Monday, April 6, 2009

Passion/Palm Sunday Sermon

As Bob Dylan wrote, “The times they are a changin.’ This Sunday is one of those changing, transitional times in our church year. The end of Lent is near as we move through Holy Week towards Easter.


Today, we’ve heard and participated in the celebratory parade with Palms, singing “All Glory Laud and Honor,” walking down the Mt. of Olives with Jesus during his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Did you hear the hosannas? This crowd was excited. They wanted to crown Jesus as king!


When I lived in the Holy Land in the 1980s, on Palm Sunday, Christians of all denominations and languages would gather on the Mt. of Olives. We would sing, pray, and joyfully walk down the Mt. into Jerusalem. We were Christians of all nationalities and languages singing and shouting, “Hosanna!” It was like being transported back in time to Jesus’ time. Can you imagine what it must have been like on that first Palm Sunday?


This morning our readings take us to other places as well however—places where we do not hear “Hosanna.” Did you hear our gospel reading? Was Jesus being praised? Did people still want to crown him as king?


Instead of hosannas, we heard, “Crucify him!” We not only walked with Jesus to Jerusalem, but we also journeyed with him as he was tried and crucified. We went from the parade to the Passion. We are now hearing the words of Jesus’ suffering and death, which will continue with Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. The words we hear each year are so familiar. We know them so very well, but do we really hear them?


What does our first reading from Isaiah have to say?

“The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens— wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.”

The people of Israel were weary. The people were in exile in Babylon. Their faith was on life support. God had a wonderful message of good news for them--that he would bring them back home. The prophet was sent to encourage the discouraged.


God teaches, and then the prophet teaches. He is both a speaker and a listener. He can only speak because he listens. His ears were as engaged as his tongue. The prophet will listen both to God and to the people. By listening to the people, the prophet will understand their experience, their weariness. By listening to God, he will know how God is acting in the midst of the grief and weariness.

Didn’t Jesus do the very same thing? In John’s gospel he said, “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own…” He only spoke the words God gave him to speak. And he could only do that because he listened to the Father.


Have you ever wondered how Jesus was able to endure the suffering and pain he knew was awaiting him in Jerusalem? The crowd shouting hosanna wanted to crown him king. Do you think it was tempting to go with that plan instead of the cross? What sustained him when he knew what lie ahead? Remember how he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” How could he know what his Father wanted? He listened. We read in the gospels that Jesus would go off by himself to pray, just as he did in the garden.


I heard a story recently. A man had a special place in his home where he would spend time in prayer and reading the scripture. He was spending around a half an hour a day before going to work. He was having a great time in prayer and devotion and really sensed God’s presence. He started getting busier and busier at work. He was under such pressure and was so tired, so the time was cut back to 10 minutes. Then some days he just didn’t get up early enough to pray and maybe once or twice a week he made the time. After a while he couldn’t remember how long it had been since he’d gone to his special prayer place…maybe a month or more. So, one Saturday, he walked into the room and saw someone there. Jesus was there waiting for him. Jesus had not gone anywhere and was just waiting to talk with the man if only the man would stop long enough to listen!


What would happen if we treated members of our family that way? What if your spouse or children only talked to you when they needed something and never told you how much they love and appreciate you? Martin Luther said the busier he got, the more time he had to spend in prayer, not less.


God wakens our ears to listen.


We all have those hard things in life we have to face: sickness, death of a loved one, divorce, or betrayal by a friend. What has sustained you through the rough times? What has been the touchstone for you? Have you allowed God to speak those words of encouragement and healing? In my life there have been those times when all I could do hold on to was God. What about you?


God has called each of us into his service by virtue of our baptism. We are called to speak and live for Christ even if we do not realize others are listening and watching.


A couple of Fridays ago, a few of my classmates and I went to a restaurant in Gettysburg. After a while, a gentleman from another table approached us. He asked if he had heard right that we were involved with faith and church. We told him that was correct. He then proceeded to tell us about a serious situation regarding a woman who had just given birth and was in critical condition. He asked us to remember her in prayer. We assured him we would add her to the prayer list.


Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann has written this prayer:

The idols have ears but do not hear…

So unlike you, for all your hearing…

So like us, ears but do not hear.

You have endlessly summoned us: shema,

Listen,

Listen up,

Pay attention,

Heed,

Obey,

Turn…

We mostly do not… in our narcissism,

In our recalcitrance,

In our departure from you.

So we pray for ears, open, unwaxed,

Attentive, circumcised.

Call us by name… so that we know,

Call us to you… so that we live,

Call us into the world… so that we care,

Call us to risk… so that we trust

Beyond ourselves.

You speak/ we listen/ and comes life,

Abundant,

Beyond all that we ask or think…

Our ears to hear your word of life.

Amen.




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4 comments:

SingingOwl said...

Thank you for this. I was trying to decide where to go to church Sunday. I know eventually Ken and I will have to go to a church where we will "stick" but I am not ready. I planned on going to a large AG church not far from here that I figured would have something special for Palm/Passion Sunday. I checked their website. Nope. Just a continuation of the pastor's current sermon series. (I am sure it is good. I have heard him preach.) What? Checked out another place...nothing. My daughter, who still attends the church I just resigned from, told me yesterday that no mention was made of the fact that it was Palm Sunday. There will be no Maundy Thursday service (my favorite, after the Christmas Eve one)--and I am dismayed. I ended up not going anywhere. So I appreciated reading this online sermon. And I am thinkinf of how it would be for Christians of many denominations to worship together by walking the route to Jerusalem...wow!

Ivy said...

Thank you so much, Singing Owl. I value your opinion. When I went to the Holy Land, it was through a non-denominational, charismatic organization, Elim Fellowship. It was after living there that I connected with the Lutherans and came to appreciate the rhythms of the church year.

Returning to the US, I no longer fit in to my home church (large, charismatic, non-denominational) and sorely missed the liturgy and church year. I ended up at a Lutheran church. I, like you am a mutt!

Blessings.

SingingOwl said...

I have heard of Elim Fellowship but don't know anything about them.

Ivy, I just don't know what to do with myself. I've been a spiritual and religious mutt for a long time, but it is getting worse. I know I would not fit (long term) in a classicly liturgical setting...and my belief system has not really changed--been tweaked a bit but still essentially intact...and yet...

I really feel like the proverbial fish out of water.

My husband, God bless his dear heart, does not really understand why I do not want to go back to the church we attended before I accepted the call to Jubilee AG. I can't explain it. The pastor and his wife are co pastors, the church is (for the most part) egalitarian, he is a good, solid preacher, they are long-time close friends and stable, holy people (and I mean holy in a good way--not holier than thou).

I'm putting it off as long as possible.

It is inexplicable, and I am at a loss. If I were single I would likely just stay home for a while, though I value community and would want to be part of one sooner or later. But I am not single. And I do have my ordination to think of...and a hundred other things. I have never been so confused in my life!

NOT liking it. But hoping this is not all just haphazard coincidence that that God really is in it somewhere.

DIdn't mean to go on and on. ;-)

Ivy said...

Thank you for sharing so honestly, Singing Owl. I understand. I've been there. God knows your heart and will lead you to the right place. You'll be in our prayers. May God's grace sustain you.