Archive for April, 2019

I Have Seen the Lord 4-28-19

In this sermon, based on John 20:19-31, I explore two of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. Thomas’ honest response to the proclamation of the Risen Lord reveals a desire to have the same experience for himself.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/i-have-seen-the-lord-4-28-19

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

May the grace and peace of our Risen Lord and Savior be yours, today and forever. Amen

Ever found yourself in the midst of situation where one person utterly surprises another? Now I don’t mean in the “SURPRISE!!” way, but like the “utterly mind blowing because you’re in a place where this person has no business being” kinda way?

Happened to me a few times…just last December, on our way home from vacation, we were sitting in the Houston airport, when I saw a couple that lives here in town…turns out they’d been in Texas for Iowa States’ bowl game and were on their way home as well. (pause)
I remember another time, we were out in Colorado for camp a few years back, when low and behold I came around a corner and there was an old friend and coworker from my year of Internship in Minnesota…and we were in the same spot at the same time, half way across the country. (pause)

I’ve been on the other end of this type of thing, too.  Clear back in 1999, during my junior year at Iowa State…I remember packing up my stuff to head home for the weekend…and as I was leaving…my roommate was busy playing some online game or another, networked in with the two guys that lived across the hall…I grabbed my stuff…told him to have a good weekend…and out the door I went…and then on Sunday, the weekend being almost over, I walked back into our room, saw him at his desk…the same game on his computer…and I just said “hey man.”

Now his response caught me off guard… “Hey…what you forget?”  “What?”  “What you forget? You must have forgotten something to be back already?”  In my confusion I responded “Dude, what are you talking about…its Sunday.”  And he stopped…turned and looked at me and said “It is?” And then he just kinda sat there blinking while his mind was catching up with reality.  Apparently, the game had been so engrossing that he had sat there all weekend long playing it…losing all sense of time…which is why it was so confusing for him when I walked back in the door 48 hours later.

Now this idea of encounters that defy what our minds tell us should be possible…that’s where we are connecting into the gospel for today. Today’s story is one that we share on this week every year…the second Sunday after Easter and the encounter that we’ve come to know as Doubting Thomas…which, for the record, isn’t an overly great name…and its worth noting that today’s passage includes not one but two different encounters with the resurrected Jesus.

Now I can’t help but think that today’s story includes a little bit of implied time travel.  Because the action picks up the evening of the Resurrection…and so we need to turn our minds backwards 7 days…to last Sunday night…we had all gathered together that morning to celebrate the Risen Jesus…we shared breakfast…everyone departed for their various family celebrations…I’m sure there were naps involved…but then, by late afternoon, early evening…everyone had settled in…back to normal…thinking about work the next day…but that’s our perspective.

For the ones there that day…things are little different.  If we back up ever so slightly in the passage itself…we have the testimony of Mary Magdalene…the first witness to the empty tomb…Mary alone encounters the Risen Jesus…now if you recall that account, she’s confused at who he is until he calls her by name…revealing the personal connection…and she recognizes him…and then reports back to the disciples “I have seen the Lord.”

It seems that none of them really know what to make of this…and they lock themselves away somewhere out of fear…when suddenly out of nowhere…defying all logic…in utterly mind-blowing fashion…Jesus is standing among them…and unlike my surprise appearance that freaked out my roommate after a fast weekend…and despite the fact that Jesus had told them repeatedly that he would be raised…and despite the earlier testimony of Mary…I can only imagine that this just didn’t compute.

JESUS WAS DEAD…AND THE DOOR IS LOCKED…DUDES! HOW IS HE HERE? These must have been the thoughts racing through their minds…and I imagine that Jesus knows it because not just once but twice he greets them with an offer of peace. Peace be with you…as he shows them the marks of the crucifixion that he still bears in his body…assuring them that he is in fact, the Risen Lord…and with that he breathes the Holy Spirit into them…empowering them with a mission. Just as the Father has sent me…so I send you.

And with this, the disciples are somehow changed.  And they are  empowered by the Spirit in order to share their testimony…their personal encounter that has revealed the good news of the Resurrected Jesus…and if you notice…when they bump in to Thomas, who was absent in this amazing moment…their testimony is pretty much identical to Mary’s from earlier that day. She says “I have seen the Lord.” They say “We have seen the Lord.” (pause)

Now here’s where things get little shady for good old Thomas.  We have no idea where he was this first time around…but he seems to know that he missed out on something special.  Unless I see the marks of the nails, put my finger in them, and stick my hand in the wound on his side, I can’t believe it. (pause)

What’s really going on here? Is Thomas just fickle?  Is he a skeptic…denying the possibility that Jesus was dead and now he isn’t? Or, does Thomas just hope to have the same experience as the others…is it simply his hope and desire to encounter the Risen Lord so he can make the same proclamation?  Is this doubt? Or is this revealing a longing that I think we all share…to somehow encounter the Risen Lord.  Don’t we all long to see Jesus?  Can you blame Thomas?

He’d spent the same amount of time following Jesus as the rest of them.  He abandoned Jesus just like the others…and they still got to see him…stands to reason that Thomas should too…and the whole “put my finger in the nail holes thing,” well Jesus had shown the others his hands and side…Thomas just wants to experience that too.  This isn’t doubt…this is a desire to experience it for himself. (pause)

As I think about that…I think of the wide variety of ways that the Resurrected Jesus is revealed throughout the scriptures.  He shows up on a mountaintop…to joyful and yet confused disciples and gives them the great commission.  He travels along with 2 followers on the road to Emmaus and is only revealed through the breaking of the bread.  He is revealed to Mary as he calls her by name.  He’s revealed to the disciples in an offer of peace…Thomas included, although a week later. He shows up on the road in a blinding light to the Apostle Paul.

In a different sense, John’s gospel itself testifies that Jesus is revealed through the written account of his many signs…and that begins to point us to something different…the importance of proclamation…that the Holy Spirit…mysterious as it might be, acts within us through the proclamation of the good news of the resurrection…and this has been ongoing over the course of the past 2000 years…this is vital for those of us who were not there to see the Resurrected Jesus for ourselves…for those of us who might wish to hear a word of peace from his mouth…who might wish to hear him call us by name…or to see with our own eyes the holes in his hands and feet…but for us and for countless individuals who have come before us…that’s not possible.

And yet…here we are today…gathered together to worship our Risen Lord and to give thanks for all that God has accomplished through his life death and resurrection…we are gathered because we have heard the proclamation and through the hearing of this good news the Spirit has created the gift of faith within us…the ability to believe that which is unbelievable…to trust in the truth of that which we have not seen for ourselves.

And that faith…that promise which is spoken over us in the waters of our baptism…this is what these three young people are affirming for themselves today. (pause) Now as many of you know…one of the last things I have our Confirmation Students do is write a statement, which I call their “I believe” Statements…no fluff…not telling me what they think I want to hear…but an honest reflection of what they believe at this point in their lives. And its never disappointing.

This year, there was a theme of the importance of others…of those who are part of this church, this community of believers, who have set examples and have built into the lives of these three young people…a theme of the way their faith has been shaped to this point…and in one of the statements, was something that seems very applicable as we consider the desire to see the resurrected Lord.

“Even though Jesus isn’t here physically I always know he is with me and watching over me.”  That’s the promise right there…and we profess that in the physical absence of Christ here in the world, we who are gathered and empowered and most importantly, connected by the Holy Spirit…we are the body of Christ on earth…and as we gather…and live out this life of faith in the midst of the crazy up and downs of the world…may we continue to reveal the presence of God to one another and this world that we share.

That is my prayer for the three of you today…that you will continue to experience this for yourselves…that you would continue to feel that urge…that desire to seek out the presence of the divine in your own lives…and that no matter what you will experience in the years to come…that your testimony will somehow be able to echo the testimony of those who have come before…that somehow, you can say, I have seen the Lord. Amen.

I Gotta Share This 4-21-19

In this Easter sermon, I explore the unexplainable joy that we find in the resurrection of Jesus.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/i-gotta-share-this-4-21-19

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

May the grace and peace of our Risen Lord Jesus Christ be with you, now and forever. Amen.

Anyone remember the Beverly Hills Cop movies? There’s a little bit of dialogue that keeps popping up through the second one that I appreciate, as Eddie Murphy…a police officer mind you, continues to do little things that…MIGHT not be strictly legal…and every he time he does, he makes the same comment… “You know I wasn’t always a cop. I fractured an occasional law.”(pause) Over the past few years, I’ve found myself in similar moments…and in conversation over old stories of my former life…I’ve been quoted as saying “Well you know, I wasn’t always a pastor…”

Like anyone…I’ve got some stupid stuff in my past…and one in particular comes to mind today…a moment that happened when I was pretty young…maybe 10 or 11…when I tagged along with my older brother and one his friends, down the road about half a mile to the old farm place where my grandparents used to live…and where my dad had actually grown up.  Now we called this, quite simply, “the old place.” And on occasion we would go exploring through the old buildings that still stood there…and on this particular day…we ended up breaking windows. I don’t remember how it started, but it did. Not proud of it…but I was a part of it.

Now here’s the thing…I was the type of kid who was REALLY bad at keeping secrets…and so it wasn’t long before I spilled the beans about our little destructive escapade. I just couldn’t keep it in…now if you’re wondering…yes there were consequences…but those details aren’t really important…What is important, is that sense of needing to tell someone…of having news that you just can’t keep in…I want you to keep that in mind while we think about the amazing story of the resurrection that we are sharing today. (pause)
Now, as we know the story of the resurrection doesn’t really start on Sunday morning…it starts on Friday evening…with Jesus dead…his body taken down off the cross…wrapped in burial cloth and laid in the tomb with the entrance covered by a giant stone…all of this witnessed by a group of women who have been following Jesus throughout his ministry…right up to the point of his burial…long after he was deserted and left by the men who swore they would follow him, even to death…interesting to see who actually made good on that promise isn’t it? (pause)

Now all logic says that’s the end right. Jesus is dead. And death is it right? The end of the line…and even though these people have watched Jesus overcome death more than once as he raised 3 different people from the dead…they are still caught in grief…in pain…in mourning and loss and rightly so…because death is final…and everyone knows that.

And so, in the hopes of one final act of kindness and love for Jesus, the women prepare spices for anointing his body…and then as their Sabbath begins, they dutifully wait, until the first possible moment, here at dawn on the first day of the week…and they head to the tomb…to the place where they had watched as he was laid…in order to fulfill this last act.

But what happens next…defies…all…logic.  (pause) As the women approach the tomb, they see the stone rolled away…that’s weird…but okay…I guess that’s one thing they don’t have to do right? And so they poke their heads inside, fully expecting to see a body wrapped up in cloth…but its…not…there.  The tomb is empty except for the discarded burial shroud.

Confusing? Yep…Perplexing….you better believe it? And the women are just kind of looking at one another in their confusion when out of nowhere BOOM…there’s two angels standing there…and the women are so freaked out…so startled and so scared to be in the presence of these beings of heavenly origin that they hit the ground.

Now…we’ve heard stories like this before…when some heavenly being, whether God in some crazy weird form or an angel of some sort shows up…apparently its…freaky…I can imagine that the person is scared because that which is divine in nature has gotta be so much more than we can handle…and we hear this in the greeting of the heavenly being ALMOST every single time…as they begin with “Fear not” or “Do not be afraid” (pause) Except this time…they…don’t…say it.  Did you catch that?

The very first thing out of the angels…is a question of joyful origin.  Why do you look for the living among the dead?  (Pause) Now wait a sec…think about that question…think about what it implies.  The man who was dead…we watched him die…we watched as his body was placed…RIGHT…HERE…he…was…dead.  And now, he’s not.   WHAT?!?

I mean, that’s the message right? And it is SO GOOD…that the angels can’t be bothered with anything else…this has to be shared right away…just like that time when I was 10 years old and just couldn’t keep in the news that we had done something stupid…the angels can’t keep this amazing news quiet either.

Remember how he told you in Galilee…He would be betrayed…he would be crucified…but then on the 3rd day…he would…rise. (pause) Jesus TOLD THEM ALL THIS NEWS…and not just once…we’ve got details of at least 3 times when Jesus told his followers that THIS VERY THING was gonna happen.

And each and every time…it would seem that the news just didn’t sink in for any of them…not for the 12…and apparently not for the women numbered among his followers either…at least not until this moment…this moment when they find the tomb empty…and they hear the proclamation of the Risen Lord…and they…REMEMBERED…his words.

You know what we call that? We call that faith…that somehow as we hear the story…and we remember the words that JESUS HIMSELF shared…the Holy Spirit takes that and somehow makes this unbelievable thing…this event that defies all logic…and makes it believable.

THINK ABOUT IT…death, which is supposed to be the ultimate end of the line…isn’t anymore. WHAT?  How does that work? Well…I DON’T KNOW…but it does…that’s the promise…and through the power of that same Holy Spirit that was acting in the hearts and minds of the women works in us too…and you know what…it empowers us to do the exact same thing.

Because this is amazing news isn’t it? Jesus was dead, but now he’s alive again…that’s too good to sit on…and apparently that’s how the women felt…that I can’t hold this in…I gotta share it…and who better to share it with than the men who were considered the closest friends of Jesus himself…and so they run off to the tell the disciples…and the disciples…blow it off.  Luke describes their reaction as hearing an “idle tail.” And since I wasn’t always a pastor, you probably know what OTHER 2 word phrase I would use to describe that…hint…it has to do with a male cow going the bathroom… (pause)

Isn’t that crazy…Jesus told these guys too…more than once…and now, hearing the proclamation…they promptly…do nothing…the only one who can even be bothered to get up and look is Peter, who goes and finds the empty tomb itself, still doesn’t believe it…none of these guys do until the resurrected Jesus actually appears before them later on that day…and even then they don’t quite grasp it until he picks up a piece of fish and eats it. (pause)
And you know…I always think that seems crazy…that not even THESE GURS could believe the gospel of the resurrection without physical proof…but that speaks to ludicrous nature of the gospel…the crazy news that Jesus was dead but is alive again. This gospel that we share…and that we profess as true.

So what is it…what was different about the women compared to men…because the ladies didn’t see Jesus…and yet the proclamation was enough to create faith in the resurrected Lord…and Jesus himself talks about this very thing in one of the other gospels as he addresses the disciples and says “You have believed because you have seen…but blessed are the ones who have NOT seen, and yet come to believe.”

Any idea just who Jesus might be talking about? (pause) HINT….LOOK AROUND YOU…AND IF YOU GOT A MIRROR LOOK IN THAT…BECAUSE YOU ARE THE PEOPLE HE’S TALKING ABOUT. (pause)  Folks…this faith thing is crazy…it doesn’t make any sense…but somehow it works…and whatever it is that the Holy Spirit is up to…somehow we are empowered and given the gift of faith…the gift of believing that he who was dead is alive again…and that through that same Spirit, we are made heirs of the same promise of the resurrection…and that somehow, someway…we have joined with him in a life like his…that one day each of one us will join with him in a death like his…but most importantly…we will also join with him in a resurrection like his.

This is what God has accomplished through the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus…to show us that there is NO length that God will not go in order to make it possible for us to be reunited with God…Now…that perfect love, while beyond our ability in this life…is possible…and even though our broken world killed him for it…God has shown us through that empty tomb…through the proclamation that Jesus was dead and now he’s alive again…God has shown us that Love is bigger than anything else…and that nothing…not even death gets the last word where we are concerned…God does…and now, empowered by the Holy Spirit, may each one of us carry this amazing news…news that takes us out of the place of death and into the joy of new life…and like the women who were the first preachers of the gospel…may we share this same amazing message with the world around us…so that they too, might come to believe this amazing news…this story that is SO GOOD…it leaves us with a sense…that I gotta share this. Amen.

Remember 4-18-19

In this Maundy Thursday sermon, I explore the actions taken by Jesus at the Last Supper, whether the foot-washing found in John’s gospel or the institution of Holy Communion found in the other gospels. Jesus seems to be saying goodbye, and wants to do so in a meaningful way that will help those present to remember.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/remember-4-18-19

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

May the grace and peace of the Triune God be yours, now and forever. Amen

Sometimes it amazes me at how quickly time flies by…recently in the midst of conversation, I realized that its already been more than a year since I visited the Holy Land…touring many of the sites that carry historical significance connected to the life of Jesus.

An interesting thing about the Holy Land is the mix of the old and the new. There are some places…some cities or locations, as well as individual sites that are actually quite new, but there are others that have been there for a REALLY long time…and I remember feeling the significance of all that history on the day when we visited the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem…a very large church built on the site believed to be Jesus’ actual birth place.

I can’t recall if it’s the oldest standing church in the world, but it does have the distinction of being the oldest church in the Holy Land by a pretty large margin. The structure itself was built approximately 1600 years ago…and it survived a purge, wide spread destruction of pretty much every other Christian structure which occurred a few hundred years later…and only because the Persian empire that invaded held an appreciation for the Nativity, because the Wise Men in the story are believed to be Persians. (pause)

I remember a sense of just how significant it was…to stand there in a structure that is that old…and to lean against a wall which has stood there the better part of 2 millennia.  Imagine if those walls could talk…the history they could share…and now on the flipside imagine what would be lost if that structure was destroyed.

We caught a glimpse of that sort of thing just a few days ago…as news reports spread…and video surfaced of the devastating fire that ravaged Notre Dame cathedral in Paris…a heartbreaking event for the world, and especially for our Catholic sisters and brothers.

Now I don’t know if any of you have noticed this or not…but it wasn’t long after news broke about the destruction of that beautiful old church, that people started bickering on social media about it.  Butting heads over all kinds of things…One of the arguments I noticed centers around the statement “the church is not the building.”’

I’ve heard that statement before…I’ve even said it…but when I started hearing about the tension around I stopped to think about it…and while there is certainly truth in that statement…truth that points us towards the importance of the community of fellow believers over the material…there is also truth on the other side.  The loss of that beautiful place…a beacon of the Catholic church and faith…that’s something worth grieving.

Because our faith has a way of taking on shape as it connects into something else…and this can take on all matter of forms.  Buildings, hymns or songs, places, traditions, even down to the clothes we wear.  Perhaps here in the Lutheran church, the importance of tradition is one that we can relate to…after all, tonight right here in Worship we are celebrating with our traditional liturgy…as we look around this sanctuary…perhaps for each of us there is a particular item that holds some sort of significance…maybe you connect with a particular aspect of worship…or even in the shared connection that you hold with another person that holds meaning in your faith life.

I think back, and realize that I’ve got a couple examples of this sort of thing from my own faith history.  Some of you have heard me talk about the time in 5th grade when I made it on the news…but only because I happened to be in the background when they reported on the fire that destroyed my home congregation’s building.  It didn’t occur to me until years later that I can no longer stand in the sanctuary and touch the font in which I was baptized.

Likewise, the church building where my wife and I were married…a few years later that congregation moved into a new facility, and the building was sold to a congregation of a different denomination…and while they probably wouldn’t turn me away if I tried to visit…somehow that space…that place…isn’t the same anymore…and that’s another bit of my own faith history that is now lost.

Here’s the thing though…the loss of the place doesn’t take away from the significance of the event itself.  I can’t visit the sanctuary where I said “I do” but I am still married…I literally cannot walk into the room and see the font where I was washed in the water…but I am still baptized…these things do not change, and yet…there is still a sense of loss…

I wonder if you have something in your history that similar in scope to this…a place or a ritual that holds deep meaning…and yet is somehow lost to you. (Pause) This brings us to the significance of this evening…Maundy Thursday and the story of the Last Supper that Jesus celebrated with the disciples.

As per usual, we’ve heard the story from John’s gospel…featuring the event of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples…a perspective unique to John…while the other three gospels all focus in on the institution of Holy Communion…and honestly…both events seem to hold this same connection…a ritual…an event…intended as a gift that is to be remembered…an intimate moment between individuals that I believe Jesus intended to be meaningful as he says goodbye to these people who have been so close to him during his ministry. (pause)

Now we could try to dive into the how or the why of these events…but maybe tonight all that really isn’t important…maybe the thing that we need to hold on to in this moment is the sense of saying goodbye. Imagine it from the perspective of Jesus…I’ll admit to you that’s not something I had ever really done before…but maybe we should.  Because Jesus, knowing all things…all that which had already occurred…and all that which was about to…created these memorable moments for his friends…just before events would transpire that would leave him betrayed…alone…tortured…and killed.

Think about his perspective…and this last opportunity to show someone how you feel about them. (pause) What would you do? How do you say goodbye? (pause)  In my work, I’ve had the opportunity to be in the room with families in this type of situation…those times when death is not far away…and everyone is saying their goodbyes. It’s a solemn time…a sad time…and it carries a sense of finality that isn’t like anything else I’ve ever experienced.

Now sometimes, the person is unable to participate…because they are either gone to quickly, without warning…or their physical state doesn’t allow it…but sometimes the opposite is true…and they are able to be a part…and having been in several different rooms where that’s the case over the course of recent history…I’ve been thinking a lot about it…and the way that I’ve watched as they’ve shared a moment…a word…a long embrace or a tender kiss…as they’ve shared tears…as they’ve shared laughter…as they’ve shared a special moment with each different individual and I can only imagine that the hope for that person, who knows they will be leaving…is that this moment will stay with the other person as their life goes on.

And, I’ll be honest, in one of those instances…I didn’t just sit there and pray after bringing Holy Communion…but in that moment, I sat at the bedside while the wonderful lady, only about a day away from death reached up, and for a moment just held my cheek.  It was an expression of love that I will never forget. (pause)

These moments…these memories or places…or traditions…they hold power…and this power somehow impacts and strengthens our faith…and I believe that’s what Jesus was really up to…when he knelt at the feet of his disciples to wash the dirt and dust away…as he looked them in the eye in a moment of connection…or as he lifted the bread and broke it…and passed the cup, assuring them that his body and his blood are broken and poured out for them…and that whenever they share this meal…to remember. (pause)

What a blessing to know…that somehow through the power of the Holy Spirit…we are included in that invitation…somehow we are sitting at that table…and that the power in Jesus’ words…and the significance of his actions are pointed towards us as well…so that we might be strengthened…so that we might find hope through whatever it is to come…until that glorious day, when we are united completely with Christ…and when we join in that heavenly banquet which we have been promised…and which we will celebrate together with all those who have gone before…those who have left us with powerful moments to remember. Amen.

This Seems Significant 4-14-19

In this sermon for Palm Sunday, taken from Luke 19:28-40, I explore the celebratory nature of the day, and yet remember that celebration might seem a little premature as there are dark days coming. Through this, we find the importance of looking for the significant in the little moments.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/this-seems-significant-4-14-19

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

May the grace and peace of our Triune God be yours, now and forever. Amen.

To start things off today, I’d like to share an odd little story…may seem a bit strange, but I’ll ask you to bear with me.  Earlier this week, I think it was Wednesday or Thursday…I was home at lunchtime…just sitting in my chair watching a tv show…and I happened to look out the window at just the right time…and what I saw caught my attention.

Right out here…towards the corner…there was a pickup truck right in the middle of the street…not moving…just sitting there. I have no idea what was going on…maybe the driver had pulled off to take a phone call or send a text…and due to the lack of traffic here on our street in the middle of most weekdays…they felt confident that they could just stop right there without any issue.

Now for whatever reason…as I looked at this truck facing my general direction…it put me in mind of the way a full grown bull will stand there…squaring off in an intimidating fashion…with a sense that says “you’re not gonna move me” and “if I wanted to, I’d come mess you up.” Anyone who’s spent any time around bulls knows what I’m talking about…it was weird…but that was totally the sense that I got in this moment as I looked at that truck just sitting there in the middle of the street.

But then, the moment passed…whatever had the drivers attention must have been over, and I watched as the truck starting moving, and drove off down the street. Now, I’m the type that tends to share moments when they strike me as significant…and often times its with one of my oldest friends who’s got a pretty good handle on how my mind works…and so I picked up my phone and texted him about the crazy sense that I had just experienced.

His response back to me a moment later, “Dude…you find metaphors and significance in really weird places.” And he’s right…and I’m guessing many of you have probably noticed that same tendency, as I often use odd little stories of real life situations that seem to point towards a connection with the scripture lesson for the day.

But you know what…my preaching style aside…I can’t help but think that this is a good thing to pay attention to. The little moments that catch our attention.  The images that we see in nature…or in art…or the emotions that occur when we hear a song or a familiar voice.  Those little moments that point us towards something more…those things that reveal “truth” in one way or another. (pause)

So now that I’ve got you thinking along those lines…go ahead and tuck that away in the back of your mind…we’ll circle back to it…and let’s get into the text for today. (pause) Palm Sunday…the Triumphal Entry…an oddball little moment here at the tail end of the season of Lent…the kickoff of Holy Week…an event and a story that we hear about every single year.

Jesus, finally reaching the city of Jerusalem in what he knows will be the final week of his life…a time which corresponds with the ultimate Jewish festival of Passover…he’s bringing his ministry to a close here. Now we know that Jesus has quite the following. He’s attracted enormous crowds. He’s performed miracles. And now more than 100 people fall under the category of disciples or followers.  And they are tagging along as he approaches the city from the east.

Two dudes get sent off to the neighboring village to find a donkey’s colt…Jesus preps them for a tiny bit of questioning…which seemingly gets handled without issue…they bring it back…toss their cloaks on it…Jesus hops on…and they lead him down through a deep, dark, steep valley, and then back up again towards the city gates and the temple mount.

Seems like the crowd is pretty into it too…as they spread out their cloaks over the road in front of Jesus…the other gospels telling us about the palm branches getting thrown around that gives us the basis for today’s label…a bunch of people in the crowd are cheering…actually rattling off some old school prophecy with their shouts of “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.” But we also hear that some of the crowd isn’t quite so gung ho…and they try to shush things up…going straight to Jesus himself…even buttering him up just a bit. “Teacher…rebuke your disciples…order them to stop.” We hear that and then Jesus seems to give the celebration a thumbs up with his statement that “if they become silent, the rocks will cry out.”

That’s our story today…now think about it…think about our perspective of Palm Sunday and the Triumphal Entry…I think its safe to assume that we hold a sense of celebration don’t we? That this is party…that pretty much everyone is in a jubilant tizzy over Jesus coming into town like a conquering hero.

But there’s more going on than that isn’t there? First of all the donkey’s colt…that’s a weird touch…because any triumphant hero is going to be a chariot or riding a big fancy war horse…not some spindly little donkey baby…and yet that was what Jesus lined up…doing so in a way that fulfilled the prophecies uttered so many years before.

But what I find interesting about this whole deal is the tension that’s lying underneath it.  Luke presents this far more than the other three gospels…in each of the others, he pretty rides into the city…the crowd cheers…he gets there…and that’s about it.  But Luke reminds us of the opposition…that there are some present who aren’t quite so happy with this guy fulfilling prophecy about a hero entering the city to shouts of blessing on the king.

That distinction is present in the original language, with the plethora of Jesus’ disciples cheering for him, while the faceless mob produces the ones telling them all to hush up. (pause) Now…I can’t help but think its our tendency to just paint those naysayers as the bad guys…but reality was probably a touch different wasn’t it? Because real life isn’t always cut and dry is it?  Issues that plague us…decisions that we make…they are very rarely black and white…life’s a whole lot messier.

Keep in mind the setting. Passover is coming up…the most important Jewish festival…and not only are countless Jewish people coming in to the city…but the Roman authorities are present too. They’ve got extra patrols there just to make sure that the locals don’t get too rowdy…especially considering the history behind Passover…a festival that literally celebrates liberation from conquerors.

Now imagine what’s gonna happen if the Romans, who are the current conquerors of Israel catch wind of some random guy attracting a crowd and getting call King at a festival intended to celebrate liberation. Probably not gonna be a real popular idea with the Romans…and maybe, just maybe the Pharisees who ask Jesus to quiet down the crowd are aware of this. Maybe they’re trying to keep the peace and make sure this doesn’t turn into a bloodbath. Maybe, they actually have good intentions behind their actions…things are getting a little messier aren’t they?

But you know what…that’s life isn’t it? Life is messy.  Every aspect of it…and our own individuals situations…the troubles that we are facing…or the joys that are lighting us up…these things shape how we experience every moment…including this one…and I wonder if maybe, just maybe that’s what Jesus is hinting at when he makes the statement “If these were silent the rocks would cry out.”

I’ll be honest, that statement has been grabbing my attention all week as I’ve been working with this text…and I couldn’t really put my finger on why until I remembered that oddball little exchange with my friend about seeing significance in weird places.

You see…my first thought about the rocks crying out is the idea that all of creation speaks to the glory of God…and it does. Seriously the world is an amazing place…and if we stop and pay attention…I think we begin to experience the wonder of it all…and not only that, but maybe just maybe we also realize the truth that’s present clear back in Genesis when God takes a look as says “that’s good.”

But you know what, it goes deeper than that…because I believe that God has blessed us with amazing minds that find connection in so many amazing ways.  And often, if we allow our minds to do so…we begin to see connections with our faith…and with our God who made all of this in the first place…and there’s a word for that sort of thing…Incarnation.

Often times that word gets used strictly to describe God becoming human…and that’s not wrong…God did become human…God put on flesh…God did dwell among us…but it goes farther than that too…because once “THE INCARNATION” was over and the resurrected Lord returned to heaven, we were given the assurance that through the power of the Holy Spirit, WE ARE THE BODY OF CHRIST…

And that means that each of these little moments that reveal a truth to us…those images or those sounds or those interactions with one another…whatever they are…they reveal a little bit of God to us…and that’s how our faith puts on flesh…because our lives of faith are NOT just 45 minutes or an hour that we spend sitting in these pews on a Sunday morning…our lives of faith are lived 24-7…and truly ALL of creation speaks to the glory of God…even in those moments when we can’t quite understand just what that Glory actually means. (pause)

This is the sense that I hope you hold within you this week. Today is Palm Sunday…one that we usually connect with celebration…and that’s ok…even if it might feel a touch premature as we think ahead to what will happen this week…but this is my prayer for you…that you would somehow experience that which is divine within the quiet moments that you will experience this week.  I pray that your eyes and your heart are open to that which the Lord desires you to experience…and that throughout the course of this week…from the cheerful joys to the fearful rebukes of Palm Sunday…to the solemn goodbye of the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday…to the horrific torture and pain of Good Friday, all the way through to the utterly unexplainable joy of Easter Morning…through all of this, may your hearts be open to what seems significant. Amen