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March 2010 Sermons:
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

"May Heaven Help Us!" — March 7
"A House of Joy"
— March 14
"Outrageous!"
— March 21
"Glory to the King!" — March 28


“May Heaven Help Us!”
March 7, 2010
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

I Corinthians 10:1-13

Charlie Brown and Linus are leaning up against a fence. Both boys look sad. Linus turns to Charlie Brown and says, "Sometimes I feel that life has passed me by. Do you ever feel that way, Charlie Brown?" Charlie Brown answers him, "No, I feel like life has knocked me down and walked all over me."

That's the way the apostle Paul must have felt. God had called him to be a missionary. He was the first Christian evangelist, spreading the good news of Jesus around the known world. Paul endured one hardship after another. The Bible tells us that as Paul went about his work, he was beaten and harassed. He was shipwrecked. He was put in jail and had stones thrown at him because of his faith. And all the while, Paul had to deal with a chronic ailment that he referred to as a thorn in his flesh. We don’t know what it was. But this ailment tormented him constantly, as he crossed the Roman Empire in his sandals, working part-time as a tentmaker so he could survive as a missionary.

If anyone ever had the right to give up, it was Paul. In today’s New Testament lesson, Paul tells us not to lose heart. Paul points to the story of the Israelites during the Exodus. He doesn’t want to see history repeat itself, with his beloved Corinthian congregation. When we’re tested, he writes, God will provide a way out so we can endure it.

He goes on to retell the story of the Hebrew people crossing the Red Sea, in light of the Christian experience. I’m sure he is thinking of his own hardships too. God was with Moses and his people, he says. That’s how they got through their wanderings in the wilderness. When they were trapped against the sea, with the Egyptian chariots charging behind them, God delivered them by parting the water. When the people got thirsty on the desert, God saved them once again, providing water from a rock. No matter what kind of crisis the Hebrews faced in the wilderness, no matter how much they complained about having to eat manna instead of the rich food of Egypt, God was faithful and provided for them. God never tested them beyond their strength. And God never will do that to us. But God expects us to live up to the blessings He has given us.

God is our hope. That’s what Paul is saying. And yet we fall into despair and we concentrate on our personal needs. We grumble and complain. The Corinthian congregation did, too. After starting their church, Paul had moved on. But his protégé, Timothy, stayed in Corinth and wrote him letters about how things were going in the church. That’s how Paul got the word about the Christians of Corinth and their impatience and negativity and idolatry.

We can read between the lines here. Individuals were going their own way. Some were insisting on their right to do whatever they pleased. Because they were taking Communion with Christ, they had gotten an inflated sense of their importance. The Corinthian Christians thought they were invulnerable and were no longer willing to take direction from the group.

It’s human to sin. Impatience and complaining and idolatry are as common today as they were then. I’m guilty of all three, myself. We get really anxious in times of rapid change. Besides being afraid, we aren’t always happy with Mother Nature, especially in early March with dirty snowdrifts everywhere. All of us are sick of snow, and that’s affecting our spiritual health.

But the biggest frustration for us older folks is that we are aging. There’s grief and loss, and it’s a lot more than just hair loss or hearing loss. We live in a world that emphasizes physical appearance. We’re bombarded with ads for Botox and wrinkle cream and Jenny Craig. Seeing the Winter Olympics reminds us that we may never figure skate or ride on bobsleds ever again. I won’t look like Lindsay Vonn anymore. Actually, I never did look like her!

Denying the reality of aging is idolatry. It’s worshiping the appearance of youth, rather than accepting the natural life cycle of God. Words like “elderly” and phrases like “senior citizen” have a negative connotation in our culture. When I started seminary nine years ago, I was the oldest student on campus, except for a woman who remembered when President Franklin D. Roosevelt died. I felt like I was in a youth group, surrounded by 24-year-old guys. I asked the Admissions Office for names of other older women I could socialize with. An official told me, sternly, that I should never use the term, “older women.” I should call them “second career students!” To me, that’s as silly as calling short people, “vertically challenged.” It’s God’s plan for us to grow older, and wiser, and then to join Him in heaven. To obsess about looks and youth is to put these qualities in the place of God. No matter how many pushups we do or how many low-fat meals we eat, one day we will die. During Lent, we need to reflect on the sacrifice that Christ made for us, so we might have eternal life.

We feel sad to lose our beauty. Being able to laugh about it, helps. I read a funny book by Nora Ephron, called I Feel Bad About My Neck. She’s a screen writer in her late sixties. She’s written film scripts like “When Harry Met Sally” and “Heartburn.” Ephron writes about how much time and money she’s spent since age sixty, trying to stop the clock: having her hair dyed, walking on her treadmill, and applying expensive lotions that promise to keep her looking young, but never do. The anti-aging maintenance work she does on her body, takes a full day every week. Vanity is hard work! “I Feel Bad About My Neck!” What does this title mean? Ephron can’t stand the way her neck looks, because she has so many wrinkles now. Her dermatologist tells her there isn’t any surgical procedure for smoothing wrinkled necks. Jowls and wrinkled necks and brows make us sad. But getting older is God’s plan for us. I’m proud of my years.

Paul tells his church to focus on what matters and to place their hope in God. Do any medical doctors offer wisdom for the spiritually challenged? Rachel Naomi Remen is a physician and author. In her book, Kitchen Table Wisdom, Remen tells the story of a woman she once knew, named Joan. Joan was fastidious about her appearance. In her mid-thirties, she started having cosmetic surgery. Joan had four different elective surgeries at age 35—tummy tuck, face lift and a couple other operations-- and ended up looking fifteen years younger. Her favorite slogan was, “Aging is a choice.”

Then Joan was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She underwent chemotherapy and radiation. She lost every bit of her hair, and suddenly nobody could tell she’d ever had cosmetic surgery. She looked very old. Dr. Remen lost track of Joan for several years. But she saw Joan one day when she was out grocery shopping. Here’s how the author relates the end of the story, in her own words: “Several years afterward, I was stopped in the supermarket by a handsome, gray-haired woman I didn’t recognize. She greeted me warmly. Seeing how puzzled I looked, she burst out laughing. ‘I’m Joan,” she said. ‘I’m growing old. Who would have thought that someone like me could be so grateful to have wrinkles?”

Paul warns us against false confidence. He’d call Joan a repentant person. That’s why this is such a good Lenten story for us to hear. I don’t know how long Dr. Remen’s friend Joan lived after that, but she had discovered—in the most painful way-- that the life God had given her was a far greater gift than youth or beauty.

Paul’s hope rested in the life in heaven that he knew God had prepared for him. Do you ever wonder how many Americans believe in heaven? The George Barna polling organization specializes in studying spirituality in North America. Recently, the Barna group reported that 53% of people in our country believe in heaven and forty percent don’t. This represents a significant change since 1992, when only 40% of Christians they interviewed, said they believed in heaven. I’d say it’s an improvement! More than fifty-one percent of adults in America think that if a person is good, and does enough good things for others, he or she will earn a place in heaven.

Paul writes that what we see now is temporary. We see through a glass, darkly. No one has ever looked through a telescope and seen heaven. On the other hand, what can't be seen is eternal. Paul challenges his Corinthian congregation to believe in God, and to believe in heaven, without being able to see them. We are all tested to our limits, Paul assures them, but God’s grace sustains us time and again. He challenges the people of the church to lean on God and to stop worrying about things that don’t matter. All that we now see around us will vanish when we see God, face to face. We will have everything we need for eternity.

Paul reminds us that there is one reason for hope, and that reason trumps everything else. The one true thing in this world is God’s love for us. In our lives, there are no shortcuts around human suffering. But no matter what comes our way in life, God will never let us down.

Let us pray.

We praise you, O God, for your presence on the darkest and coldest days. Thank you for hearing our fears and hopes. Thank you for your loving concern for those in need. As we experience your loving presence through Jesus Christ, empower us to minister to those in need around us. Teach us, though the example of Christ, how to live faithfully. In His name, AMEN

Peanuts comic strip, quoted in www.goodpreacher.com

I Corinthians 10:13.

Rachel Naomi Remen, “Surrender,” Kitchen Table Wisdom (New York: Riverhead, 1994), 189.

http://www.barna.org

I Corinthians 13:12.

Ibid.

 


“Life in the Valley”
March 14, 2010
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

Luke 15: 1-3, 11b-32

You’d think it would be easy to preach on a story everybody knows. The story of the prodigal son touches our hearts, and it has a happy ending too! The father is joyful when his son comes home. If there ever was an inspiring parable in the Bible, this one is it.

But wait a minute. Parables are supposed to shock us. This parable of Jesus would have horrified the Jewish officials of His time. Luke begins the story with the Pharisees and scribes complaining about Jesus. They don’t like the way He eats and drinks and rejoices with sinners. In case you haven’t figured out the symbolism yet, the father in this story represents God. What about the prodigal son’s older brother? He’s a typical first-born son—he’s never been in trouble. He hasn’t broken any rules. Perfect in every way!

We think of the scribes and the Pharisees as mean-spirited. But these men were faithful, responsible Jews. They would have asked the same question the older brother asks in this story. The younger son is welcomed home with a big party. Why doesn’t the righteous son rate an even bigger party?

The younger son is probably not much older than seventeen. A Jewish man in ancient times married between the ages of eighteen and twenty. Granted, he’s young and immature, but he has the nerve to demand his full inheritance when his father isn’t even dead yet. To the ears of a Middle Easterner of the first century, this was the ultimate insult. Any father would have felt humiliated by a request like that. But, amazingly, Dad gives the younger son his share of the family wealth. The boy takes the money and runs. He spends a fortune on fine champagne and beluga caviar. A famine hits the far country where the boy is staying. The economy in that part of the world goes belly-up. The prodigal son is left without any funds to live on. The only job he can find is herder of pigs. Jews weren’t even supposed to touch pigs, according to the law. No Palestinian Jew would be caught dead near a herd of swine. After a few days of dishing out pig slop, the younger son decides to go home—having rejected Jewish values and burned every bridge behind him.

Empty-handed, he arrives at Dad’s front door. But before he can confess how sorry he is, his father rushes to welcome him. He has no interest in hearing his son’s apology. It seems as if his Dad has allowed him to fail, so he can learn. You’re here now, and you’re safe, his father says. Let’s have a party!

This story is about the grace of God. It’s comforting. But the dark side of this parable fascinates us, too. This son is one naughty kid, but we feel compelled to watch, as he messes up his life. The parable of the prodigal son is the kind of story we find in those magazines that we allow ourselves to read only in the dentist’s office. A life of excess makes a juicy story. It appeals to the rebel in each of us. That’s why James Dean, John Belushi, and Marilyn Monroe are Hollywood legends.

We live in a prodigal world that is headed for disaster. We’re like the son, struggling with mounting debt and feeling the pressure to buy more and more stuff. The answer to every problem is to spend money. Stuck knee deep in a pig pen, we feel starved for joy. Maybe you know how that feels. Wouldn’t you love to find out that God, your Father, has been waiting for you all along, ready to welcome you home? His love is deeper and wider than we can imagine.

Maybe that’s another reason why we love the story of the prodigal son. When he comes home, he gets a party. But are we really the prodigal ones in the world? Those of us who have gotten out of bed on a Sunday morning, we really aren’t the ones lost in dissolute living, are we? Aren’t we more like the older brother? We try to do the right thing. We work hard, and we work fair. We’re good sons and daughters.

We are used to this story being about the prodigal son, but this is a lot more than a story about the good child and the bad child. We’re the good ones, the responsible citizens. Some of you have served on all our church committees. I see people here today who have taught Sunday School and sung in the choir for many years. I see people who have ushered and counted the offerings and taken cans of food to Second Harvest and decorated for Advent and repaired leaks in the building and done everything that has been asked of them in their Father’s house. A strong sense of responsibility is a blessing to our church. I thank you, every one of you.

But what about the prodigals? Jesus is welcoming them and eating with them and drinking with them at the table. He is welcoming people who haven’t darkened the door of our sanctuary since their confirmation — except at Christmas and Easter. People who got their kids baptized and never showed up again—people who didn’t even stay for the last two congregational meetings. People who drop off their kids fpor Sunday school, but never come in.

Are some of us like the older brother in this story? If so, we are forgetting something. God’s love for our inactive members, and for our baptized members who grew up and never came back, is just as deep as his love for us.

The older brother is so faithful. He labors in the fields and brings in the harvest. He serves Dad with devotion, even after his younger brother squanders a third of the family fortune. The older brother has to watch the wasting of Dad’s love. He has to see the results of foolish decisions. And then he sees his brother return, broken-hearted and empty-handed. Then, after all that, the older boy sees his Father welcome his brother back home. That is simply not fair.

It’s hard to be the older brother. We put such pressure on ourselves to be excellent—only to find that God rejoices over prodigals. Not over our sermons or all the new families joining the church. Not over our fund-raisers or our Vacation Bible School. Like the Pharisees and the scribes, we have done everything to the letter. And yet, it seems like God hasn’t loved us any more than the folks who never come to church. Or, so we think. We may never have left home, but we may still be miles away from God our Father, in our hearts. There’s a name for that kind of separation from God. It’s called sin.

Do you sometimes feel like our church work is something WE do, rather than something God does? Where is our joy and, if we don’t feel it any more, when did we lose it? There’s a party going on in our father’s house. The guests are the people who once were lost but now are found. This is the party that has been ours all along. And God is pleading with us. Come inside to my joy, God says. You have always been with me. My inheritance is yours.

The invitation has been sent to every one of us. God can’t wait to hug us all. Are we missing the party? Are we standing outside God’s house, refusing to go inside, like the older brother? What has happened to our joy? During this Lenten season, shall we shift our focus from the rewards we feel we deserve? Because a great joy that we DON’T deserve is waiting for us on Easter morning.

Let us pray.

We remember, O God, the power of your hand that delivered Israel from its bondage in Egypt. We give thanks that your Son died on the cross to redeem us. We marvel at the depth of your compassion for all people. Forgive us when we exclude, by our words and actions, others whom you include in your family of grace. Teach us, gracious God, to accept others as you have accepted us. In Jesus’s name, AMEN

 

Perry H. Biddle, Preaching the Lectionary: a Workbook for Year C (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1991), 132.

Carlos Wilton, Lectionary Preaching Yearbook for Year C (Lima, OH:CSS, 2006), 133.

Ibid.

 


“Outrageous!”
March 21, 2010
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

John 12:1-8.

Jesus has five more days to live on this earth. He’s on His way to Bethany, and the disciples are with Him. This is a daring move. Bethany is two miles outside Jerusalem, Jesus is a hunted man in these parts, and the men who want to capture Him are in Jerusalem.

Mary, Martha, and Lazarus live in Bethany. They’re throwing a dinner party to thank Jesus for raising Lazarus from his tomb. We’ve met this family in earlier gospel stories. The story of Mary and Martha. The story of the raising of Lazarus. Now Jesus and his followers are at their home. The thirteen men are sitting with Lazarus at a banquet table. Once Lazarus was dead, but he looks more alive than ever now. It’s a miracle--a resurrected man! Imagine the questions the disciples are asking Lazarus. What is it like to be dead? How does it feel to be reborn?

So Lazarus plays the host for Jesus and His disciples, and the practical Martha serves them all. Women don’t break bread with men on the Sabbath. Mary, the most spiritual person in this family, opens some perfumed oil, imported from the Himalayas. The aroma fills the room. Mary quietly moves behind Jesus. She anoints his feet with perfumed oil. Then she wipes up the excess with her hair. The perfume may be the anointing oil that the family was saving for her own burial.

Judas Iscariot sits in stunned silence. He is outraged by Mary’s gesture of affection. He whispers to the other disciples. What a waste! Judas is saying. He’s in charge of the money bags Jesus and His followers carry on the road. He asks why the perfume hasn’t been sold, instead of being poured out of the bottle to make the room smell nice for ten minutes? The proceeds from selling this oil could feed poor people, he says. Perfumed oil is all over the floor, soaking into the straw and the dirt. Judas is asking a reasonable question. Mary’s flask of perfume is worth three hundred days’ wages. It’s the kind of oil used to anoint kings in the ancient Middle East. Today, that amount of perfume would be worth more than ten thousand dollars. What would your reaction be, if the treasurer’s report at our next congregational meeting showed a ten-thousand-dollar expenditure for perfume for 2010? What if the only explanation given, was that our congregation wanted to express love for Jesus? You’d think it was outrageous, a foolish waste of money!

Most of us don’t spend wild sums of money to show our love. We want to spend enough to please the person. We might check to find out what others are going to spend. If they are buying a hundred-dollar gift, say, for a family wedding, then we would feel chintzy to spend fifty dollars on the same couple. But we’d be even more embarrassed to spend two hundred and fifty dollars.

Imagine how Mary’s loving tribute makes Jesus feel. He’s at the end of His ministry. Think of the last time your family goes out for dinner, at the end of a wonderful vacation. It’s a sad time, your last hurrah in Paris or the Bahamas. In your mind, you go over all the wonderful things you’ve done, before you face the trouble back at the office. Jesus is sad—much sadder than we are when our vacations end. He knows what will happen in the week to come. Jesus has come to earth to win people over for God. Has His ministry been all for nothing? When Mary anoints Him, she shows that she believes He is the Messiah. Jesus sees that He has a place in Mary’s heart, if no one else’s. Even the Son of God needs to feel loved.

We try not to put our hearts on our sleeves. All the self-help books say, “Play your cards close to the vest.” You know all the clichés about being guarded in the way you show affection. And so we are very careful in the way we express our emotions. Extravagant waste is foolish, we say to ourselves. What happens when we hold back on our love and faith? We end up not expressing it at all, until after someone we love has died. In showing our love for Jesus, we don’t want to “go overboard.”

Judas Iscariot is calculated and rational in this story. His inhibitions have always held him back from being a real disciple of Jesus. His betrayal of Christ doesn’t start the night of the Lord’s Supper. It begins with his extreme self-control. Jesus is the opposite. Jesus is richly impractical, time and time again. He tells the wealthy young man to sell everything he has, and give it to the poor. He tells Peter to cast his nets aside to become a fisher of men!

We think of people who go overboard to show their faith, "saints" in the church. Biblical heroes and heroines live abundantly, outrageously, illogically, to serve God. Noah builds an ark out in the desert, long before it starts to rain; Abraham packs up everything he owns, takes Sarah and walks a thousand miles; Moses returns to Egypt to rescue his people, even though he knows Pharoah wants to kill him; Ruth follows Naomi to a foreign land, when common sense tells her to stay home; little David picks up five smooth stones to slay the giant Goliath; fourteen-year-old Mary gladly bears the Christ Child; Joseph marries her even though her child isn’t his; and Peter and John tell their captors, "We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard." They don’t care how outrageous their behavior looks to other people. Paul speaks for all of them: "We are fools for Christ’s sake."

In this gospel story, Mary doesn’t care what practical men like Judas think of her extravagant gesture. I believe we are more like Mary when we express our abundant faith and love--and more like Christ, too.

God calls us to love unreasonably—and leave our common sense behind. Jesus said that the Christian faith is like a big party. Common sense says, "Throw parties only on anniversaries or birthdays or the Super Bowl." An extravagant faith throws parties for no reason at all. Common sense says, "Love the people who will love you back." Faith loves enemies, no matter what. Common sense says, "Share the good news when it seems appropriate to do so." Faith spreads the gospel like a crazy farmer, throwing seed in all directions. Common sense says, "Be kind to those who can help you get ahead." Faith says to care for the least and the last of God’s people. Common sense says, "Love until you can say ‘I’ve done my part."’ Faith says it isn’t possible to love anyone too much. Common sense says, "Be like Martha. Meet people’s expectations." Jesus says we should live extravagantly for our faith, like Mary.

Jesus is not a practical man. The devil had tempted Him in the wilderness to be a practical savior—to feed himself so He could feed the people, to be famous, and to rule the world. He would have none of it. After the feeding of the five thousand, the crowd had wanted to make Him king. Jesus would have none of it.

At the Last Supper, Jesus will want His friends to know how much He has loved them. He won’t make a speech from His seat at the table. That’s too practical. Instead, Jesus will take a basin and towel and wash their feet. Peter will be shocked. What outrageous behavior for a rabbi, to wash his students’ feet like a servant would. Most of us would feel awkward washing the feet of others in our congregation. Our feet are a lot cleaner than their feet! They had worn sandals as they walked through the desert and on the dirty streets of cities. But Jesus washed them.

Jesus’ love for us extends far beyond logic. You can’t follow Jesus and think only of what is practical. When was the last time you did a foolish thing to show your love for Christ?

Let us pray.

We praise you, O God, for the assurance of your unfailing love which we have seen in Christ Jesus. We thank you for the relationship we can have in you through faith in Christ. As we continue on our pilgrimage through Lent, give us the strength to follow you, even if it leads to suffering. In His name we pray, AMEN.

 

Perry H. Biddle, ed. “Lent 5,” Preaching the Lectionary for Year C (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1991), 138.

Commentary on the Gospel of John, The Harper Collins Study Bible, NRSV(New York:Harper Collins, 1993), 2037.

Biddle, 139.

Bruce B. Barton and others, eds, Life Application Bible Commentary: John. (Wheaton, IL:Tyndale, 1993), 247.

Acts 4:20.

I Corinthians 4:10.

John 13:8.

 


“Glory to the King!”
March 28, 2010
Palm Sunday
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

Luke 19:28-40

It was Passover when Jesus entered the Holy City. He wasn’t riding on a mighty war horse, but He sat on a borrowed colt instead. That’s how the crowds could tell He was the Prince of Peace. Everyone cheered, “Glory to the King!” The people in the crowd put their own cloaks—their most important possessions—along His path. In those days, a peasant wore the same cloak for an entire lifetime. Everybody had just one—if they had one at all. A cloak was more than a piece of clothing. It was a shelter and home for them. And they gave their cloaks to Jesus!

The disciples were thrilled to march behind Him. Their boss really was the Messiah—and all that had happened to them in the past three years now made sense to them. It was a glorious day.

The Pharisees were horrified. It seemed they had underestimated the carpenter rabbi from the hinterlands. Was He another rabble-rouser? The temple leaders had prayed for a peaceful Passover. Three or four armed Jewish rebellions against Imperial Rome had broken out each year for the past thirty-five years. Deadly brawls and fights always seemed to happen on the holy days. Many years before, the Pharisees and scribes had cut a deal with the occupying Roman soldiers, so they could worship as they pleased. But when Jewish “prophet-wannabe’s” came in from the boondocks, like this Jesus, and got everybody whipped up into a frenzy, the Pharisees became frightened. Their religious practices were in danger. The Romans might crack down on all the Jews because of Jesus.

Jesus rode the little colt to the temple, where He began to teach and preach. From Sunday to Thursday He was unstoppable. A rabbi celebrity! I wonder whether the people who waved the palms to welcome Jesus, really understood who this man was? The "hosanna" and the "blessing" and the "festive branches" come from Psalm 118, a coronation hymn which had been sung in the temple a thousand years before Jesus was born. Was this just another parade in which this crowd was "caught up"?

Crowds can be fickle and unpredictable, even today. Two weeks ago, on the night that the University of Maryland won over Duke in the NC Double A’s basketball Final Four, rioting broke out on the Maryland campus. Students went out of control, damaging property and starting fires. TV footage showed officers on horseback dispersing the crowd—a rough bunch. What happened? They were caught up in the moment, and some of them had too much to drink. When Duke won over Maryland a few years ago, the same thing happened in Raleigh, North Carolina. A social psychologist, interviewed on a local television station in Raleigh, described how good people can get caught up in a crowd. The pull is powerful.

At any rate, the powers-that-be in Jerusalem, bided their time on that Sunday and Monday. They feared the holiday crowds. Most of all ,they feared Roman persecution. When Jesus overturned the tables of the moneychangers and let the sacrificial birds loose, even then the scribes and Pharisees decided to leave Him alone. This Jesus was so well-liked by the crowds. What could they do?

In his book, Credo, the late William Sloane Coffin (a famous Presbyterian pastor) writes that Jesus entered Jerusalem as a prophet. He knew exactly what He was getting into. He saw that the real troublemakers in the Holy City were not ignorant and cruel people. Jesus’ enemies were the intelligent, corrupt ones. In contrast to many modern preachers, Jesus knew that the commandment, “Love your enemies” didn’t mean, “Don’t make any!”

Jesus seemed to be on a roll on Palm Sunday. He was at the peak of His powers, and He knew it. Later that week, He established a new commandment--"Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” He began a new ceremony with bread and wine at the Last Supper.

But on Thursday, one of His own followers betrayed Him, and He was arrested. By Friday, the Passover crowds turned against Him completely.  The Romans heard bitter shouts of "Crucify, crucify." And crucify Him they did! The grim truth is that the same people who shouted "Hosanna" on Sunday sent Him to the cross just five days later.

Where do you see yourself in this story? Are you a palm waver in the cheering crowd? Are you a Pharisee, wanting peace where there is no peace? Or are you a disciple, here today and gone tomorrow? You’ve heard this story so many times. This time, try to think with the mind of Jesus. What was His experience that week? Can you stand to be in His place, not in place of the palm wavers or the Pharisees or the treacherous Judas or the fickle Peter? Imagine yourself riding on the back of that colt -- strong, steadfast and obedient to God’s call. No matter what was going to happen next.

Jesus was not afraid! Jesus CHOSE His path. He CHOSE to leave the little town of Galilee, and He CHOSE to confront the powers-that-were. He knew the cost of faithful ministry. The purpose of His life was to proclaim a new kind of relationship with God. He never considered staying in Galilee and growing old. Imagine Jesus, the wise old rabbi of Judea—what a lovely picture. A peaceful retirement that was never to be!

Jesus knew who would betray Him. The disciples’ love for the Lord was based, mostly, on their hope for exciting things He could do for them. Jesus wasn’t like us. In the good times and bad times, Jesus never let His fears control His life. Step by step He walked, toward the fulfillment of God's will, for Him, and through Him, for the world.

Jesus cared nothing for popularity or power or security. He chose to obey His heavenly Father; knowing that God’s love would always surround Him. Could you do that?

If we depend upon the way others treat us, we may never taste victory.   Talk about turning the other cheek, and blessing those who persecute you for righteousness sake, and having evil falsely uttered against you! Jesus didn’t just preach about living a righteous life.  He lived it, and it was especially dangerous to live a Godly life during that week when the world seemed to be falling to pieces. The only person who seemed to stay in one piece, was Jesus Himself.

Many of us have known what it’s like to be popular. Nearly all of us have tasted rejection. There’s something else we all know by now! God can take any situation, no matter how bad, and turn it to good. Jesus trusted in God's great plan for Him, to bring about Easter morning.

Aren’t you thankful that Jesus obeyed His Father’s will during that terrible week? Aren’t you glad He could set aside His own pride? Would that we all could do the same.

Let us pray.

O Holy God, as we reflect on the events from Palm Sunday to Jesus’ death on Golgotha, we are overwhelmed at humanity’s rejection of Jesus. We cannot fathom His obedience in the face of such suffering. We pause and kneel in the presence of such grace. In quiet faith, we confess that Christ is Lord. AMEN

 

Perry H. Biddle, ed. “Lent 6,” Preaching the Lectionary for Year C (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1991), 144.

Jay Cormier, Table Talk: Beginning the Conversation on the Gospel of Luke (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2009), 67.

William Willimon, “Shouting Rocks,” Pulpit Resource, March 28, 2010, 54.

Coffin, William Sloane. Credo (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2003), 34.

Luke 22:1-38.

 


Archived Sermons:
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3005 S. Front Street, Whitehall, PA 18052 | 610-264-9693 | hokeypres@gmail.com
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