Friday, April 14, 2017

The Cross

When I think of the cross and those last hours of Jesus life; it is impossible to think of anything other than pain.  Physical pain from the flogging, the intense pain of skin and muscle being penetrated by large metal nails, the agony of a slow painful death.  But the cross also tells us of emotional and spiritual pain.  The pain of friends who’d rather save their own skin than stand up for what is right.  The pain of humiliation to be stripped naked, insulted and spit on.  The spiritual pain of feeling abandoned by God.   

I have tried to imagine these last moments of Jesus life, and I simply can’t relate.  I take Advil at the first sign of a headache.   Our TV’s are bombarded with commercials that tell us if we use this drug we will never need to feel uncomfortable much less pain.  We avoid seeing and experiencing emotional pain often at any cost.  We don’t like to see people grieve- after a week sympathy often dries up; we think people should be “over it” already.

We live in a happily ever after society which tells us we should never have to sacrifice our own happiness and pleasure for someone else; especially those who have hurt us in some way.  Yet, this is exactly what Jesus did.  The world threw every possible evil pain at Jesus and he took it. And, not only did he accept it- he mercifully forgave those who embodied this evil.

Why?  So that we, all humanity, could have life and hope. 

Hope that life is more than accumulating money and things.  Hope that life is more than just being a good person.  Hope that life is more than retiring comfortably in a house that’s paid off.  Even hope that true life is more than simply living without pain. 

As a Christian I am, we are, challenged to commit this life we are given to the difficult task of following Jesus.  That means we live into his call to take up our cross and follow him.  This means not avoiding pain, but finding purpose in the pain and sometimes even purposefully entering the pain of another. 

It is seeing a world full of the real pain of despair and hopelessness and willingly listening for how Jesus is calling us to offer the hope of Christ into their life and situation. 

This ultimately requires sacrifice:  time, money, comfort, judgement, resentment, blame and most of all our desire to live without pain. 

It means no longer avoiding the TV news, so we don’t have to see the pain of others.  It means no longer looking at children dying needlessly of hunger or serine gas and turning a blind eye.  It means no longer giving lip service to the plight of refugees but not being willing to open our own homes. 

It means no longer ignoring the pain and longing in the heart of a foster child.  It means acknowledging the pain of hunger, homelessness, Mental Illness and addiction in our own community and being willing to make real changes to breathe hope into their lives. 

It means being able to enter the pain of someone else with compassion and being willing to get personally and intimately involved in the life of others- not looking on with pity from a distance. 

It also means offering forgiveness to those who have caused us pain. 

This is what Jesus did on the cross.  He willingly, unapologetically, sacrificed everything to enter our world, our pain, our brokenness and our imperfections.  Not because we deserved to be helped or we could someday pay him back, or would eventually not need him anymore.  These are the limitations we put on helping others not the limitations Jesus put on us.  No, he entered our pain so that we would know we always have someone who understands, advocates for us and loves us even when we fail and forgives us at our worst.   

This is the beauty, hope and challenge of the cross.  Jesus knows that we will fail.  Jesus knows we are just as broken as the people we are called to love.  Jesus knows we are the ones in need- in need of mercy, grace and forgiveness.  In need of perspective.

So, Jesus offers that to us in the cross.  A challenge to love more fully, the beauty of being loved, even in our sinfulness and shame, and the hope that where we fail- Jesus will be, forgiveness will be and mercy will be. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Great Expectations

Matthew 21: 1-11

Hosanna in the Highest!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the Highest!

I can almost hear the crowd now!  It was a festival, a party, a celebration!  Jerusalem, a town of maybe 40,000, was brimming with people.  Some estimate the population rose to over ½ million during Passover week.  Ancient Jerusalem, knew how to throw a party and Passover was the best of them all.  Passover is a time to celebrate how God saved the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt.  It is a reminder to them of who and whose they are. 

They retell stories of how God showed power and might over pharaoh and his slaveholders.  They tell stories of provision of how God provided guidance in the wilderness, food and fresh water when they thought they would die.  They celebrate God’s promise for the future; to send a messiah, a savior!  Someone who would make all things right. They dream of a day when they will no longer be subject to any power other than God!  They had a lot to celebrate and hope for! 

I imagine the Passover described in Scripture to be like Mardi Gras in New Orleans… people everywhere, singing, dancing, cooking lavish meals for friends, family and strangers alike. 

And this year was special.  They had heard about Jesus.  They had heard the rumors that this man might be the One!  Some of them knew someone he had healed with a touch or a word, giving sight to the blind, casting out demons and making the lame to walk.  Maybe some of them had been in the crowd when Jesus multiplied bread and fish to make a meager meal into a feast!  The rumors were swirling that Jesus was special. 

As Jesus arrives in Jerusalem people cannot wait to see him.  It was bigger than crazed Beatles’ fans trying to get a glimpse of John or Ringo.  This is a once in a life time experience!

As they catch a glimpse of him coming down the road, it all starts to click in their minds.  Isn’t this how Zachariah and Isaiah said it would happen?  He’s coming from the East from the Mount of Olives, that’s where the messiah is to come from.  And, he’s on a donkey too!  All the pieces are coming together.  They tell their friends and everyone comes out to see Jesus! 

So they throw him a parade with whatever they can find!  They pull branches off trees, take off their coats and wave them in the air!  It is a spontaneous celebration fit for a victorious king!!!!   But do they know exactly what they are celebrating?  What do they expect from Jesus?

Their chanting tells us what they expect!  Hosanna to the Son of David!  Hosanna literally means “Save us”!  Come Jesus!  Save us!  You, the Son of David, save us! 

But save us from what? 

Son of David, tells us much more than just the ancestry of Jesus.  This is huge!  Son of David is a political title.  David is the King, the one whom God promised would always have a descendent on the throne.  The rightful heir of the king is his son. This is Jesus.  This title, Son of David tells us they expected Jesus to be king!  They expected a king of old who led them in battle, who would defeat their enemies, kill Goliath, the giant who threated to enslave them. 

They expected a king who would be powerful and in control.   They also  expected a messiah who would led them as a priest, who would teach them about God! 

They expected the temple and religion to be the center of their nation.  Not one nation under God but God’s nation for God, God’s people united together to worship and live for God. 

Maybe they expected Jesus to lead a revolution.  Many people had claimed to be the messiah, led revolts and while some had succeeded more than others, in the end they had all failed.  So maybe the crowd that day put their hope and expectations into Jesus that he would be the one to succeed in overthrowing Rome. 

The question for us this Palm Sunday is then; what do we expect from Jesus?  Someone who will comfort us, tell us we were right all along?  Someone who will challenge us, correct us?  Or someone who will answer our prayers and smite our enemies?

We still pray that Jesus will come again.  In the apostles creed, the bedrock statement of our faith, we say that we believe that Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead.  So what do we expect Jesus to be like when he comes back?  Do we expect a king or a servant? A warrior on a white horse or a calm peace-loving pacifist?  The final battle between good and evil or for all things to magically be free from evil?  Jesus descending from the clouds like an angel or walking down the street like an ordinary person?  Will everyone recognize God’s glory or just a few? 

We have anticipated the return of the Messiah so many times now.  Early Christians expected he would come within days, weeks or a few years after the death and resurrection of Jesus.  When that didn’t happen, people decided it would be a thousand years, then two thousand years.  None of them seem to have been correct. 

If we look ahead to Matthew 25 we get another glimpse as to what Jesus return will be like.  This is the story of Jesus returning as judge to separate the sheep, those who do the will of God, from the goats, those who don’t do the will of God.    

What happens when Jesus returns and some of those who think they are sheep are actually goats?  In Matthew 25 Jesus says he was the one who is hungry, thirsty, the stranger, the one who is in prison; not a king on a white stallion.  What if Jesus comes back in a way we don’t expect?

The people who celebrated Jesus’ triumphal entry into the city had plenty of expectations.  Expectations that were founded in solid Jewish theology and common understandings of scripture.  But what Jesus taught and what Jesus preached and the way Jesus acted was not what they expected of a Messiah.  He didn’t pat the religious people on the back and tell them what a good job they had done. 

He challenged them, corrected their thinking about God and power and judgement.  He told them that all people were valuable not just the ones who fit a specific description.  He challenged the way they did business in the temple.  He challenged the rules they followed of who was right and who was wrong.  He challenged their power and their authority.

When he rode into town on the donkey and people started calling him king he challenged everything they knew to be true.  They already had a king, Caesar.  Anyone challenging that authority, would be disastrous for everyone!  Rome would not blink at using military force to put down an insurrection, they had done it before and would do it again!  That could mean disaster for everyone. 
Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, Religious leaders would lose their power, their influence, their wealth and what little freedom they had and those who chose to fight may lose their lives along with many innocent people who get in the way.  They prayed for a messiah, but didn’t really want one that would change the world.

We like to think we would be different.  We tend to paint “the Jews” as a group of people in scripture that we don’t’ want to be.  Especially as this week comes to an end and the cry of Hosanna is replaced with Crucify him!
We like to think we would welcome the Messiah, sing Loud Hosanna’s and wave palm branches in the air and never think twice.  But would we?   Would we recognize Jesus if he came as a mighty king in flowing white robes?  Do we recognize him in the face of a stranger, a homeless man, a convicted criminal in a jail cell? 

Jesus may have not fit the expectations of the Jewish majority.  And Jesus may or may not show up the way we expect him to show up today.  But ironically, the chant of Hosanna that the people cried that day and the chant of Hosanna that people cry out every Palm Sunday was more accurate than they realized. 

Jesus, did come to save us- just not in the way they or we expect.  Praise God that the Messiah exceeds all our expectations!  Jesus doesn’t come to save us from “them”, from someone or something else.  Jesus doesn’t come guns blazing, condemning everyone or everything we don’t like. 

No, Jesus comes to save us from ourselves.  To save us from narrow mindedness, from thinking the world revolves around us, from greed, materialism, commercialism, from doubt, fear, shame, and sin.  Jesus comes to save us from whatever separates us from a loving, honest and perfect relationship with God and our neighbor. 
Jesus comes to save us from death.  Death in whatever form it takes in your life, not just physical death by giving us eternal life but the death that keeps us from living into who God created us to be; gifts, talents and shortcomings alike. 

Jesus comes to save us from the smallness of our imaginations.  We cannot imagine what true life is like when we try to imagine it without Jesus. 
Jesus came so that we might have life.  Jesus saves us from death so that we can live life on earth and in heaven.  Sometimes Jesus shows up just as we expect and sometimes he doesn’t and that’s exactly how God wants it.  God wants us to wait expectantly to see Jesus in both the shepherd and the king.  Because as we learn to love both in this life we begin to love with the eyes of Christ and live a life of fullness and compassion for all of God’s creation.

Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Save us Jesus, today and every day!  Amen.