Presence.

Luke 24:36-48

Jesus Appears to His Disciples

36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence.

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.

Sermon:

A few years ago, I was walking through Over the Rhine here in Cincy with a friend of min, Adam Phillips.  This was about the time when Over the Rhine was going through a huge transformation.

As we were walking, there was a man that was in front of us.  He suddenly collapsed on the sidewalk.  We rushed up to him along with another pedestrian.  He was passed out and his breathing had stopped, or seemed like it.  I called 911 immediately and within minutes there were fire personnel and a police officer there.  And, so Cincinnati, I knew one of the firefighters.  He was the dad of one of my cross country runners at the time.  

The firefighters quickly gave him something as soon as they arrived as they quickly recognized what had happened.  It was Narcan.  The man had overdosed on heroin.  Narcan, when administered quickly, can reverse the life threatening impact of a heroin overdose, I quickly found out.

The man jumped back to life.  The police officer looked at him and told him he was lucky to be alive and that he should thank my friend and I.  He looked at us, gave a weary smile to us.  And, we were all on our way.  

As a pastor, I have seen folks die, I have been with them.  I have also been around folks in near death experiences.  I’ve never seen someone, up until then, be that far gone and then come back that fast.  I’m glad for him (and for us), but it was so surreal.

The disciples in our gospel passage this morning were in a place of disarray, disillusionment, disorientation, and distress.  This is another gospel rendering of the disciples after Jesus’ resurrection.  Similar to last week’s gospel reading in John, we find the disciples afraid and filled with doubt.

They had heard about Jesus’ resurrection, but didn’t know what to believe, or to dare to believe.

Jesus appears to them.  Again, in Luke’s gospel as well as John’s, he great’s them with peace.  Not just peace, as in the absence of conflict or dissonance, but a deeper peace that brings reconciliation, justice, and a blessing to have life as it was meant to be lived where there is a deeper power at work that enables one to engage the dissonance, the doubts, and to trust in a deeper Presence at work.

They thought they were seeing a ghost at first.  It was a surreal experience that they were trying to find something to understand…it was sudden.  Like the man and the experience that Adam and I came into contact with in OTR.  

Jesus says in effect, you aren’t seeing a ghost, I’m no cadaver, I’m not a zombie.  I’m real, I’m resurrected, I’m material that is tangible.  Touch the scars, see them.  They are still there, but I am healed.  I am an embodied, resurrected human being.  And, I’m hungry!

Jesus, went through the hell of the violence and humiliation of the cross, went through his own doubts and fears before the cross and on the cross, even crying out, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me”, in effect, the worst doubt, doubting his very being!  

Friends, I don’t know how this works, but Jesus is saying to the disciples, and to us, I am alive!  There is a resurrected, embodied Jesus somewhere, and through the universal presence of Christ and the power of God’s Spirit, we are connected to this embodied, healed, and resurrected Jesus…and so is everyone else in this world!  

This connection, as we recognize it, live in presence with God and others, will continue to open our hearts and minds to an expansive God and to a deeper understanding of God’s story!  

And, God is up to something more expansive than we could have ever imagined.  Our Elemental Leadership team meetings have been amazing.  They have been listening, and hearing. 

Well, since they don’t know, we have an opportunity to write a new story that is wrapped up into the expansive story of God.  We have the opportunity to deliver to this neighborhood a church, a collection of folks called together, a community that is here for everyone and that is connected deeply to our neighborhood, as well as the larger context of the world.

Our gospel lesson and story in Acts give witness to a Jesus who has been preparing his disciples to be witnesses to the world of a new way of living, a way of radical love and inclusion, of meaning and purpose, of overcoming everything with him.  Jesus is saying that he will deliver on his end, but he’s calling us to participate in what he’s doing and deliver with him.  To be co-participants in building God’s kingdom now, not some promise of  a distant future, but a promise of living in deep love for ourselves, others, and God now.  That does take a change of heart, it calls for repentance as it says in Acts.  As we’ve said before, repent in Greek is Metanoia, a changing of one’s mind.  

As we grow and change, we have great conversation partners like ECI/Oasis, the schools, Tikkun Farm, Valley Interfaith, and other churches.  Not only are they conversation partners, but they have been encouraging and building up communities for years.  They are friends and want to be a part of this journey with us.  I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather work towards something knowing that there are others with me.  Friends, let’s do this!  Let’s be this!  Persons living in faithful presence with God and live in God’s peace, God’s shalom, with one another, and with our neighbors!

Lockdown.

John 20:19-31

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the 

disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believethat Jesus is the Messiah,the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

A few years ago, our family went on a vacation to the beach.  Our good friends, the Nicholas’, had hooked us up with a relative who had a condo near the beach in Florida.  It was a great family trip.  One day, we decided to go snorkeling at a nearby state park.  It was so much fun.  There was this huge lagoon that had all sorts of rocks around it to explore.  

Now, one thing about me, I love to run, I love to rock climb, I love to fly fish (although, I haven’t done much of that recently), and I love to camp…I’m pretty adventurous.  But, one thing I don’t do well is swim.  I learned to fake it when I was a kid and it wasn’t until one of my best friends, in my twenties, Jay Borck, decided to teach me that I gained even just a bit of confidence.  Jay was one of the few people who knew my secret, and he was so gracious and simply wanted to help me out.

It’s safe to say, you won’t see me competing in a triathlon soon…marathon, yes, triathlon, no.

Anyway, back to the family vacation.  I was feeling confident that day and decided I could swim across the middle of the lagoon…I had a mask, a snorkel, and was floating pretty well along the sides.  So, I ventured across…about 1/2 way, I started to panic.  But, I was locked into the swim…it was deep, and I still had several yards to go to get to the other side.  I couldn’t breathe, I panicked…but, I kept paddling.  I didn’t drown, but it certainly scared the you know what out of me!

During this season of pandemic, maybe we have felt “locked in” or “locked out”, we need time to “breathe”, but feel like we can’t escape.  It seems like oxygen, or breathing has been a theme this year for our culture.  Covid affects our breathing, George Floyd’s gasping for air, moments of watching our political leaders seem lost and leading us nowhere, seeing our Asian brothers and sisters struggle…and, our lives personally filled with doubt, struggle, confusion.

Friends, these are indicators of grief, lament, as well as potential growth and change.

Our text this morning has a lot to do with moments like this, moments in our lives when we need to breathe, breathing that brings life, and not just any life…life that feels locked up or locked down and not going anywhere, lives that seem shut off from the world…we want life as it was meant to be lived…that has been true for humanity throughout our history.

Right after Jesus’ death on a Roman cross and resurrection from the dead. Jesus appears to his disciples. As we mentioned last week, it’s not every day that you see someone raised from the dead, they were disoriented, lost, so I imagine they were a bit overwhelmed, in shock, and wondering what was going to happen next. 

The disciples are in a state of fear. They were locked in a room, afraid of the same folks who had just crucified Jesus and fearful that they would be after them as well. They were literally in a “stay at home” quarantine out of fear for their lives!  They were in a self-imposed lockdown.  They were wondering if there was a light at the end of the tunnel of fear that they were experiencing, the uncertainty was overwhelming, not sure what to think about what’s going to happen next. The room was shut, and probably the lives of those disciples were in a state of being shut down from fear. There was probably a war of emotions going on within them. 

Into this room, this state of anxiety, Jesus appears and has the greeting “Peace to you”. The word “peace” in this context is a common word, but in this context, it meant the world to the disciples. They needed what Jesus was giving. 

They had to be overwhelmed in seeing Jesus, but Jesus’ physical presence was also comforting. Our passage this morning says that they rejoiced and they were strengthened by having seen the Lord. 

Jesus gives a charge to those disciples, an imperative command. Just as the Father had sent Jesus to the world, Jesus was now sending the disciples out from behind shut doors into a crazy world desperate for hope. 

Then, something happens, Jesus breathed on them.  Now, these days, we don’t want anyone breathing on us, do we?!  But, Jesus has been “vaccinated” with resurrection hope and power…with relational flow in the relationship of the Godhead, the Trinity, which also includes us through the universal presence of Christ.  This word “breathe” in this passage is the same word used in Genesis 2:7 where God breathes life into humanity, giving us life. Jesus is in effect saying that he is the Son of God, God in the flesh, giving life to the disciples. Jesus was not only bringing peace to the disciples, but breathing pure life into them. The verse goes on to say that Jesus gives another imperative, to receive the Holy Spirit. Jesus was breathing the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, God’s presence on to the disciples. The Holy Spirit, God’s Spirit, the unifying power of God would bring the disciples together, giving them confidence and power to overcome the world.  

The word for “spirit” in Hebrew is the same word for breath and wind. Do you remember the strong winds that rocked our city a few years ago? Well, God’s Wind is stronger and blows everywhere, filling every space. It has been with us before time, before history, it was and is and will be…it exploded out from the Big Bang and is every expanding, finding residence in humanity and ultimately fully in Jesus, who then breathes it out either literally or metaphorically to the disciples and to the world. 

The disciples needed to breathe in the breath of God. The breath of God that brings life and the power to forgive sins. Verse 23 in this passage can seem troublesome at first, does it mean that we can forgive others’ sins? No, it is an affirmation that if we receive the Holy Spirit and abide in Christ as Christ abides in us as stated in John 15:4, then the work of the Holy Spirit which brings the forgiveness bought by Jesus Christ’s actions on
the cross, is exhibited through us. It is the power of God at work within us as we recognize God through Jesus Christ. 

In verse 24 of this passage, we see that one of the 12 disciples, Thomas, wasn’t around to see Jesus the first time he appeared in that room. 8 days later though, they are hanging out and Jesus appears. It’s interesting to note that these same disciples who had just been blessed by Jesus showing up and breathing on them are scared and locked up in that room again! Yet, Jesus breaks through the walls again…gives them a peace blessing and then addresses Thomas. Thomas wants more tangible evidence, so Jesus gives it to them. Jesus doesn’t want to shame Thomas, this passage isn’t here to give reference to Thomas’ unbelief, but it’s here to give hope to those who haven’t seen. The writer of this passage is giving a direct address to those reading in verse 31 that these things have been written for you…for us. 

Friends, we may be living in fear, in anxiety. We may have just witnessed Jesus’ very resurrection in our lives…we may even have lived our lives in expectation of God’s faithfulness to us. Yet, here’s Jesus…appearing before us, walking through any barriers that we may be hiding behind. Calling us out of the four walls we’ve enclosed ourselves in…giving us himself, breathing new life into us, and calling us towards the next thing… a full life with him! Thomas and the rest of the disciples were living in fear, in disappointment. They were tired. Yet Jesus came to them, and comes to us…he invites us to know his scars, to touch the pain that has been inflicted upon him…to believe that he is God and is here with us now. Friends, with this belief, with this faith, we can change the world…even if we are in a state of pandemic…God’s Spirit will flow through even the thickest of walls we build! 

Today.

John 20:1-18

The Resurrection of Jesus

20 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

It’s Easter morning, we are here for many different reasons. I believe that one of those reasons is that we would like to think of this Easter, this day in 2021, brings promise of resurrection!  That just as Jesus overcame death, that we too have gone through a season of loss and are being resurrected into something new.   I’m not sure how history will judge this particular moment in time, but I do believe that we have been called and given a gift of this moment in time to be together, and to be reminded that Jesus carrying us and forgiving us in this race we call life. We come to hear the story once again that Jesus has risen and is rising up in us and in this crazy world we live in. 

This season of lament, we have had a lot of questions.  How could God allow this pandemic to happen? Is it punishment? Have we grown?  What about those who didn’t make it?  Beyond the pandemic, we have issues in our country and world and no one seems to be able to bring us together.  We are so divided.  

There are deeper questions as well, questions around even this day, what we celebrate at Easter.   How could God let his Son die on the cross, how could God allow this to happen? Why didn’t God the father do the dirty work instead of sending his son? 

Jesus did not go to the cross to appease a vengeful father. Jesus was nailed to a cross because he challenged a system that excluded many, while maintaining a status quo that kept some in places of servitude, while others seemingly prospered. Yet, both were trapped, enslaved to a way of being that dehumanizes us and reduces us to either consumers or producers, or both…and not as fully human…those on the top and those on the bottom were not living the full lives that God desired, that God created us for. Jesus came and demonstrated radical inclusiveness and called us into lives filled with freedom, love, purpose, and deep Presence with others and with God. Jesus invited us, and still does, to deeper lives that are good for us and for others. What does it mean to truly love everyone, including ourselves? Even if the way we are living isn’t working, it’s what we know. We live in fear and anxiety at times and that fear and anxiety can lead us into making harsh decisions and into the divided nature that we find ourselves.

Jesus’ death was more than physical pain, that moment on the cross, Jesus was lost…resurrection was not on his mind. He cried out “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me”. Many of us today have been disoriented by this pandemic. We have felt lost, wondering if God has forsaken us.  

Yet, if we believe that God and humanity are together in Jesus, then God has also gone through this time with us.  

We find ourselves here we are on Easter morning. What did we just share with each other? What phrase? Christ has risen! Christ has risen indeed! Jesus’ love for us, Jesus’ promise of a full life filled with purpose and presence could not be kept in a grave. 

Mary Magdalene, a true disciple and friend of Jesus…one of only two disciples that did not desert Jesus, goes and finds the tomb empty! She runs to tell the other disciples, they go to the tomb and find it as she said…and, I love this passage as a runner, John, who is credited with writing our gospel lesson this am, makes it clear that he’s faster than Peter!  

However, what do the other disciples do, they go home…the easter reality had not yet risen up to their consciousness, their awareness. They didn’t know what to do. 

But, Mary, she’s overcome by grief…she stays, she is weeping. And, then she sees this man…she thinks he’s the gardener, but he gently says her name once more, and she recognizes the voice of her friend! Then, the joy of Easter possibility, Easter imagination, Easter reality rises up within her! 

What happens next? Well, the story gets out, the new reality sets in, people begin to see Jesus and to experience new things. Life as we know it is never the same, and it becomes filled with imagination, new possibilities, strength, confidence in the face of incredible odds. Something begins to form in these early believers that moves them to change the world, starting with their own awareness. 

Friends, we are all here TODAY, on this unusual and historic Easter Sunday 2021, and are a part of this ongoing story of Easter. 

This Jesus is inviting us to join together as a more loving and radically inclusive community marked by our identity in Jesus to go the distance in the hard, but worthy and beautiful work, together, of loving ourselves, loving others, and loving God. 

Friends, John ran to an empty tomb, Mary didn’t know what to do…Jesus could not be found and his friends were a bit lost, disoriented, not knowing what was going to happen next…friends, some of the best runs that I’ve had is when I’m lost, exploring, curious, and excited to see what I will find around the corner. We may feel like we just ran through a lost season, but, what have we found out about ourselves?  I know that, as a church, we have been reminded that church is much larger than a building or being in the same room…that are connections and commitments to one another and to and from God are deeper than we could ever imagine, resurrecting new possibilities and imaginations with us.  Yes, we are running in the wilderness on trails that have no markers, but, we are not alone, may we trust where God is taking us, that the risen Christ is on this journey with us, and that this risen and universal Christ, is running with us, and ahead of us, and behind us as we live into God’s story that is rising up within us! 

Christ has risen! 

Cheer.

Mark 11:1-11

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

11 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

“Hosanna!

    Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

10 

    Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Sermon:

Palm Sunday 2021!  Here we are, it seems like a familiar Palm Sunday, yet not quite the same as in years past.  We have expectations for this day, just like we have expectations for so much in life…yet, things change, expectations change, and sometimes we are disappointed, or confused.  

We want to be able to cheer for something!  

Mark 11:1-11

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

11 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

“Hosanna!

    Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

10 

    Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Palm Sunday 2021!  Here we are, it seems like a familiar Palm Sunday, yet not quite the same as in years past.  We have expectations for this day, just like we have expectations for so much in life…yet, things change, expectations change, and sometimes we are disappointed, or confused.  

We want to be able to cheer for something!  

PP

When I was in high school, we had a football team that was not so good.  Actually, we had not had a winning season in years.  Yet, one year, my junior year, we were pretty good.  We went into the last game of the season 5-4, we were assured a slot in the playoffs, yet, we really wanted a winning season.  

Now, I didn’t play football.  I was in the band.  The “Marching Chargers”.  Our mascot was a charging knight and the British flag was always waved at football, soccer, basketball games, and band competitions.  I played bagpipes in said band.  Which, made my grandfather very happy as he was into our British and especially Scottish/Celtic ancestry.  There’s also a funny story of me walking around the football track during a break at a game with my girlfriend at the time, Alyssa Lepping, who was a cheerleader at the time at our biggest rival who we were playing at the time…her in her cheerleading skirt, and me an my kilt on windy evening.  But, another story for another day.  

Back to the story of my junior year…on the last day of the season, so much expectation.   We cheered on our team with so much enthusiasm.  And, we were playing another rival that was having a very down year for them.  Our cheers lasted about 10 minutes into the game.  They crushed us.  The following week we played in the first round to the eventual state champs, Trinity HS.  Another losing season.  

PP

So much of that has gone on in 2021, this season of so much change…daily change.  We want things to be different, yet, we’ve been so disappointed.  

Yet, the story remains the same, the story of Jesus arriving in Jerusalem.  And in this story is so much of Jesus’ character.  He sends out disciples to find a colt to ride in on…assuring the owners that it would be returned.  This is important as Jerusalem was occupied territory.  Roman soldiers, by law, were allowed to take and keep whatever they wanted, without returning it.  Which, has always been the way of empire:  take for the good of the empire, but not for the common good.  Take over relational commitment.  

PP

It’s also interesting to note that in the other gospel readings of this story that the colt is actually referred to as a donkey.  Either way, this has significance.  Jesus is coming into Jerusalem, before the Passover, not on a warhorse, coming in with pomp and circumstance, but in humility on a colt or on a donkey.  

This donkey was, as the great British 19th century poet and theologian, GK Chesterton says:

PP

The tattered outlaw of the earth,

   Of ancient crooked will;

Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,

   I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;

   One far fierce hour and sweet:

There was a shout about my ears,

   And palms before my feet.

The donkey met the moment.  We are called to meet this moment as well.  We are at the start of “holy week”.  A holy week in history like no other.  We have been on a Lenten journey together, as a community.  Filled with struggle, doubts, and change in a season where so much is happening.  In this consumer driven society, we have had to let go, slow down, lament, grieve, and let some things die.  Now, we come to a week where at the end we have three days:  Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday.  We remember communion, we are in this together.  We remember death, we all have to go through it, not just physically, but the death of all sorts of things in our lives.  And we remember that death is not the final answer, that there is resurrection, new beginnings out of the old.

PP

And, we walk this journey with the humility and trust that Jesus demonstrates on this colt or donkey.  As well as the resolve to love well.

Pilate, who would be Jesus’ judge by the end of the week, is also coming into Jerusalem at the same time at another gate.  Pilate’s residence was on the coast, he travelled to Jerusalem for the Passover festival as well.  However, when he came in, it was with a full military escort, pomp and circumstance, showing off the full power of Rome.  

Yet, here is Jesus, coming to Jerusalem, on the colt or donkey.  Not taking, riding in humility.  Assured of who he was, not knowing how the week would turn out, and not letting the expectations of the crowds get to him.  But, looking at them with compassion.  Taking it in, being present in the moment, listening the the cheers, but also looking deeper and trusting God.  Jesus takes it in, goes to the temple, and then retreats to Bethany with his disciples.

Friends, take in this week with humility, trust, and deep intent.  Intent to remember that we are in this together with one another and with Christ as Christ’s body.  Cheer today, mourn and lament this week for all that has gone, and celebrate next Easter that Christ has risen!  

Mark 11:1-11

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

11 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

“Hosanna!

    Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

10 

    Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Sermon:

Palm Sunday 2021!  Here we are, it seems like a familiar Palm Sunday, yet not quite the same as in years past.  We have expectations for this day, just like we have expectations for so much in life…yet, things change, expectations change, and sometimes we are disappointed, or confused.  

We want to be able to cheer for something!  

PP

When I was in high school, we had a football team that was not so good.  Actually, we had not had a winning season in years.  Yet, one year, my junior year, we were pretty good.  We went into the last game of the season 5-4, we were assured a slot in the playoffs, yet, we really wanted a winning season.  

Now, I didn’t play football.  I was in the band.  The “Marching Chargers”.  Our mascot was a charging knight and the British flag was always waved at football, soccer, basketball games, and band competitions.  I played bagpipes in said band.  Which, made my grandfather very happy as he was into our British and especially Scottish/Celtic ancestry.  There’s also a funny story of me walking around the football track during a break at a game with my girlfriend at the time, Alyssa Lepping, who was a cheerleader at the time at our biggest rival who we were playing at the time…her in her cheerleading skirt, and me an my kilt on windy evening.  But, another story for another day.  

Back to the story of my junior year…on the last day of the season, so much expectation.   We cheered on our team with so much enthusiasm.  And, we were playing another rival that was having a very down year for them.  Our cheers lasted about 10 minutes into the game.  They crushed us.  The following week we played in the first round to the eventual state champs, Trinity HS.  Another losing season.  

PP

So much of that has gone on in 2021, this season of so much change…daily change.  We want things to be different, yet, we’ve been so disappointed.  

Yet, the story remains the same, the story of Jesus arriving in Jerusalem.  And in this story is so much of Jesus’ character.  He sends out disciples to find a colt to ride in on…assuring the owners that it would be returned.  This is important as Jerusalem was occupied territory.  Roman soldiers, by law, were allowed to take and keep whatever they wanted, without returning it.  Which, has always been the way of empire:  take for the good of the empire, but not for the common good.  Take over relational commitment.  

PP

It’s also interesting to note that in the other gospel readings of this story that the colt is actually referred to as a donkey.  Either way, this has significance.  Jesus is coming into Jerusalem, before the Passover, not on a warhorse, coming in with pomp and circumstance, but in humility on a colt or on a donkey.  

This donkey was, as the great British 19th century poet and theologian, GK Chesterton says:

PP

The tattered outlaw of the earth,

   Of ancient crooked will;

Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,

   I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;

   One far fierce hour and sweet:

There was a shout about my ears,

   And palms before my feet.

The donkey met the moment.  We are called to meet this moment as well.  We are at the start of “holy week”.  A holy week in history like no other.  We have been on a Lenten journey together, as a community.  Filled with struggle, doubts, and change in a season where so much is happening.  In this consumer driven society, we have had to let go, slow down, lament, grieve, and let some things die.  Now, we come to a week where at the end we have three days:  Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday.  We remember communion, we are in this together.  We remember death, we all have to go through it, not just physically, but the death of all sorts of things in our lives.  And we remember that death is not the final answer, that there is resurrection, new beginnings out of the old.

PP

And, we walk this journey with the humility and trust that Jesus demonstrates on this colt or donkey.  As well as the resolve to love well.

Pilate, who would be Jesus’ judge by the end of the week, is also coming into Jerusalem at the same time at another gate.  Pilate’s residence was on the coast, he travelled to Jerusalem for the Passover festival as well.  However, when he came in, it was with a full military escort, pomp and circumstance, showing off the full power of Rome.  

Yet, here is Jesus, coming to Jerusalem, on the colt or donkey.  Not taking, riding in humility.  Assured of who he was, not knowing how the week would turn out, and not letting the expectations of the crowds get to him.  But, looking at them with compassion.  Taking it in, being present in the moment, listening the the cheers, but also looking deeper and trusting God.  Jesus takes it in, goes to the temple, and then retreats to Bethany with his disciples.

Friends, take in this week with humility, trust, and deep intent.  Intent to remember that we are in this together with one another and with Christ as Christ’s body.  Cheer today, mourn and lament this week for all that has gone, and celebrate next Easter that Christ has risen!  

When I was in high school, we had a football team that was not so good.  Actually, we had not had a winning season in years.  Yet, one year, my junior year, we were pretty good.  We went into the last game of the season 5-4, we were assured a slot in the playoffs, yet, we really wanted a winning season.  

Now, I didn’t play football.  I was in the band.  The “Marching Chargers”.  Our mascot was a charging knight and the British flag was always waved at football, soccer, basketball games, and band competitions.  I played bagpipes in said band.  Which, made my grandfather very happy as he was into our British and especially Scottish/Celtic ancestry.  There’s also a funny story of me walking around the football track during a break at a game with my girlfriend at the time, Alyssa Lepping, who was a cheerleader at the time at our biggest rival who we were playing at the time…her in her cheerleading skirt, and me an my kilt on windy evening.  But, another story for another day.  

Back to the story of my junior year…on the last day of the season, so much expectation.   We cheered on our team with so much enthusiasm.  And, we were playing another rival that was having a very down year for them.  Our cheers lasted about 10 minutes into the game.  They crushed us.  The following week we played in the first round to the eventual state champs, Trinity HS.  Another losing season.  

So much of that has gone on in 2021, this season of so much change…daily change.  We want things to be different, yet, we’ve been so disappointed.  

Yet, the story remains the same, the story of Jesus arriving in Jerusalem.  And in this story is so much of Jesus’ character.  He sends out disciples to find a colt to ride in on…assuring the owners that it would be returned.  This is important as Jerusalem was occupied territory.  Roman soldiers, by law, were allowed to take and keep whatever they wanted, without returning it.  Which, has always been the way of empire:  take for the good of the empire, but not for the common good.  Take over relational commitment.  

It’s also interesting to note that in the other gospel readings of this story that the colt is actually referred to as a donkey.  Either way, this has significance.  Jesus is coming into Jerusalem, before the Passover, not on a warhorse, coming in with pomp and circumstance, but in humility on a colt or on a donkey.  

This donkey was, as the great British 19th century poet and theologian, GK Chesterton says:

The tattered outlaw of the earth,

   Of ancient crooked will;

Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,

   I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;

   One far fierce hour and sweet:

There was a shout about my ears,

   And palms before my feet.

The donkey met the moment.  We are called to meet this moment as well.  We are at the start of “holy week”.  A holy week in history like no other.  We have been on a Lenten journey together, as a community.  Filled with struggle, doubts, and change in a season where so much is happening.  In this consumer driven society, we have had to let go, slow down, lament, grieve, and let some things die.  Now, we come to a week where at the end we have three days:  Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday.  We remember communion, we are in this together.  We remember death, we all have to go through it, not just physically, but the death of all sorts of things in our lives.  And we remember that death is not the final answer, that there is resurrection, new beginnings out of the old.

And, we walk this journey with the humility and trust that Jesus demonstrates on this colt or donkey.  As well as the resolve to love well.

Pilate, who would be Jesus’ judge by the end of the week, is also coming into Jerusalem at the same time at another gate.  Pilate’s residence was on the coast, he travelled to Jerusalem for the Passover festival as well.  However, when he came in, it was with a full military escort, pomp and circumstance, showing off the full power of Rome.  

Yet, here is Jesus, coming to Jerusalem, on the colt or donkey.  Not taking, riding in humility.  Assured of who he was, not knowing how the week would turn out, and not letting the expectations of the crowds get to him.  But, looking at them with compassion.  Taking it in, being present in the moment, listening the the cheers, but also looking deeper and trusting God.  Jesus takes it in, goes to the temple, and then retreats to Bethany with his disciples.

Friends, take in this week with humility, trust, and deep intent.  Intent to remember that we are in this together with one another and with Christ as Christ’s body.  Cheer today, mourn and lament this week for all that has gone, and celebrate next Easter that Christ has risen!  

Endgame.

Jeremiah 31:33

\33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 

John 12: 20-33

20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks.21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

27 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people[a] to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

My kids have an amazing memory.  Especially my son.  If I promise something to him, or even hint at a promise.  He doesn’t forget.  If something comes up and we have to possibly be flexible, Brennan will simply say, “but you promised” and that’s the end of that for him.

If you are a parent, you know that it’s not always easy to keep your promises to your kids, try as you might, you simply can’t always do it.  Grace then becomes a necessary gift to demonstrate and teach!

Promises made and kept though give us hope and confidence in relationships.  It also leads to a certain sense of discipline.  The more that this happens consistently, the hope gives way to a certain sense of confidence.  

Our Old Testament lesson is about promises and the discipline of loving relationship.  God has made promises to the people of Israel.  Promises of deliverance from Egypt, which God delivered on.  Now the Israelites find themselves in exile in Babylon.  God tells them that he has new promises for them.  Promises of abundance, of Presence, of blessing, of relationship.  In this passage, God uses the term husband.  Now, this is not meant to be patriarchal, but it was written a few thousand years ago, and the author is trying to convey something deeper than a masculine or feminine expression.  This is a word of deep relationship, of connection, of relationship.  The author is saying that God has made a commitment to Israel, to us, God is bound to us in relationship.

The passage goes on to say that God’s law will be put on our inward parts, on our hearts.  It will no longer be about following a set of rules written in stone, but they will be placed on our hearts, they will become a part of us and lived out.  

This is demonstrated to us by Jesus.  Jesus embodied the law as we have said before.  God’s promises to us are fulfilled through Jesus in deep and powerful, and loving ways.  We are called to cultivate, to discipline ourselves to follow Jesus.  It’s hard, it’s not easy, we fail a lot.  But, this discipline is essential in growing in our understanding of our true selves as created, redeemed, and sustain by God.  The root word of discipline even comes from disciple.  A disciple is a student, a follower of Jesus.

This is demonstrated to us by Jesus.  Jesus embodied the law as we have said before.  God’s promises to us are fulfilled through Jesus in deep and powerful, and loving ways.  We are called to cultivate, to discipline ourselves to follow Jesus.  It’s hard, it’s not easy, we fail a lot.  But, this discipline is essential in growing in our understanding of our true selves as created, redeemed, and sustain by God.  The root word of discipline even comes from disciple.  A disciple is a student, a follower of Jesus.

This is hard to hear, yet true.  When I was a kid, we lived on about 7 acres.  My uncle lived next door and had a few more acres of land.  We shared a large garden that was about 1/2 the size of a football field.  Every year, in the fall, the plants and veggies in the garden would die and go back into the ground.  He had a larger farm with cows.  In the spring, we would go to the cow field where we had a manure pile.  I hated this job, but we’d load up a bunch of smelly manure and spread it on our garden.  Before that we would have tilled the ground to loosen it up and to churn up all of the dead plants into the ground.  It was hard work, but when did that, planted the seeds, and then put the manure all over it, the nutrients that came from the smelly waste, would cause the ground to produce life.  In order to do some of the more more mundane chores, I would simply have to follow my dad and uncle’s lead, be disciplined, yet I benefited from great food and I learned a lot.  

Jesus is calling us to be his followers, to be his disciples.  The way of Jesus can be hard, it requires discipline, sometimes we have to spread some manure, till the ground.  Yet, seeds are constantly being planted in our lives and in the lives of others that produce beautiful things.

Friends, we may be going through some difficulties right now, we may be dealing with addictions, with broken relationships, or strained relationships out of this pandenic and the tumultuous years we’ve gone through, maybe we have experienced betrayal even.  We may have a physical set back or even death.  We have fears, anxieties.  Yet, I’m here to tell you that’s part of life, it smells, it’s hard.  God does not cause bad things to happen, but know that God is working to produce good things, to restore relationship, in all of it.  If we can trust God, then we may be able to see and to hear what God may want to pull out of the waste, out of death. 

That’s hard for some.  I know there are probably some folks in this room who are ready to give up on their life with God and maybe even giving up on church.  I’d love to tell you about a God who is giving you, and giving Fleming Road UCC new promises of life.  Our future with God is filled with God’s intimate presence with us as we practice disciplining ourselves through community with each other, through reading the scriptures with new eyes, through practices such as contemplation, lectio divina, listening, sabbath, and service.  God is calling us to live and love with radical inclusion in our communities and within ourselves.  There is grace, and there is discipline…both go towards growth.

The title of this sermon is “Endgame”.  Honestly, I watched the movie “Avengers:  Endgame” again this past week so it was on my mind.  (Which, by the way, I love the Marvel movies!)  My son and I have a tradition of watching them together when they come out.  

Jesus talks about the “endgame” in the gospel passage.  But, it’s not like the endgame in Avengers.  Jesus is not a super hero in the way that we imagine super heroes.  He is not crushing enemies.  He is following the way of humility, of emptying, of dying, which is much more powerful than any Avengers movie storyline.  It’s a storyline that has changed my life, your life, and the world.  

Jesus knew this, Jesus also knew that he had to die.  He died because of his challenge of a system that kept all of us enslaved to a way of life that was getting us nowhere…yet Jesus overcame that system, challenged that system, and invites us to love our neighbors as he did…Jesus even overcame death and is alive today, giving us hope that as he is lifted up, we are lifted up with him and are able to live full lives forever with him.

Let us be a church that lives out this radical call on our lives to follow Jesus.  That in knowing our identity in Christ, we don’t have to force our God on others, just love others well and allow God to be shown through us!