Archive for Palm Sunday

Conflicted Passions?

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , on April 14, 2019 by timtrue

Luke 22:14—23:56

1.

When we hear the passion narrative according to the Gospel of Mark, the centurion over there exclaims, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” (Mark 15:39).

But this year we heard the passion narrative according to Luke. And according to Luke, the centurion over here exclaims, “Certainly this man was innocent!”

Well, which is it? Is Jesus God’s Son? Or is Jesus innocent?

The simple answer is, yes. On that day, yes, Jesus was innocent; and on that day—and always—yes, Jesus is God’s Son.

So, why do I bring this up? Because I think we actually like Mark’s telling better than we like Luke’s. Mark agrees more with our modern sensibilities.

2.

Mark focuses on Jesus’ identity; and we like to think about who Jesus is.

After all, we live in troubled times. The twentieth century saw more deaths through war than from all the wars of the previous five thousand years of recorded history.

Even closer to home, our nation today is feeling more polarized than it has in a long, long time; arguably more than it has since Civil War times.

Who Jesus is, then, matters deeply to us. For we need refuge; we need salvation; we need a God in whom we can trust.

Because we don’t really know if this is true.

The words of Mark’s narrative resonate with us. God’s Son cries out from the cross what we are all feeling: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

3.

But, to remind you, we’re not in Mark’s Gospel today. We’re in Luke’s. And Luke, on the other hand, focuses not on Jesus’ identity but on his mission of love.

Well then, what is Luke’s larger narrative?

It’s actually fresh in our minds; we’ve been listening to it almost every Sunday since Christmas.

At his baptism, Jesus was there in line and praying with all the other, marginalized, oppressed people.

In Nazareth, Jesus preached to his hometown crowd, outlining his mission—why he’d come: release for the captives, sight for the blind, and so on. To bring justice! Love enacted!

And what did his hometown neighbors do? They became so angry they tried to hurl him off a cliff!

And so Jesus preached about that. “Love your enemies,” he said, “do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

Even if they try to throw me off a cliff? Yes! Even those enemies!

Opposition continued throughout his earthly ministry—something he addressed squarely in that story we like to call the Parable of the Prodigal Son—which we probably should rename: the Parable of the Brooding Older Brother (the Parable of BOB).

Anyway, everywhere Jesus went—though he did nothing wrong—people opposed him, resisted him, threatened him and his mission of love; until at last he was arrested, tried, declared guilty, and crucified.

He led no one down the wrong path.

He upheld the scriptures.

He did nothing violent.

He sought justice.

And yet he was killed, violently and unjustly!

Yet even at his death—it’s not like Mark tells it, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” No, here in Luke, even despite the violence and injustice, Jesus’ last words indicate comprehensive trust in God’s will. “Father,” he cries out, “into your hands I commend my spirit.”

What! How can he be so resolute? How does he remain so singularly focused on his mission of love?

No, we don’t like Luke’s narrative so much.

The centurion declares, “Certainly this man was innocent”; and we are confronted with just how much work there remains for us to do.

We would rather rest in Mark’s Gospel.

The world is a scary place. Jesus is my refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble. Can’t I therefore just run inside, batten down the hatches, and ride out this present storm with the people I love, my spiritual family?

4.

Remember the simple answer: Yes! Both are true.

Mark’s focus on Jesus’ identity shows us that our God remains present even when we cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

And, at the same time, Luke’s focus on Jesus’ mission—on our bringing justice wherever there is injustice; on our obligation to enact love—shows that it remains our call, no matter how hard things seem.

Both are true; and both are needed in the mystery of the resurrection.

Remember who Jesus is; and remember what he is calling us to do.

On C. S. Lewis and the Triumphal Entry

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , on March 31, 2015 by timtrue

Palm Sunday: Meditations on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; and the Triumphal Entry

Matthew 21:1-11

God works in very different ways than we might expect.

  • C. S. Lewis tells a great allegory of Christ—his ministry, trial, death, and resurrection—in a story called The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
  • Four children, siblings, the Pevensies, find their way into a land called Narnia, magically, through a wardrobe.
  • In that land there are talking beasts and mythological creatures come to life.
  • It is apparently ruled by a very stern witch, who has made it always winter but never Christmas.  Whenever anyone crosses her, she turns them to stone.
  • The children soon learn, however, that there is a greater ruler, a king, who is magnificent and benevolent.  He has been away but will soon return; and when he does the witch better watch out!
  • This king, they learn, and not without a little fear, is a lion named Aslan.
  • Well, if you’ve heard the story then you know that Aslan is a picture of Jesus Christ; and the witch is a picture of Satan.
  • In this story—as in our own—betrayal takes place, seen especially in one of the humans, Edmund.
  • This betrayal is worthy of death; and the witch will not take no for an answer.
  • But Aslan willingly offers to die in Edmund’s place.
  • The witch is almost overjoyed at this offer.  But just to be sure she reminds Aslan that once this covenant is agreed upon, it cannot be changed according to the laws of deep, ancient magic.
  • Nevertheless, Aslan’s offer stands.  He is sacrificed on a Stone Table in Edmund’s place.  It seems like the witch has won.
  • The girls, Susan and Lucy, weep and attend to their dead Lord.  When their grief is spent, they turn to leave.
  • Then, with their backs to the Stone Table, the sun rises and the girls hear a tremendous crashing sound.
  • They turn around and see that the Table is cracked and broken; and that their Lord, Aslan, is nowhere to be seen.
  • Thinking the worst—“Oh, haven’t they humiliated him enough already!”—Aslan appears suddenly, more radiant than ever, with drops of golden sunlight seeming to fly from his mane.
  • And he roars!
  • And the witch and all her cronies, far away now, tremble!
  • “But the deep and ancient magic, Aslan,” the girls ask; “how did you break it?”
  • “I cannot break God’s decrees,” he explains; “but there is an even deeper and more ancient magic the witch has forgotten about.  And according to that deeper and more ancient magic I stand before you now.  Let’s go settle this thing once and for all!”
  • And they do.

God works in very different ways than we might expect.

  • Now let’s look at the triumphal entry.
  • People spread their cloaks across the road so that Jesus can ride a donkey across them.
  • A donkey, the symbol of a king!
  • And they wave palms.
  • To this crowd, here is their savior, come to set all things right; come to deliver the chosen people of God from their human oppressors.
  • But after just a few short days, this new savior comes up short in their eyes.
  • He was noticed by the authorities at the Passover Feast.
  • But instead of fighting he retreated into a garden, where he was found hiding from his pursuers.
  • Now, during his trial, he’s just standing there, silent.
  • Why doesn’t he do anything about it?  Some messiah he turned out to be!
  • And so this same crowd that so recently laid their cloaks across the road; who so recently waved palm branches and shouted, “Hosanna in the highest!”—
  • This same crowd now shouts, “Crucify him!  Crucify him!”

God works in very different ways than we might expect.

  • Jesus didn’t satisfy the crowd’s understanding of deep, ancient magic—something called, theologically, the Abrahamic Covenant.
  • Jesus did not in any way they could see help them to take back the land that was rightfully theirs, according to what God once told Abraham.
  • And so Jesus, according to the crowd, was not their messiah.
  • But there was a deeper, more ancient magic at work—a magic that is far older than Abraham, even far older than Adam and Eve.
  • Perhaps if the crowd had paused and reflected, they might have seen this deeper magic at work in Jesus’s arrest and trial.
  • Perhaps if the crowd had paused and reflected, things would have turned out differently.
  • Perhaps if the crowd had paused and reflected, they would have seen that Jesus was indeed their Messiah in much more profound ways than they’d ever expected.
  • This is something we do as a church every year during Lent: pause and reflect.
  • Why?  Precisely this: to consider the deepest and most ancient magic of God; that Jesus is our Messiah in much more profound ways than we could ever know.
  • It all comes together this week: Holy Week.
  • Come and see!

God works in very different ways than we might expect.

Lead, Follow, or Get out of the Way?

Posted in Homilies with tags , , on April 13, 2014 by timtrue

palm sunday

Matthew 21:1-11

Herd mentality works two ways.

On the one hand, it can have a positive effect, something like positive peer pressure.

Take the stock market. Does it rise and fall based on supply and demand, as your economics professor told you? Or is it really more based on emotion and herd mentality? It’s really more that when the people at large, the “herd,” feel the economy is hunky-dory, that’s when the stock market goes up.

And, for a lot of people anyway, this is seen as a good thing.

But it can also go the other way, can’t it? When there is fear about the economy, especially fear about the near-future of the economy, the stock market plummets. The herd mentality has a negative effect.

Daniel Howard, a marketing professor at SMU, puts it this way: “Stock market bubbles and crashes are caused by herd mentality. It’s scary to me because we make our own heaven, and we make our own hell” (quoted from http://listverse.com/2013/07/28/top-10-instances-of-mob-mentality/ ).

Other examples of herd mentality worth mentioning are the Salem Witch Trials, the French Revolution, and the Holocaust; or, closer to home, Burning Man, professional sports contests, and the internet.

Some of these examples demonstrate terrible wrongs; others are more positive. But the gist is that in each case there is something about the herd, something about mob mentality, that causes people to do things they would never do on their own, as individuals.

And so we come to today’s Gospel.

Jesus is approaching Jerusalem. Somehow word has leaked out that here is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee. Could he be the Messiah?

Word spreads in the gathering crowd. He’s riding on a donkey with her colt. Didn’t the prophet Zechariah say something about this? Could he be the Messiah?

By now the crowd is large. Then the actions start. Somewhere in the midst of all the people someone lays a branch on the ground in front of Jesus. Then someone else does it. Someone else lays a cloak on the ground. And before you know it seemingly everyone is doing it.

And such a clamor! Everyone is making noise, noise that comes together in a din, nothing very defined. Until, ringing out distinctly above it all, a word is heard, a prayer. Others join in. Finally, in unison, like a great choir, all around Jesus the crowd is shouting, “Hosanna!”

Hosanna! Save us, we pray! (for that is its translation).

Save us, son of David, from the oppressive hand of the Roman rulers!

Save us from our sin, Jesus, you who come in the name of the Lord!

Save us to the highest heaven, superlatively, to the greatest possible amount that we can be saved!

Save us as only God himself is able to save!

And so we see the positive effects of herd mentality.

But what’s coming?

We know the story all too well, don’t we? Jesus enters Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosanna in the highest!” But the religious leaders want him dead.

It’s not just the Roman leaders here who think Jesus is a threat to the establishment. It’s also the Jewish religious leaders.

For many years the Jewish people have been under foreign rule. Uprisings have been attempted—even uprisings that were thought to be messianic. But now, at this time in history, the religious leaders have it pretty well. They are the “who’s who” in the city of Jerusalem. The Roman overlords give these religious leaders quite a lot of liberty. These religious leaders have grown accustomed to the respect shown them. And so on.

But now this upstart, this so-called prophet, this Jesus of Nazareth, is causing a stir. Not good, as far as the religious leaders are concerned. Not good, to the point that they want him out of the way—to the point that they want him dead! Yes, he’s that much of a threat!

And so they’ve convinced one of his close followers to see things their way—with thirty pieces of silver! And we come to the last supper, and to that anxiety-ridden night in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Judas hands Jesus over to the authorities.

Jesus is then tried and found guilty on trumped up charges. Pilate, the Roman leader in charge of the trial, craters to the pressure of the crowd. Instigated by the Jewish religious leaders, the crowd shouts, again and again, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

And so we see the negative effects of herd mentality.

But here’s the worst part: this is by and large the same crowd that was shouting Hosanna just a few days ago. Just a few days ago it was, “Lord, save us!” Now it’s, “Crucify him!”

We humans are fickle.

There are times we feel like nothing can come between me and Jesus. He has redeemed me; he is saving me from all my sin and wickedness; and he will lead me into glory. I know this in the bottom of my heart, down to the core of my being. And nothing’s gonna shake me. Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!

But you know how it is. Life sneaks in a sucker punch. We don’t see it coming; we might not even feel it when it’s delivered. But all of a sudden the wind is knocked out of us. All of a sudden, we have questions, doubts, quandaries. And we begin to think, Maybe I’m not so sure about my faith after all. Maybe Jesus was just a man, that this story I’ve heard all my life, that this faith I practice, is just a complex Santa Claus story. I don’t know. Maybe the crowd’s right after all. Maybe I should just give up, forget this emotional wave I’ve been surfing. Maybe I should just give in and yell “Crucify him!” with everyone else.

So then, what are you going to do?

Have you heard the phrase, “Lead, follow, or get out of the way”? There are times to lead, certainly. And there are times to follow. But when it comes to herd mentality—fashions, trends, hype, hoopla, buzz, fads, anything that persuades you to act in a way that you would not act in your own right mind—sometimes it’s best just to get out of the way.