Posts Tagged ‘Holy Week’

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

Its Not Up To Us 3-29-19 Maundy Thursday

In this Maundy Thursday Sermon, I explore the Last Supper found in John 13. Jesus washes the feet of the disciples, knowing what’s coming, as an example of the way that we are called to love one another.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/its-not-up-to-us-3-29-18

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

It never ceases to amaze me to consider the utterly outlandish stories that I come across as I read through the Old Testament narrative. There’s one in the book of Numbers that’s a great example. At this point in the Israelite history, the people have been wandering in the desert for quite a while. They’re of course, very numerous…and they’re actually approaching the borders of the Promised Land.

And as they’re traveling around, there’s this gentile king named Balak who’s getting a little freaked out…he’s seen their numbers…he’s heard reports of battles that they’ve fought with other forces…and he’s concerned.  So King Balak get’s this awesome idea to call in a prophet…a holy man…to call down a curse upon the Israelites…and this prophet’s name is Balaam.

Now maybe you recognize the name of Balaam…and maybe you know his story…at first he resists the messengers that King Balak has sent his way…figuring that if these are God’s chosen people, he better not try to curse them, even if King Balak offers him great riches…which he does…but then God tells Balaam go ahead and go…and so he saddles up his donkey and off he goes…but then an angel of the Lord shows up in the road…which only the donkey can see.

Now the donkey isn’t going anywhere near that angel…and just stops in the road…and Balaam gets so ticked off at this stubborn animal that he gets off and starts beating it…until God opens the mouth of the donkey who pretty much says “DUDE!!! Why are you beating me? There’s an angel there.” Now talking donkeys are awesome…but what is really important about the story of Balaam is the way he views God’s chosen people.  3 times, in 3 different places King Balak calls upon Balaam to curse the Israelites, but he won’t do it…because Balaam knows that God will bless whoever God choses…Its not up to us…and there’s not much that we can do about it. (pause)

Now with that in mind, let’s consider our gospel lesson for tonight…Maundy Thursday…the night of the Last Supper…the time when Jesus joins together with the 12 disciples for one last bit of fellowship…a time of teaching…a very intimate exchange between Jesus and these men that he has claimed…these followers that have been and will continue to be the closest recipients of his personal attention and his love.

We hear this from the get-go. Jesus loves his own…and he loves them till the end…regardless of what anyone else might think…regardless of how they might respond…regardless of everything…the love of Christ…the joy that he feels in the very presence of these people…this is the sense that takes shape here in the Last Supper.

After this time together…they will go out to the garden…Judas will bring along a great crowd…the disciples will flee…Peter will deny…and things only get darker from there. Tonight Jesus will be arrested…tomorrow he will be tortured and killed on the cross…and Jesus makes no secret of that. He’s told the disciples time after time what’s coming…and he even says it here with a term of beloved endearment. Little children, I am with you only a little longer.

And remember Jesus knows all this…he knows what’s coming…he knows what’s in the hearts of the men that are with him…he knows it all…and despite the utter betrayals that will come about on EVERYONE’S part…he still takes this time to literally show them what true love looks like.

During supper Jesus rises from the table, takes off his robe, wraps a towel around his waist…and then one by one, he stoops down to wash the feet of his disciples…some protest…Peter in particular…failing to understand just what it is that Jesus is really up to…but one after another, Jesus looks them in the face…knowing the failure that each will experience just minutes after this time together…and he still washes their feet.

Now you’ve maybe heard me talk about this before…that the job of washing the feet of a traveler would never fall to the master…either the individual would wash their own feet or the lowliest household slave would come along to do so.  This is a matter of hospitality…but no one would expect it go down like it did…and this is why we hear the confusion from Peter…the back and forth as he struggles to understand what’s really happening, just as I imagine the rest of the disciples were feeling as well…and then in the midst of it…in the middle of this odd back and forth which continues to reveal the perfect love of Christ in the face of Peter’s aversion to it…we hear the declaration that Jesus makes…you are clean. (pause)

Now as I think about water along with a statement about the individual on the part of Jesus…on the part of God, my mind goes to things sacramental…because of course this sounds like baptism.  Likewise, as we consider the Last Supper, perhaps we are reminded of Holy Communion…and rightly so…the other gospels tell us of Jesus’ first institution of the Holy Meal…one that we’ll share together in a few more minutes…a meal in which we are all reminded that this is for you for the forgiveness of sins…but not only that…we are also reminded that this meal is for all people.

This is the thing that seems so utterly significant tonight, as we enter once more into a mindset of remembering…of celebrating if we want to use that word…what Jesus endured…what God experienced in the event of Jesus’ life and death, which will lead to his resurrection in a few more days…the thing that is so significant, is that its not up to us.

Peter tries to control what Jesus will do, but Jesus shuts that down.  Judas has his part to play as well…and the rest of the disciples all have their failings. Likewise so do we…and yet, the promises of God, made real in Jesus Christ are still given to each and every one of us…simply because of God’s perfect love and delight found within each of us as individuals…each of us who were lovingly created bearing the divine image of God.

That’s something that we need to remember….that yes we are flawed and broken people…that’s a reality of humanity…but that’s not where our story begins.  If we go all the way back…Genesis chapter 1…we see that Humanity…each one of us was made by God from a place of delight…and God calls us good.  Brokenness doesn’t happen until chapter 3.

We don’t deny it…but we remember that the God who has chosen to redeem this world through Christ has done so because from the beginning of your existence…in the beginning of OUR…existence…we start from the place of goodness and the joy of our creator. (pause)

Now this perfect love…a love which admittedly, our brokenness hinders within each of us…this is the basis for the new commandment that Jesus leaves with his followers…to love one another. The Greeks call this agape love…perfect…sacrificial…all in love…and Jesus says that this is how the world will know that we are his followers, if we have love for one another. (pause)

But what does that look like? That’s a question that I often wrestle with…because it seems like we as a culture have gotten really good at the polar opposite. Many will argue that this is the single most divisive time in our history…and while that’s open to interpretation, I don’t think that any of us would argue that there is a sense of animosity…of division…of vitriol and anger…and dare I say, hate…that exists within the world…and all too often that’s the topic of conversation.

And rather than listening…we yell…we demonize…we throw the other side under the bus…and why? Because might makes right? Does it make us feel superior to have what we consider the better argument? Or have we just gotten really good at yelling louder than the other person?

Today…right now…it seems to be the 2nd Amendment and if its still relevant or outdated.  Or it’s the conservative right verses the liberal left. Or the president verses a porn star over who’s level of morality is better or worse. These are the big topics that everyone seems to be stuck on right now. And as we’ve all heard, maybe even participated in, its full of animosity.

And perhaps no where is this vitriol more present than right here in the church. And I don’t know about you but I’m sick and tired of being defined by who we hate. Jesus said love each other…so maybe just maybe its time that we as the body of Christ figure out how to start doing just that…instead of tossing logs around that look or sound a lot like judgement of who’s in and who’s out.

Let us remember that Jesus makes the declaration of who’s clean…Jesus makes the determination on who’s being blessed…not the other way around…and he is the one who reminds us that God loves the entire world and that God has sent the son into the world so that it might be saved through him. (pause)

So what does it mean? What does it look like to love one another? Maybe it starts from a place of respect and dignity for whoever it is that’s on the opposite side of the line from you…or maybe it starts from the realization that we’re all in this together, like it or not…and maybe we should act like it.

Maybe love looks like supporting a young man who’s bravely fighting cancer in our community.  Maybe it looks like crossing the street to say good morning to our neighbors. Sometimes it looks like just showing up when someone else is experiencing their own dark night of the soul…not with words of wisdom or the offer of a solution…but simply to bring your presence into their darkness so that they can see the truth that they are not alone.

We live in a world filled with darkness and brokenness and pain and suffering…that is our reality…but there’s a light that shines in the midst of it…a light that the world has tried REALLY hard to snuff out…in fact it tried so hard that it killed the source…but even death wasn’t strong enough to overcome it.

That light shines as a man named Jesus…And this same man, who looked his disciples in the eye, knowing that one by one they would somehow fail him, and he washed their feet…then he declared a blessing upon them…and he has declared the same blessing for you and for all people. Let us remember that in the end, this blessing is not up to us…for God will bless whoever God choses. Amen.

Maybe Its Both 3-25-18

In this Palm Sunday sermon, based on Mark 11:1-11, I explore Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, but consider the possibility of mixed emotions.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/maybe-its-both-3-25-18

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

I have a tendency…and I hope I’m not the only person who does this…there are certain movies that are SO good…that when I stumble across them while channel surfing…I’ll sit and watch them. It doesn’t matter where the story is at when I find it…I know these movies so well that my brain fills in the backstory…and I just sit and watch it through till the ending.

One of these movies is Forrest Gump…an instant classic from the mid-90s with Tom Hanks playing the hero…simple minded Forrest Gump…who knows “I am not a smart man.”  Somehow, over the course of about 2 hours’ worth of movie…this simple man manages to find himself present and involved in just about EVERY major event that occurs over about 50 years of American History.

His simple and yet utterly amazing life is shaped by the countless people that he encounters…but throughout all of these major events, he is shaped by the words and advice of those closest to him.  The words of his momma…of Jenny, the love of his life…of his friend Bubba, and his commanding officer Lt. Dan.

Now there’s a scene at the end of the movie that encapsulates this quite well. Spoilers for a 24 year old movie…but Forrest is standing at the grave of his beloved Jenny, talking to her while perhaps reflecting back on the life that he has lived and all that he has experienced…and he says this…

I don’t know if Momma was right…or if its Lt Dan…I don’t know if we each, have a…destiny…or if we’re all just floating around accidental, like on a breeze…But I think…maybe its both…maybe both is happening at the same time. (pause)

I can’t help but think there’s a lot of truth in that statement. Often I hear people talking about the idea of free will, and I hear about God’s plan…seemingly 2 sides to the same coin…and I think Forrest might be on to something…because maybe its both…and maybe, this idea of 2 things happening at the same time…2 things that perhaps seem like they are polar opposites of each other…I think that’s often the case in the life, and perhaps in the thoughts of people as individuals as they go through the day to day experience of life. (pause)

Now, in another thought…in my own recent history, I sort of felt like Forrest Gump. In a 2 hour movie he’s present for countless important events in history…and in a 10 day period over the last couple of weeks, I was present in the place where countless BIG events happened, both in the life and ministry of Jesus, as well as some of the much older events in the history of the Bible and the people of Israel…and one of those events…one of those places that I was blessed to see happens in today’s scripture lesson for Palm Sunday…the event that we’ve come to call the Triumphal Entry…as Jesus rides a donkey into the city of Jerusalem, kicking off what we call Holy Week…kicking off the final week of his life before his betrayal and arrest, which of course culminates in his death on the cross before his glorious resurrection on Easter Sunday, one week from today.

For Jesus, its all been coming towards this point. We’ve heard time and time again, stories of his miracles…displays of his divine power here within our reality. We’ve heard stories of his teaching, and the way it continues to open up old ways of thinking into a new way of being in the world. We’ve heard of his interactions with people…often times the outcasts as he continues to show us what it means that the kingdom of Heaven has come near…and we’ve heard, several different times, his prediction of what’s going to happen in Jerusalem.

And now…we hear the story itself…and I can’t help but think that there’s a lot going on here.  Jesus and his merry band of followers come upon the twin villages of Bethpage and Bethany…just outside of Jerusalem…and it seem that perhaps Jesus has been pulling some strings behind the scenes…He knows that there’s the colt of donkey that the disciples will find tied up outside a house in the opposite village…he knows what people will say when they try to take it…he tells them how to respond…and it happens, just as he predicts. Now maybe he was setting things up ahead of time…or maybe this is evidence of his divinity…and how he knows all things…maybe its both.

Regardless, the two disciples bring the colt, throw their cloaks on it…Jesus climbs on and rides into the city…people along the way are crying out…laying their cloaks on the road in front of him, along with waving the leafy branches that they’ve cut.

Now, think about it for a moment…how do you pictured this scene? I’ve long thought about it, that Jesus rode down a little bit of a hillside, pretty much in a straight line, and then came back up just a little ways to the gate of the city…people chanting and celebrating the whole way…I’ve always pictured a very joyful scene…like everyone’s really happy that he’s here…with the possible exception of the religious elite trying to hush everyone that we hear about in Luke’s account.

But…things are little bit different in my mind this time around…because 7 days ago…I was standing on the Mount of Olives…I stood there and looked…just as Jesus must have looked…taking it all in….and I wonder what was going through his mind…had he planned this? Or was it just happening. Was this intended to reveal his divine kingship to the world…or was it all just a coincidence? We don’t know…we don’t know.

But what I do think is this…Jesus was there on top of the Mount of Olives…and he looked to the west…and there was the temple mount…not far away…maybe 5-600 yards as the crow flies…but before he could get there…he had to go down through the Kidron Valley…now this is no simple low spot between hills…it’s a deep…deep ravine…with utterly steep sides…today, each side of the valley is utterly filled with graves…its literally a grave yard, its literally a place of death…Jesus would have looked across this valley…and it was nearly evening…the sun likely going down on behind the city, the valley growing darker with every passing moment.

Perhaps Jesus looked to his left, and out there to the south of the city was the valley of Gehenna…the valley that served as a trash heap for the city…a place where a fire was perpetually burning to consume the waste and the garbage and even the bodies of those condemned by the Romans…he would have seen the smoke rising from that fire.

This is no simple little walk that Jesus was about to experience…and I wonder what was in his head as he looked and saw all this. Was he determined…was he happy and joyful…was he concerned? He knew what was coming, just as we know now. Is he afraid yet? In 5 more days he’ll sweat blood in his agony…is that in his mind?

How easy would it have been to just shake his head, slip down off the back of that donkey’s colt and walk away? He could have done it…but he didn’t. He rode down into that deep dark valley…into that place which is now a place of death…and then he came back up from it into the city…with just enough time to look around the temple, and then to walk right back out the same way he came. He literally walked right back through that dark valley a second time, so he could spend the night in the village of Bethany.

Now there’s another aspect to consider here as well…because we don’t know what was in Jesus’ mind and heart in this instant, other than the conviction to do what he must do regardless of the inevitable consequences…and that other factor is found in the hearts and minds of the people that were following along behind and walking along in front, crying out Hosanna in the highest heaven…Blessed in is the one who comes in the name of the Lord…blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David.

I wonder just what they were thinking that day as they cried out Hosanna…because this word is important. 2000 years later, its certainly become a word of praise…of exultation and excitement…one that we perhaps hear in our minds along with children parading around the sanctuary waving palms.

But the word Hosanna…it literally means “Save us now.” (pause) Save us now, you in the highest heaven.  And I wonder, if that perhaps sounds a little familiar.

These would be Jewish people lining the road as Jesus passes by…people coming into the city to celebrate the Passover festival…a festival that literally serves a remembrance to the action that God had taken so long before in Egypt…the action that God took in response to 400 years of crying out in agony for God’s mercy and deliverance.

And now, so many generations later…this same people, who have experienced domination and enslavement from empire after empire…these same people are crying out “Save us now.” Perhaps they hoped to be saved from Roman control…perhaps they saw this man entering David’s city triumphantly and thought here we go…God’s chosen one…God’s anointed leader is finally here…the messiah…the one who will save us.

Were they joyful in this moment…was it the big parade and party that we tend to think in our minds? Or were these cries of Hosanna full of pain and sorrow…were they beseeching God for deliverance, perhaps through this man who could walk on water.  (pause) Maybe its both.

Maybe both is happening at the same time. (pause)

Now as we consider this, I can’t help but think that this dual nature…this tendency towards two different responses…this is truly what it means to be human…because nothing is black and white is it? Within a crowd, there will be some who are feeling joy and happiness…while at the same time there will be some who are experiencing pain and sorrow because of their circumstances…and maybe…just maybe, there are some who are feeling the swirl of both all at the same time.

As we look around this room today, I’m guessing that this is the case. As we kick off Holy Week today, some feel joy…some feel sorrow…some are excited, some feel pain…and you know what…that’s to be expected…because to feel this whirlwind of emotions and thoughts and feelings is simple evidence that you are alive and that you…are…human.

We know that Jesus laughed…and we know that he cried…we know that he felt joy and we know that he felt agony…and we know this because while Jesus was fully divine, he was also human…and what he accomplished…what we will remember this week as we move through it…is that Jesus came to bring the kingdom of heaven near to us…a kingdom which begins from a place of love and delight…the love and delight that God feels for all of creation…for all of life, because to God all life is precious, even when that life is full of brokenness and pain.

Through Jesus, God was showing the world the way of perfect love…but the world said no…and on Friday we’ll remember that in the literal face of the love of God, the world killed him…and we’ll sit with that…but then on Sunday…God says “Oh you thought I was done?” (pause)

Now its not quite Easter yet, though we do celebrate our Risen Lord each and every day…and so today, allow yourself to be human…allow yourself to feel whatever it is that you need to feel…that you need to think…that you need to experience…even if its joy…even its if pain…Or maybe its both.  And remember that we have a God who can and does continue to willingly enter into places of pain and death and darkness in order to bring us into the light of new life. Amen.

Love Wins 4-13-17 (Maundy Thursday)

In this sermon for Maundy Thursday, I explore the importance of the foot washing that Jesus provides for his disciples at the Last Supper.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/4-13-17-love-wins-maundy-thursday

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

As we get older, I think its fair to say that bit of advice and wisdom that someone chose to share with us in our younger years tends to stick…and soon enough we find ourselves bestowing that very same wisdom or advice on to others.  I’ve certainly discovered that to be true within the various aspects of ministry that I am involved with.

Some of you have probably picked up on this. When I find myself in a situation that repeats, what comes out of my mouth probably sounds the same time after time. Its true in teaching…its true in preaching…I’ve found it to be true in the proclamation of the gospel in funerals…and I’ve found it to be true in the advice I give couples on their wedding day.

Now, perhaps this will come as no great surprise, but this wedding advice that I pass along was advice given to my wife and I during our wedding ceremony. It speaks to the patient nature of mutual love for one another…especially in situations when we start getting on one another’s nerves…those situations when we let one another down…those times when we just aren’t getting along.

In those times, as we look at each other, and we aren’t feeling a whole lot of warm fuzzies for each other…we need to remember this advice. Even though I don’t like you very much right now…I still love you.

I think that very sentiment reflects the truth about our relationships with one another…because we all fail…we all get selfish or moody…we all get frustrated and angry…and in one way or another we always end up hurting one another…I guess you could call that a true aspect of the human condition. (pause)
Now I was thinking along these very lines earlier this week as I pondered on tonight’s scripture and sermon. This is, of course a familiar passage…one featured every year here on Maundy Thursday…John’s account of the Last Supper, as Jesus gathers along with the 12 disciples to share one final meal…to share in a time of teaching and fellowship…and a time when Jesus will show his love for his disciples by setting aside the position of honor and authority as the host of the meal…and taking on the role of the lowliest servant to stoop down and wash the feet of these men that he loves. (pause)

Now admittedly…Holy Week is a time when I tend to think of all that God is doing…and because of this…when I think about Jesus…I tend to think about his divinity…that Jesus is the personification of God’s literal and physical action within our reality…and throw in the strong focus of John’s gospel on the fact that Jesus is God in the flesh…and for me…it becomes quite simple to forget that in addition to being fully divine…Jesus was also fully human.

Yes, this is God playing host to the disciples at the Last Supper…but at the very same time…this is also a Man.  And just like each one of us…Jesus…experienced the full gambit of emotions. We hear about that in various aspects of the gospels. He experiences joy. He experiences anger. He experiences sorrow and mourning…He experiences frustrations…just like us.  And even though we likely fail to realize…I think its safe to say that Jesus experienced his share of frustrations…even with those he cared about most…even the 12 disciples. (pause)

But despite that reality…Jesus invites them into the meal…and as we have heard, he serves them all.  But there’s one point that catches my attention right at the beginning of this passage. Jesus…knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands…all things. Jesus…knew…everything. (pause)

He knew what was coming. He knew the hearts and minds of those 12 men who sat at the table with him. He knew what they were going to do. (pause) If we look ahead in the story…knowing what’s coming over the course of the next 24 hours…Jesus looked at these guys and I can’t imagine the disappointment he must have felt.  Judas…well that’s a no brainer. Judas would utterly betray him. Judas would be responsible for leading the soldiers to arrest him.  He looks at Peter…knowing that even though Peter is his strongest supporter…he would ultimately deny even knowing Jesus not just once, but three times.  He looks into the face of each and every one of them…knowing that when things get ugly out there in the garden…every one of them is going to run away…every…single…one.

And I can only imagine that as Jesus sat there at the table with them…and then as he got up and filled the basin, and then knelt at the feet of each one of them…and gently washed their feet and dried off…looking each on in the face as he did so…I can only imagine the disappoint that he must have felt…knowing that he has poured his heart and soul into them…teaching them…guiding them…only to have them run away when things get darkest.  (pause) Maybe, just maybe in that instant, Jesus is thinking to himself…Right now I don’t like you very much…but, I still love you. (pause)
That’s the thing…that is what we need to remember…because that’s what this night is all about. Jesus has gathered with those closest to him…these men, who in a few short days, will take over as the core group of his body here on earth…and in spite of any negative human emotions that Jesus must have been experiencing…his love for them as individuals is on full display….and not just for one or two of them…but all 12.

He washes the feet of the men who will abandon him in the garden…He washes the feet of the 3 guys who fail to stay away and pray with him, even though he asks them more than once…He washes the feet of Peter, the one who will deny him…and he even washes the feet of Judas…the one who will betray him…he knows all of this is about to happen and he serves them anyway.

Why would he do that? I think its safe to say that is any of us were in his position….we’d probably err on the side of condemnation…or in the very least shooting a guilt trip at each person for the failure that they will ultimately endure…But Jesus doesn’t do it?

Because for Jesus…who is fully human in this moment…and yet is also fully God…love wins.  Love trumps everything.  We hear this…having loved his own…he loved them till the end…he loved them in the midst of their failures…he loved them through his own death and resurrection…and he still loves them…because we haven’t reached the end yet.

This is the amazing thing about the God that we serve…about the God that we worship…that ultimately…even though this world is dark and broken…and even though we ultimately end up failing one another with startling regularity…God still loves us. And just as he washed the feet of his disciples knowing what was in their hearts, he took the cross for all of us, knowing what is in our hearts.

Now there are times when that amazing news seems so clear…and its so easy to hold on to…to believe…but there are also times when it seems so unrealistic…but you know what…Jesus knew that too…and as he says to Peter…what I am doing you do not know now…but later you will understand.

This gospel that we profess is so utterly and completely mind blowing…that it should come as no great shock that we experience moments of doubt and disbelief. Likewise, it should come as no great shock to us that express this belief that there are many in the world who can’t wrap their heads around the gospel.

This is the reality that we live in…but there is a promise that we can cling to in the midst of all this. Remember the exchange between Jesus and Peter.  When Jesus offers something to Peter…at first he tries to refuse…and then in his lack of understanding he asks for more than he needs. But Jesus assures him in the end…Peter, you are clean…

The amazing thing that we need to remember from this night…is that salvation is not up to us…its not a choice that we make ourselves…because God offers it to us freely…and at the same time…its not difficult…and in the end…salvation is simply about what Jesus has said about you…and what he has said is that you are mine.  This action of action…and this declaration of Christ is not up to you…but it is for you.

And tonight, we begin the final journey that Jesus will endure in order to show you just how far he is willing to go to prove this amazing sacrificial love for you.  Despite any and all failings on our part…he still makes the choice to do this…because when it comes it comes to God…our failures don’t matter…and in the end, love wins.  Amen.

Who Is This God? 4-9-17

This sermon is based on Matthew 21:1-11, which is Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, kicking off Holy Week.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/who-is-this-god-4-9-17

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

These days, with the weather warming up, its getting increasingly common for me to walk around town. Here in Underwood there aren’t many places that you can’t walk to inside of 10 minutes.  But there was a time in my life when I relied on walking a whole lot more than I do now…and that time was my 2 years at Iowa State.

I’m sure many of you are familiar with the campus at Iowa State. Its good sized…covering approximately 4 square miles, dotted with all kinds of different buildings. And when I was in school those two years, I walked all over the place.  Go here and there for various classes and events. I always had my rhythm depending on the day that would dictate where I was going.

And as I think back, Friday’s always included a trip to the Memorial Union…because you could cash a check in the Union…and having cash in my pocket was always a necessity going into the weekend.

Now week in and week out, this would work out just fine…but there was one time when things got a little tricky. It was early in the fall of 2000…and for the first time ever…politics interfered with my day…because on this particular Friday afternoon…the Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore was scheduled to give a campaign speech on the front steps of the Union….something I was actually unaware of until I approached the building on my usual Friday afternoon quest for cash.

But because he was going to be there…security forces had blocked off the street that I had to cross…something I didn’t realize until I got within about 100 feet of the building…and in order to get the rest of the way into the building…I had to walk an extra ¾ of a mile…and I remember being SO irritated by this whole situation. I kept asking myself “Who does this guy think he is?”  I might as well have been asking the same question posed in today’s Gospel. “Who is this?”

Now interestingly enough…that Friday afternoon on the campus of ISU had some similarities with this exciting day in Jerusalem that happened 2000 years back.  Something big was happened…the upcoming festival in Jerusalem…a visiting political VIP in Ames…and because of both situations…people were in a tizzy.

Now, Al Gore aside…that was the situation as Jesus approached the city. He’s been traveling around…his ministry is now come to a close…and its time to come into Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Interestingly enough, Jesus and his band of followers would have been a tiny group in the thousands upon thousands of Jewish people flocking into the capital for this festival. And yet…out of all those people…Jesus is the one whose arrival causes a scene.

Now personally, I find this whole situation a little odd…because there are aspects of Jesus showing humility…and at the same time there are hints of something greater going on.  (pause) We hear that Jesus approaches from the Mount of Olives…which is quite close to city…only about 300-400 yards outside the walls, but across a deep valley…and when he arrives at that point, he sends two of his disciples ahead, into the outskirts of town where they’ll find a donkey and her colt…and he has them bring the animals out to him.

Once they get back, Jesus hops on…and slowly rides down the winding road from the top of the mountain, down through the valley, and back up towards the city…and coming along this road, sitting on the back of a donkey…we hear that he’s fulfilling an old prophecy that the king will come into the city just like this. (pause)

Now, we know that Jesus has a following…and not just the 12 disciples, but there are others as well…and as Jesus rides along, these followers, along with the other people that they begin to encounter…they all start treating Jesus like a VIP…and we see this in a couple different ways.

First off…we see in their shouts of jubilation. Hossana to the Son of David….Hossana in the highest…Simply calling him the son of David is pretty telling…because they would all know that a descendent of David would retake the throne…God had made that promise to David afterall…and so, clearly…they see Jesus as royalty.

But the second sign of this VIP status, is how the people prepare the road for him to pass.  We hear that they pull of their cloaks and that they yank branches off the trees, laying them in the road before him. (pause) Now have you ever stopped to wonder why they did that? What would possess these people to treat anyone like this, regardless of if its Jesus or not?

Well, have you ever walked along a parade route once the parade is over…and you discover that there were horses in that parade because you aren’t paying attention and you step in the wrong spot? (pause)
Interestingly enough, that’s what the people are trying to avoid. Anytime a visiting dignitary would come into the city…the people would do this…but it had to be a very important person…someone like, maybe a king perhaps?  (pause) They spread their cloaks so that Jesus wouldn’t have to step in anything…and that was the common practice.

Now imagine you’re in the city…and you hear shouts of jubilation for someone approaching…you hear rumors of royalty…of a Son of David…someone who might just be the long awaited Messiah…and then as he comes around the corner…you see a humble traveling Rabbi getting the Royal VIP treatment.

This isn’t a king…if it was…he’d be in a chariot…we’d be able to tell…this is just some guy?  And so, even though the city is turmoil because of all this stuff going on…the people ask the question. WHO…IS…THIS? (pause)

I can’t help but think that the entire world has been asking this same question for the last 2000 years. Who is this? This Jesus guy. This guy who travels around…who spends time with the lowly and the outcast. This guy who heals the sick…who challenges the elite…Who is this guy who feeds thousands with a few morsels of bread? Who iis this guy that brings hope to the powerless…and brings rebukes to the powerful? And maybe the biggest question of them all…Who is this, that claims to be God?

We’ve heard Jesus called many things…and we’ve heard the stories of the amazing things that he does.  We hear them week in and week out all year long…we read them in the scriptures…and there are countless examples that we could point to. But who is this God?

What do we find if we ask this question just through what we’ve encountered here during the season of Lent?  Who is this God? He is one that faces temptation and somehow overcomes it.

Who is this God? He is one that commands Satan, and Satan listens.

Who is this God? He is one who speaks of the mysteries of faith…that we must be born again…and in doing so he teaches the teachers.

Who is this God? He is one who can look at an individual and KNOW them…he is one who can tell me everything I ever did. Could he be the Messiah?

Who is this God? He is the one who can open the eyes of the blind.

Who is this God? He is one who weeps…who mourns in the face of death…but he is also the one who does something about it. (pause)
We stand here today…Palm Sunday…mere days before the event of God entering our reality comes to completion through the death and resurrection of Christ…and perhaps we are all asking the question. Who is this God…Who is this man?  Who is this Messiah? (pause)
The people in Jerusalem had the wrong idea…They though the Messiah was someone who would establish the earthly throne of David…who would toss out their political oppressors and lead them to freedom…they thought he was someone so important in the human sense that his delicate feet must be protected from stepping in manure…But little did they realize that this man…this Messiah…this God in human form was about to accomplish something even greater…but he would do it through the most humbling…the most humiliating…the most brutal fashion…but if we go there today, we get ahead of ourselves. (pause)

Today Jesus enters the city…triumphantly…in a fashion that begs the question Who is this? And today, we leave it right there…but in the days to come, continue to ask yourself that same question.

Ask, “Who is this?” when he shares a meal with his friends and humbles himself to wash their feet.

Ask, “Who is this?” when he prays in anguish for the cup to pass from his lips.

Ask, “Who is this?” when he is betrayed…when he is tortured…when he is nailed to the cross.

And then, ask you ponder on that question throughout this week to come…take it one step farther…and ask “Who is this God” who willingly does this? (pause) We’ll leave it right there…for now.

A Piece of that Peace 3-20-16

This morning’s sermon for Palm Sunday comes from Luke 19:28-40. This is the story of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry, and features the only gospel account of opposition within the crowd during his entry into the city. I explore the basis of that opposition.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/a-piece-of-that-peace-3-20-16

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

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

If you get a group of people together who are familiar with the Christmas story and ask them to list out the details of that story…just spit-balling off the top of their heads…inevitably before the list is complete someone will mention Mary riding a donkey into Bethlehem. I have seen this time and again…most recently a few months back when our Adult Bible study bumped into the Christmas story.

Now in itself this isn’t a bad thing at all…there’s only one catch…nowhere in the gospel narrative…not even in a single gospel account…do we actually hear that Mary and Joseph have a donkey on their trip between Nazareth and Bethlehem. While its certainly possible that there was a donkey in tow…the scriptures never mention it.

And so ever since that discussion…there has been an ongoing joke within the group about that blasted donkey…but today’s gospel lesson offers the reprieve…and even though Mary didn’t have a donkey…30 odd years later…Jesus rode one into town. (pause)

All kidding aside, the setting for today’s story is a familiar one…Palm Sunday and the Triumphal Entry…as Jesus parades into Jerusalem on the back of a young donkey…heralded by shouts of joy and hosanna…with people laying their cloaks on the road before him and waving their palms around…BLESSED IS THE KING WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD….Blessed is the king. (pause)

Certainly this is one of those stories that we have heard before isn’t it? We celebrate this day every year on the church calendar…the lectionary texts highlight it to kick off Holy Week every year…all four gospels feature it in one form or another…and in a rare instance…all four gospels are fairly consistent with the details…but…as per usual with stories featured across the board…not everything is the same is it…and so allow me to point out a couple of differences.

The first one is simply a humorous observation…here in Luke, when Jesus instructs the two disciples to go find the donkey…there is no indication that once the Lord is done with it, he will send it back…it seems that here in Luke, the donkey remains with Jesus…in short, Jesus hijacks the donkey…perhaps to make up for the lack of his mother’s donkey 30 years prior. (pause)

Secondly…and much more serious…the opposition from the Pharisees. Luke alone lists opposition here at the triumphal entry…Matthew and Mark and John…all three of them simply list out the celebration…the joy of Jesus entering the city…and its only in the encounters that come after this that we hear of the religious elite stirring up trouble…But that’s not the case here in Luke…and we hear in the midst of the celebration…the Pharisees…the Biblical Bad-Guys…pull Jesus aside to try to get him to hush up the crowd. “Teacher…rebuke your disciples.”

Now this raises the question of what they are opposing. And if we shoot from the hip on this one…perhaps it seems that they are simply carrying on with their regular response to Jesus…opposing his message…opposing him…and simply sitting there on their Pharisee-high horse. That’s par for the course for this group of people isn’t it?

But what if that wasn’t in fact the case…and what if there was actually something else going on? (pause) That brings me to the last difference here in Luke’s account that isn’t present in the other gospels…the actual words that the crowd is joyfully shouting to the rooftops as Jesus rides into town…Blessed is the king. (pause) Luke not only features the Pharisees squawking…trying their best to hush every one up…but its also the only time that the crowds use the word…king. (pause)

Now at first glance this may not seem like a huge deal…but allow me to set the stage again. Jesus is coming into Jerusalem…which we all know…it is the site of the temple…and as such is the center of the Jewish culture…it is the religious center…and for them, their religious life is tied 100% together with all things political…going all the way back to King David…the one who established Jerusalem as the capital…and laid plans for the temple to be built in the first place.

So that’s where Jesus is coming into…and the timing it pretty important as well…for Jesus is coming into the Passover celebration…one of the three big important festivals in the Jewish culture…and now think about what Passover celebrates in the first place…the time when God freed the Israelites from slavery and oppression at the hands of Egypt…in short…this is a festival that celebrates new freedom…and it is attended by countless Jewish people from all over the known world. (pause)

And one more point…consider the known world at the time…this was the height of the Roman Empire…and Rome controlled everything…including Jerusalem. (pause) And here’s the thing about Rome…once an area and culture was conquered…they fell under something called the Roman Peace…which essentially meant that if you kept your head down…and paid your taxes…and didn’t interfere or talk back…they would pretty much leave you alone…but on the flip side…if you opposed them…well then the Romans weren’t quite so nice.

Now, what do you think they would do if suddenly this little backwater part of the empire suddenly crowned a new a king…and started rallying around this guy, who their religion taught them would toss the oppressors out on their keisters. Something tells me that wouldn’t go over very well.

And so here we are…in Jerusalem…at the start of a festival that celebrates liberation from oppression…and giant crowds have gathered to do just that…and so the Romans bring in tons of re-enforcements including the Governor himself…this guy you may heard of named Pilate…and now…this random dude attracts a crowd of his own, who are chanting about him being the coming King…and not only that, but riding a donkey which just so happens to fulfill the ancient prophecies about how the anointed king would enter into the city. (pause)

Sorta sounds like trouble is brewing doesn’t it? Sorta sounds like the very thing that might just end that Roman Peace that was in effect…sounds like the very thing that might end up bringing the Roman Army down upon them.

And considering all that…who among the Jewish culture would be the ones to realize all this? The cultural leaders perhaps? Those who are prominent in society? Like maybe…some of the religious leaders…the Pharisees perhaps? (pause)

What if the Pharisees…when they tell Jesus “Teacher, rebuke your disciples” they aren’t trying to hush the crowds into denying Jesus…but maybe, just maybe…they were trying to protect them…maybe, despite their error…they actually have Israel’s best interest in mind here…and they are trying to maintain the peace…or at least the peace found in their current status quo. Maybe they actually have good intentions. (pause)

But you know what they say…the road to hell is paved with good intentions. (pause) Because in the end, what happens…First off, Jesus tells them that if the people don’t celebrate his arrival then the rocks will cry out…that even nature recognizes that something big is happening…and there is no stopping it.

But then, Jesus goes on his way…he enters the city…reeks further havoc when he goes into the temple and drives out the merchants…but then spends the next few days sitting there in the temple teaching the crowds. The Romans don’t seem to care…and in fact, its not until the religious leaders trump up false accusations against him at the end of the week that the Romans even get involved…and when they do…they don’t really want to do anything. (pause)

I say all of this…because the fragile peace that the Pharisees were trying to protect…was simply an illusion…there was no peace…they were simply keeping their heads down to avoid the display of power on the part of the biggest schoolyard bully that existed at the time…40 years later…their illusion of peace was gone when Rome utterly destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. (pause)

But Jesus was up to something more…and he knew it…he wasn’t coming into Jerusalem just to celebrate the Passover like a good Jewish man was expected to do…Jesus came to challenge the status quo…and to bring about true peace…not just the illusion of peace that exists here in our present reality…the illusion that disappears the instant someone feels the need to display their power.

Jesus was coming to accomplish something that had never happened before…and through the most violent, horrific, tragic torture and death that you can imagine…he brought about peace between God and humanity…he went through the ultimate darkness to reveal the light of life within our dark reality. (pause)

And maybe…just maybe, the Pharisees saw that coming…or maybe they didn’t and in the end all they were really trying to do was save their own skin…maintain their own illusion of safety…

Don’t we do the same? (pause) Don’t we love to live in denial…to keep our head’s down thinking that the status quo is the only way it can be? We hide from the light of God…because all too often we don’t like what light reveals.

Every morning, when the sun shines through the big east window over in the parsonage, I’m amazed at two things…to see just how dirty those windows are…and second at the amazing amount of dust and dirt that shows up when the light shines on it.

And this is true in our lives as well…because the light of the ultimate truth reveals those things that we’d rather keep out of sight and out of mind…those secrets that we keep…and society for us today…just like the Pharisees back in Jesus day…it dictates what is acceptable and what should remain hidden.

We all have these things…these painful secrets that we hide away…but I want you to know that Jesus desires that you be free of those things…that’s why the light entered the darkness…to drive it back…and take these burdens from us…whatever it is…addiction…mental illness…anger…sadness…depression…all of these things that society has deemed unacceptable…and so more often that not we hide them away…and put on the illusion of peace in our lives…but that’s all it is…an illusion.

But thanks be to God that Jesus took the darkness of the cross, revealing the true light of God…but more importantly revealing those things within us that we can’t hide from God. (pause) And despite those things about ourselves that we are ashamed of…those things that society says are unacceptable…God looks at us, and doesn’t see those things…God looks at us and sees one that he loves…one that he adores…one that he claims as his beloved…and there is nothing that will stand in the way of God making that claim upon us…that’s what Jesus shows us this week…that there is no length he will not go to for us…to establish the TRUE peace within our lives…and within our relationship with God.

And that gives me hope…hope in the face of that crap that lies back in the shadows of my life…hope in the presence of pain caused by the darkness within those that I care about…and even…hope in the face of this dark world that tries so hard to keep us in the status quo.

This hope found in Jesus is true peace…and while this does not ensure that our lives will be perfect…we cling to the hope and the joy that we find in knowing that we are loved and we are accepted…and that in the relationship between God and you…there is true peace.

I’ll take a piece…of that peace any day. Amen.