Posts Tagged ‘Jerusalem’

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.

Advertisements

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.

Jesus On a Colt

Today’s lectionary reading comes from Mark 11:1-11. This is Mark’s account of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

On a personal note, I’ve always found this particular story a little bit odd. The scholar in me knows that it is included as a way to bridge between the early prophetic writings (ie Zechariah in this case) and Jesus (more on that momentarily). But beyond that, it just seems a little strange considering what happens in the following days.

One thing is clear as we come into this story. Jesus is approaching Jerusalem for what he knows will be his final days before the passion (note, for explanation of “the passion” see here…God bless you wikipedia). Things are wrapping up, but due to the tone of this particular passage, it would seem that they are going to end on a high note. However we know the ending don’t we? Despite the positive note that we see here, things end rather badly.

In his commentary on biblegateway.com Matthew Henry discusses the importance of Jesus loud public entry into the city. He’s not coming in quietly. Rather he comes in full view of everyone, in a very public spectacle. Jesus knows what’s going to happen, but he shows no fear of the city itself nor the powers present within it.

It would seem that the people really respond to him as well. We hear them crying out Hosanna and shouting blessings. They recognize that Jesus represents the throne of David promised by God 1000 years prior (verses 9-10). Ironically, the crowds are quickly dispersed as the days go on. I’ve heard it said that some of the very same people were present in the mob crying out for Jesus to be killed just a few days later. So what happened? When I reflect on this idea, and think about how quickly the crowds turned against him, I find myself convicted. Specifically, this reminds me at just how easy it is to turn from Jesus when the going gets tough. Sure it’s easy to be on the “Jesus team” when things are looking good, but do we support him when the tides turn? Or do we change our tune from Hosanna to Crucify him! Keep in mind that even the disciples failed this test. They may not have been crying out against him, but they weren’t standing with him either.

Now, that being said, I’ll return the small point I made in the beginning…the whole colt thing. Why is this significant? Why is this detail of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem important enough to be included in all 4 gospels? (Note, that there are few things that are mentioned all 4 times, so this is a pretty big deal). Well, as I mentioned before, Zechariah talks about this very situation in ch 9:9. “Rejoice greatly, o daughter Zion! Shout aloud, o daughter Jerusalem! Lo your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” This entire chapter of Zechariah talks about the coming king and  and salvation for the people of God. We know that the words of the prophets are a big deal to the people of Israel, and we see a pretty direct prediction. I’m reminded of portions of the Nicene Creed which talk about Jesus life being in accordance to the Scriptures and that God speaks through the prophets. It’s really a way of seeing that God’s been working this direction for a long time…for reference, Zechariah was active approximately 500BC.

So in retrospect, it seems hat there is a lot going on in this passage, and on a final personal note, maybe I shouldn’t underestimate these passages that, at first glance, seem insignificant.