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St. Mark's United Church

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Palm Sunday sermon 2019

Sermon for Sunday April 14, 2019     Palm Sunday              “Jesus, Jesus He’s our Man…”

 

I suspect that you have seen and completed the puzzles that require you to find the differences in two pictures that at a glance appear the same. What’s missing or what’s added, they say there are six of them, can you find them all?

Maybe you grew up like I did, in a church where Palm Sunday was one of the most fun times in the year. It didn’t have presents like Christmas but it did have palms and it was one Sunday when we children were not only invited into the sanctuary but allowed to be a little rowdy. Who would have thought our Sunday School class would have to be told to be louder when we shouted Hosanna? So we come to Palm Sunday, perhaps with that vision in mind; we’ve heard this story. We know: Jesus, palms, crowds, hosanna. But to truly hear Luke’s version of this story, the one we read today, begin by noticing what isn’t there: no palms, no children, no hosanna. Perhaps if we notice what isn’t there and clear it away, we will be ready to see what is there. That’s our job today: see what Luke shows us, understand what God means, consider what to do about it.

Jesus has been on the way to Jerusalem for a long time. Along the way, he told his friends that it would mean martyrdom, a cross, death, suffering but that they should believe as he did in God’s power to give life, in God’s love beyond life and death. Everything in the gospels says they didn’t believe him. When he first tells them, Peter himself says he didn’t believe it and argued with Jesus. James and John are arguing about the power structure of the new administration of King Jesus right up to the very end, to the point where he has to tell them to stop.

Jerusalem is on top of a small mountain, Mount Zion The road up to it is windy and switches back and forth. At Passover, people came from all over to the city, so it would have been crowded. Jesus and his disciples and followers are peasants and so are most of the people around them. They don’t have special clothes for this special time; peasants wore a sort of undergarment and a cloak. The cloak was valuable enough to pawn for a day’s food, important enough that there was a law that the pawnbroker couldn’t keep the cloak overnight. They’re often pictured marching like a military unit, lined up behind Jesus with crowds on either side but that’s a mistake. Jesus and his friends are part of a larger procession of pilgrims to the city.

Now they come to the Mount of Olives. It’s where Jesus will go after the last supper, where he will pray, where he will be arrested. There are really two processions going on here. One is Jesus, who is walking toward the cross, marching toward heavenly glory; the other is everyone else, walking toward victory, marching toward worldly success.

As they move along, Jesus sends some disciples off to acquire a colt. And he gives them a coded phrase: “The Lord has need of it.” Now the word ‘Lord’ has a double meaning. It could mean the owner of the donkey but it’s also the word most often used to describe Jesus. The way he instructs them is strange: “If someone asks why you are untying it…” Just say, ‘the Lord has need of it’ In the event, when they untie the colt, it’s the owner himself who confronts them. Sometimes when this is preached, explanations are created about how Jesus had prearranged for the colt. We don’t really know, but if he had done so, why are the owners asking what they’re doing? “The Lord has need of it,” they say. Here ‘Lord’ clearly means Jesus. The owner must have faced a difficult choice. A colt is valuable. Here, he’s confronted with a choice; what would you do? “The Lord has need of it.”

What we call the Palm Procession really begins with this colt. When they bring it back, they throw their cloaks, their valuable cloaks, on it to make a saddle and it says “…they put Jesus on it. He doesn’t climb on, he doesn’t mount up, like the Spirit whooshing him off to the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry, his friends put him up on that colt. Suddenly people must have looked and suddenly he’s become a symbol and suddenly he’s mocking all the pageantry of the marching Romans and soldiers, coming to Jerusalem. Coming mounted, as they are, but on a colt. People must have noticed and remembered that the prophet Zechariah had said, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” [Zechariah 9:9] There are two processions here. One is Jesus, who is walking toward the cross, marching toward heavenly glory; the other is everyone else, walking toward victory, marching toward worldly success. One is led by people proud of their power; one by a man rocking humbly on a colt. One is led by people determined to deal death to make power; one is led by someone who believes life can overcome death.

The crowd notices; people are inspired. They take off their cloaks and throw them down. We call it Palm Sunday but there are no palms, no branches cut from trees. The cloaks they are throwing down are for some their most valuable possession. Like the owners of the colt, they have heard, “The Lord has need of it” and give more than what they have—they give what they are. For it’s dangerous to celebrate this prophet. This is exactly the kind of demonstration those soldiers are meant to stop. Just as some Pharisees had warned Jesus that Herod was trying to kill him, now they warn him to make his followers be quiet, to stop this dangerous demonstration. Jesus simply says; it can’t be stopped: if they stop, creation itself will take up the cry.

What is it they are shouting? We all grew up shouting hosanna, which means “Save us”. I’ve led countless services over the years where we had people shout, where we waved palms, I’ve done it here.    Notice the details in this account, because each account has something to say. In this one, it’s not Hosanna they shout, it’s “Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” We’ve heard that, or something very much like that before, haven’t we? It’s like the lines to an old song, the kind that can drive you crazy trying to remember, or the one that just won’t leave your head. Where did we hear it? What’s the title? Who’s the singer? We heard it on Christmas Eve. Its title is the Advent, the birth, of Christ. It’s the song of the angels. We have circled back to Christmas; we have circled back to Jesus.

In this story, it’s the people around him who move the story forward: the owner of the colt, who gives it when the Lord has need of it, the friends who make a saddle of their cloaks, because the Lord has need of them, the people who don’t even know Jesus yet, lay down their cloaks because somehow they too sense the Lord has need of them.

What are we to do about all this? Every one of us eventually faces a moment when we sense the Lord has need of something. We’ve been talking throughout Lent about covenant. Perhaps the greatest need of all, is for us simply to believe Jesus, listen to him, and build our life together around what he says instead of what we think. Who we are is God’s children; who we are is people meant to sing songs of praise like the ones around Jesus. What the Lord needs isn’t just what we have: it’s who we are. If we don’t sing the song of salvation, it’s left to the stones. God will make a way, God is making a way, and we are meant to be that way.

This is Palm Sunday and it is about a procession but there are really two processions. One is Jesus, who is walking toward the cross, marching toward heavenly glory; the other is those walking toward popularity, marching toward worldly success. Which one are you marching in? The one you give when the moment comes and the Spirit ask: “The Lord has need of it.”

 

Sermon for Nov 25 2018

Sermon for November 25, 2018                     Reign of Christ                        “Truth”

The teaching of Jesus in the Gospel today is “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” I am not sure that Jesus was aware of the can of worms that would be opened as future generations struggled with unravelling the meaning of truth.

In 1925, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Pius XI, instituted the Feast of Christ the King.  He was responding to the rise of fascism and felt that Christians were also succumbing to an increasing secularism in the world.  Over time, most mainline churches, who follow the lectionary, began to observe this Sunday in some fashion. In the United Church we call it the Reign of Christ Sunday. And it is the last Sunday in the liturgical year.

Of course, we have no choice but to live in the “real world” (we have to go to school, have jobs, buy groceries, heat our homes, clothe ourselves and our children, find a way to get around and to communicate with  others and all of those things )  but the question remains: whose values really govern our lives?  What are our priorities?  Are we governed by the values of materialism, consumerism, elitism, militarism, sexism, racism, and the other “isms” that vie for our loyalty?  Or are we governed by the Good News of Jesus.

When I clicked on the right buttons to get the computer to get me the meaning of truth, I got: Truth is disambiguation. And now I am so much more enlightened! So I looked further.

Truth is a concept most often used to mean in accord with fact or reality, or fidelity to an original or to a standard or ideal.

Biblical inerrancy, as formulated in the “Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy“, is the doctrine that the Protestant Bible “is without error or fault in all its teaching”; or, at least, that “Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact”. Various interpretations have been applied, depending on the tradition. According to some interpretations of the doctrine, all of the Bible is without error, i.e., is to be taken as true, no matter what the issue. Other interpretations hold that the Bible is always true on important matters of faith, while other interpretations hold that the Bible is true but must be specifically interpreted in the context of the languageculture and time that relevant passages were written.

When Jesus speaks of truth in this context he is speaking to Pilate and pointing out to him that his idea of truth differs from God’s idea of truth. That Pilate’s idea of community is vastly different that the community of Jesus. It is into this environment that Jesus is challenging Pilate and lifting up this teaching for all people.

It is at this moment that we leave the world of empirical data and evidence and move into the place of heart, soul and grace. It is an area that most in the western world are fidgety and uncomfortable. Jesus calls us past the facts and into our hearts. He says to Pilate, you have all this wealth and power, armies and resources and yet they are meaningless to me for they will perish and be dust and rust. My realm was, is and always will be of the spirit and soul and not subject to your idea of power nor will it return to rust and dust.

As we attempt to understand Jesus with the rule of law or even good governance, we will fail. If we insist on understanding Jesus and the realm of Jesus with fact and data, we will fail. It will require of us a leap of faith. That leap that gets us out of our heads and into our heart and spirit. And that for a cyber, fact driven people is a challenge. Though we were born as true spirit, it was taught out of us and replaced with fact and fact has become our default position. Being in our spirit and heart place takes attention and time and work and most challenging of all, a suspension of fact and an acceptance of grace. It is there that we hear the truth of the teachings of Jesus. It is there that our hearts are touched with compassion and passion. It is there where allow ourselves to live with our hearts in the realm of Jesus, and our lives in the world, ever striving to live out the prayer: ‘Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’.

Sermon for Nov 18 2018

Sermon for November 18, 2018                  26th after Pentecost        “Into Your Heart”

You are forgiven.

I could easily end there for that is the only thing you need to hear from the texts today. You know me better than that I am sure. The author of Hebrews wants in no uncertain terms for readers to know that what Christ has done in his death on the cross is a ‘once and for all’ act that frees us from our sin and the need to offer any sort of sacrifice. It opens the door to a new way of community and personal life that is organized by love and respect. It is an invitation to live wholeheartedly in the spirit and love of Jesus.

This is not an ‘oh that’s nice sort of sentiment’. This is a live changing event that we so often struggle to grasp. Imagine the first followers of Jesus after his death. No more are they concerned about sending the best of what they had as a sacrifice. Imagine not having to take the time and expense to travel to the High Priest and confess and then give the subscribed penance. Jesus willingness to be crucified for our forgiveness was and is beyond our comprehension. Our old patterns of living and being are broken, and not broken so they can be fixed again, broken, smashed destroyed beyond repair. We are in a new way of being that is light and love and forgiving.

I can remember thinking that when my children both went to school I would have so much free time. That was not true. I hear over and over again how much time there may be when retirement comes. And yet I hear constantly from folks who are retired that they are so busy they could not imagine working too. Hebrew’s is thinking ahead of us when we think that we will not have to gather in church. The direction is; ‘do not neglect to meet together in community’ and there provoke one another to love and do good deeds.

Do not neglect to meet together as a community. It is a truth that humans need and even crave to be gathered together in community. This is a gentle reminder to gather and actively wait on the acceptable year of the Lord. This gathering happened on the Sabbath day, the day God directed we rest. For the past 50 years there have been a steady erosion of the Sabbath day or any idea that we need Sabbath. With technology, travel, work in a global context we are all, from infant to senior, on the go 24/7. We were led to believe that was good, it was progress, it was innovative and progressive. And yet we are more disconnected from each other now than any other time in history. Gathering cannot and I do not think ever will be as simple as a happy face emoticon. What I find interesting is that corporations that are now seen as progressive and supportive of life work balance are insisting that work cell phones be left at work. That there are days in a week for self and family. And in the back of our minds we hear the teaching to gather as community so that we can provoke one another to love and good deeds.

As we reach the ending of this liturgical year, it may be interesting to set intentions for the next year. I know you are familiar with this task as most do it in January and call it new years resolutions. I heard this week that a problem with church attendance is that other activities have moved into Sunday morning. When I step back and peek, and I am doing this as we are in the midst of a strategic planning process, I discover that while other activities have moved into Sunday the church has remained resolute in claiming the only time to worship is Sunday morning. The teaching of God and Jesus is: remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, it is a day of rest. The church for the past 2000 years has understood Sabbath and worship are connected and only on that day. A new liturgical year intention may be to consider that worship is appropriate on any of the days of the week.

It is clear in the text from Hebrews that God has carved love into our heart, and remembrance in our minds. With every beat of our heart the love of God courses through our bodies. With every synapse of our brain the memory of God is present. This leads me to believe that it is really hard to escape God, for God is embedded in our very being. Further each breath we take is a time of honouring God, each word we utter, each thought we think, all our being infused with God. Is it any wonder that the primary teaching of Jesus is to love, to be kind, to speak generously and act humbly? For Jesus, his followers are followers each moment of each day.

In a world that has become cruel, in Christianity that has become judgmental,  in communities that are insular and protective, Jesus gift of life, opens the door to a new way of community and personal life that is organized by love and respect. It is an invitation to live wholeheartedly in the spirit and love of Jesus.

Sermon for September 23, 2018

Sermon for September 23, 2018                 18th after Pentecost        “What are you Talking About?”

 

I was listening to a speech given by Steve Jobs this week and part of the message was that we need to trust that the dots will connect. He did not graduate from university but in his words, he dropped out and then dropped in on classes he liked. He and Steve Wozniak started building computers in the garage and then founded Apple, Jobs was fired and started an animation company that became Pixar, had cancer and was cured, back to Apple then more cancer. In the moment, he could not see that dropping out of university and dropping into a calligraphy class would lead to fonts and type faces and make the words we type have pizazz. He could not see how the dots connected until he looked back on his life and could see that his success was linked to his perceived failure and both were connected and essential.

‘The Son of God is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again’. In the moment the disciples just could not get their head or their heart to understand what Jesus was saying. So they did what people have been doing for thousands of years…change the topic. They started arguing as boys have done for the same about of time, who’s better, faster, stronger, smarter etc. It seems that when the spiritual alludes us we pick up the mundane.

This past Wednesday the Board agreed to launch a strategic planning process. Not all the details are worked out, but the general principles are in place with an openness to flexibility and to the leading of the Spirit. It seems to me in that journey we will need to work on our ‘why’. Why is St. Mark’s a great place to be? That to me means we will have to get our heart and soul engaged. It also means that we will listen to the ‘elders’ who know that failure does not always mean failure. It may mean you are currently just going in an unhealthy way. It will mean being patient with newbies who are filled with ideas that may not have worked before but now just might. And it will mean depending on Jesus and Spirit that even in dark places light can shine, that in impossibility there is the joyful unexpected and that as we look back to plan ahead we can be assured that like before we will make mistakes and like before new doors are opened.

So let me have a go at my why.

I believe that living a life that takes me past my comfort zones is exhilarating; I believe that being socially unconventional is a powerful mechanism for social change. I believe that walking this path with others is way more fun and life giving than when walked alone. St. Mark’s believes this to be so. I invite you to walk into this adventure. It will mean that you just might be last, the wisdom of children is honoured, that giving is the best way to live with abundance and that in surrender comes truly wholehearted living.

And by the way, St. Mark’s has the terrific worship, programs and a mindset to be all this and more. And yes, we are a Christian church.

 

What the disciples did not know until the resurrection was all the crazy stuff Jesus talked about before his death was absolutely true. What we do not know until we have the humility to try is that it is still true. If you want the best seat, sit in the back of the bus. If you want abundance, give. If you want life, give yours to others. It is when we get older that it all starts to make sense, not just because we might be getting closer to the time when we will meet our maker but because we have seen it happen in our lives. And once we get a taste of it we want more of this truly wholehearted abundant life.

What are you talking about is the question of Jesus to the disciples? It is the same question we are asked. If our answer is me, me, me or how can I arrange the deck chairs so that I will survive, or how can I be perceived as great and wonderful, then like the disciples we sink in our self-imposed separation from God. We cannot serve God and ourselves. Not going to happen in any reality. We eventually learn that extravagant living comes from giving ourselves to God.

Why St. Mark’s…we are on an adventure. Each day is new and exciting. We are opening ourselves to the wonder and grace of Jesus who started the journey. What are we talking about? The crazy idea of Jesus that we can truly be loving.

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