Sermon for March 28, 2021

On Palm Sunday we read two gospel stories and today both of them come from Mark’s gospel.  The stories we hear happened only a few days apart. But they are so different, one is the celebration of Jesus as a king and the other is the story of his humiliating death on the cross.   For me, these two different stories share one common theme that Jesus came to help us live a fuller, better and more spiritual life.

We began with the story of a procession.  Jesus enters the gates of Jerusalem riding on a donkey with people throwing palm fronds at his feet and declaring that Jesus is the Lord.  People gathered to shout hosanna to Jesus their king.  Jesus is their king.  Jesus is a king just like David was their king.  Sadly, we will not be walking in a procession today to recreate that gospel story.   Still we carry the palm fronds to proclaim Jesus as our king.  Jesus is the one that we wish to pay homage to.  We give thanks for Jesus as a king who makes our lives better.  We focus our lives not on worldly things and choose to put our faith and trust and actions in the teachings and example of Jesus. 

We listened to the story of Jesus’ death. It is a sad story for we don’t really understand nor do we agree with the choice made by the leaders and rulers in Jerusalem.  They thought Jesus threatened their place in society, they believed that Jesus wanted to take away their power, they believed that Jesus would threaten the peace that they experienced.  As a way to retaliate, they chose the most humiliating and painful form of death known at the time, death by crucifixion.  They not only wanted Jesus to die, they wanted him to be scorned, to be rebuked and to suffer.  We do not see Jesus as someone who threatens our way of life. Rather we see the teachings of Jesus as the way we should act, a model for how everyone should live.  We see a world where everyone lives in peace and a place where we love and care for others, a place where everyone has a better life, not just a few.

We choose to see the death of Jesus as a great sacrifice because through his death Jesus brings us to a new life.  Jesus helps us to go beyond our sinful lives and to be bold enough to follow his example.  We often conclude that the importance of this passion story is about the sacrifice that Jesus made, that he atoned for our sins, that he saved us from ourselves. We sometimes think that Jesus was sent to earth only to die for our sins.  I say it was more than that.  For I believe that Jesus came to earth not just to be killed but rather to bring life. Jesus came not simply to be a sacrifice but to heal.

In the first chapter of Mark Jesus began his ministry in Galilee, “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near”.  The Kingdom of God is what Jesus wanted for us on earth.  He did not intend for us to have to wait to get to heaven before we experience God’s kingdom.  The 20th century theologian Walter Rauschenbusch said “The Kingdom of God is not a matter of getting individuals to heaven, but of transforming the life on earth into the harmony of heaven."

There is good reason for us to praise Jesus as a king for we want that Kingdom of God here on earth and we wish for it now.  We will know that it is here when we have peace and unity and respect for all people.  We know the kingdom of God will be here when Asian Americans are no longer mistreated, hurt and even killed.  The kingdom of God will exist when the people in Boulder, Colorado can go to the supermarket without being attacked.  I think of the kingdom of God as a place that we listen to people we disagree with without becoming angry. Martin Luther King, Jr. said this, “When we see social relationships controlled everywhere by the principles which Jesus illustrated in life -- trust, love, mercy, and altruism -- then we shall know that the kingdom of God is here.”  Jesus wanted the kingdom of God for us and it is our job to bring it to earth.  While there is more to be done to bring God’s kingdom to earth, much has been accomplished through the sharing of the love of Jesus and the times when we care for others. 

In Luke, one of the first descriptions of the ministry of Jesus occurred when he was preaching in Nazareth.   Jesus read from the book of Isaiah, 

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

Jesus said that he came to fulfill those words of Scripture.  Jesus came to earth to help the outcasts, the poor and oppressed.  I say that is what he meant when he said the Kingdom of God was near.

Several years ago, we discussed the book “The Last Week” as a Lenten Study guide.  The authors, Borg and Crossan, used the gospel of Mark to describe what happen from Palm Sunday through Easter.  They describe in detail the movement from the Hosannas proclaimed in the procession into Jerusalem through the fascinating debates in the temple, to the spirituality and gift of the Last Supper, to the sadness of Good Friday and to the joy of Easter.  It is a week filled with emotions and when we take time to experience each day, we feel those emotions and we see Jesus giving over and over again.  When the authors wrote about Good Friday, they suggest that the death of Jesus wasn’t about Jesus taking our place and sacrificing himself for our sins.  Rather they believe that Jesus was seeking to free people from their trials, because peasants were suffering mightily from the acts of the authorities.  I would say Jesus died to bring us life here on earth as well to lead us into a life in heaven.  

Let us then experience every emotion that comes to us in this Holy Week.  When we do, we connect to the things that happened when Jesus, the Son of God, came to earth.  We recreate something that happened in the past, the reality of Jesus and his disciples going through the week that changed our lives.  But it is not just about the past.  It is also about the present.  It is about the way that Jesus comes into our lives today, for I believe that he joins us on all of our individual journeys. Jesus is with us in our suffering and sadness as well as in our joy.  Jesus wants to help us bring God’s Kingdom to earth. It is easy to see the many reasons why God’s kingdom has not been fully attained.  I ask you to look deeper and see the many instances where God’s love shines through.  This week is also about the future.  For Christians believe that Jesus died and rose again.  He promised that he would go and make a place for us.  We prepare ourselves for the future this week.

Exuberant joy, sacred gifts, in fighting among the followers, rejection, denial, desperate prayer and deep sorrow -  so much real life in just one week.  I invite you this day and this week to consider how Jesus changed your life, not just by using your mind, the words you say or the things you hear.  Let’s feel the things that Jesus and his disciples did.  Through it all I ask you to look for the times that Jesus has brought God’s kingdom to earth and most especially brought a new life to you and those you love.  Let’s remember that Jesus understands what you go through and realizes  that Jesus walks side by side with you.  Let’s be thankful for all that Jesus did and does for you and for his ever-present love for us all.  Amen.

 

 

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