it. So they charged the visitors to the temple 3 hours wage to change the currency. Oh, by the way, if you didn’t have exact change, there was another 3 hours wage charged just to give them change.

But the doves were even worse. Barclay reports that a dove could be had outside the temple for about a day’s wage. Now doves were allowed by the law as the sacrifice to be offered by the poorest of people. Those who had money offered an animal. These who were the poorest of people offered doves. Of course those who sold doves insisted that the ones outside the temple were blemished. If you wanted an unblemished dove to be offered you needed to buy one in the Temple and not one day’s wage, but twenty days’ wages. Are you getting the message?
Jesus said they had made my Father’s house a den of thieves and so they had.

As so often times happens, people had started out with the best of intentions. These priests were not bad people. They had set themselves up to offer a service, but over time they wandered away and became corrupted.

What about us? Do we start with good intentions and wander from the path? Easy to wander when the path is wide isn’t it? Jesus had said, “wide is the gate and broad is the path that leads to destruction.” Enter by the narrow gate. Narrow is the gate that leads to life. If there is no one to hold us accountable, we wander, we make the easy choice.

Palm Sunday was a day of choices
The choice of a kind of king we will follow
One who came for war
Or one who came in peace.

The choice of the kind of kingdom we believe he calls us to
A kingdom of this earth, bound by materialism and greed.
Or an eternal kingdom, one not of this earth.

The choice of subjects we will be
Ones who choose the path that is wide and easy, a path that makes few demands. One which allows us to wander from our values.
Or the narrow way, one which is difficult, but one which leads to life.

Lent is a time for us to review our choices.
Unfortunately, that week the people of Jerusalem made a choice and rejected Jesus as king. The Jewish people who wanted a king who would rebel against Rome.

Jesus knew that the easy way was not the way for Jerusalem. Rebellion may have felt good. Jesus knew that eventually, it would lead to their destruction. He wept over Jerusalem knowing that one day not too distant they would rebel and Rome would crush them. Throwing down every stone, taking a 100,000 into slavery, killing, slaughtering 1.1 million Jews in the process. They had chosen the way that leads to destruction when Jesus was offering them the path of peace. As Jesus said, the did not recognize their visitation from God.

We know too, don’t we, that life has choices. Life works that way too. Life is a series of choices. So often we choose what feels good: drugs, alcohol, pornography, gambling. They feel good, yet everyone of us have seen them lead to destruction. Revenge is another of those things that we think make us feel good but can destroy us. Jesus called us to reconcile. He said we must forgive seventy times seven. Paul told us to bear one another, forgive one another just and the Lord has forgiven us (Col 3:13). Forgiveness may be the narrow way, but I can tell you when forgiveness saved me, kept me from destruction. I think in this case, forgiveness was a gift of God. It was not what I chose, it was what I had to do.

When we lost our son Jeff, it was because the boy driving had been drinking and was not paying attention to the road, running off the road at 35 miles an hour and Jeff was killed. Just a little attention, just a little, and Jeff would be alive.

Unforgivable! Yet it was not. God called us to forgive. I wrote Andy a note forgiving him, but I wonder what it meant, if it sunk in? Jeff’s funeral service was a strange one. We arrived a little early, sat in the front row in our grief. The funeral home filled up behind us, we had no idea who was there. When the service was over, I wanted to know, I wanted to know all the people who had come to share with us.

There was a place to go from the front, down to the door so we got there before anyone had filed out from the back. We greeted, we talked with, we cried with everyone who was there. Then in front of us were Andy and his parents. I think all of us were really in shock at coming face to face. Yet through the tears, forgiveness was conveyed. It saved me, it saved us, it probably saved our marriage.
You see, Rosemary and I for years in our grief, embraced, often cried to exhaustion. I can’t imagine we would have survived if our hearts had also been filled with revenge, un forgiveness. Revenge would have led to our destruction. Forgiveness led to life.

C. Close
Lent is a time we review our choices.
What kind of a king is it we will follow?
What kid of a kingdom are will we choose to be part of?
What kind of pathways, wide or narrow will we choose? Those that lead to destruction or life?

Today Jesus enters your life as a King riding on a donkey. What kind of king will you make him to be? How will you follow him?

During this Lenten season, take some time each day. Use the Upper Room as a guide or the study guide that follows this sermon series. Read a Bible verse. Ask God to aid you in reviewing your life. Ask God to aid you in reviewing your choices. You want to make the choices that lead to life. So may it be in all of your lives. Amen.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Turning His Face Toward Jerusalem

Sermon at Smith Chapel, Feb 14, 2010. Beginning of our Lenten sermon series. I'm indebted to Adam Hamilton for the theme of the series, taking a day of Christ's final week for each Sunday in Lent. Follow the series. Prepare yourselves for Holy Week.

(Luke 9:51-52 NIV)

A. Introduction
Jesus resolutely turned his face toward Jerusalem. Today we begin our Lenten sermon series. A series that will prepare us for Holy week. Jesus, today, begins that preparation for us. The Bible says, “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven.” Jesus knew full well what awaited him in Jerusalem, yet he resolutely set his face there. Jesus had three months to live, but he knew he had work to do. We have work to do before he arrives six weeks from now.
Today we’re going to talk about Jesus’ journey from Galilee, where he had spent most of his time in ministry, from Galilee to Jericho, where he had arrived a day or two before Palm Sunday. Today we begin to follow Jesus. Then beginning next Sunday, we are going to take each day of Holy week in turn, next Sunday, Palm Sunday, the following Sunday, Holy Monday, the third Sunday, Holy Tuesday, and so on, until we arrive at the Good Friday, the crucifixion of Christ on the Passion Sunday of Holy Week.

This is my purpose. Holy Week is a special week. It is unlike any other week in the Christian calendar. It is a week in which Christians all over the world follow in the footsteps of Jesus. All of us. We are with Jesus as arrives in Jerusalem and palm branches are laid at his feet. We are with him as he goes to the Temple and overturns the money changers, We go to the Mount of Olives to pray with him. We are with him when he teaches. We are with him when he washes the disciple’s feet and institutes the Last Supper. And we follow him to the cross and his body to the grave.

This year, by taking each day of Holy Week in turn, we prepare ourselves, we are reminded of Jesus’ steps so that when Holy Week arrives, we may better follow him, we may better learn from him, we may better come to realize from him, what he has done for us. We may better learn of the grace of God, poured out for us and for many for the forgiveness of sins and be thankful.

B. Body
So that’s where we’re going. Today, Jesus resolutely turns his face toward Jerusalem. This trip could have taken a week, we believe it took somewhere between three and six months. Jesus had things to do during this journey. He was not only turning his face toward Jerusalem, he was about to turn the world upside down. In Luke, this journey takes from chapter 9 to 19, over one third of his book. Jesus had things to do and things to teach us during this journey. And that’s the wonderful thing about these passages: we are able to not only witness his teaching, but be witnesses to his doing, his example, during this journey.

It’s in these passages that he teaches us about the kingdom of God, he tells us about the Good Samaritan, he tells parables that teach us the nature of God like the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the Prodigal Son. These are the stories we hear with our ears.

But Jesus also does. He enters Samaria and breaks down old hatreds, he invites women to become his disciples and defeats old cultural barriers, he heals lepers, the outcasts, those thought to be the dregs of society, and he eats with sinners. That’s what Jesus does. That’s what he shows us. These are the things that we witness with our eyes when we follow Jesus.
Now, we said that Jesus would be teaching us during this journey about the Kingdom of God. I have three questions that I want us to wrestle with each week during this series:
One, What kind of King is this?
Two, What kind of kingdom is this?
Three, What does he expect of us, his subjects?
King, kingdom, subjects; Jesus, kingdom, disciples; Jesus, our world, us.

Some brief background on Jesus’ world, the world in Jesus’ day.
First the Samaritans. The Jews viewed them as heretics. There were centuries of hatred and animosity between them. The Jews and the Samaritans truly hated one another. Think of the Palestinians and the Jews today. Why would anyone even talk to those people? We need to build walls. We need to be separate. Pure hatred.

Second, women, third class citizens. Property, a decent man never talked to a woman not his wife or mother or sister. You just didn’t associate with them outside the house. Even the synagogues were split with men on one side and women on the other.

Third, lepers, lame outcasts. They had sinned or so it was thought. They had brought whatever they had on themselves. Outcasts, cast them outside the village, outside of society. You never touched them, it would make you unclean. Think of it, people deprived of human touch.

Four, tax collectors. Jews that were representatives of Caesar, Rome, taxes collected to support the oppressive Army. And not only that, the tax collectors extracted more to enrich themselves. They were as despised as the Roman Army itself, maybe even more because they were betrayers.

This was Jesus’ world, one of separation, segregation, and animosity.

Jesus was probably right on the border of Galilee and Samaria, when “a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, ‘Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘What is written in the law? How do you read?’ The lawyer said, ‘Your shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ Jesus said to him. ‘You have answered rightly, do this and you will live.’But he, the lawyer, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going from Jerusalem to Jericho when he fell among thieves who stripped him and beat him and left him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion, and he went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. The he set him on his own beast and took him to he inn and took care of him. The next morning, he took out two denari and gave them to the innkeeper saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I return.’ Which of these three proved neighbor to the man who fell among thieves?’ He said, ‘The one who showed mercy on him.’ Jesus said, ‘Go, and do likewise.’ (Luke 10:25-37 RSV)

Ask yourselves, what kind of King is this?
What kind of kingdom is he ushering in?
What does he expect of his subjects?

Jesus not only teaches but he does. In the area between Galilee and Samaria, Jesus encounters 10 lepers, outcasts, Jews and Samaritans, and what does he do? He heals them, and in so doing draws them back into the mainstream of society, allowing them to be touched by others once again. What do you suppose he expects of us?

Then Jesus tells another story, (Luke 18:10-14) “Two men when up to the Temple to pray, a Pharisee and a tax collector. The Pharisee standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give a tenth of all my income.” But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” I tell you (Jesus said), this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exult themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be justified.”
What kind of King is this?
And who will be in his kingdom?

But then there was the Jesus who does. (Luke 19: 1-10) He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” 8 Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” 9 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”Jesus, the King who does, who seeks and saves, the king who does.

Finally, between Jericho and Jerusalem is Bethany, the home of Mary and Martha. Mary sits at the feet of Jesus, as one of his disciples. You remember the story. Martha was in the kitchen, too busy. I’m sure one day she realized, “the king of the universe was in my front room and I stayed in the kitchen.” But Mary was a disciple. We know too that Jesus welcomed other women as his disciples. It was Mary Magdalene who first visited the empty tomb, who first encountered Jesus in the garden. There was the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. The woman who anointed Jesus with the costly nard. And others. Who is this King and what kind of Kingdom is he calling us to?

C. Close
Jesus is preparing a nation, Israel for Holy Week. In this series, I would hope that we would be preparing ourselves once again, too.

What can we learn from the journey of this King from Galilee to Jericho?
Who are the Samaritans in our lives? Our polar opposites politically? Are they our Samaritans? People of other religions or races or sexual orientation. Are they the ones? The rich, the poor, the lame, those we call lazy? Are they the ones?
Who will be in Christ’s kingdom? Will there be people there who will surprise us? Will they be surprised to see us there? How accepting are we?
Who might we be called to heal?

What is it we are to learn from Jesus this Lenten season?
Will we walk with him? We learn from him by following him, by being his disciples in this Lenten journey. So may it be with all of us. Amen.