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The Noises and Truths of the Passion

Palm Sunday

Mark 15:1-47

April 3rd, 2009


            After college a friend and I had a chance to go to Israel for an archeological dig.   On a couple of occasions I had a chance to go to the old city of Jerusalem.  I remember walking through the market, and finding it to be a flurry activity, largely overcrowded, and especially noisy.   It was Passover week in Jesus day, and I have a hunch the activity, over crowdedness, and noise was even greater as Jesus entered and left the city on Palm Sunday.   Today we have before us two very different accounts of Jesus, just a week apart.  On the one hand we have Palm Sunday with the crowds rejoicing.  On the other hand we have Good Friday, with voices also being raised, but rather than rejoicing it was derision and mockery.  As the greatest story ever told reaches its final chapters, once again we get to see and more importantly hear the voices of the passion.

            The first voice is a voice we like, and that is a voice of rejoicing.  Who doesn’t like a good parade, one in which the hero, or newly elected leader greats his or her adoring constituents.  Jesus reputation had preceded him, and he was riding a donkey, just like Zechariah had said.  They waved and laid palm branches, the de facto symbol of a national flag.  Here was their king.  Here was their Savior, the promised David, and what could they do but rejoice.  Philippians 4:1 says “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say rejoice”.  Our songs, our lives, are to be lives of rejoicing.  Why?,  because God does provide.   Yet, this good sound, this would soon drown out.  Another voice,  a seemingly more realistic voice, would be heard.   Jesus himself, while not saying much in today’s text had much to say between Palm Sunday and his trial.  Immediately after the Palm Sunday event, we read in the book of Mark that his voice thundered outside the temple as he stated that his house would be a house of prayer for all nations.  His voice would then give unsatisfactory answers to the chief priests and authorities, especially when they asked him where he got the authority to do such things.  His voice uttered the parable of the tenants, where the man sends out servants to check out his vineyard, and many times they were sent and killed, and finally he sent his son who was then killed.  This was not the kind of voice   they (we) wanted to hear, and they looked for a way to kill him.   

            There was also the voice of panic and indecision, as Pilate struggled with what to do.   He helplessly asked if he was king of the Jews, and latter in full panic mode he cried out “do you want to release to you the king of the Jews”.   Jesus would not come to Pilate on Pilate’s terms.   Jesus doesn’t come to us on our terms.  Here was mighty Pilate, humbled, confused, panicking, and without options.     

            Then there is the voice of envy/even hatred.  Have you ever read a news account and thought,  how could anyone in their right mind do such a thing?   Have you ever done something, that you look back on and say, why in the world did I do that?  The chief priests lie, accuse, and seek to do whatever it takes to get Jesus out of the picture.      They get the crowd all stirred up.  Jesus is a threat to their existence.  The voices of hatred, of envy and violence, are voices all too real for more people than we realize.     The voices and noises of the opposition get louder and louder, but not the voice of Jesus.  He speaks less and less as Calvary draws near, but what he says is filled with meaning.

            The voice of panic, of hatred, becomes even more biting as we move on to the voice of mockery.  This mockery can be seen in the soldier’s actions as they had Jesus play dress up with “pretend” king clothes.  The crowds, joined in the big joke as they mocked him, but also as they spoke unintended truths.  It even says that those who were crucified with him reviled him.  Imagine that, those in great pain themselves, were able to muster enough to mock and cajole.  Then the voices get even louder as shouts of crucify him are heard in a large public chant.  This is the voice which tries to control, to the point where destruction of someone else’s life seems even greater.      

            Yet, there are other voices, voices that mean harm, but in fact speak unintentional truths.  There is the unintended truth of Pilate calling Jesus the king of the Jews.  He is Lord of Lord, and King of Kings, and in his presence every knee shall bow and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord. 

            Then there are those voices of the High priests who say “You who save others, but can’t save himself.” They were right on, because it is precisely due to the fact he chose not to save himself, that in fact others can be saved.   

            In the midst of all these voices, some with joy, but many others with envy, jealousy, hatred, and mockery, is Jesus voice.  He cries out in words that seem like the ultimate of a failed life,  “My God, My God why have you forsaken me”.  This voice of abandonment seems like realization of our ultimate fear.  Yet, this would be our ultimate joy, because here he was abandoned by God so that you and I would not have to be abandoned. 

             Jesus would cry out again, and then many thought his voice, his influence would finally come to an end or close to it.   He gave up his spirit, but there was another sound, the sound of the temple tearing in two.   The merciful presence of God would now be seen in Jesus.  It is finally at the end of our section that we hear the centurion say “Truly this was the Son of God”.  That is the voice we are here saying together this morning.  It is a voice of confession, that this Savior is who he says he was.  Thanks be to God for the voices and sounds of the Passion.    Amen.   


“A Meal for the Wounded”

“Maundy Thursday”

 Exodus 24:3-11

April  9th, 2009


            “It is important to be physically, mentally, and spiritually healthy”.  Variations on that theme can often be heard when touting a particular health food product, exercise system, or any other mental health discussion.  I often wonder what people mean by “spiritual”.  Is it a recognition that there is more to life than us here?  A sort of being in tune with the divine?   Some see spirituality as a way to get in touch with self, while others see it as connecting with practices of prayer, church attendance, and the like.  The point is “spirituality”, the way it is discussed is rather “Indefinable”.   Contrast that view with the events discussed in our readings today.  We have specific words (Book of the Covenant), promises given “All the words that he Lord has spoken we will do”., we have sacrifice, eating, and blood.  It is in modern terms, a real “definable” type of spirituality.   This kind of spirituality is sure and certain, and  you know, we are better for it.

            Today is Maundy Thursday; a day when we reflect on the Lord’s giving his church a special meal by which he can show us in a very tangible his mercy.   It is not just any meal, for it involves body and blood, quite literally life and death.   God has always placed a special significance to blood, when Cain killed Abel, it was God who said “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground”.  Latter in Genesis he gives this statement concerning blood “Whoever sheds human blood, by human beings shall their blood be shed, for in the image of God has God made humankind. “   In Leviticus it says “For the life of the Creature is in the blood”.   It is no wonder than that the sacrificial system, the shedding of blood, became such a prominent part of Hebrew life.   It was an important, because the laws and commands of God could and would only go so far.  In other words humanity then and now, needs something else.   

            In our OT reading Moses had just given the 10 commandments, and expanded on those 10 commandments with a lot of rules and stipulations.  These were not just rules, they were the very words from the mouth of God.  They were good words, and so the people answered with one voice “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do”.   On the one hand agreeing to all that God says is a very good thing, but did they really realize what they were agreeing too?  I suppose we think that God grades a bit on a curve.  That is he doesn’t expect perfection, but just act a little better than the next person.  Yet, Jesus sums God’s perfect law in this way “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind”.  Our loyalty, their loyalty was not to be diverted to other people, things.  They/We were to call upon God alone, and delight in his Word.  There should be no boredom when confronting God’s Word, no “Lord I think I know enough”.  There should be “ others above self”  approach in life, especially when it comes to authority, family, and the list goes on.   Even if we were to give it our best shot, and go ahead try, we would probably end up about as successful as Israel.   A multitude of examples biblically and experientially could be given, which is why Israel, while commendable in their statement that they would do everything they could, still needed something else, and that was a sacrifice.  That was blood. 

            Here is where spirituality gets very real, life and death kind of real.  After the sacrifices were made, the blood, yes literal blood was placed on the altar and in the basins.   Then something amazing happens, a very messy kind of amazing, the blood was thrown on the altar and on the people.  Can you imagine getting into your Sunday best, heading off to church, and getting blood on your nice outfit?     You see promises and good intentions would not be enough, it took blood, and where there is blood, there is forgiveness.  It was at that point they were able to behold God, in a heavenly realm, and they ate and drank.

            All of this was a precursor, a sign of you will of an even more specific way God would bring his life into our lives that need him so desperately.  In this instance the blood would not be thrown on us, but it would be given to us to drink.    While there the lamb was to be sacrificed again and again, in this case the lamb would be sacrificed once for all.  Even in the midst of a betrayer, the Lord prepares this meal for us, a meal that is given especially for those who have not loved the Lord with all their heart, and have not loved their neighbor as themselves.    It is a meal for those who are wounded either by their sin or the sin of others.  For those who are wounded by living in a world stained by sin, and where death to often seems to hold sway. 

            Spirituality is rather nebulous, uncertain, often based on our assessment of things.  His blood shed, is very real, certain, and based on what he has done and is doing for his people.  Romans 5 says “Since now we have been justified by his blood how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him”.     He makes us his own, and even God’s wrath, his just anger will not overpower the cleansing power of his shed blood.  Hebrews 9 says without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.  Yet, tonight Jesus says to his confused, and even betraying disciples “”This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.  This is sure and certain spirituality, because it is based on his words, his promise, and his very real blood shed and given for you.  One preacher put it this way, and frankly I couldn’t say it any better.  Because of this shed blood, Jesus hold on you is stronger than death, and his forgiveness is greater than your sin.   Enjoy the meal.  Amen.

The Wounds that Heal (Good Friday)

Isaiah 53:1-6

April 10th, 2009 

      A man who had misspent his life lay critically ill.   Turning to his pastor, he asked: “Do you think that a deathbed repentance does away with a whole life of sin?” “No, the pastor answered quietly, “But Calvary does.”   It is not a matter of when repentance comes, late or early, but really a matter of who is the object of one’s trust.    Isaiah 53:1-6 gives a precise description of what was happening to Jesus on the cross, and who benefits from such actions.  Latter in this service we will hear the details, the longer version, but for now this Isaiah text will suffice. 

       Crucifixes, that is dying Jesus on the cross, and movies that depict Jesus on the cross (The Passion of the Christ), tend to make us uncomfortable.   Some of our brothers and sisters in Christ think that to have a dying/dead Jesus on the cross doesn’t give credit to the resurrection.  They believe we worship a risen Jesus not a crucified Jesus, and Jesus is alive so why put him on a cross.  Our response is that Jesus really did die, and it is biblical to preach “Christ crucified”.    However  may be something else is at play.  That is an “uncomfortableness”  with the sadness, pain, and darkness of good Friday.    It is the same uncomfortableness we might have bringing children to this service.  It is uncomfortable to see that Jesus died because of us, and also for us.  Our reading from Isaiah describes what the sin of the world does to the perfect Savior on Calvary’s cross.  “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him”.  Isaiah describes someone that is dealing with things we don not like to deal with.   Sin, as mentioned earlier, but also the reality of sorrow and grief.    We are an optimistic people, we like to fix things, make people happy.  Yet, what about that person we want to help who is grieving the loss of a loved one.    It is so helpless to know that  no matter what we say, no matter what comfort we relay, they may still sit in sorrow and grief.  We want people to move on from their sorrows, their depressions, their grief’s, and look at the brighter things of life.  When they don’t, we may wonder what is wrong with them, and also what is wrong with us, in that nothing seems to help.  When we look upon Calvary we are invited to sit with Jesus for a time and see his sorrow, but also see the unimaginable love which flows from our crucified Savior to sinners, and grievers like you and me.  We are not trying to answer questions, not try to fix things, but simply staying put while Jesus does he work for us in a Calvary way. 

      During World War 1, a French officer fell wounded in front of the French trenches.  The enemy’s shrapnel was bursting all around him as he lay entirely unprotected.  Seeing the danger, a private crawled out of the trench, dressed the officer’s wounds as best he could, and lying down beside him, whispered in his ear; “Do not fear! I am between you and the shells.  They must hit me first”. 

      The reason this is Good Friday, emphasize on the good,  is that this wounded dying Jesus, who is on Calvary because of us, is also (and more significantly)  on cavalry’s cross for us.  He is our go between, and yes the shells of grief, of sin, and sorrow have hit him first.  “Surely he has born our grief and carried our sorrows. “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities”.   We can never claim at anytime that sinlessness is not part of our being, even if we are suffering for something someone else has done to us, sin still clings within us.  Jesus was different he never sinned, he loved his Father perfectly, and he loved humanity without one bit of self preservation.  One author put it this way “..It is because Jesus is love that He is now upon the tree.  This love will not leave the sinner in his sin.    His love absorbs our sin, our sorrow, and our grief.   I love that phrase he was “crushed” for our iniquities.   If you crush something, you completely destroy it, and it simply does not have any power over us.  Jesus was crushed, our sin is crushed, our sorrow is crushed, our infirmities our crushed and placed on him.  Yet, by this crushing, by his wounds we are healed.  Do you notice that this is all placed in the past tense.  Even though Isaiah was written 600 plus years before Christ died, it is a past event.   Something in the past cannot be denied, it is a sure thing.   Your sin, large, small, and everything in between has been crushed on Calvary.    Believe that it is true, because it is true.  Your sorrow, your grief’s, your infirmities, has been absorbed by one who is big enough to really do something about them.   Jesus actions on cavalry’s cross are more than adequate to show that all things do not have the final say in your life.   The Hymn “When I survey the wondrous Cross says it beautifully.  Verse 3- “See from head, his hands , His feet, Sorrow and love flow mingled down, and in verse four “love so amazing so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.”  Amen.



The Wound of Death is Vanquished (Easter Sunday)

Isaiah 25:6-9

“And he will swallow up death forever”; and the lord God will wipe away tears from all faces”

April 12th, 2009


            Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed Alleluia!  It is, I think impossible to overemphasize the resurrection of Christ, and its impact on the followers of Christ.  It is on the one hand a most outstanding teaching, that has no rivals in the field of religion and philosophy.   Buddhism, has the Buddha, but he is dead and in his grave.   Muslims have the prophet Muhammad, and by their own admission he was buried in Medina in what is present day Saudi Arabia.   The Hare Krishna have their Krishna, but he is no resurrected one, nor is the great Confucius.   Only Jesus, true God and true man, born in a lowly manger, miracle worker extrordinar, has taken the separation death always brings, and absorbed its damning power.   He is the Savior who has swallowed, or destroyed, the impact of death forever.   The wages of sin may be death, but there is another payer in town, Jesus Christ the resurrected one and his down payment obtained on Calvary and distributed through the open tomb is more than enough to get us out of death’s fierce grip. 

            Paul, in our Corinthian lesson says that, this reality is of first importance.  The first thing for us to consider this morning is not what we think about it, what it gives us, but whether it is so.   Peter Jennings, the former anchor of ABC news once said “I was raised with the notion that it was ok to ask questions, it was ok to say, I’m not sure.  I believe, but I’m not quite so certain about the resurrection.  He asks an honest question, that I’m sure many people have asked, and it is an important one.   The Holy Spirit inspired Biblical writers went to great pains to let us know that the resurrection is first of all a fact.  We may waver, but God’s word doesn’t change, nor do past events.   On the first day of the week a group of women went to the tomb, Peter and John went to the same tomb shortly thereafter.  Mary Magdeline, the apostles in the upper room, and Thomas a week later encountered the resurrected Jesus.  Paul says in 1 Corinthians that he appeared to more than 500 brothers at one time, and finally he even appeared to Paul.   To show the importance of this Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15 “if Christ was not raised from the dead Your faith is futile and we are still in our sins.”    The resurrection, before anything else is a fact, something solid, something real.  It is the reality that Jesus, body and soul, the God/Man was not just resuscitated in the tomb but gloriously arose in a transformed body.  When talking about baptism Paul writes in Romans 6:5 “If we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.”   While we, like Peter Jennings, may wonder and doubt, the biblical witness wants to make us absolutely certain that for us to have faith in the resurrection, there first is the fact of the resurrection.

            This is important because another fact of this world is the reality of sin and death.  Even Christians recognize the unnaturalness, the pain, the deep seated grief, that death really does bring.   We who know the redeemer and life giver, especially see the “not rightness” of death and everything that surrounds it.  Oh the world may talk about a good death, and that it is part of the cycle of life, but we know this isn’t how God meant things to be. 

            Something is wrong when a child dies young.  Something isn’t right, when every year we have a predictable indicator of those who commit violent crimes.  Violent crimes are down 2% this year, hello…. violent crimes shouldn’t even be there.   Something is wrong, something is awry.  Yes, it is part of the fall and the world is part of the curse, but still we know this is not how it should be.  Mary knew that it wasn’t right what had happen to her dear son, she just had to see the body, to touch the body and care for the body and prepare it for burial.   Who is going to roll the stone away?  She asked walking toward the tomb.   It is here   the book of Mark, wastes no time as the angel says “Don’t be alarmed”.   Just 33 years earlier angels told the shepherds “fear not”.  The angel says fear not (I’ve got a fact for you), he has risen he is not here.  Oh….and by the way you will see him again just as he “said”.   What was it he said?  Things like “I am the resurrection and the life.  Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die.”  What did this mean for the apostles?  What does it mean for us?  1 Peter says “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

            The factual resurrection matters, and it is of first importance in this dying world you and I live in.   It matters to believers because now we have someone who not only speaks to us in our sin, but also when the law of God condemns.   Jesus both bears (absorbs) our sin and unlike us, keeps God ‘s law perfectly.  What this means is that in Christ Jesus there is no condemnation.  “Who is he that condemns, Christ Jesus, who died-more than that, who was raised to life, is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”  The resurrected Jesus now lives to intercede, to forgive, to help, to support, to strengthen us.  He lives to justify us.  “Christ was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.    Simply put, Jesus says “Because I live, you will live”. 

            The resurrection is factual, it is given to you and me in a world surrounded by death, and the resurrection always gives us a way out even when God’s just law condemns.  The resurrection is of first importance.

            The story is told of a family that lost three of its four children within just two weeks from a devastating disease.  One child was alive, a four year old boy.  The family had buried the third child just two weeks before Easter.  On Easter morning the parents and the remaining child went to church.  The mother told her Sunday school class about the resurrection of Christ.  The father read the Easter story in Sunday school as he led the devotions.   People who knew of their great loss wondered how they could do it.  On the way home, a 16 year old youth asked his father, “Dad that couple must really believe everything about the Easter story, don’t they” “Of course they believe it said the father.  All Christians do”.  “But not as they do, said the youth.” God forbid, anything even close to that tragedy would ever happen to us, but even if it does, the Easter reality of the risen Savior has something to say to us.  Isaiah says “he will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces”.  He is risen, he is risen indeed alleluia.  Amen.