Palms, Cloaks and Our Reason for Being
Palm Sunday – March 25, 2018
When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields.9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 0Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 11Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
I recently have joined a health club where I go and work out five or six times a week instead of walking around and around Island Lake for my exercise. I have started doing spinning classes on what I would have called a stationary bike back in the day, but now they are called spin bikes, exercise bikes, exercycle or cycloergometer. I used to get on the stationary bike where there might have been a speedometer and mileage gage and I stared a blank wall. They are now called spinning classes and the way you exercise has evolved. In the first class I did was in England, the lighting was low, there were purple neon tube lights around the ceiling, the music was so loud that you couldn’t hear or speak to the person next to you. At points during the 45 minute class it got so dark that you really thought you were in a disco. Your progress was a big screen which kept track of your calories burned compared to everyone else. Whatever you do on the bike, or in the class, the effect is the same: you get some exercise.
Whatever we call this day in our church calendar, the effect is the same: we begin the journey to the cross with Jesus and his disciples with the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. In the Book of Common Prayer it was called, “The Sunday Next Before Easter Commonly Called Palm Sunday”, although the reading was the Passion Narrative of Jesus trial, crucifixion and death. In the Book of Alternative Services, our green service book which we now use, the title is, “The Sunday of the Passion with the Liturgy of the Palms”. The idea has always been that today sets the stage for the week ahead, Holy Week, to remind us that we are heading to Good Friday and Christ’s Passion. As with my stationary bike, or spin classes, the outcome is the same whatever we call today: we know that we are heading to Jesus’ death on the cross.
We heard the reading we heard today from Mark 11 of Jesus triumphal many times, but we can miss important points in this familiar reading. Here are three from the beginning, middle and end of the reading: a colt that had been never ridden, cloaks on the road and the end of the day. A colt that has been ridden. I don’t ride horses and it was pointed out in our bible study that anyone else riding that colt would have been thrown off. But not Jesus, who was Lord of all, and we mean all, even the colt. Cloaks on the road. If we look back at the reading, the people spread leafy branches (John’s Gospel is the only one that mentions Palm Branches) and cloaks on the road. The first thing we notice is that it’s called “Palm Sunday”, not “Cloak Sunday”. We will take away Palm crosses which captures that dual focus of the day; the triumphal entry bended into where it leads, the cross. And finally, it is late in the day and it’s almost a letdown, an anticlimax from the triumphal entry and the lead up to it. There has been all the preparation, the crowds and then they get into the city go the temple, but it’s late and there is no one around and they return to Bethany. Jesus wants people, not buildings in his mission and kingdom.
Psalm 118 is probably not on many people’s favourite psalm list, but Psalm 118 is quoted 4 times in the New Testament. Mark quotes from Psalm 118 (24-25), “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of Lord”, which we repeat every Sunday during the Eucharist. The word “Hosanna” means save; so what are the people saying here, save me, save us, and from what? Two processions entered Jerusalem that week. One was that of Jesus who rode a colt cheered by his followers. On the opposite side of the city another procession entered the city: Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor, entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. When the people were proclaiming, “Hosanna!”, they were hoping that Jesus save them from the Romans. And so…. Are we wanting to be saved from Jeremy Williams? Or, are we here to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers? Are we wanting to be saved from Sylvia Jones? Or, are we here to persevere in resisting evil and whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? Are we wanting to be saved from Premier Kathleen Wynne? Or, are we here to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ? Are we wanting to be saved from David Tilson? Or, are we here to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving out neighbour as ourselves? Are we wanting to be saved from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau? Or, are we here to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being? Are we wanting to be saved from President Donald Trump? Or, are we here to be fed to the bread of life to further the kingdom of God? Are we wanting to be saved from Peter Scott? I won’t answer that question.
We are to stay focused on our mission and the Kingdom and remember why Jesus came and what he accomplished after he went through the gate into the city. He was not a political messiah, and when we say, “Hosanna!”, we are saying, Lord save us from our sins, forgive us and remember us in your kingdom. Amen.
The Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 11, 2018
WE WERE MADE TO DO GOOD DEEDS
14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”
Keith Miller, a well-known author and Episcopal churchman, arrived in Bloomington, Illinois, for a speaking engagement. He got to town the night before he was to speak so he bought a local newspaper to catch up on the local news. Close to Bloomington were two towns: Oblong and Normal. To his surprise the headlines on the society page read: "Oblong Man Marries Normal Woman." He thought that was hilarious. In the pulpit the next morning he told the congregation what he had read in the society section of the newspaper the night before. No one laughed. No one even made a snicker. They had grown so accustomed and familiar to those phrases and words that they weren’t humorous.
It is easy for words and phrases to lose their meaning. We become so used to them that they no longer are important. This happens for words and phrases we use over and over again. We might see that in our Christian lives and in our Anglican way of following a service we have done many, many times. The danger we face in our constant use of both the Nicene Creed and the Lord's Prayer is the possibility of reducing them to just words and phrases that roll off our tongue and not lived out. Our faith would be diminished if we lost the meaning of some key words. The word “deeds” is one of the key words in our Christian vocabulary. Today we heard in our gospel reading from John: 21But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” We are children of light because of Jesus’ death on the cross, not because we do good deeds. We also have to remember this from Ephesians 2:10: “We were created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life”. We cannot forget that message.
The verse we are looking at begins with, 21But those who do what is true come to the light. Almost every Sunday, I find myself looking the stained glass window, “ The Light of the World”. I have seen one of the originals at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London which is a much darker painting giving the light of Jesus a more pronounced and prominent place in the painting. We have a choice in how we react to the situations that come before us that they either lead others to that light or they don’t. I read recently Psalm 18:21, “Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit, you choose.” We have a choice in life, to be known as someone who is a light shining or a source of negativity. We all know those people who we can go to find the light of God shining through them and those who don’t. It comes down to their behavior, their deeds which will either encourage us or discourage us.
The verse ends with, “so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” Recently, I saw an interview by David Letterman, who now, it you have seen pictures of him, looks like Santa Claus and has a new program on Netflix called, “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction”. His first guest was former President, Barak Obama. During that interview they were talking about his time as President and leading the country. Here is some of that interview. Barak Obama: Part of your ability to lead the country doesn’t have to do with legislation, it doesn’t have to do with regulations, it has to do with shaping attitudes, shaping culture, increasing awareness. David Letterman: It’s behavior. We watch the behavior and we learn from that. Barak Obama: It’s something people can relate to, it’s something they can see, feel and touch.
Our faith has to do with behavior, being children of light, God’s representatives. People will watch and we pray learn from our behavior. They will either want to find that source of light that we have or if they see negativity and darkness they will go the other way. I pray that we can that this coming week ahead. Amen.
27Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.31Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”. I want to take us through this well known statement by Jesus and unpack it for our lives today. The reading starts with two questions and, as we hear, Peter gets one right and one wrong. The question Peter answers correctly in today’s Gospel reading from Mark is, "Who is Jesus?" by simply answering, “You are the Messiah.” The question Peter doesn’t get right is, "What must Jesus do?" which is that he must suffer many things, be rejected, be killed and after three days rise from the dead. We in turn must ask ourselves what we are to do. The answer Jesus tells us is, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
In verse 31, Jesus begins to teach them something new as we hear, “Then he began to teach them…” Certainly, Jesus had been teaching them all along, but this teaching is different. Prior to this the emphasis as we heard during the season of Epiphany had been on Jesus' authority and power to heal. He casts out demons, heals diseases and heals the infirm. Jesus’ emphasis for the rest of the Gospel, the second half of Mark, will be on his rejection, suffering, death and rising from the dead. Our response to Jesus is to deny ourselves and take up our cross.
Denying ourselves is something that we may indeed think about during this season of Lent. Some us may have denied ourselves certain foods so that we might look or feel better, but we really are not denying ourselves. What we are doing is dieting for the good of ourselves. What we should ask is what are we giving up that we really value because are followers of Christ. Taking up the cross is another matter because only Jesus died on the cross for our sins. The cross was also an instrument of humiliation as those who carried to cross through the streets would be abused, spat at and ridiculed by the crowds along the way. When we pick up and carry the cross we are to show our faith to the point of suffering the consequences of our belief and being humiliated. That, I believe, sums up what “take up your cross and follow me” means.
Here is a true story of what that “humiliation” can look like. I was the power of attorney for an aunt of mine who had a caregiver we had hired to look after her. After some time it became apparent that we had hired the wrong person. Her brother, my uncle, had dropped in on her a couple of times unannounced only to find my aunt alone face down in her meal while the caregiver was upstairs watching T.V. One of the other caregivers found that she was not there on occasion, but had gone out and left my aunt alone. I did the only thing I could do, I fired her. That day I received a call from my aunt begging me not to fire her along with some of her friends who all got on the phone, possibly at the request of the caregiver, to ask me not to let her go. Finally, one of her friends got on the phone and after a long list of reasons for not firing her, told me it was an unchristian thing to do.
Sometimes in life even or possibly, when we are doing the right thing, we can be put in a difficult position. We can be humiliated for what we believe, what we stand for. As we continue in this season of Lent I hope that we can think about how we have suffered consequences of taking up our crosses and continue to do so. Amen.
Have you had an epiphany?
43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
Today, we continue in this short season of Epiphany which means, manifestation or showing. This is a good way to begin the new year with passages that “show” that Jesus is God, what that means and the possibilities that come with that knowledge. Some churches leave their crèche until 40 days after Christmas until February 2 when Jesus is presented in the temple to remind them Christmas is the first and greatest epiphany. Christmas is followed by the showing of God to the Gentiles and the Baptism of Jesus follows which shows John and the people who Jesus is. The Season of Epiphany will take us until Lent which begins on Ash Wednesday, February 14, Valentine’s Day, while Easter Day in on April 1, April Fool’s Day and the Day of Pentecost is on May 24th Weekend.
In today’s passage, Nathanael states after Philip finds Jesus, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel” – that is an epiphany! The word “find” is used a number of times in this passage. I don’t think that it is theologically correct to talk about finding God, or as one commentator put it, if God were to hide from us, I don't think that we could find God. Yet, we hear Philip say, We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth. The two most common definitions for “find” are: (1) "to learn the location of something, either by intentional searching or by unexpected discovery;" and (2) "to learn something previously not known, frequently involving an element of surprise", or I might add, to find out about who or something. It is the second definition of "surprise" that isn't translated well the word "to find". When we hear Andrew "finding" Simon or Philip "finding" Nathanael it should not be understood as them "finding" the Messiah. They found each other, the location of each other, while when they found Jesus it was an unexpected, non-anticipated surprise of Jesus being the promised one, the messiah.
There are many epiphanies that I can think of that have happened at St. Mark’s. One epiphany was someone asked about whether there was a Christmas lunch to which I answered that there were a number around town. They then asked, but really what I am asking about is there one on Christmas Day. And I said, you know, (aha) you’re right, there isn’t. And you know the rest of the story. The other epiphany happened quite recently. I have had on my computer a file that talks about a rule of life. The file is tucked away in amongst all the other files and I think it’s been there for about five years. A rule of life is living out what we believe in a workable way of living. If you know the great commandment is to love God with all you are and to love your neighbour as yourself, a “rule of life” describes what you hope living that love will look like. And I said to myself, aha, I think it’s time to act on this. I will say more about this in my report to Vestry.
Our attitudes change once we actually make the decision to try something new. That happens in our lives, in our faith and church. The same change happened to Nathanael in today’s passage. His conversation with Jesus transformed him from skepticism to confession and the possibility of even greater experiences. The new year brings with it possibilities. Try something new, isn’t what the new year is about, isn’t that what our faith is about? Amen.