Posts Tagged ‘Triumphal Entry’

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

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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.

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.

On The Verg 3-29-15

This morning’s sermon comes from Mark 11:1-11 and features the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem which kicks off the final week of his life. In the sermon I explore the stark lack of conflict and tension that’s present in the story.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/on-the-verge-3-29-15

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
I graduated from high school in May of 1997…and one of the highlights for me happened just a week or so after my graduation, when I along with two of my closest friends packed up my parents old pop up camper, and ventured up to a resort in northern Minnesota for a week’s worth of camping…just the guys.
Now…being typical young guys…the notion of roughing it didn’t really sound that appealing to us…and so in addition to having the camper…we also brought along a lot of the comforts of home…we had a small fridge so we could keep things cold…we brought along a stereo because we had to have tunes playing in the background…and we also brought along a tv and vcr…hey it was the 90’s, dvd’s weren’t around yet.
Now we didn’t really use the tv/vcr that much, mainly only after it got dark or during the one day of the week when it was rainy and we had to stay inside the camper…but there was one afternoon when we embraced our science fiction loving nature, and we sat down to watch a long movie…actually it was a mini-series that had aired on tv back in the early 80’s…a mini-series called V.
Now both of my buddies were familiar with this show…as they are both a couple years older than me they were actually old enough to remember it when first aired…but it sounded interesting to me…being about a group of aliens that show up on earth…in what seems to be a peaceful manner, only to reveal that they are lizard people intent on eating us…and so we sat down to watch it.
Going in, I knew that it had aired as a miniseries and so it would last several hours to watch…and it did…but what I didn’t know, was that this mini-series was intended to introduce the following tv series…and so there was no real conclusion. And for three plus hours I sat there, watching a lot of boring exposition…and a little bit of action…but not much…the entire time thinking…Okay, something will happen…there has to be a climax at some point…and as the minutes passed by…nothing happened…until finally in the closing scene, some random guy takes a can of spray paint and puts a big V on the wall…A V that stands for the fact that humanity is going to fight back…and one day we will have victory over the invaders…and then the screen fades to black around that big red V…before the credits rolled.
And I remember being so mad…because nothing happened…there was no climax…nothing…and to this day, if the guys want to get a rise out of me, all they have to do is say “V” and I get a little twitchy. (pause)
Now perhaps you’re wondering just what this all has to do with our gospel lesson for today…and admittedly that’s a fair question…for today is one of those days of celebration…Palm Sunday…the Triumphal Entry…the day that Jesus finally hops on the donkey and rides into Jerusalem…riding in to the joyous shouts of Hosanna in the highest…as the entire city rejoices at the arrival of the King. (pause)
Now granted, Palm Sunday isn’t quite as big of a deal as some of our other “big days.” Easter’s a week away…and Christmas is the other obvious one…but still…Palm Sunday is one that we celebrate…at least on a smaller scale…but the interesting thing about Palm Sunday…joyous though it might be…is that it tends to be just a little more muted because we know what’s coming don’t we? (pause)
Yes, Easter is just a week away…we are almost through this dark season of Lent…we are almost to the amazing moment when the angels roll away the stone and the resurrected Jesus comes walking out of the tomb…but before we get there…we still have some rough stuff to get through…We’ve got opposition…tension…a final meal…anguish in the garden…and a crucifixion to get through before Jesus can rise again. (pause)
And so here’s the thing…knowing what we know…knowing what’s still in store…doesn’t Palm Sunday always seems just a little premature…because we know what’s right around the corner. (pause)
Now here’s something that gives me just a little bit of pause today…I’ve gotten far enough into my years of ministry now that I’ve had the opportunity to preach on Palm Sunday during all three years of the lectionary…I preached out of Luke during my year of Internship…and a year ago for our first Lent and Easter season together, Palm Sunday came out of Matthew…and now this year its Mark.
And even though I often times remind myself that we shouldn’t try to mix up the different gospel accounts of the same story, I’ve found myself doing it all week long with this one…and not only the triumphal entry itself, but really the different accounts of Jesus’ final week of life in and around Jerusalem. (pause)
And there’s a pretty stark difference between Mark and the other Gospels…and that difference is the complete lack of conflict in this story. In Luke, its not even subtle…the Pharisees and Sadducees, you know them…the go-to Biblical Badguys…come right out and argue with Jesus, telling him to instruct everyone waving their palm branches and shouting out joyfully that they need to keep it down…Matthew is a little bit more ambiguous, but the question is raised throughout the entire city of “Who is this man that they cheer for?”
But Mark…well Mark’s got nothing…the only hint of any sort of opposition at all occurs when the two disciples find the colt…and some random person says “Ahh guys…how come you’re taking that colt?” “Well the Lord needs it.” “Umm…okay.” (pause) That’s it…there’s nothing else…there’s no conflict at all…and everyone just seems excited that this guy is riding into the city.
And let’s be honest…as great as the celebration seems to be…isn’t it completely anti-climactic? Think about it…Jesus comes riding into town…and everyone seems to come outside to gawk and to cheer…which is maybe understandable…they didn’t have cable or wifi to keep them occupied, so I guess this would grab some attention…for about 5 minutes anyway…because did you notice that the crowd melted away…almost instantly?
YAY!!! HOSSANA!!!! Ummm…okay let’s go back inside….beacuse we hear that HE…entered the city and went into the temple. Not the crowd following him…just him…seemingly by himself now…crazy…and here’s another thing…both Matthew and Luke tell us that he enters the temple and immediately we hear the story of the cleansing…when Jesus goes off on the merchants and money changers….CONFLICT!!!!
But here in Mark…that doesn’t happen till the next day…Seriously…Jesus rides into town…the crowds cheer and then leave…and he walks in the temple…takes one look and leaves again…NOTHING HAPPENS…It raises the question of just why in the heck Jesus even went into the city in the first place…he started off in Bethany…he rides in and then promptly heads back to Bethany again. WHY?!?!
Now here’s the deal about Mark…out of all of the gospels…Mark, even though it’s the shortest one…is the most thorough about details of the final week that Jesus spends in Jerusalem before his passion…and as the days tick by, two things happen…the tension and opposition steadily increases…while at the same time those coming along for the ride with Jesus steadily decrease. (pause)
Think about this for a moment…we begin here…with the triumphal entry and ZERO tension…no one is squawking…no one is scheming…but then we have the cleansing of the temple the next day…and Jesus butts heads with the religious leaders over things over the next couple of days…and then the last Supper and the garden and the arrest and the trial and the eventual crucifixion…that’s all ahead…building steadily.
And on the flip side today, we have the entire city cheering for Jesus, but they’re gone by the end of the ride into town…and Jesus is left with his large gang of followers…but then by Thursday, we’re down to the 12 disciples sitting in the upper room…and then they head out to the garden where Jesus experiences his anguish…and he’s only got 3 men with him at that point…and then pretty soon he’s arrested and everyone’s tucked tail except Peter who follows at a distance…and then the next thing you know Jesus is alone…hanging on that cross. (pause)
The tension mounts and the people fade away…turning their backs on him…betraying him…abandoning him…(pause) And we all come to expect this don’t we? As we sit here today…Palm Sunday, knowing what’s to come…knowing that one by one everyone will turn their backs on the savior of the world…how can we celebrate today? (pause)
But here in Mark…that’s exactly what happens…and admittedly, I’ve found myself irritated by it this week. I want there to be opposition…I want someone to speak out against Jesus…to squawk at him…to do something…don’t just cheer for him…someone be the bad guy…anyone… (pause)
Because…if there’s a bad guy that we can point at today…even in the midst of the celebration…then maybe, just maybe the eventual betrayal of every single person during the course of this week won’t feel quite so bad…because if there’s someone that we can point our finger at today…then it takes the pressure off of us…it makes the betrayal just a little bit easier to swallow.
But that’s not the case…here in Mark’s gospel…the entire city…filled with Jewish people from all over the known world…a crowd of people that we might as well call the entire world loves Jesus…and I guess that includes us too doesn’t it…for about 5 minutes…
But one by one…as this week marches on…EVERYONE leaves him…and I have to say that includes us too because on Friday, as he hangs there, gasping for breath…he…is…alone. (pause)
And perhaps when we think about that we wonder just how it is that we abandoned the Savior of the World…after all, this happened 2000 years ago…we weren’t there…we didn’t do it…but then we remember the power of sin and death in this world…and we realize that our own sinful nature…the darkness that resides right here…turned away from Jesus whether we were standing in that crowd or not…whether we were holding the nails that pierced his hands or not…we all did it.
But the amazing thing about this…is that if Jesus had it to do all over again…and the world consisted of Jesus…God in Human form…and one other person…you…He would still do it…he would still take it…and he would do it willingly in order to beat back those powers of darkness that hinder our relationship with God.
That’s the glory of the gospel…that God willingly does this…even for a world that turns its back on him…even for individuals who in one moment are cheering for him…and in the next are ignoring him…and this all happens in the next 7 days. (pause)
So today we cheer…knowing the back of our minds that today’s joy does not last long…and that things are about to get a whole lot darker…and that one by one we will turn and walk away…leaving our Lord behind…but praise be to God that he takes it…and in the end, we rejoice in knowing that he took it for us…and that if he needed to…he would do it all again.
Today is Palm Sunday…and we’re almost there…because this week it happens…we’re on the verge…so let’s walk this final road to the cross together. 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.