Jesus Mounted on a donkey
John 12:12-19 // Zechariah 9:9-12 // Philippians 2:5-11
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In our Lenten weekend series of sermons, we are watching Jesus On His Way to the Cross. Last week we saw Jesus on the way, coming to serve. Before that we’ve seen Jesus speaking hard truths, defending his Father’s house, being lifted up like the bronze serpent, and led into the wilderness after his baptism. Today, on Palm Sunday, we see Christ entering Jerusalem mounted on a donkey.
Here it is. The holiest week of the Church’s year. The seven days that over a quarter of the Gospels are written about. The days that give meaning and authority to all the teachings of Jesus. They would not mean anything, to the Christian, if Christ had not been raised.
To frame our meditation, I’ll begin with a question. What would you do if you knew what you will know in 20 years? Kind of a strange question, but let me explain.
I’ve told many of you this story already, but I’m sure that it’s one of those stories that I’ll never be able to get rid of. I can tell you that my Grandpa Orvel Utech, Benjamin Orvel’s namesake, is in his mid-nineties now, and a year or so back, I asked him what he remembers the most out of his life. Now, he’s been retired for longer than I’ve been alive, so I thought that he would’ve said, the campground down in Florida, or the many trips he’s taken, or this or that.
I remember his words. He said that the clearest memories that he has are from when his daughters were 2 and 4. Clearer than yesterday, clearer than any other memories of his life are the days when he would come home and they were there at the door, waiting for him to come home from work. He’d scoop them up into his arms and read them stories.
His favorite days, his clearest memories, those are the days that I’m just beginning now. What would that do to my conception of these days? If I knew that these were my grandpa’s favorite days of his whole life? How does that make me live my life differently? How does that give all I do a different significance?
I tell you that to tell you this: I think of that as I look at the disciples today. What would they have thought if they knew they were going into the last week of their savior’s life? Would they have acted differently? What would they have done? What would they have thought?
John says that they remembered Christ was here fulfilling the Scriptures, specifically our Old Testament reading for today, Zechariah 9:9-12. Zechariah’s writing after the 70-year exile to Babylon, as the people were returning; they were building the city walls of Jerusalem. They were rebuilding the ruined temple, and as they do all of that, Zechariah comes around and proclaims that as they finish this temple, they will be visited by their God. Their rightful king will come to them, and come to them in a very specific way.
Humble. Riding on a donkey. Why a donkey? The conquering king rides into a city on his warhorse, with a train of prisoners behind, to tell the city whom they now serve. The rightful king comes on a donkey, on a beast of burden, to tell the city who serves them. Bearing peace that will spread from the east to the west and everywhere in between. Giving back to everyone more than anyone had ever had taken away.
But let’s return to John. Remember that it is only after the fact – was that a week after the resurrection, or was it when Christ walked the road to Emmaus? Was it in the decades after? Anyways, it was after the fact that they remembered the words of Zechariah, that they interpreted these events as the rightful king coming into his capital, serving his people, bearing a peace that starts at the cross and spreads from the east to the west and everywhere in between.
What would it have done to them in the days of trouble that lay ahead? How would it have changed them to know this?
Whether they knew it or not, they were seeing prophecy fulfilled. The Scriptures were being unpacked before their eyes. The true significance of the world was right before them. That which mattered -- more even than all that they had been through up to this point -- that which mattered lay before them.
The lynchpin upon which the door of the universe turns, the cross and the empty tomb. The point of reality. We stand on the precipice. The focus of Scriptures. Life coming from death. One preacher said it like this: “Hell took on a body, and touched God. It took on the earth, and met heaven. It took what it saw, and fell to where it did not expect! Death! Where is your sting? Hell! Where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are brought down. Christ is risen, and the demons have fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life triumphs.” What would they have done if they knew then what we know now?
That's been the focal point of our sermon so far, but let me change the question a bit. Knowing what we know now, what do we do?
You see, because the story doesn’t end at the cross, and the promise of our God is that we at this moment are still swept up into the same grand story. In the water and the word, we are seeing the ancient promises of our God fulfilled before our very eyes. We are doing exactly what the disciples were doing. We are sent out into the world, to pray that they will be done and thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven. God’s church is his instrument to bring the Gospel to the nations, to draw the universe to a close.
What would that do to my conception of these days? How does that make me live my life differently? How does that give all I do a different significance, that God is working through the promises he’s given to me to do his work?
Or, more pointedly, how does that change my interaction with my coworkers? How does that eternal significance inform the patience I should have with people on the road? How does that work affect the rhythm of my day?
The story that the disciples were swept up in on Palm Sunday is the story that has swept you up in the waters of your baptism. The last supper they ate with their master is the first taste that we have of an eternal feast.
We are swept up in the same story. J.R.R. Tolkien touches on that in his great trilogy, the Lord of the Rings. Two main characters, Frodo who bears the ring to destruction and Sam, his friend, are almost to their goal.
Sam said, “‘The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. … The way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind[, f]olk seem to have been just landed in them, usually – their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn't. …”
He goes on to remember what he calls the tale that really mattered, that stayed in the mind: “Beren now, he never thought he was going to get that Silmaril [a precious jewel] …. and yet he did, and that was a worse place and a blacker danger than ours. But that's a long tale, of course, and goes on past the happiness and into grief and beyond it – and the Silmaril went on ... And why, sir, I never thought of that before! We've got – you've got some of the light of it in that star-glass that the Lady gave you! Why, to think of it, we're in the same tale still! It's going on. Don't the great tales never end?'”
And here’s the part to listen to. “'No, they never end as tales,' said Frodo. 'But the people in them come, and go when their part's ended…’”
Here it is. The story of the passion week. The beginning of the end, which is the beginning of the beginning. It’s hard not to talk in poetry about these days of the Church year. They are bitter and they are sweet. They are aching and they are lovely. They measured and they are emotional. They are the days when we find that our Christian calendar is unlike the world. We take time away. We make time these days. We slow down. We go to church on Palm Sunday, On Maundy Thursday, On Good Friday, on Easter Vigil Saturday, on Easter Sunday, remembering step by step, day by day, what it means to be a Christian under the cross and after the empty tomb. (If you’ve never hit for the cycle, I’d recommend trying it!) We find that we are swept up into the same story that the disciples were, the grand narrative that our God began at the beginning of time.
The kingdom of heaven is like a mom and a dad that are often tempted to make the goal of raising children “be quiet and stop doing whatever you’re doing.” But the spirit of God is working in their hearts a patience wrought in eternity. The Spirit of God is working in their hearts a prayer that their children would be held in the hand of their God and Father in heaven.
The kingdom of heaven is like a young woman in a hospital bed, no cure in sight, never knowing if there is a stop to all of the pain. But the Spirit of God is working in her heart to remind her that her story ends in life eternal, in a place where ills have no weight and tears no bitterness.
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town where God himself comes down to do exactly as he has promised to do. His Spirit fills this word. His water works a life-giving flood. His body and blood give strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow. And so, come what may, their hearts are set on a future glory, and their present is lived with an eternal significance, knowing that their story is in the hands of their God.
Amen and amen.
Jesus, Pilate, and Sophistication
March 21, 2018 / Lent VI
John 18: 37 – Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice. Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”
Dear Friends in Christ,
Story of daydreaming this past Friday night, after a long day, way past my bed time, going to the Dimmels to pick up the dear puppy, distracted and turning too early, onto the four lane, daydreaming cost me six or seven miles of driving time.
Five Wednesdays ago, we saw the Jewish nation distracted by their own false view and definition of the Promised Messiah, and yet we rejoiced in the simple truth that our God never slumber, He never sleeps, we are the very apple of His eye.
Four weeks ago, we saw Judas distracted by his love of money, and yet we rejoiced that Jesus Christ has purchased us and made us His own, not with gold nor silver, but with holy precious blood, and innocent suffering and death.
Three weeks ago, we saw Peter distracted by the train wreck he saw coming at Calvary, distracted by overestimating his own ability to stand firm, distracted by following at a distance and hanging out with the wrong crowd, and yet we rejoiced in our God whose great desire is to hide us in the shadow of his wings.
Two weeks ago, we saw Herod distracted by instant gratification of his personal passions, but we rejoiced in our Lord’s passion which was to suffer all that we should have suffered, his passion was to be crucified for us until he was dead and buried.
Last week, we heard Pilate asking Jesus if he was a king, we spent time with a Roman governor distracted by a false view of authority and how to use it, yet we rejoiced in Jesus Christ who came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for man.
Tonight, we hear Pilate asking Jesus “what is truth?”, we see the highly educated Pilate caught up in elitism, caught up in an attitude that scoffed at the idea of absolute truth, distracted by what an author Herbert Lindeman calls “sophistication.” One dictionary defines sophistication as “having character and tastes based on intelligence and worldly experience, a quality of refinement. An old fashioned example of sophistication would be a person who enjoys opera and broadway musicals, in these days an example of sophistication might be the folks who have chosen science to the exclusion of revealed Scripture or the ones who always have the latest in technological advancement. (At a recent pastors’ conference, I heard one pastor admit somewhat sheepishly that his smart phone didn’t really talk to his ipad very well.”)
Two simple truths I lay before you today. Truth #1 is that our spiritual enemies are constantly tempting us to be full of ourselves, and truth #2 is a version of the theme of our recently completed Lutheran Schools Week, “the good life is still all about Jesus.”
Lindeman describes Pilate as “a man who has tasted so many delights of mind and body that nothing thrills him any more, who looks down from the superior heights of boredom on people who still retain their youthful ideals, who is convinced that life is meaningless, without ultimate significance of purpose.”
Two aspects we could note about how dangerous it is to be highly educated and to have climbed the social ladder all the way into the upper crust of society. First, the trouble with Pilate was not lack of education, it was the wrong kind of education. Many intelligent Romans at that time were for the most part athiests. They regarded religion as a racket maintained by the priests, which in many cases, was true. Pilate was what we would today call a career politician, and this is why the Jewish leaders were so much of a threat to him, they were hell bent on removing him from office, and he was weak enough in the knees that he ended up sentencing to death a man he knew to be innocent.
Secondly, and even more dangerous than the wrong kind of education for Pilate was his theological problem. His main trouble was that he didn’t believe in God. It is entirely possible that he did not have too much opportunity to come to faith. He may have been prejudiced against all religious belief by the false cults of his day. And it seems as though rubbing elbows with all kinds of believers really didn’t change his heart, although it may well be that his wife was a believer.
If we turn the clock forward from Pilate’s day to our own, we find all kinds of people still scoffing at the idea of absolute truth. The term “post truth” is now often used to describe the current political climate in the United States.
And oh how this famous scientist could have heard what our TLS and Sunday school children keep hearing, Jesus declaring, I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
And oh how sweet it would be if those who have been caught up in all kinds of self righteousness and moral relativism could hear their Savior coaxing them on their death beds, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am , you may be also.
The kingdom of God is like a highly educated professor who is ever so tempted to place his superior intellect in a position higher than clear and simple truths of Scripture. But in this Lenten season, he remembers back to bedtimes where his sweet mother would pray, “Now I lay me down to sleep….” He remembers back to his parents’ funerals where family and friends would sing loud and proud, in plain view of death, “I know that my Redeemer lives.” He thinks back to Lenten services in his little country church, the lights growing dim, the candles getting extinguished, believers singing out Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes, shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies. Heavs morning breaks, and earth vain shadows flee, in life in death O Lord abide with me.”
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town. They are like a city of lights set on a hill that cannot be hidden. All kinds of folks come and go, they hear, they believe, they are tempted, they stumble and fall. Again and again, the Lenten season they are reminded that the good life is still all about Jesus, reminded that they are the apple of their God’s eye, reminded that their God never slumbers, and He never sleeps. Reminded that their Savior has fixed His countenance upon them, and He will not be distracted.
Jesus Lifted Up
Numbers 21:4-9, Ephesians 2:1-10, John 3:14-21
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Our sermon series on our Lenten weekends is focused on “Jesus on His Way to the Cross.” Three weeks ago we saw Jesus entering his public ministry by submitting first to baptism in the river Jordan and then the devil’s temptation out into the desert. Two weeks ago we heard Jesus speaking hard truths about the necessity of him suffering, being rejected, and getting killed before there could be a resurrection. Last weekend, we watched as Jesus overturned the moneychanger tables, drove out livestock, cleansed the temple, and defended his Father’s house from those who would turn it into a place of personal profit. Today we see Jesus predicting that the Son of Man must be lifted up on the cross, much as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness.
“I knew he was rooting for me.” When Serena Williams won the Wimbledon tennis tournament for the first time in 2002, a reporter asked her if she was bothered by the fact that many of the English fans rooted against her. “No,” she said. People had rooted against her all her life. “Besides,” she added, “my dad was sitting in those stands, and I knew he was rooting for me and I wanted to please him.” For Serena, the fact that her father was rooting for her more than balanced off the fact that all kinds of others were rooting against her. Romans 8 language comes to mind, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
Our lessons for today are jam packed full of evidence that the Almighty God of this universe has been rooting for us, He is rooting for us in these very chapters of life we are living, He will be rooting for us all the way into eternity. In today’s Old Testament lesson, God was rooting for Israel to repent, in today’s Epistle lesson, He is rooting for sinners to be receiving His grace with the ultimate purpose of them doing the good works he has prepared for them to do in advance, and in today’s Gospel lesson, we find Jesus rooting for Nicodemus to be born again. Jesus rooting for the world to be saved and not condemned, Jesus rooting for evil to be exposed and for the light to be chasing away darkness.
Jesus Lifted Up is our theme for today, three lessons to be learned about how beautiful life can be as we fix our eyes and will not be distracted away from Jesus Christ crucified, buried, risen, ascended, and coming back again.
Lesson #1 comes from Numbers chapter 21 where we see A fiery serpent lifted up for impatient people (dying). Serpents have caused great problems for mankind. It was true in the Garden of Eden, and it was true at this event which took place near Mount Hor. The surface and obvious problem in this story was the poisonous snakes, but the underlying problem was the impatience of God’s chosen people. After nearly 40 years of God providing for their needs, they again complained about he situation that they were in. They were weary of the travel, they detested the food that God gave them each day, they were rejecting the providence of God and his acts of deliverance.
God was in fact rooting for his nation to repent, and his way of getting them to stop their murmuring and to trust in him was to get their attention in spectacular fashion. Luther has this to say about these verses, “In that country, where the heat is so intense, such serpents are called asps. When they bite a man, he swells, turns red, and his whole body becomes so feverish that he is soon past help unless the bitten member is amputated at once. For if such a serpent bites into a finger or a foot, the limb must be amputated immediately. Otherwise the fire or fever will penetrate the whole body and affect all its parts, and death will be inevitable.”
We think of Hebrews 11 language, “11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. We see that it was not the Lord’s will to kill these Israelites. It was his desire to have mercy on their souls. He had made a promise with them, and he would keep his promise, even though they kept on going their own way in life. His remedy was not to crush the serpents, it was to have Moses make a fiery serpent and lift it up for these dying people.
These people were asked to look at the serpent physically, sinners in all generation are invited to look spiritually and in faith to Jesus lifted high on the cross. They were cured of bodily poisoning, we will be delivered from eternal poison. They recovered from physical ailments, we from spiritual disease, and even worse than disease, apart from Christ we are dead in trespasses and sins.
The kingdom of God is like a man regretting so deeply his failed marriage. His habits of drinking too much, working too much, and caring for his wife and children too little had come back to bite and wound all concerned. But once again he looks upon the cross where His Savior died. He’s humbled by his mercy and he’s broken inside. Once again he thanks Jesus for being lifted up, he marvels at a grace which makes him alive, a new day is rising up on the inside of his heart.
Lesson #2 comes out of today’s New Testament lessons, where we see A Father’s Son lifted up for a dead man (walking). Nicodemus wasn’t just a good person with a lousy theology, he was by nature a child of God’s wrath who needed to be born again. He wasn’t just a Pharisee caught up in legalism, he was a dead man walking. That’s Ephesians 2 language, where Paul the former Pharisee had come to understand that he wasn’t just a misguided religious fanatic, he was spiritually dead, the only way he could be made alive would be for the Son of Man to be lifted up on the cross.
Humanly speaking, the crucifixion of Jesus would never have happened if the Jews had been an independent nation when the Sanhedrin found Jesus guilty and condemned Him to death. According to Jewish law, he would have been executed by stoning But the Roman Empire ruled, and the Romans executed non Romans by crucifixion. And so Jesus spoke of being lifted up, and pointed to the bronze snake on the pole as God’s prototype of this. Elsewhere, John quoted Jesus, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth will draw all people to Myself,”, and then John commented, “He said this to show by what kind of death He was going to die.”
The kingdom of God is like a young mother who lost her temper with her children this past week, again, and this morning, she is feeling one more time like a bad mom. It’s like a grandpa who has more patience with his grandchildren than he did with his own children. And every so often he wishes he could do it all over again, maybe he could do it better. The kingdom of God is like a successful retired person, who is realizing more and more than so very often over the years he has been full of himself, he has chased the almighty dollar at the expense of his family, and this morning, he wonders if there is some way he can make up for lost time, he wonders if he can somehow make it up to God and loved ones. This morning, one more time, this young mom, this grandpa, and this successful retired person are drawn to the cross where their Savior died. They are humbled by his mercy and broken inside. One more time they thank Jesus for being lifted up, they marvel at a grace which makes them alive, a new day is rising up on the inside of their hearts.
Lesson #3 comes out of our Gospel lesson for today, A Great Light lifted up for people (preferring darkness). Jesus often goes from one metaphor or simile to another, and today’s text is no exception. John 3:16 is one of the two or three most familiar verses in the Bible. Say it with me, if you will, in King James language, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” Luther had this to say about this Gospel in a nutshell, “Look at the words, I beseech you, to determine how and of whom Jesus is speaking…No one is here excluded. God’s Son was given for all. All should believe, and all who do believe should not perish. Take hold of your own nose, I beseech you, to determine whether you are a human being, that is, part of the world, and like any other man, you belong to the number of those comprised in the word, all.”
One can imagine the mind of Nicodemus spinning fast as Jesus first explains why he has to be born again, then says that the Spirit is like the wind which blows wherever it wishes, then scolds this teacher of the law for not receiving the very testimony they had been waiting for, then teaching the necessity of the Son of Man being lifted up, then making a sweeping statement about how believing in the Name of the only Son of God, and finally, pronouncing the verdict, “The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”
On the one hand, Christ died for all, on the other, many are not saved. On the one hand Christ made satisfaction for everyone, on the other, salvation requires the tgift of faith that holds to Christ. Although the light is for everyone, many, for one reason or another, or for no particular reason, will prefer darkness.
The kingdom of God is like a couple in their 60’s who came to church as little children, pretty much against their will. They were drawn to the church when it was time to get married, drawn to the church which is like a city of lights set on a hill when it was time to get their children baptized, drawn to the church when it was time for their teens to be catechized, drawn to the church when it was time for weddings and funerals, but other than those special occasions, they are realizing this morning they have preferred darkness, they have wandered into lukewarm Christianity, in so many ways they have lived in the shadows instead of letting their Gospel lights shine. This morning, they hear one more time that which they have heard a thousand times, they are saved by grace, through faith, it is a gift of God, not of works, lest any should boast. They drawn to the cross where their Savior died. They are humbled by his mercy and broken inside. One more time they thank Jesus for being lifted up, they marvel at a grace which makes them alive, a new day is rising up on the inside of their hearts.
Dear friends in Christ, know that no matter how often, as Pastor Muther would say, you have slapped away the gift of your God’s grace, no matter how frequently you have preferred darkness, it is still the truth that your God is rooting for you. He is rooting for you to repent, to be in the Christian faith, to be strong in that faith, to be growing in that faith. Even more than that, to know that you are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for “Good works prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Story of a pastor friend of ours and his wife who has since August of last year been walking through the valley of brain cancer. Walking through more doctor visits and chemotherapy treatments than can be counted, walking through stem cell cancer, through nausea upon nausea, in these very days through tiredness, frailty, and more days of trouble than the average. A few days ago we explored Ephesians 2:8-10 together, I suggested that the sermon they were preaching as they suffered patiently the afflictions laid on their shoulders was a powerful sermon, more powerful than sermons preached by pastors traveling through smooth sailing times in their life. The good work prepared in advance for them is one they would not have chosen, but by the grace of God, they are doing it well. May God give everyone of us the grace necessary to do well our own good works, prepared by God in advance, in all the chapters of our lives. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Distractions: Jesus, Herod, and Amusements 3/7/2018
Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 // Luke 23:8-11
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
On Ash Wednesday, we saw Jewish religious leaders distracted by their preconceived notions on how God should act, but we rejoiced in the very idea that God’s great desire is to have mercy on our souls. Two Wednesdays ago, we saw Judas distracted by a love for money and all of the social and political pressure on him, but we rejoiced that our God is never distracted from keeping us as the apple of his eye. Last week, we saw Peter distracted as he followed the train wreck at a distance, as he hug out with the wrong crowd, but we rejoiced to see Christ as the life of all the living, in the life of little Leona, whose absolute joy was how her God was visiting her in her trouble, making sure that her days of suffering and dying were the opposite of a train wreck.
Today/tonight, I want to begin with a story. One of my not-so-proud moments, in fact, one that I remember to this day as a lesson, though I didn’t think of it that way at the time…. Third grade… I wanted to go to McDonalds and perceived that I had extracted a commitment to do so from my parents…. Not sure that I actually did now that I think about it, and when the hour came we didn’t go, and I did what I still remember to this day. I remember hot tears running down my face. I remember running from the kitchen. I remember doing what I did when I got frustrated, crying into the corner of the living room couch.
I was – and here’s the point, the point that I have remembered for the rest of my life – I was crying over the wrong things. There are times to cry in life, and that was not one of them. There are times to spend your hours and your energy longing and desiring things, but McDonalds on a Wednesday night shouldn’t be at the top of the list.
Herod is seeking amusements. He is looking to consume media. He was looking for a tame lion to do tricks. He was looking at Jesus and loving Jesus for reasons that had nothing to do with Jesus. Instead of falling down in awe of the Living God in his midst, he pokes and prods him for a miracle. For some water into wine for him. For walking on the water of his pool. For multiplying his feast.
It may have looked like Jesus was on trial here. It may have looked like Herod held the power. But in the paradoxical and strange way that our God works, it was actually Herod who was on trial. Will he be ruled by his amusements, or will he be ruled by God?
And this isn’t new. Solomon in Ecclesiastes does the same thing. He says, I tried to satisfy myself with good food and good wine. I tried to satisfy myself with sex and the pleasures of the body. I tried to build gardens and great works, but after I built my empire, I found that in the end it is all vanity. It is all chasing a thing that cannot be caught. It is meaningful, but it only meaningful when it finds itself filled with a greater meaning.
If not, you are just indulging yourself.
One of my indulgences is running. If it came down to being healthy in the way that I choose to be healthy and being a father and a husband, I would absolutely choose to be fat and slow, or, what is more likely, I would absolutely choose to be healthy in different ways than I want, and be with my family.
So, let’s make this argument from the lesser to the greater. If this is true – and, of course, that’s debatable – if this is true, then does it logically follow that as we seek to focus on the highest good, loving the Lord Your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, then we will have to see much of our lifestyle as our indulgence for the moment?
That there is a time when I can go snowmobiling and there will be a time when that is taken away. There is a time when I can go hunting, and there will be a time when that is taken away. There is a time when I can run and there will be a time when that is taken away. I will love them for the moment, but I will love them for what they are. Momentary pleasures that come and go in the face of eternal joy.
How much more should we love, should we look to, should we care about the greatest joys, weep over the deepest sorrows, laugh at the grandest ironies, care for the deepest hurts, because as any knee-replacement survivor knows, the more you flex, even if it hurts, the more flexible you become. The more you cast your eyes up, the larger your world will become.
Let us lift our eyes from all the media around us that consumes our attention and bids us sit and stay and be passive, and in this setting, in the setting of the church where you are listening and I am speaking, let this be a refuge, a sanctuary, a resting place, from which you go out and you do and you love and you learn and you act and act and act, so that you are absolutely exhausted not from consuming, not from staying passive, but from really and truly striving to love those who are around you, whether you like them or not, striving to serve those in your workplace, in the ways that make them communicate better, be more honest, let forgiveness flow in a way that heals our organizations.
Jesus Defending His Father’s House
Third in a series of six, “Jesus on the way to the cross” 3/4/2018
John 2:13-25 // Exodus 20:1-17 // 1 Cor. 1:18-31
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Dear friends in Christ,
We are three weeks into our six-week journey toward the cross in this Lenten season. We’ve been seeing Jesus in his baptism and temptation. We’ve been hearing Jesus speaking hard truths. And today, we see Jesus cleansing the temple, defending his Father’s house.
There are two parts to our text today. First, we have the action of Jesus in the temple, and second, we have the discussion that happens afterward.
The first part could be summarized in just one phrase, the phrase that the disciples remembered from Psalm 69: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
Notice from where Jesus drives the money-changers and animal sellers out. He is in the temple, in the court of the Gentiles. This is where the Gentile people could come and join the people of God to worship God. Jews could advance beyond here and the high priests could even come into the Holy of Holies, but the purpose of the court of the Gentiles was that the Gentiles could pray and participate. When the Jews used this space for selling sacrifices and exchanging coins, they were distracting from the main purpose that the place had. When they did good things but they did them in the wrong places, when intermediate things became ultimate things, they did themselves harm and distracted themselves from the reality of Christ.
How many of you heard this text and wondered what Jesus would think of a door offering? How many of you thought of the silent auction we have in the Discipling Center today? But I’ll say this – Jesus doesn’t say that money in the church is bad. No, you remember he praises the widow for her gift of money into the temple coffers – that’s the same temple that he is crashing through right now. Money is a part of the way we live life, a part of the way that we express our values. The problem of the temple, and the problem for us, is the love of money, the addiction and distraction of power.
How often we get distracted by power! I think about how it’s easy to think, the Christianity of medieval times is when we had the chance to make things right – we had the majority in every way… and look what it got us! It brought us to the Enlightenment. The Christianity of early America had the chance to get things right – we had the majority in every way, and look where it got us! Many would look on what Christendom has done with the power it has had and say, “You’ve done alright, even good. But not good enough to be called ‘the only way to heaven.’” The Christianity of the 1950’s had the chance to get things right, if you want to talk about it that way. There was social pressure to go to church. The pews were filled to the brim, but look where it got us! I could imagine some saying, “You’re good, but it was Christian teaching and the Christian world that gave way to postmodern thought. We are past that now (have you ever heard people say that? Treat Christianity like an outmoded dated religion?). Christianity has tried to rule by power and failed.”
Here’s the strange and paradoxical thing about our Christianity: a Christian’s calling is to the margins. A Christian’s calling is to give away authority. A Christian’s calling is to upend convention for the sake of love – and let me remind you that our reading is in John, and for John, love is another name for the God-man Jesus Christ, in all of his strangeness and all of his glory…
A Christian’s calling is to remember that (and these are Paul’s words) the foolishness of Christ is stronger than the wisdom of men.
In the second part of our text today, the Jewish leaders said, “Do you have the legitimacy to make this critique? Do you have the credentials?” They call Jesus out to “prove it!” They tell him to give them a sign for the act he just committed.
Prove it! A few years back, I went to the house of a dear couple, a woman who had dementia, and her husband. She was having a particularly bad time. She thought that her husband had left her and that she was all alone in her house with a stranger there. Now, this distressed her husband (who, by the way, had never left her), he tried to prove who he was to her. He showed her his driver’s license. He showed her their marriage license. He showed her pictures from their wedding, pictures of their children, pictures of their decades of life together, but still she said, “I know that’s my husband, but you, you’re a stranger to me.”
So, I came in and sat down. We talked for a time. I heard her story. She ended it all by saying, “My husband left me 3 weeks ago. You’re not my husband. You might look like him, but he left.” What would you do with that?
No amount of proving would change her mind. What we did was something different. I asked her, “Is your husband good to you?” Yes. “Is this man good to you” Yes “Would you trust your husband?” Yes “Do you trust him?” Yes, of course.
As painful as it sounds, as much as we want her to know the little answer, the intellectual truth, the right facts, it is far more important, not that she know it with her brain, but that it affects the disposition of her soul, to trust, to receive care. To be loved. And though the little answers had fallen away, she knew the answer that mattered.
And I tell you all that to tell you this: in our text for today, when the Jews call Jesus out to prove it, when they ask for a sign, when they ask for the little truth for the rightful critique of their commercialism, Jesus points to the sign of the resurrection.
The sign that Jesus gives them, it’s almost as though it was too big. They were looking for fleas and Jesus gave them an elephant. They’re only looking at the physical sign. Jesus was giving them the linchpin of history. They were looking for a healing, or, perhaps, a jug of wine from Cana. Jesus gave them the once-and-for-all only miracle you’ll ever need. They were looking for the destruction of the temple; he was pointing them toward the death and resurrection of God.
Many times, we aim too low. I went to a new high school, started up my sophomore year, so we got to do a lot of fun and strange things. One year, someone donated 20 compound bows, so we had an archery class. We set up the targets, pulled back the bows and shot. And as most of you know, the closer you are to the target, the easier it is to aim. You start getting 20, 50, 70 yards away, and you don’t aim at the target anymore. To get the hang of it, you need to shoot a lot, and you need to aim high.
Many times, as we think of success in a church, we think in terms of dollars and cents. We think in terms of people in the pews, people coming to worship, in terms of participation in meetings, in terms of checklists getting crossed off and positions being filled, when the whole bounty of God’s truth and love and justice and grace are being opened to us day after day, week after week. We sit stoic faced in the back of our church, waiting for the preacher to stop preaching, when in these shallow and inadequate fragile and finite words an unknowable God is doling out the unfathomable riches that only God can give – the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
The calling, the challenge of our God in our text for today is to aiming for what God aims for. I had a recent conversation with my brother where I was lamenting my own great vanity. I can say that a decade ago, I was running about 2 minutes per mile faster than I am now. Now, I know that even in my heyday, I was still nowhere as fast as Al Dekruif in his day, but I was faster than I am now, and that can distress me. Now I was blithering and blathering. But my brother asked me, “Are you healthy?” Yes.. but. No buts. Full stop. You are healthy and that is worth something.
In that moment, he helped me to slow down and see what I was quick to pass over.
In the same way, our God would have us slow down. He would have us remember our worth. He would have us think again how sweet the name of Jesus sounds. He would have us think on what peace and strength come from the cross and the cross alone. He would beckon us to remember that we are shallow and half-hearted creatures searching after a God who has fallen headlong in love with his creation. He would bid us join him on the way of the cross, throw off all the sin that clings so closely, and run the race marked out.
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town that remembers how sweet the name that Jesus sounds on a believer’s ears. They find that they need reminding every day that our God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and his plans are far more than our plans, and the more that they remember this, the more God imprints his image on their hearts, and the more God imprints his image on their hearts, the less and less they aim at the ground, and the more and more they aim for what God is aiming for, the day when all creation is brought to right.
Amen and amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther