Friday, March 21, 2014

According To Luke: Why A Parade?

OK, I imagine some of you are confused that I am preaching on the Palm Sunday story this morning since this is only the second Sunday in Lent and Palm Sunday is a month away.

I want to spend the rest of Lent looking at Jesus and the week he spent in Jerusalem so we had to get there rather quickly.  And to be honest, on Palm Sunday --- while we will celebrate the Palm Parade I am going to focus that morning on the story of Jesus on the cross.

I think that this is one of my favorite stories in the Christian year. 
I love it because:
It starts with a giant parade! 
And who doesn’t love a parade!

When Duke wins the National title next month --- wouldn’t you like to be there for the parade?

Or what about when the Cubs win the World Series this fall --- you can bet that I will be there!
          Any of you going to join me?

And think of the parade that we hold here in town every year.
          We even participate in that parade ---- the annual 4th of July parade.

And why do we love parades so much?

What is it about every parade that attracts us so?

We love parades because we love celebrating with WINNERS!

Whether it is our favorite sports team, or our country à we love parades because that means you are a winner!

Do you think that there was a parade in Bloomington or West Layfayette this past week when they both lost in the first round of the BIG 10 basketball tournament?

What awaited the team when they returned was probably not a parade but a lynch mob who are frustrated with Crean and Painter and their teams.

Parades are for winners
Parades are for champions

And that is why most of us love parades!

On Palm Sunday Eve, throughout the Hispanic world in places like Valparaiso Chile where Haley is spending the semester, there will be huge parades ---- celebrating Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem. 

2000 years ago, Jesus and his rag tag followers crossed over at Bethany and started the decent into the Kidron valley and up the hill on the other side into Jerusalem.

Luke tells us the story this way:
Luke 19:28-40   (NRSV)
After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,

“Blessed is the king
    who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
    and glory in the highest heaven!”

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

It was a parade, a huge celebration for the winner Jesus who was coming into town and would kick some Roman butt, and all the Jews who were in cahoots with them.

The way Luke tells the story, the whole town came out to greet Jesus and his followers.

They were so excited at the prospect of his getting rid of the Romans that they were busy waving Palm Branches.

And we all say ---- gee that is nice that they were waving palm branches.

But that was a really dangerous and subversive thing to do.

That was kind of like me wearing my Duke shirt when Kevin Mybeck and I went to Mackey Arena at Purdue for the Duke vs Purdue game a few years back.

Or when I sat in the stands in East Lansing, cheering Duke as they played Michigan State.

Or maybe my favorite --- when my friend Mark and I painted ourselves blue and sat in the Valparaiso student section watching Duke dismantle the Crusaders!

We got lots of dirty looks --- as you can imagine --- and was seen as the enemy by many of the Valpo faithful.

So whats the big deal about Palm Branches?

The Palm Branch was a nationalistic symbol for the Jews.

It symbolized freedom and independence.

So to pull it out and wave it at a parade was making a very clear statement to the Roman authorities.

They believed that Jesus was the ONE
The one who was going to overthrow Rome and establish a Jewish nation once again.

Jesus was a winner.

But, unfortunately our story doesn't end there.

Jesus disappoints all those who had gathered on Sunday for the parade welcoming him into town.

By the end of the week he had angered and disappointed every single Jewish group in town

They decided that maybe he isn't the one, after all.

And before the week is over, another parade begins to form.

And once again, people come out to celebrate with the victors.

But this time the victor was Rome, and it was a parade through the streets of Jerusalem out to a hill where Rome would crucify their political prisoners.

The crowd that on Sunday was shouting hosanna was now shouting crucify him.

And we scratch our heads and wonder how could that happen
          How could people shout hosanna one day and crucify him the next?

But should we be so surprised?

We shout for our team one minute, but when they disappoint us – when they fail us – often we turn on them – wanting somebody to pay for our disappointment.

If you're not sure about that --- just ask Tom Crean or Matt Painter!

Jesus came preaching a message that the crowd miss interpreted.

They thought they Jesus had come for just them and no one else.

But when Jesus began preaching about:
caring for our brothers and sisters,
caring for the widow and the orphan,
making sure that nobody falls through the cracks of society ---
they decided they didn't like that message too well.

Maybe Jesus wasn't the ONE after all

And so they turned on him

When he wasn't willing to champion their causes, their agenda, they no longer were interested in him.

Part of our challenge is to recognize which parade we are at.

Are we at the Palm Sunday Parade worshiping a messiah that we have created in our image?

Or are we at the Good Friday Parade, filled with hatred and disillusioned and just wanting to get rid of the do gooder and any cost?

Or are we at Jesus’ parade?  ---- a parade that takes us to the soup kitchen, the free medical clinic and the orphanage reaching out to heal God’s children.

As long as we fail to recognize WHO Jesus is ---- and WHY Jesus came, we cannot even recognize the parade we are attending.

But God invites us to abandon our:
Desire to place blame
Unfulfilled promises and commitments
Misplaced priorities
False messiahs

And join the parade of making a difference in the world

A parade that understands what God expects of each of us:
(Micah 6:8 NRSV)  What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Luke tells this story in the way that he does so that everything that is going to happen over the next week will make sense.

Unless we understand what kind of Messiah Luke is proclaiming Jesus to be --- we will never fully understand the power of the passion of Jesus.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Journey To Jerusalem

Luke 9:51-62
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set towards Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’  But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’

Today is the first Sunday of Lent

Lent is a 40 day period that began this past Wednesday --- a day that we call Ash Wednesday.

For those of you who were here, the Ash Wednesday Liturgy was created to help us begin this 40 day journey --- a journey that will ultimately lead us to Calvary.

Lent was created by the early church to help us prepare for Easter. 

The church felt it was important for us --- each year --- to go through a period of preparation for the Easter Festival.

It is a period in which we are called to fast, repent, seek moderation and focus on the spiritual disciplines. 
We do these things to help us reflect on the life --- death --- and resurrection of Jesus.

With the hope that during this 40 day period we will draw closer in our walk with Jesus.

For many traditions --- many of the practices of everyday life are modified to focus us on the Lenten season.
In the Roman Catholic tradition they are asked to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday --- but they also abstain from meat on Fridays throughout lent (hence the popularity of Lenten Fish Frys.)

In our tradition, we have no official guidelines about fasting, but each person is encouraged to take this season --- and follow whatever practices work best for you to make this a transformational season.

The three traditional practices to be taken up with renewed vigor during Lent are:
·         prayer (justice towards God),
·         fasting (justice towards self),
·         and almsgiving (justice towards neighbor).

However, in modern times, many people give up an action of theirs they consider to be a vice, or something that will give them pause.

In addition, some believers add a regular spiritual discipline, such as reading a Lenten daily devotional --- we have one available for you call The Sanctuary

As I said --- Lent began last Wednesday evening, and during the service you were invited to come forward and have ashes placed on your forehead in the sign of a cross.

As the ashes were placed on your head --- Ben said to you:
          "You are dust --- and to dust you shall return."

Strange words --- some might even say morbid words.

But the point is to help us focus on our mortality --- because unless we embrace the fragile nature of life --- we cannot fully live it.

So Lent --- this season of introspection begins with the words --- YOU ARE DUST, but ends as we sing together CHRIST THE LORD IS RISEN TODAY on Easter Sunday.

As I said it is a 40 day season
          40 being a common number used in the Bible to signify important events
                   Moses spent 40 days on mountain before receiving 10 Commandments
                   It rained for 40 days during the great flood
                   Israel spent 40 years in wilderness
                   Jesus spent 40 days in desert fasting
Lent is not found in the Bible, but it encompasses Jesus' journey to Jerusalem and the cross.

For Matthew, Mark and John --- that journey is a fairly short one.  In Mark it is just one chapter.

But for Luke it extends for almost 10 chapters.

Now we are not going to cover those 10 chapters the next few weeks.

Actually I am going to jump to Jerusalem next week and we will look at the story of what we call Palm Sunday --- then we will look at the other events of Holy Week as we lead up to the crucifixion and Easter.

And then later this spring we will come back and look at those chapters

What fascinates me is how Luke begins this journey to Jerusalem

Luke tells us that Jesus: set his face to go to Jerusalem

The Greek word might be translated as DETERMINATION

Jesus was determined to get to Jerusalem

And as if to stress that --- Luke then goes on and tells us about three followers of Jesus.

The first said to Jesus:
‘I will follow you wherever you go.’

And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’

The first would-be disciple that approaches Jesus claims he will follow Jesus "wherever you go!" He didn't get it. Discipleship is not about "destination;" it is about the journey itself.

That's why Jesus makes it clear that as the Son of Man has "nowhere" to call his permanent home, so, too, must his disciples be committed to, invested in, a life of MOVEMENT.

Only by continually moving along, keeping up and in step with the beat of the Spirit, do disciples genuinely "follow" Jesus.

Jesus invites another person to follow him but the man said:
‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’

And Jesus almost seems insensitive as he responds:
‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’

Jesus' reprimand should not be misread or misheard as heaping disrespect on the dead or implying that fulfilling obligations to a deceased parent is a profitless enterprise.

What Jesus insisted from the very beginning is that his disciples be preoccupied with investing in LIFE, whatever the circumstances or situations they found themselves in.

Disciples of Jesus are called to invest in life, and walk away from the dead letter of tradition lived only for tradition's sake.

Disciples are called by Jesus to be
in the midst of politics,
in the midst of economics,
in the midst of social change,
in the midst of health crises,
in the midst of generational conflicts,
in the midst of the arts,
in the midst of scientific breakthroughs,
in the midst of the Internet,
in the midst of children,
in the midst of the aged
--in the midst of all that makes up human existence in this time and place.

Being a Disciple of Jesus means investing in life.

Still another turns to Jesus and says:
‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’

Again Jesus seems to be offering tough love when he responds:
‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’

The third potential disciple who approaches Jesus claims he is ready to follow.

But he begs permission to go and give his farewells to his family before beginning the discipleship journey.

Like the second seeker, this man seems cautious before setting out on this new adventure.

As Jesus begins this journey to Jerusalem he wants us to understand that it is not going to be easy.

He almost seems to be asking us if we are up to it.

And maybe that is a good question for us to ask ourselves.

Am I really willing to follow?
Am I willing to do the things necessary to go with Jesus to Jerusalem?

Pope Francis said earlier this week:
"Lent comes providentially to reawaken us, to shake us from our lethargy."

He also said:
"Lent is meant to wake up Christians and help them see that God can give them the strength to change their lives and their surroundings"

Rachel Held Evans on her blog this week offered 40 ideas for Lent --- there were some great ones there but let me just share a couple.

She suggests that this Lenten season we need to ask ourselves some questions.

 When I wake up on Resurrection Sunday morning, how will I be different? What am I preparing for? 
  • Is there a habit or sin in my life that repeatedly gets in the way of loving God with my whole heart or loving my neighbor as myself? How do I address that issue over the next 40 days?
  • What are some things in my life that I tell myself I need but I don’t? Can I give one or two of them up for 40 days? 
  • Is there a spiritual discipline—praying the hours, lectio divina, stations of the cross, etc.—that I’ve always wanted to try?  How might I alter my daily routine to include one of these disciplines? And how can I engage all my senses—sight, sound, taste, smell, touch—as I practice them? 
  • How do I want Lent 2014 to affect not only the next 40 days but also the next 40 years? 

Take some time over these next 40 days and allow yourself to grow closer to Jesus.

The Storyline Conference I attended last week was quite possibly the best I have ever attended.

It was all about how to write a better story for our lives.

Because if we aren't living a good story --- we can't help anybody else live a good story. 

One of the most powerful illustrations was made by Bob Goff.

He told of being a pilot and how one of the lessons that you are taught if the plane gets in trouble is to do three things.
1.          PITCH --- our normal reaction if the plane starts going down is to pull back on the stick.  But he said you need to pitch forward and go with it
2.          Second you want to PICK a point --- someplace where you can bring the airplane down
3.          Finally POINT at that spot and go toward it.

That is exactly what Jesus did.
          He set his face to go toward Jerusalem.
          He picked that as his place
          And he did everything in his power to get there

Where are you headed?

How is this Lent going to make you a different person?

May God help you to set your face and then have the courage to go!