The Road to Emmaus: Thoughts on what we expect at church on Easter

Luke describes the events at the empty tomb in an interesting way.

Such human reactions.

The disciples thought that what the women described at the empty tomb was an idle tale.

While Peter went to look, he is amazed, but puzzled.

Not quite sure what has happened.

Now we hear Luke’s description of two other disciples, and the experience they had.

As you listen to Luke, ask yourself if you feel a bit like these two disciples.

Luke 24: 13-35

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Some time back, I got together with a group of pastors for lunch.

We talked about what we think people expect on Easter Sunday at church.

My answer was twofold.

First, I think we all come to hear the resurrection story.

The story of how Jesus is risen.

He is risen indeed.

The old, old story.

But there is another reason.

We want to believe it.

We want to be like the Emmaus travelers.

We want to have a personal experience with the living Jesus.

When we hear the story, we are given hope that there is more to our existence that what our five senses can experience.

We want to believe Jesus’ promise of a house with many rooms.

One of them ours.

We want to believe that there is something eternal about us.

That the death of our bodies is not the end of life.

We want to believe that because he lives, we will also.

But if we are honest, I think we are like the disciples on Easter morning.

We have our doubts.

We want to believe.

We want to hope.

But we are on the road to Emmaus.

Like the cast of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s, Jesus Christ Superstar.

Something that has bothered me from the moment I first saw it.

At the end of the play, Jesus is crucified.

Then the disciples sadly look back over their shoulders as they walk off stage.

THE END.

No resurrection.

The story of Jesus is an idle tale.

Nothing to do but just go home.

For the travelers on the road to Emmaus, that is exactly the way it was.

Jesus was dead.

There was a report that some women had seen him alive!

Really?

No one believed them.

Peter was puzzled.

Jesus did some really amazing things, but back from the dead?

Naahh!

Can’t go there.

Walk off stage with the rest of the cast.

Time to go home.

Some of us here can understand the overwhelming disappointment.

The staggering grief.

This was not just the death of a beloved friend.

It was the death of a dream.

The Emmaus travelers explain their angst with this phrase:

“We had hoped …”

We had hoped …

Jesus was the Messiah …

Jesus would redeem Israel.

They were words of true disappointment that something they expected was not going to happen.

But Luke uses a unique Greek word for this phrase of disappointment.

It also implies a bit of hope.

Despair, sure, but some fleeting thought that somehow what they expect is still going to happen.

That there is something going on that they are not seeing.

No quite understanding.

And so they talk, and talk, and talk.

Examining all of it.

They struggle to understand.

“What are we missing?”

Then they see Jesus.

Alive.

A personal encounter that sends them back to Jerusalem.

Which brings us to the second thing I think we all want on Easter Sunday.

A personal encounter with the living Jesus.

Just like the guys on the way to Emmaus.

Where he will explain it all.

And make us just know.

That it is still true.

Jesus is alive.

Right now.

Know that he was who he said he was and will do what he said he will do.

That because he lives, I will, too.

And so will you.

And I hope we all have such an encounter.

Right here this morning.

But it will not necessarily be today.

Because for most of us, it’s more likely we will be like those guys on the road to Emmaus.

On our way somewhere.

Home.

Work.

Church.

Golf.

Dinner.

Movie.

Where ever you are on your way to.

Talking.

Wondering.

Doubting.

Praying.

Hoping.

Trying to understand.

What was Jesus all about?

Why am I not feeling it?

What am I missing?

And then it will happen.

A personal encounter!

When you least expect it.

What does that look like?

I can give a couple of examples.

There is a member of our congregation I sat with this week while she was in the hospital.

Two Sundays ago she was on her way to bed.

She fell in her bathroom.

She could not get up.

She lay there until Thursday morning.

4 days.

Mostly awake.

She told me she talked a lot to Jesus.

She told me that whenever she started to panic she felt his presence.

In her mind, Jesus was sitting there with her.

And she remained calm.

And she just knows.

Jesus is alive.

That is what a personal encounter is like.

A time when you are in a place that the Psalmist call “the pit”.

You call out to God and you feel his presence.

And you find out, you are fine.

I have had a personal encounter.

I have shared my Emmaus road story many times.

I think most of us here could tell a similar story.

I grew up in the church.

I went to college and did not go back to church in any consistent way until AJ was born.

Sound familiar?

I was a lawyer.

With my own firm.

On my way to a long legal career.

Then one day I got a call from my brother.

“Let’s take Dad to a Promise Keepers conference.”

Two days of worship and praise at Three Rivers Stadium.

Sounded interesting.

So I went.

Saturday afternoon I was sitting there listening to Crawford Loritts, a Baptist preacher from Tennessee.

In the middle of his message, he picked up his Bible and said something to the effect that “this book must be the foundation of our lives”.

I felt like someone thumped me on the chest.

Like a physical impact.

I needed to look into this.

So I read the Bible.

All of it.

Took me a year.

Then, suddenly, it all made sense.

I just knew.

Jesus is alive.

I was like those guys on the road to Emmaus.

It was the breaking of the bread that opened their eyes.

It was scripture – the Bible that opened mine.

The world has never looked quite the same to me.

It’s still not perfect.

It’s still a dangerous place.

It still ends with our bodies dying.

But I also know that because Jesus lives, I will, too.

But many are still waiting for their encounter with Jesus.

And for you I offer this.

You will meet the living Jesus.

Where, when and how you least expect it.

The story of the Emmaus road invites us to expect that Jesus will indeed seek us and find us.

In unexpected ways.

But we can also have an encounter with Jesus in an expected way.

In worship.

In church.

We meet Jesus just like the Emmaus travelers did.

Disillusioned with the world and questioning our faith after a week (or longer) “out there”.

And then we hear Jesus.

“Why do you give up so easily?”

“Didn’t I tell you to expect something like this?”

“Look here at the scriptures.”

“There was a purpose to all that had happened.”

“There was also a promise.”

He cites scripture.

He repeats his lessons.

He gives us hope.

Then we begin to remember.

We remember our baptism.

We recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread and the cup.

Here is Jesus.

Just as he promised.

He is indeed alive.

That is what the Emmaus travelers experienced.

And they go tell everyone.

That is what an encounter with the living Jesus will do to a person.

From devastation to hope.

That is what we want.

And because the tomb was empty, because he is alive, we can.

When we do have an encounter with Jesus, even if it is just that moment, we will know he is alive.

And we have the hope of an eternity with him in his Kingdom.

The hope that there is more than we can see.

That there is a power we cannot even imagine that cares what happens to us.

And wants us to live.

But when will it happen?

Easter is big and festive and colorful.

Then it’s Monday.

Back to work.

Back to the world.

Back on the road.

But that is just where Jesus wants to meet us.

Where ever we are on our way.

He met the women on the way to mourn their loved one.

He met the Emmaus travelers on the way home.

He met Paul on the road on the way to Damascus.

He met my parishioner in the bathroom.

He met me a Three Rivers Stadium.

Where has he met you?

Where will he meet you?

Somewhere on the way of your life.

That’s what Jesus does.

He meets us on the way to where ever our lives are taking us.

Just like we had hoped he would.

And that will be enough.

We will just know.

Jesus is alive.

We say he is risen.

But that is a bit liturgical, right?

Because it happened 2000 years ago.

When you have your personal encounter, you will not be saying he is risen.

You will be saying Jesus is alive!

Now.

Here.

We will not be the cast of Jesus Christ Superstar.

We will not just look at the tragic end of our friend and just walk away.

We will be the two men on the road to Emmaus.

Like the great cloud of witnesses who have had those encounters since Jesus came back from the dead.

We will all know.

Jesus Christ is risen!

He is alive!

Know it!

Tell everyone!



Easter! An experience with the risen Jesus!

When I was in High School the really edgy and provocative musical Jesus Christ Superstar came out. I went to see it and bought the album. It was thought to be a bit irreverent but for a follower of Christ, as I thought I was, it seemed necessary to update the story of the Passion Week. But there was something I had trouble with and has bothered me since I saw it. At the end of the play, the disciples sadly look back over their shoulders and walk off stage in front of the silhouette of the crucified Jesus. And there he stays. THE END.

There was no resurrection. It was just time to go home.

The trouble with this ending is that it reduces Jesus, and his death, to that of an unfortunate and deluded healer who got caught up in his fame until he got too big and had to be disposed of by the powers in control. Just a guy, who said some good stuff, lived a good life, but was misguided and died on a cross.

But that was just a play, right? It really was nothing like that! Well, at least for the travelers on the road to Emmaus, that is exactly the way it was. Jesus was on the cross; they looked sadly over their shoulders as they walked out of Jerusalem, off to home in Emmaus. The 11 were in hiding. This reaction to the crucifixion was probably the universal one.

But then something remarkable happened. Jesus showed up! He was not dead … well at least not dead anymore! And he was seeking out those who needed hope (which of course is all of us) with a message that he was exactly who he said he was and was going to fulfill the promises he said he would.

Come and hear about it Sunday, Easter Sunday, Resurrection Day! Come hear Pastor Jeff preach “The Road to Emmaus” at 8:30 and 11 at John McMillan Presbyterian Church. We will also have a sunrise service at 7 where Director of Discipleship Matt Fricker will preach on the same scripture.

Come and celebrate! He is risen! He is risen indeed!



Holy Week Reflections 5: It is Finished!

John 19

28 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), ‘I am thirsty.’ 29A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

It is Friday in Jerusalem and a huge crowd has gathered on the north side of the city, just outside the Damascus Gate, by the side of a well-traveled road.

It’s a public execution.

A crucifixion!

The Romans liked to hold their crucifixions in public places.

It sent fear through the people and kept them in line.

Step out of line and this could happen to you.

No one wanted to be crucified.

There was no worse way to die.

This particular crucifixion started earlier this morning.

For three hours it was pretty typical.

There were three crosses.

The fellow in the middle had a sign on his cross that said “The King of the Jews”.

Must be why he is there.

Rome hates revolutionaries.

There is only one king – Caesar.

Then things got kind of weird.

Around noon, the sky went black.

Darkness fell across the city of Jerusalem.

Strange.

Scary.

The crowd got restless.

Something was happening.

It seemed like everyone and everything was focused on the “King of the Jews”.

He had not been up there for a long time by crucifixion standards.

Folks who seemed to know him had been talking to him.

One might have been his mother.

One look and it was clear that this man would not last much longer.

He looked dead already.

He had been beaten to a bloody pulp even before he was nailed to the cross.

He wouldn’t make it to sundown.

Then it happened.

He lifted himself up.

He shouted something.

It was a quick shout.

Just one word.

But clearly a shout.

Not a cry of pain.

Not a curse.

More like a shout of relief that you might use when a task is done.

A race completed.

A victory almost.

 

If you weren’t paying attention, you might have missed it.

Then he was dead.

What was that shout?

What did he say?

Only one word . . . Tetelestai . . .

“It is finished.”

What?

What was finished?

His life?

That was true enough.

Yes, but that is not what he seemed to be shouting about.

What did he finish?

These might have been what we all thought had we been at Jesus crucifixion.

But a good Jew would have seen it right away.

Jesus was using a visual metaphor that communicated a particular message.

Or it was some kind of atonement.

Like the blood spilled or the scapegoat sent away as a sort of a sacrifice of a substitute in return for forgiveness.

Or it healed people from a terminal illness.

Like the snake on Moses’ pole that the people had to look at in order for them to be healed.

His death on the cross freed his creation back from slavery.

Or it was like the Passover lamb whose blood was put on the houses of God’s people.

His people!

To protect them from death.

That was Jesus.

The scapegoat.

The figure lifted up.

The one whose blood made people God’s own.

They would have gotten it.

But what about us today?

These images are not very instructive in 2016.

What do we make of Jesus’ last word?

It is still a little dated, but let’s try this:

There is an old Tennessee Ernie Ford song called The Company Store.

You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store

That’s what humanity has been doing for all time.

We work for the worldly things and principalities and powers.

But all we have, we spend on worldly things at the worldly things store.

Where we are told we must do all our shopping.

The cost is more than we have.

We get deeper in debt every day.

Until we are enslaved.

Enslaved to the world.

Where we are required to stay until the debt is paid.

But it never will be.

We all know what that is like.

 

I get credit card applications every week.

These people are counting on the fact that I will not be able to pay the balance off every month.

I will then have to pay interest.

If this keeps up, and they hope it does, I will only be able to pay the minimum payment and that will not even cover the interest.

So now there will be interest on the interest.

Pretty soon, I will be in a position where I will never be able to pay the card off.

The debt grows exponentially.

Until I am working only to pay off the debt.

I am enslaved to the debt – the company store.

So here is God.

We were his.

But we sold our souls to the company store.

And now we have nothing for God.

No gift.

No time.

No nothing.

And there is nothing we can do about it.

Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store

So what is God to do?

God needs to pay that debt for us.

So he comes to us.

Incarnate as Jesus.

And he pays that debt by giving up his earthly form to death – even death on a cross.

The worldly company store.

In return for our freedom.

And when he dies – it is finished.

The deal is done.

Paid in full.

God is the actor.

We really don’t have to sacrifice and animal to get God to love us.

We really don’t have to look at Jesus on the cross to get God to heal us.

We really don’t have to put Jesus’ blood on our doors – or us – to become part fo God’s family.

We don’t have to do anything at all.

Because we can’t.

We just can’t.

So God did.

God loves us so much that God saved us from our own personal company stores.

The world.

We are no longer slaves to the world.

We are free people.

Purchased by God at great expense – not to be slaves – but to be his family.

So how did it really work?

That is not the point.

We don’t need to know.

We just need to understand and trust the story Jesus told about how much God loved us.

That God did what God had to do.

Not because we wanted God to.

But because God wanted to.

How God did it is a mystery.

In some respects, why God did it is a mystery.

The Greek Orthodox church understands this well.

They have no compunction on answering theological questions with, “It’s a mystery!”

But we protestants in the US are uncomfortable with that.

So my advice is:

Pick one.

I like the Passover image best.

Jesus blood is now on us.

We share his blood.

We are his family.

We are safe.

Jesus made us safe!

He did it on the cross.

That is what he did for us that day.

Just outside the Damascus Gate, on the side of the road, just outside Jerusalem.

He finished his task.

He won.



Holy Week Reflections 4: Tenebrae

The people of Israel are a people who embrace their history.

It is who they are.

They remember the events that made them holy.

That set them apart.

They were always building alters and naming those places where a divine moment of communion with God took place.

Later God gave the people ceremonies that were to be reminders and teaching opportunities of all God had done for them.

The Passover is such a ceremony.

It is a memorial to the escape from Egypt.

A lesson that God chose Israel to be his holy nation.

Proof that God was more powerful than the most powerful worldly power of the day.

To be repeated so people would remember.

God gave Moses the sacrificial system that allowed people to respond.

Respond with thanks and praise that was pleasing to God.

God also gave the people a moral code gave them a particular identity.

People of God.

It was all in the Torah.

Ezra read the law to the Jews returning to rebuild Jerusalem to remind them of who and whose they were.

The Prophets continually reminded the Israelites of God’s sovereignty and his selection of Israel as his chosen people.

Even Jesus reminded the Jews that he was a fulfillment of the Torah Law.

The Apostles testified to this by telling the story of the Jews from Egypt through Jesus.

Jews understand even today that their identity is linked to their history and Torah.

By remembering that history, they are participating in it, and making it their own.

Catholic Richard Rohr describes this as the “cosmic egg”.

The cosmic egg is the set of stories that inform us who and whose we are.

It is our personal story first.

Our life.

The next level is the story of our particular group.

In this case it is the story of God’s people.

The highest level is “the” story.

The cosmic story that binds us to the universe.

God’s story.

This is what Rohr says.

“Picture three domes of meaning.  The smallest dome of meaning is my private story, “This is me,” “My story.”  It is subjective, interpersonal, self-help, psychological language … .  It is very good, as far as it goes.  There is a second and larger dome of meaning that encloses the first.  “This is us,” “Our story.”  This is where most people have lived their lives…their ethnicity, their gender, their group, their religion, their occupation.  The biblical tradition honors both of these domes of meaning.  “This is me” and “This is us” are both part of the narrative.  The third dome of meaning that encloses and regulates the two smaller ones is called, “The Story.”  By this, I mean the patterns that are always true.  The biblical tradition takes all three levels seriously:  My Story, Our Story and THE Story.  Biblical revelation is saying that the ONLY WAY you can understand in any depth THE Story is to walk through and take responsibility for your personal story and also for your group story.” 

But we can only take responsibility for our personal and group story if we remember the patterns that are always true.

One of them is that forgiveness and reconciliation are good.

But often costly.

And so we need a story that reminds us of that.

Jesus gave us a ceremony that reminds us of such a story.

Listen to the Word of God:

Luke 22:14-20

14 And when the hour came, he sat at table, and the apostles with him. 15 And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I tell you I shall not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I tell you that from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And likewise the cup after supper, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

Do this in remembrance of Jesus.

What are we to remember?

That which He did for us.

What did he do for us?

He went to the cross so that we could somehow be reconciled to God.

Paul, a good Jew, described the impact of Jesus’ death in his letter to the Colossians:

Colossians 1

19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

THE Story.

The cosmic story.

The one that puts it all together.

Me.

Us.

Creation.

Jesus story is about forgiveness.

My sin.

Your sin.

The sin of humanity.

The sin of all creation.

This we are to remember every time we share the bread and cup.

Jesus says:

“Do this in remembrance of me!

Remember my story!

Enter into my story!

Make it your own.”

So let’s remember the story.

Jesus suffering started at Gethsemane.

He prayed alone while the disciples slept.

He knew what was to come.

Betrayed.

Arrested.

Abandoned.

Brought before the Sanhedrin and Caiaphas, the High Priest.

They spit on him and mock him and strike him in the face.

In the early morning, battered and bruised, Jesus is taken to Pontius Pilate.

Pilate condemns Jesus to receive 39 lashes and then crucifixion.

Beaten until he is near death, the Roman soldiers throw a robe across his shoulders, place a stick in his hand, and a crown make of thorns is pressed into his scalp.

Blood runs Down Jesus’ face.

After this humiliation, the soldiers take the stick from Jesus hand and strike him across the head.

The heavy patibulum, the horizontal piece of the cross, is tied across his shoulders.

In spite of his efforts to walk erect, the weight of the heavy wooden beam  is too much.

He stumbles and falls.

Simon of Cyrene is commanded to carry the cross-piece.

Jesus follows until the 650 yard journey from the fortress Antonia to Golgotha is finally completed.

Jesus is thrown backward with his shoulders against the wood.

The legionnaire feels for the depression at the front of the wrist.

He drives a heavy, square, wrought-iron nail through the wrists and deep into the wood.

The cross piece is dropped onto the upright.

The left foot is now pressed backward against the right foot, and with both feet extended, toes down, a nail is driven through the arch of each and into the upright.

The knees are moderately flexed.

Jesus is a foot off the ground.

This is crucifixion.

Hanging by his arms Jesus cannot breathe.

Jesus fights to raise himself in order to get even one short breath.

Hours of limitless pain, bleeding and intermittent partial asphyxiation follow.

He sees his mother weeping.

It is now almost over.

Finally, Jesus cries, “Father! Into thy hands I commit my spirit.”

And then our savior died.

There are many theories as to how this horrifying death atoned for our sin.

But it is undeniable that the death of Jesus on the cross is what saves our souls.

And Jesus wants us to remember it.

So what do I remember?

All of it!

And I ask myself which moment of pain was for  my salvation?

Which bit of torn flesh saved my soul?

Which drop of blood was mine?

I remember the horror of the crucifixion.

The nails, the hanging, the heat, the thirst, the panic.

What of that was for me?

I remember Jesus was on the cross for a long time.

Did He think of me?

Did my face appear before Him?

Did my name cross His mind?

Did Jesus think about my sins?

Maybe, maybe not.

I do not know.

But I do know this:

Jesus wants me to think about him and what he did for me—every time I come to this table to share his Last Supper.

That is why he invites me – all of us – here.

All this Jesus did for me, a man he did not yet know.

Jesus did all this for me and yet only asks in return that I follow him.

And to remember him.

It is a small price.

AMEN



Holy Week Reflections 3: Judas again?

John 13: 21-30

21 After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, ‘Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.’ 22The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. 23One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; 24Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, ‘Lord, who is it?’ 26Jesus answered, ‘It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’ So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. 27After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, ‘Do quickly what you are going to do.’ 28Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, ‘Buy what we need for the festival’; or, that he should give something to the poor. 30So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

We seem to be spending a lot of time with Judas this week. Judas seems to be central to the passion story. First he chastises Mary for the waste of valuable perfume when she poured it on Jesus’ feet, and now Judas is in a similar way lashing out at Jesus for wasting his notoriety and power by not acting messianic. In both cases Judas tries to take control of a particular situation and make it go the way he wants it to go, rather than how the Lord wants it to go. Mary is scolded for not selling the perfume and putting it into the disciple’s treasury (and we will give Judas the benefit of the doubt that he was going to use it for the poor). Jesus is betrayed because he is not doing making himself king. Perhaps Judas was thinking that if he got Jesus arrested, Jesus would finally have no choice but to expose himself as the messianic king of Israel and throw the Roman and priestly rascals out.

I think there might be something to this. Particularly when John says that when Jesus gave the bread to Judas, “Satan entered into him” and off he went to see the Temple conspirators. This entry of Satan that finally pushed Judas to act on his plan to force Jesus’ hand reminds me of Peter’s confession of the identity of Jesus. Jesus asks Peter who Peter thinks Jesus is. Peter proclaims Jesus the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Then when Jesus tells him that he, Jesus , must go to Jerusalem to die, Jesus scolds Peter and says “get behind me Satan”. To Jesus Satan is the one who opposes him. Peter, then Judas. Both oppose Jesus by trying to control Jesus. To possess Jesus. To put Jesus in a box.

But Jesus will have none of it. Both Peter and Judas fail in their attempts to manipulate Jesus. Ultimately Jesus plan prevails … and we are saved.

It is always a good idea to ponder the ways we try to control and manipulate Jesus. To oppose what he would have us do and how he would have us live. That, of course., requires us to discern what Jesus would have us do and how he would have us live. That is why we gather to teach, discuss and learn. An pray the we to God’s will and not our own. Perhaps we should start that prayer with “Get behind me Satan!”



Holy Week Reflection 2: Unexpected!

Mark 11: 1-11

11When 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!
10   Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

11 Then 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.

As I was reading Mark’s description of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, the title of today’s message came immediately to mind.

The Man Who Would Not Be King.

Jesus was the man who would not be king!

It came to mind because of the short story “The Man Who Would Be King” by Rudyard Kipling.

Kipling’s story is about two British adventurers.

Daniel Dravot and Peachey Carnehan have decided to become kings.

They have twenty Martini-Henry rifles and plan to find a king or chief in some remote location, help him defeat his enemies, then take over.

That is exactly what they do and become kings of Kafiristan, a remote part of Afghanistan.

Daniel and Peachy do not in the end fare well in Kipling’s story.

Their subjects revolt.

Daniel is killed and Peachy is tortured and driven insane, carrying Daniel’s head around in a burlap sack.

It can be dangerous to be king.

People actually did this sort of thing in Kipling’s day.

Go to places and try to become a king.

Most times it ended badly.

Kipling’s story is based, in part, on the life of James Brooke, a name well known in Malaysia.

I learned this story when I was in Malaysia in 2010.

In 1833, Brooke inherited £30,000, which he used to purchase a merchant ship.

Brooke sailed for Borneo in 1838.

He arrived on Borneo in August to find an Iban and Bidayuh uprising against the ruling Sultan of Brunei.

Perfect!

Brooke and his crew were well armed.

They joined the Sultan and crushed the revolt.

Brooke then did an about face and turned his guns on the Sultan.

In return for not deposing the him, the Sultan granted Brook the title of Rajah of Sarawak.

Basically king of the northern part of Borneo.

Brook’s family remained in power about 100 years.

Then they were gone.

Lost to history.

Both stories, the fictionalized and real, depict the manor by which people often acquire power in this world.

A place has a need for governmental change.

Someone is better armed or has more power.

The better armed and more powerful support the side most likely to win, and then take over.

At the time of Jesus arrival, Jerusalem was such a place.

The people wanted a change in government.

They were tired of the Romans and their puppet Herod.

Someone who would throw out the Romans and re-establish the Davidic line.

They wanted a return to the days of David and Solomon when Israel was a world power.

They were expecting God to send them a such a king.

And they knew what he was to look like.

All the prophecies pointed to Jesus.

He had the power to heal and the authority to speak.

And now here he came, down from the Mount of Olives, on a donkey.

Just like the prophet Zechariah had said he would.

And his first task was to go in and tear up the Temple courts.

Throwing out the money changers.

This was the guy alright!

The man who would be king!

But then … nothing.

He did not lead a rebellion against Rome and Herod.

He did not use his power to make himself king.

And that meant trouble … for Jesus.

We humans are certainly a fickle bunch.

We know what we want, the way we want to get it, and want it right now.

And if we don’t get it, things can get ugly pretty quick.

That is what happened to Daniel and Peachy.

That is what happened to Brooks.

It would have happened to King Jesus.

It is so … human!

Look at our lives.

Soon our children will be on summer break.

No school for two plus months.

They come running out of the building on the last day, expecting a two month party.

Most of their plans will not turn out the way they want.

And they are disappointed … probably by the next morning.

They get bored.

Things get ugly.

Adults are the same.

As soon as you get a new phone, you see another that looks really cool and you are ready to throw out the new one for a newer one!

We are always searching for newer, bigger, better, bolder.

Our satisfaction interval is brief indeed.

Look at our relationships.

Elected officials, athletes, employers, family, friends.

God.

And when our desires are not met, we turn on those who disappoint us.

Time to get rid of our favorite player.

Time to get rid of the politician we voted for just last election.

Time to get a new job.

Time to get a divorce.

Time to stop answering a friend’s phone calls.

Time to find something else to do on Sunday mornings.

Time to find something else to worship.

We set expectations for each and when our expectations are not met, we cast them aside, sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently.

We might be most like this here in the USA.

We have high, demanding and often unreasonable expectations!

Bill Bryson, an American author, writes of a lecture he once heard contrasting how products were sold in Britain and the United States.

The same product had to be sold in entirely different ways in the two markets.

An advertisement in Britain for a cold relief capsule would promise no more than that it might make you feel a little better.

You would still have a red nose and be in your pajamas, but you would feel a little better.

A commercial for the same product here would guarantee total, instantaneous relief.

Someone who took this miracle drug would not only throw off his PJ’s and get back to work at once, he would feel better than he had for years and finish the day having the time of his life at a local bar, downing light beer and watching the game.

But when the product only made him feel a little better, his expectations would be dashed, and he would run out and file a law suit.

The British do not expect over-the-counter drugs to work miracles.

But we Americans will settle for nothing less.

We want miracles!

And we want them now!

We have little patience when things do not go as we had expected and we are quick to complain … or worse.

So it was with Jesus.

He enters Jerusalem as a conquering hero.

He is here to become king and to oust the Romans.

At least that is what many expected.

So he was hailed.

They cried Hosanna!

“Save us”.

Can you imagine the excited anticipation?

Maybe it was like the nominated candidate coming out on the podium to accept the party’s presidential nomination.

“Happy days are here again!”

God was going to act like he did in the days of Moses and Joshua!

The world was about to change.

Here was the man who would do it.

Here is the man who would be king.

But the adulation does not last!

It took only 4 days for Jesus.

The miracle worker and prophet?

A fraud.

Kill him!

Those hosanna people were nowhere to be found.

Some were now screaming: “Crucify him!”

How could such a thing happen?

Why did God not just give the people what they wanted?

Because had Jesus done what the people wanted, the way they wanted it done, he would have been considered a great prophet and wise Rabbi and even perhaps a great king, like David.

But only for a time.

Then he would be lost to history, like David.

Or Brooks.

But that was not God’s plan.

Jesus came not to exercise political power.

Jesus was here to exercise divine power.

He did come to save, just not the way the people wanted.

Just not the way people expected.

And the people did not like it.

Their response?

“This is not what we want.

Crucify him.”

Now this was no surprise to Jesus.

He knew of their expectations.

He knew they would turn on him.

But he also knew what they needed.

They needed an eternal Kingdom.

The Kingdom of God.

And to do that, he had come to Jerusalem, not to take over, but to die.

And so that is what he did.

Jesus saved his way, not our way.

We have changed not at all since those days in Jerusalem, really.

We are a still fickle bunch when it comes to what we believe.

We struggle to understand what God is doing in our lives and what God is doing in the world.

We have troubles at home, at work, at school, in the community, in the nation, in the world.

We know how we expect it to be resolved.

We know how we expect it to work.

We know what we expect God to do.

But God does things differently.

And we get angry when God does not fix our problems.

When God does not do what we expect of him.

Or when God does not do it the way we expect him to.

When God does not become king!

A king who tells everyone to do what we want them to do.

And so we turn away.

We are a really fickle bunch.

But thankfully, God knows it.

God has always known it.

And yet he still loves us enough to fight for us, die for us and defeat death for us.

Even when we don’t appreciate it.

He invites us into his kingdom anyway.

He does not become king in our world, but rather invites us into a world where he is already king.

Where things are as God wants them.

And if we think about it, it’s better that way.

Hosanna in the highest heaven.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.



Holy Week Reflection 1. True Discipleship

John 12: 1-8

12Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’ 6(He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’

Those of us who have been followers of Downton Abbey have seen dozens of dinners around the Grantham table.

Typically, there is an honored guest present.

As the dinner proceeds, there is almost a feeling of musical theater at the table.

Everything is governed by a sort of protocol.

A set of rules and expectations of what people will wear, where they sit, how the food is served, who leads the conversation, who controls the conversation, you get the picture.

And you can feel the discomfort at the table when protocol is not followed.

Wide eyes from the dowager widow.

A sniff from Carson.

A stiffened back from Lady Mary.

Quiet gasps from those at the table.

The disapproval is palpable.

The discomfort hard to endure.

We have all had that experience.

In many ways dinner etiquette has always been important.

Even in Jesus’ day.

We see it in today’s scripture.

It is after all a dinner party.

Let’s set the stage.

Jesus and his disciples are on their way to Jerusalem for Passover.

They are invited to dinner at the home of Lazarus, who just a short while back was raised by Jesus from the dead.

Let me digress for a moment.

In the Gospel of John there are two closely related events that are critical to our understanding of who Jesus is and how we are to respond to him.

The first is the raising of Lazarus.

This has been described as the divine announcement of the presence of God on earth in Jesus and the fullness of life given to those who follow him.

That is who Jesus is.

God has come.

And now he has come to dinner.

Which brings us to the second event.

How we are to respond to Jesus.

Which is the message of this story.

This dinner.

It is unclear who all is there, but the Gospels seem to say it is all the disciples, Lazarus, Jesus, Mary and Martha.

Martha is of course in the kitchen cooking the dinner.

Lazarus is at the table with the guests.

Things are going along well until Mary breaches protocol in a big way.

In she comes with a jar of perfumed ointment and proceeds to pour it on Jesus’ feet.

Now you need to understand that Jesus is reclining at the table with his feet reaching out away from the table.

It is unlikely he sees Mary before she starts pouring the ointment.

Perhaps no one saw it.

But once she got started, everyone looked.

The smell filled the room.

The conversation stops.

Everyone looks at Mary.

I can see the open mouths.

The wide eyes.

The gasps.

Then it gets worse.

Mary lets down her hair and wipes Jesus feet with it.

Women simply did not do that in those days!

It was very risqué!

More gasps.

Eyes now popping!

Maybe the dinner guests actually look away or cover their eyes!

Mary has made a spectacle of herself.

And this perfume!

It’s really valuable.

A year’s wages.

Judas can’t remain quiet.

He slams Mary for wasting the expensive ointment.

Now as an aside, I am not going into John’s commentary on Judas’ character.

That is for another day.

But I will say that in the other Gospels, all the disciples object to the waste of valuable resources.

They all say Mary should have sold it and the money given to the poor!

Right Jesus?

After all, you have been talking about taking care of the poor for your entire ministry.

But then Jesus does what he does a lot.

He surprises us!

He says:

“Leave her alone!

She is showing me how much she loves me.

She is preparing me for my burial, which will be soon.

The poor will always be in need.

But it is always good to demonstrate love for me.

That is what my disciples do.

They love me and honor me and sacrifice for me.”

And while there is no mention of it in the passage, I have an image in my head that Jesus turned to Mary, perhaps caressed her hair, and thanked her.

As she leaves the room, maybe holding her hair under her nose, the disciples look at each other and said quietly, “Did that just happen?”

And we ask:

So what did happen?

What does it mean?

Jesus’ dinner with Lazarus actually can be read as showing 4 types of discipleship.

Lazarus’ follows Jesus by inviting him to dinner.

Martha follows Jesus by preparing and serving the dinner.

Even Judas follows Jesus by reciting some of Jesus’ teaching about caring for the poor.

But Mary is the only one who is all in.

Hospitality is good, but not enough for Mary.

Service is good, but not enough for Mary.

Understanding Jesus’ teaching is good, but not enough for Mary.

She wants intimacy.

She wants to share Jesus’ space.

She wants to care for him.

To anoint him.

To caress him with her hair.

To be consumed by and live within the fragrance that is now his.

And to take that fragrance with her so that he is part of her as well.

She is the first pure disciple.

The one who is extravagantly generous in her love of Jesus.

One author put it this way:

…[I]f in the raising of Lazarus, Jesus is fully revealed [as God with us], then Mary in Mary’s anointing of Jesus, faithful discipleship is fully revealed.

So what does that mean for us?

If we want to be faithful disciples what do we do?

It is a good thing to invite Jesus into our homes.

Like Lazarus.

It is a good thing to serve Jesus in our lives.

Like Martha.

It is good to follow what Jesus taught.

Like Judas.

And it is good to worship Jesus with our minds, hearts and souls!

Like Mary.

But what we get from this story is the realization that true discipleship is demonstrated by love.

Devotion.

A longing to share space with Jesus.

Extravagant generosity of love in response to Jesus.

And it must also be noticed that John uses Mary as the first example true discipleship.

A person not numbered among the 12.

A person who those 12 would have most certainly rejected.

But one who demonstrates that discipleship is not an exclusive thing.

As the Interpreter’s Bible puts it:

Jesus disciples are persons, like Mary, whom he loves and who love him and live out that love.

That is what Jesus calls us all to do.

Live out his love.

Feed the hungry

Give water to the thirsty.

Clothe the naked.

Comfort the sick.

Welcome the strangers.

Visit the prisoners.

When we do that we do it to Jesus.

And that seems to be what Judas is saying.

Let’s use our resources to help those in need.

But then this!

Jesus says something seemingly inconsistent.

It’s OK to be extravagantly generous to Jesus.

And that is not inconsistent.

In this story we see the fulfillment of the two great commandments.

We love our neighbors when we are taking care of the poor.

We are loving God when we are taking care of Jesus.

We need to praise and worship him.

Coming together on Sunday mornings to meet and greet each other in Jesus’ name.

To pray together.

Sing together.

Celebrate the sacraments together.

To offer our gifts and ourselves to Jesus.

To pour our expensive perfume on Jesus feet and wipe it off with our hair.

And then go out into the world with that fragrance surrounding us.

So who was right in our story.

Lazarus the host?

Martha the cook?

Judas the mission committee chair?

Or Mary the worshiper?

Answer?

All of them.

Host.

Serve.

Give.

Worship.

When we do these things here, we do them for Jesus.

That is what true disciples do.



Revolution

Luke 19: 28-40
28 After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
29 When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30saying, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?” just say this: “The Lord needs it.” ’ 32So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’ 34They said, ‘The Lord needs it.’ 35Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38saying,
‘Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!’
39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ 40He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’
When we read today’s scripture, it is almost impossible not to think of politics.
Particularly this year.
Every four years, we go to the mats proclaiming that the world is going to hell in a hand basket and that we need someone who can pull it out and make it … well … whatever we want it to be.
But it seems like it never really happens.
And when it does, it does not last.
I will share two examples.
Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama.
Both led a revolution of sorts.
Both rode into the White House on a platform of change.
Both elected by people who want things put right!
Reagan’s approval rating topped out at 68% in 1981 but by 1982 had fallen to 43% when his party lost 25 seats in the House of Representatives.
Obama’s approval rating topped out at 69% in 2009 but by 2010 had fallen to 44% when his party lost 67 seats in the House of Representatives.
Neither of these two “revolutionaries” could keep up the momentum … or the popularity.
Neither could do what was promised and what people expected of them.
Disappointment and rejection were the result.
And the loss of significant power.
Which brings us to Palm Sunday.
Jesus rides into Jerusalem.
He has amassed a large following who are proclaiming him the Messiah!
He comes to change the world.
To begin a revolution.
He enters the city to loud cheers and adulation.
He is the one who will put things right!
But his approval rating immediately plummets.
Jesus does not do what the folks wanted.
In a week, he is crucified.
That is what happens when you disappoint the people.
When you don’t live up to their expectations.
Ask Reagan.
Ask Obama.
Ask anyone in leadership.
And watch it happen again, and again.
Author Henry Miller describes it this way:
“[Popularity] is an elusive thing / here today, gone tomorrow. The fickle, shallow mob raises its heroes to the pinnacle of approval today and hurls them into oblivion tomorrow at the slightest whim; cheers today, hisses tomorrow; utter forgetfulness in a few months.
Yep!
That’s us.
But why did this happen to Jesus?
So what were the people expecting?
Why was he so disappointing to them?
Because he was not the messiah they wanted.
It might be a good idea to understand what the Jews in Jerusalem thought the messiah would be like.
Shailer Matthews of the University of Chicago describes the messianic expectation at the time of Jesus this way:
The hope was very intense that God would someday send a deliverer that would reinstate Israel among the nations and make the new nation the lord of the earth.
Reinstate Israel and make it lord of the earth!
Messiah was going to do that.
That is what the people wanted!
And Jesus seems to be identifying with that at first.
Jesus is riding into Jerusalem in a manner that leaves little doubt he is messianic.
He comes at Passover.
Actually pretty political.
Passover is meant to proclaim the divine act of liberation of the Hebrews from Egyptian oppression.
Passover serves as a kind of shorthand for the God’s triumph over Egypt, the greatest superpower of its day.
The political unrest in Jerusalem is such that Pontius Pilate comes to town the same day to make sure all remains peaceful.
Michael Joseph Brown puts it this way:
The political — nay, the revolutionary — runs through the entire feast.
And Jesus seems to embrace this.
He enters Jerusalem like the king Zechariah predicted.
Zechariah 9:9
9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
His followers are behind him singing Psalm 118.
A psalm of victory!
26 Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.*
We bless you from the house of the Lord.
27 The Lord is God,
and he has given us light.
Bind the festal procession with branches,
up to the horns of the altar.*
And then the people thank God for the deliverer by asking for:
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!
And when the Pharisees tell him to quiet them down, Jesus quotes Habakkuk who says that because Babylon heaped cruelty and oppression on Israel:
11 The very stones will cry out from the wall,
and the plaster* will respond from the woodwork.
Jesus has left little doubt that he has come to change things.
He is a revolutionary.
Messiah.
But not the way the people want.
He is not coming to reinstate Israel and make it lord of the world.
He is coming to bring the kingdom of God and make God the Lord of the world.
Not the messiah the folks want.
Actually, there was not a consensus on what kind of messiah the various Jewish factions were looking for.
The Sadducees did not want a messiah.
The Pharisees wanted a messiah who would be a king of the new Israel.
The Essenes wanted two messiahs; one a king and one a priest.
The Zealots wanted a messiah who was a warrior.
Each group had a particular agenda.
There was hostility and disrespect.
It reminds me of the 60’s I grew up in.
They were turbulent years.
Kind of scary.
I remember it seemed like the evening news was always full of reports and footage of protesters.
Sometimes peaceful.
Sometimes violent.
Always with a feel of hostility and disrespect.
There were lots of protest movements.
But basically, looking back, there were two overriding themes.
Peace.
The end to the Vietnam War.
Empowerment.
Of those who believed themselves to be powerless.
Sound familiar?
Turn on CNN, Fox News or MSNBC.
There are lots of protest movements.
Sometimes peaceful.
Sometimes violent.
Always with a feel of hostility.
But basically there are two overriding themes.
Peace.
Security for the American people.
Empowerment.
Of those who believe themselves to be powerless.
Everyone has a different agenda.
Full of hostility and disrespect.
Alienating and excluding.
Not peaceful and empowering.
Just like Jerusalem when Jesus came riding into town.
Followed by his campaign workers.
His volunteers.
His disciples.
Cheering.
Waving palms.
Throwing coats on the street for the colt to walk on.
But Jesus weeps.
Why?
Listen to Luke.
[Jesus] wept over [Jerusalem], 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.
Jesus cries over Jerusalem for not understanding what is necessary for them to have peace and empowerment.
There is no political way to peace.
There is no political way to empowerment.
All politics gets you is hostility, anger and disrespect.
Jesus says he wants no part of that.
His kingdom is not of this world.
And the change he brings is not of this world.
Jesus is not the Messiah we want.
But he is the Messiah we need.
And we get the peace and empowerment in God’s Kingdom when we live the Jesus way.
A better way.
Love.
Generosity.
Kindness.
Sacrifice.
But the people don’t want that.
They want to win.
To defeat their opponents.
Jesus does not offer that.
And so Jesus’ approval ratings dropped precipitously.
Pretty predictable.
But the people are wrong.
He does make our lives better.
He does make the world better.
Because he shows us a better way.
His way.
Love.
Generosity.
Kindness.
Sacrifice.
That is the kind of messiah Jesus is.
That is the way he came to save.
From the brokenness that has created all the conflicts and problems that have plagued us from the beginning of time.
And will be with us until the end of time.
Not through the politics of hostility and disrespect and hate.
There is no peace and empowerment there.
Only destruction.
But in a better way.
The Jesus way.
To love and to be generous and to be kind and to sacrifice, even unto death, death on a cross.
So when Jesus rode into Jerusalem and the powers and principalities of the world went after him, that is how he responded.
He was betrayed.
He was arrested.
He was abandoned.
He was condemned.
He was beaten.
He was ridiculed.
He was crucified.
Jesus let that happen.
It was loving, generous, kind and sacrificial.
And the people were saved.
But then Jesus was vindicated at the resurrection.
Just as Jesus had planned.
He conquered the powers and principalities of the world.
He conquered death itself!
And saved us.
Not as a conquering warrior king.
But as one who proclaims the way of love.
So what do we do with this?
We continue the revolution.
As we read the papers, watch the news and listen to the politicians and pundits and rabble rousers and talking heads, think of Jesus.
Those folks don’t bring peace.
Those folks don’t empower.
They don’t change the world.
They always disappoint.
Only Jesus can bring peace and empowerment.
Only Jesus can change the world.
There was a time I heard when John Lennon actually claimed to be a follower of Jesus.
That might be true.
His song “Revolution” seems to say that Lennon knows the ways of the world won’t change it for the better.
He decries the hostility and violence.
You say you want a revolution
Well you know
We all want to change the world

But when you talk about destruction
Don’t you know you can count me out …
Lennon says he wants no part of destructive change.
Which is kind of what Jesus is saying.
Jesus wants no part of a destructive change.
Jesus wants repentance.
Reconciliation.
God’s kingdom.
Here.
And then, like Lennon says, things will yet be all right.
Jesus message remains valid.
We can make the world a better place by living the Jesus way.
We continue the revolution.
One act at a time.
Not through the politics of hostility and conflict and winning and losing, but through our willingness to live the Jesus way.
We fight against the “evils” of the world, however we define them, with love, generosity, kindness and sacrifice.
So … because Jesus went to Jerusalem:
Don’t you know it’s gonna be alright?



Who’s #1? Luke 22:24-30 Rev. Jeff Tindall

Luke 22: 24-30
24 A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25But he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. 27For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.
28 ‘You are those who have stood by me in my trials; 29and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, 30so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
If you have ever seen the Broadway play “Annie Get Your Gun” you know one of the featured songs is “Anything You Can Do, I can Do Better”.
Two people competing on everything from:
Shooting a partridge or getting a sparrow
Living on just bread and cheese
Singing higher
Buying cheaper
Talking softer or faster
Drinking liquor
Opening a safe
Holding a note
Singing sweeter
Jumping a hurdle
Wearing a girdle
Knitting a sweater
Filling it better
It’s a silly song, but isn’t that the world we live in?
A world where everyone’s goal seems to be being better than everyone else.
To be greater.
To be the greatest.
“Dilbert” is a popular comic strip.
One of the characters is called “Topper”.
No matter what anyone says, he tops it with a story of his own.
Regardless of how preposterous he sounds.
He can’t help himself.
He needs to fell like he is better that the rest at everything.
We all know folks like that.
We see a lot of them these days.
Athletes.
Politicians.
Entertainers.
Claiming greatness regardless of how preposterous the claim might be.
And what is worse, we have all been folks like that at one time or another.
We all want to be #1.
The best.
The one everyone looks up to.
The one who gets the honored place at the table.
Who gets people to serve him or her.
Which brings us to today’s scripture.
Let me set the stage.
It is Passover and Jesus gathers his disciples for their last Passover meal together.
The Last Supper.
The bread is Jesus’ body given for them.
The cup is the new covenant by Jesus’ blood poured out for them.
But there is a traitor present who will set in motion the anticipated passion that will bring forgiveness.
And then an argument breaks out.
Which one of them is the betrayer?
Which leads to the argument we see in today’s passage.
Who is the greatest?
I can hear it now.
Who is the one who will betray him?
Not me!
I am not the betrayer!
In fact, I am the best disciple!
No you’re not!
Yes, I am!
No you’re not!
Yes, I am!
Anything you can do I can do better!
I can do anything better than you!
And in the midst of all this there is Jesus.
He just told them that he, their Messiah, is about to die for them.
And they are more concerned about who’s #1.
I can see Jesus shaking his head.
Maybe pounding it on the table.
Then Jesus speaks.
“You sound like the Gentiles.”
“They are ruled over by kings who force the people refer to them as “friends”.”
“But”, Jesus says, “that is not what his disciples do.”
“My disciples act like me.”
“They assume the lowest place in society and serve.”
Look at what is going on here.
Jesus is certainly the greatest at the table.
He is the Messiah.
The Son of the Living God.
But he does not ask the disciples to serve him.
He serves them.
Jesus passes out the food.
The bread of life.
The cup of salvation.
His point?
Greatness is determined by service.
Greatness is defined by what we do for others.
That is what disciples do.
It’s living the Jesus way.
And the Jesus way is to serve others.
And it turns our world view on its head!
We look at servers often as menial labor present for our convenience.
Anybody here ever work waiting tables?
Look Downton Abby.
We might look at the Granthams as great lords and ladies.
The servants are virtually invisible.
Yet who is it that keeps the estate going?
The Granthams can’t farm.
They can’t cook.
They can’t even dress themselves.
They rely completely on the servants.
So who are the great ones?
Who are the ones that have an impact on their world?
Without the servants, the estate disappears.
Without the wait staff at the restaurant, there is no dinner.
Think about that the next time you go out.
Who is doing great things?
The ones who serve.
That is Jesus’ point.
But Jesus goes a bit further.
He wants us to be like him.
To be extravagantly generous servers.
How do we do that.
I went to a meeting this week in San Antonio.
It was the PCUSA Kaleidoscope Stewardship conference.
What what we talked about was how we serve through sharing.
Just what Jesus is telling his disciples at the Last Supper.
Be extravagantly generous with what you have.
Jesus said:
“See me?”
“I am giving you everything I have.”
“My life.”
“I do this because I am generous; as is my Father.”
“I call you to do the same.”
“Be extravagantly generous to those who need some of what you have.”
“Be great!”
“That is my way.”
“And when you do that, you will be my disciples.”
“You will be with me.”
Jesus as servant does for us what we cannot do ourselves.
He reconciles us with God.
And gives our life purpose.
Greatness.
What does that look like at JMPC?
Look at what we do.
We gather in community through chili and hot dogs and other social events and moms groups and men’s groups and young family groups.
And we can do more.
We host people from outside our fellowship for AA, Girl Scouts, Yoga, Bible Study; MOMS of South Hills; JMPC Preschool; Peters Township parents and teachers.
And we can do more.
We teach children and adults about the Bible, Jesus and how to live like Jesus.
And we can do more.
We worship.
Every Sunday.
And we can do more.
We reach out into the community to help those in need.
Family Promise.
VBS.
SHIM.
Our partnership with First Pres. Of Duquesne.
Our partnership with Chigamula Church in Malawi.
The Christmas Affair distribution.
The Presbytery Project to Oklahoma and South Carolina.
Youth Missions to the Pilgrimage, Pittsburgh Project and New Wilmington Mission Conference.
The coming youth trip to New Orleans.
The coming adult trip to Chiapas.
And we can do more.
And then there are our Deacons.
Reaching out to serve those in our congregation in need.
Even now they are preparing for the funeral luncheon for one of our dear members who has passed on.
And we can do more.
This is all service!
And it has impact!
Ask anyone here how this community of faith has touched them.
And all of it requires us to serve extravagantly and generously.
To give of ourselves.
Not receive.
But does that mean we are selfless?
Actually, no.
In serving and giving we receive.
What does that look like?
Well, Jesus tells his disciples that when they serve with him, they benefit from it in God’s kingdom.
They will be great in the kingdom because they have served others.
Because when we serve others we all benefit.
Stephen Colbert is a devout Roman Catholic who came up through the ranks of comedy by doing improv in Chicago.
He describes how imporv is all about mutual service where all benefit from serving others.
Now there are very few rules about improvisation, but one of the things I was taught early on is that you are not the most important person in the scene. Everybody else is. And if they are the most important people in the scene, you will naturally pay attention to them and serve them. But the good news is you’re in the scene too. So hopefully to them you’re the most important person, and they will serve you. No one is leading; you’re all following the follower, serving the servant. You cannot win improv.
And life is an improvisation. You have no idea what’s going to happen next and you are mostly just making things up as you go along. And like improv, you cannot “win” your life …. I have my own show, which [is] full of very talented people ready to serve me …. But at my best, I am serving them just as hard, and together, we serve a common idea …. And a sure sign that things are going well is when no one can really remember whose idea was whose, or who should get the credit for what jokes.
I think that is what Jesus was saying to his disciples.
Served and be served in return.
And everyone becomes great.
I want everyone here to think about these questions:
How has your generosity changed your life?
How does extravagant generosity extend to your life?
What you learned about yourself when you were generous?
What benefits do we get from living like Jesus?
Which brings us to our celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
There is a theology associated with serving Communion in church.
The key word is “serving”.
It begins with our worship team setting the table and preparing the meal.
Then there is an invitation to the table.
The invitation comes from Jesus.
There is a blessing and then those who accept the invitation are then “served”.
Here is where the theology comes in.
Who serves the food?
The pastor and the officers of the church.
Who is served?
The assembled congregation.
The officers sit down and then are in turn served by the pastor.
The theology behind this procedure is found in Luke 22: 27 where Jesus defines his ministry:
“…I am among you as one who serves.”
That is his message.
That is what we are called to be and do.
And when we do this.
We are reminded that Jesus used the bread and cup to teach us about extravagant generosity.
And a lesson on doing what is important:
Serving others.
So let’s not argue about who among us is the greatest.
Let’s not sing about how we are better.
Let’s not seek to be served by others.
Let’s learn from our master.
Let’s be generous servants.
Let’s be disciples.
Like be like Jesus.
The one who still serves.



Who’s #1?

There is a theology associated with serving Communion in church. The key word is “serving”. It begins with an invitation to the table of the Lord for the feast. The invitation comes from Jesus. There is a blessing and then those who accept the invitation are then “served” from the table. Here is where the theology comes in. Who serves the food? The pastor and the officers of the church. Who is served? The assembled congregation. The pastor takes the food from the table and gives it to the officers who then deliver it to the people present. The officers sit down and then are in turn served by the pastor. The theology behind this procedure is found in Luke 22: 26-27: “… the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” We seek to emulate Jesus by having the church officers become servants. The lesson is not that the officers are now greater, but that if we want to live the Jesus way, we all need to become servants. Hear more about this on Sunday March 6 when Pastor Jeff preaches “Who’s #1?” at 8:30 and 11 based on Luke 22: 24-30. Come and hear.