A Community of Faith: Thoughts on joining a church.

Acts 2: 14; 22-24; 37-47

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.

22 ‘You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— 23this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.

37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ 38Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ 40And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ 41So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. 42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

During the course of our lives, we are inclined to become members of certain groups.

Organizations.

Communities.

Each has responsibilities, expectations and purposes.

And there are degrees of importance with these groups.

And there are many options.

Athletic.

Social.

Charitable.

Religious.

Educational.

Political.

And you might want to be part of a community in any one of these categories.

The problem arises when you realize that in most, and excluding political in the US, there are a myriad of organizations to choose from in each category!

Which raises the problem described by Alina Tugend in her comment in the New York Times.

TAKE my younger son to an ice cream parlor or restaurant if you really want to torture him. He has to make a choice, and that’s one thing he hates. Would chocolate chip or coffee chunk ice cream be better? The cheeseburger or the turkey wrap? His fear, he says, is that whatever he selects, the other option would have been better.

The fear that the choice you make not be the best choice.

But here is the problem.

You will never know.

No matter what you choose, there is always a choice you did not make.

Would it have been better?

Who knows?

But if you want perfect, you will never be happy.

This is the problem of choosing in 2017.

Here is what I mean:

There is a famous jam study described by Tugand here, though I have heard about it from a couple sources.

In a California gourmet market, [researchers] set up a booth of samples of jams. Every few hours, they switched from offering a selection of 24 jams to a group of six jams. On average, customers tasted two jams, regardless of the size of the assortment ….

… Sixty percent of customers were drawn to the large assortment, while only 40 percent stopped by the small one. But 30 percent of the people who had sampled from the small assortment decided to buy jam, while only 3 percent of those confronted with the two dozen jams purchased a jar.

That study “raised the hypothesis that the presence of choice might be appealing as a theory, but in reality, people might find more and more choice to actually be debilitating.”

Psychologist Barry Schwartz, of Swarthmore College says this:

All of this choice has two effects, two negative effects on people. One effect, paradoxically, is that it produces paralysis, rather than liberation.

The second effect is that … we end up less satisfied with [our] choice … And there are several reasons for this. One of them is that … it’s easy to imagine you could have made a different choice that would have been better. And … this imagined alternative induces you to regret the decision you made … even if it was a good decision.

Turgin says:

[T]his concept may even extend to, yes, marriage. Lori Gottlieb is the author of “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough” …. “Too many women” she says — her book focused on women — “think I have to pick just the right one. Instead of wondering, ‘Am I happy?’ they wonder, ‘Is this the best I can do?’”

And all this applies to all the communities we think we want to become part of.

Like a church, of which there are many, many, many options.

Because of these choice problems, many choose simply not to choose and walk away, like in the jam study, and stay home claiming to be spiritual but not religious.

But what they really mean is, “I can’t find the perfect church!”

Here’s the problem with looking for the perfect church.

There is no such thing.

You will never find one.

So what does all this have to do with our scripture reading?

This is at the end of Peter’s Pentecost sermon.

He is asking people to make a choice.

Peter was offering his listeners the opportunity to become followers of the resurrected Jesus.

To choose to live the Jesus way as opposed to the way of the world.

And these folks have some questions.

Why become a disciple?

What do I have to do to get in?

How will I have to live?

These are still the questions folks ask about becoming disciples of Jesus.

So let’s explore these questions.

First – why would anyone want to be a disciple of Jesus?

To become a follower of one who was sent by God to invite us to be part of God’s kingdom.

To live a life that is fulfilling and meaningful.

To be part of a community that is generous, caring, faithful, hospitable, and loyal.

Richard Clark in writes this in Christianity Today:

The New Testament speaks of the church as a gathering of believers who pray together, who eat meals together, who submit themselves to one another, who often find themselves in uncomfortable situations. … These efforts rely on a key resource: active and invested church members. The Gospel of Jesus Christ serves to unite us but also enables us for the challenging task of living in flesh and blood community.

Sounds like a good reason to me.

Which leads to the second question.

What do they have to do to join?

Peter says repent!

Now there’s a word that has not aged well.

What do you think of when you hear that word?

I think of a trip I took with my brother and cousin back in 1981.

My brother had moved from Los Angeles to Philadelphia and needed to drive his 1970 Mercury Cougar with a V8 Windsor engine across the country.

We called it the Great White Shark.

It was built for one thing.

Speed.

So I was driving it one morning as we entered into Nebraska.

Nebraska is basically flat and the interstate is basically straight.

Just right for the shark.

Time to see what this car can do.

That lasted about a minute.

Then I saw the flashing light bar.

I pulled over to the side of the road and wondered how long I would be staying in Nebraska.

The Police officer walked to the driver’s window and said:

“Boy, we expect people to drive within the speed limit in Nebraska. You weren’t even close!”

After examining my license and registration, he then said something remarkable:

“I am going to let you off with a warning. But I am also going to broadcast the license number and description of this car to all the state police in Nebraska. They are all going to be looking out for you. Just so you know.”

And he walked away, got in his car and drove off.

If this had been a Biblical story, he would have said:

“Repent, and be forgiven, or suffer harsher consequences.”

I still shudder.

It was a long trip across Nebraska.

But that is what the word means.

It means:

“Change your mindset.”

Change the way you live, the way you think and the way you look at the world.

In Nebraska it meant drive within the limit.

To someone who wants to be a disciple of Jesus it means live your life, but live it the Jesus way.

Which brings us to question three.

How do we live as a community of disciples?

Acts describes it.

They devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles, fellowship, the breaking of bread and to prayers.

Let’s break that down.

They learned about God.

They were having fellowship.

They ate together.

They prayed.

And then there is this:

44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.

And when they did that, they saw signs and wonders.

Signs and wonders of what God was doing in the world.

Signs and wonders that they had been missing until they became part of that community of Jesus’ disciples.

Their minds had indeed changed.

They looked at the world in a different way.

So what exactly were they doing?

They were taking care of each other.

Generous love for God and each other.

They were living the Jesus way.

Were they perfect?

Nope!

Just read Paul’s letters to the churches he founded.

Conflict, theological arguments, political arguments, unseemly behavior, selfishness.

And they became more than just a community of fatih.

More than just a family.

They became part of the body of Christ.

Warts and all.

So how do we answer those questions here at JMPC?

Why join?

How do I join.

How do I have to live?

Let’s give some answers.

Why join?

That one is simple.

To be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

To know, glorify and serve God.

We offer spiritual development.

We offer fellowship.

We offer worship.

We offer pastoral care.

We offer opportunities to give back to the world form what God has given us.

We are very much like the church described in Acts!

That is a good reason to become a member!

So on to question two.

How do people join?

Peter would say “repent”.

But we put it this way.

Commit to live the Jesus way.

Commit to do it with us.

How will you live once a member?

Love God.

Love each other.

Love all.

Take care of each other.

Take care of the neighbors.

Learn, socialize, worship, pray, share.

The Jesus way.

Does any of this make us better than the other churches in the area?

No.

Does any of this make us a perfect choice?

No.

We can be just as finicky and contrary as any other church.

But we are faithful in our efforts to do God’s will even when we struggle to understand it.

We do what we can to be part of the body of Christ.

And to do something important for God and for the world he gave us.

And when we do these things, we are changed.

We become something we previously were not.

Kind of like a marriage.

I have officiated at the marriages of couples who, at the time of the wedding, were already living together.

I always ask the question:

“Why are you getting married?”

They are already living the “married life”.

So why do they want to go through this ceremony?

The answer is that the ceremony changes the relationship in some way that is important.

They are somehow going to be joined in a way they previously were not.

There really is a difference.

They change from two individuals into a single entity we call a marriage.

No one can see the difference, but it is real.

That is something similar to what happens when we become part of the body of Christ.

We become part of a community created and ordained by God that allows each of us to step back from a world that is becoming ever more chaotic, inhumane and Godless and know that we are not alone, and are not isolated.

A community where we feel welcome.

Safe.

Loved.

Encouraged.

Despite the warts.

We become part of a unit called the body of Christ.

No one can see the difference, but it is real.

We are a community with a purpose.

Teaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Fellowship.

Sharing meals.

Celebrating the sacraments.

Praying.

Helping those in need.

Glad generosity.

Living the Jesus way.

We are a good choice.



Resurrection! Thoughts on a surprising first apostle and what it means for us.

John 20: 1-18

20Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes.

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ 14When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ 16Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’ 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

During Lent this year, we have been highlighting some of the people who Jesus encountered on the way to the cross.

We talked about Pilate, Judas, the soldier, Peter and the thief.

Each of these people had a part to play in the story of the cross.

Each showed their flawed natures.

Politician, traitor, military occupier, coward, criminal.

And each was used to help teach us a lesson.

The lesson Jesus taught on the cross.

That no matter how much we torture, humiliate and reject God, God still loves us enough to come here and take us with him into his Kingdom.

Paul describes that lesson this way:

Romans 8:38b-39

38 … neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

That is some really good news, right?

And we want to believe it, right?

So we want a bit of assurance that Jesus’ knew what he was talking about.

That it was true.

The promise that God will love us and care for us forever.

That we will ultimately live in his presence eternally.

So what better proof than the resurrection!

Someone who was dead, in this case Jesus, alive again.

Proving that death is not the end.

Only God can do that, right?

That would work for me.

So how would we expect to happen?

Some big event, right?

Maybe something like we read about in Revelation.

Revelation 19:11-16

11Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse! Its rider is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed that no one knows but himself. 13He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God. 14And the armies of heaven, wearing fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, “King of kings and Lord of lords.”

Oh, yeah!

That would do it.

Maybe at half time at the Super Bowl?

Back then it would be at the Colosseum games, I guess.

You know, a big musical extravaganza.

Jesus lowered by a cable from a helicopter.

Firewi=orks.

Light show.

Dancers.

Adoring fans.

You bet!

Or how about an introduction by some big-time celebrity!

Remember the conventions last summer?

Actors, musicians, comedians, talk show hosts step forward to endorse and introduce Jesus.

Jesus could have trotted out Herod, Pilate, or Caiaphas.

After being introduced, amid falling confetti and balloons, Jesus steps up with his hands raised and shouts:

“Told ya!”

“I’ve got the power and authority on my side!”

That would have done it, too, right?

But none of that happened.

And people have wondering about that for millennia.

Even Andrew Lloyd Weber asked it in Jesus Christ Superstar:

… why’d you choose such a backward time
And such a strange land?

If you’d come today
You could have reached a whole nation
Israel in 4 BC
Had no mass communication!

Why?

Because Jesus does things we don’t expect in ways we don’t expect.

What happened is what we heard in John today.

A quiet early morning appearance.

Almost like someone waking up to a new day.

And the star of this divine drama?

The subject of our last highlighted Bible character.

Mary Magdalene.

Who?

The first person to see the resurrected Jesus!

She seems an unlikely choice.

If Jesus was not going to make a big entrance, one would think at least that he would have appeared first to his 12 disciples.

Or to his inner circle, Peter, James and John.

But he didn’t.

Jesus first contact after his resurrection was with Mary Magdalene.

Who was she?

Well, she was not a prostitute.

Forget that!

Nowhere in the Bible are we told that she was a prostitute.

What we do know is that she was from Magdala, an important agriculture, fishing and trade center in Galilee.

We get that from her name.

Luke tells us that Jesus drove seven demons out of her and that she became part a group of women who followed Jesus and the 12 around and supported them financially.

So she must have had financial resources.

All four Gospels say Mary Magdalene was a witness to the crucifixion.

All four say she knew where Jesus was buried.

And all four say that she was at the tomb when the resurrected Jesus first appeared.

So there is universal Gospel testimony that Mary Magdalene had a special part in the resurrection story.

But John gives her the biggest part.

He says that Mary Magdalene was the only one who went to the tomb on the first day of the week.

Thr first to see the empty tomb.

Only she saw the angels.

Only she saw Jesus at the tomb.

And it was Mary Magdalene who received the first commission from the resurrected Jesus.

[G]o to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’

She gets to announce Jesus resurrection first!

So as some describe her, Mary Magdalene becomes the first Apostle.

The Apostle to the Apostles.

An improbable candidate.

Not well received.

Luke reports that the disciples considered Mary’s announcement as unbelievable nonsense.

One Jewish skeptic referred to Mary as “A half-frantic woman”.

Not a credible source in those days.

So why Mary?

It might be as simple as this.

She showed up.

And she stayed.

And because Mary showed up and stayed, she saw Jesus.

John sets the stage.

Mary went to the tomb all alone.

The stone is moved and the tomb is open and the body gone.

She is horrified!

Mary is afraid that the body has been stolen.

She fetched Peter and John, but they looked in and left. John believed it was not grave robbers.

The burial clothes were still there.

The head coverings nicely folded.

Thieves don’t do that.

While John says Peter and … well, he himself … did not understand that Jesus meant to rise from the dead, they knew something was supposed to happen.

Jesus had told them that he was going to see them again, right?

But they left anyway.

But Mary Magdalene stayed.

Weeping.

Can you imagine.

He had healed her.

She loved him, followed him and supported him for months if not years.

She believed in him.

He was part of her life.

She watched him die on the cross.

She saw him buried.

And she was not able to let go.

She went to the tomb.

She went to the tomb to mourn and grieve.

And to be as close to Jesus as she could under the circumstances.

I know what that is like.

I remember a high school friend of mine who died.

I drove past the cemetery the day after the funeral and saw his mother there.

She had a chair right next to the grave.

She told me later she did that for three days.

She would sit next to the grave and talk to him.

All day.

She was also making the new grave look nice.

For him.

She loved her son.

Maybe that’s what was going on with Mary.

She could not stay at the tomb over the sabbath, but when the sabbath was over, that is where she went.

To grieve.

Mourn.

To talk.

Maybe make the tomb look nice.

For him.

That was where Jesus was.

That was where she wanted to be.

Did she expect to see Jesus alive?

Clearly not.

She did not recognize him when she saw him, probably because it would make no sense to her that this would be Jesus.

But she did something no one else did.

Mary showed up.

And now the body is gone.

She must have been unimaginably overwhelmed with horror.

Not only was Jesus dead, now there was no body to be present with.

Just an empty grave.

Peter and John come and go, but Mary stays.

Looking for Jesus.

And then it happened.

She saw Jesus.

And he comforted her.

Jesus being Jesus.

So why Mary?

She showed up.

And she stayed.

She needed him.

And so Jesus showed up, too.

For Mary.

So, what does that say to us?

Maybe that we should not look for Jesus to show up in our lives like the vision in Revelation.

Maybe we should not expect some big extravaganza.

Maybe we should not look for celebrity introductions.

Maybe we should think like Mary Magdalene.

Do we want Jesus to show up for us?

Do we want to experience the resurrected Jesus?

If we do, we need to show up.

We need to show up and look for Jesus.

And stay until we find him.

What might that look like?

Maybe it is just taking the time to stop and think about Jesus.

Who he was.

What he did.

What it means.

And then admit we need him.

In this scary, dangerous, polarized world, we need assurance that he is indeed alive and that he is there for us.

Then ask for what Jesus typically provides.

Comfort.

That is what Mary got.

Maybe, like Mary, you might not expect Jesus to show up.

Maybe, like Mary, you won’t recognize him when he does.

But if you look the right way, you will experience the presence of the living God.

How do we do that?

As Eugene Peterson said, we should seek Jesus with “that astonished willingness to stop what we are doing, to stand still in wide eyed, open handed wonder ready to take in what is ‘more and other’ …”

That is what Mary Magdalene did.

With astonished willingness to stop what she was doing, to stand still in wide eyed, open handed wonder, she was ready to take in what is ‘more and other’.

And she got it.

The resurrected Jesus.

What if we approached Jesus like that?

Astonished willingness to stop what we are doing, to stand still in wide eyed, open handed wonder ready to take in what is ‘more and other.

We might not see the resurrected Jesus in bodily form like she did.

But we will know he is there.

Because we are there.

He shows up because we show up.

He stays because we stay.

He can do that because …

He is risen.

He is risen indeed.



PreSchool Registration for 2017-18

JOHN MCMILLAN PRESCHOOL:

Preschool classes for the 2017-2018 school year are filling up quickly! We offer preschool classes for children ages 3 through 5 years old in the morning and enrichment classes in the afternoon. Check out our Facebook page for photos of our fun events and activities! Please contact Lori Feldmann to schedule a tour and to learn more about our program. 412-833-4704 or lori@johnmcmillanpc.org. Registration material for all classes offered and additional information is available on our website (www.johnmcmillanpc.org)



South HIlls Interfaith Movement Garden

Resurrection is upon us! The garden is tilled and the earth springs forth with new life. The SHIM garden uses our blessings of abundance here at JMPC to feed the clients of SHIM with good, fresh produce. You can be a part of this mission by helping in the garden or donating money to purchase supplies. Sign up sheets are in the Narthex.

 



Children are Welcome in Church

Children in worship at JMPC – John McMillan Presbyterian Church is a child friendly congregation. We welcome children of all ages into every worship service. We also recognize that children can be restless and a bit noisy and accept restlessness and noisiness joyfully as we thank God for all God’s children. We do have several options for parents whose children become too restless and noisy.

  • Your children are welcome to join you during the service.
  • There are children’s clipboards available from the ushers that will offer some activities for your child or children.
  • Children up to three years old are welcome in our staffed nursery where you can stay with your child and listen to the worship service on the nursery speakers or return to the sanctuary knowing that your child will be well cared for.
  • You can also take your child into the narthex (lobby) where you can see into the sanctuary and hear the service on the narthex speakers.


Holy Week Meditations

What Makes Jesus Mad

Matthew 23: 13-15; 23-28

13 ‘But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. 15Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

23 ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. 24You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!

25 ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean.

27 ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. 28So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association recently developed a “three minute testimony” tool to help Christians present the Gospel to a non-believer.

One of the questions they recommend is this:

“If you were to die tonight and stand before God and God were to say to you, ‘Why should I let you into my heaven?’ what reason would you give Him?”

Interesting question.

Read more…



Holy Week Meditations

The Rules of the Game

Before we get to our scripture reading today, I want to give you a bit of background.

Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem.

The people were with him and some wanted to make him king.

He went to the temple.

Once there, Jesus did several things.

There he threw out all those who profited from the worship of God.

He then taught the people with parables that seemed to conflict with what they were learning at the Temple.

Jesus seemed to be confronting these teachers about their many rules.

So one of them, a lawyer, comes forward to ask Jesus a question.

You seem to be saying our approach to the law is wrong.

So how would you have us live?

What do you think is most important?”

This is how the conversation went:

Matthew 22: 34-40 Read more…



Holy Week Meditations

The Man Who Would Not Be King

As I was reading Matthew’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.

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

Most of them ended badly.

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.

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

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.

A place has a need for governmental change,

someone is better armed or has more power,

support the side most likely to win, then take over.

Waa-la, you are king!

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 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.

Sure, Jesus tormented the Scribes and Pharisees.

Sure he told a couple of parables that drove them into a murderous rage.

[He did curse that fig tree, but I have no idea what that was all about!]

But …

He did not lead a rebellion against Rome and Herod.

He did not use his power to make himself king.

He kept talking about the Kingdom of God.

When the people wanted him to be talking about the Kingdom of Israel.

He was not what they expected.

He was not what they wanted.

And that meant trouble … for Jesus.

Author Henry Miller describes what Jesus was up against:

“Fame 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!

We humans are certainly a fickle bunch.

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

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 plan.

And they are disappointed … probably by the next morning.

Adults are the same.

Look at our stuff.

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 Dad’s phone calls.

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 on marketing he once heard contrasting how products were sold in Britain and the United States.

The gist of the program was that the same product had to be sold in entirely different ways in the two markets.

An advertisement in Britain for a cold relief capsule, for instance, 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 be smiling again, if wanly.

A commercial for the same product in America, however, would guarantee total, instantaneous relief.

A person on the American side of the Atlantic who took this miracle compound 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 drift of this was that the British do not expect over-the-counter drugs to change their lives, whereas we Americans will settle for nothing less.

We want miracles!

We want miracles for us!

And we want them now!

We have that attitude about everything.

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.

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

The world was about to change.

Here was 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 either nowhere to be found.

Or were now screaming: “Crucify him!”

How could such a thing happen?

He was not what they expected.

And why not?

Why did God not just give them what they wanted?

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

Just not the way people expected.

The expectations were unsatisfied and they turned, in a horrific way.

Crucify him.

Now this was no surprise to Jesus.

He knew of their expectations, but he also knew what they needed.

They needed an eternal Kingdom.

The Kingdom of God.

And to do that, he had to die.

Jesus had come to Jerusalem to die.

Not to take over.

He came to bring an eternal kingdom.

Not rule for a time.

And so that is what he did.

His way, not their way.

We are no different than those folks in Jerusalem, really.

We are a 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 him 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 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 fickle bunch.

But thankfully, God knows 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.

He is already king.

Just not the way we expected.

And if we think about it, that is a good thing.

Pray with me.

Good Lord, keep us steady in our loyalty to you.

Keep our expectations as you would have them.

Help us to understand what it means to be part of your Kingdom.

And hear us when we cry out to you:

Hosanna in the highest heaven.

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

AMEN



The March on Jerusalem: Thoughts on Jesus and politics

Matthew 21: 1-11

21When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.’ 4This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
5 ‘Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’
6The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
10When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ 11The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’

I have always been somewhat of a political junkie.

When I was a kid, I would watch the both the Republican and Democratic national conventions.

Maybe because there were only three stations and there was nothing else to watch.

But I also thought they were cool.

Not so much the speeches.

I was a kid and had little understanding of what they were talking about.

But I liked all the chaos, all the weird campaign apparel, all the signs and all the buttons.

The demonstrations and parades inside the hall.

Then the vote.

State by state.

Then Pennsylvania!

“The Great Keystone State, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania proudly casts all of its votes for the next President of the United States …”.

And that little speech would be proclaimed at both conventions.

Because both Pennsylvania delegations thought they were voting for the next president.

Then, out would come the nominee, to thunderous applause and standing ovation!

Then he – it was always a “he” in those days – would speak – often interrupted with wild cheering.

Finally, when the speech was over, music would blare from the speakers.

“Happy Days are Here Again” (it was always that song as I remember it but I was told between services that only the Democrats played that song).

Then balloons and confetti would fall from the ceiling as the entire convention erupted with enthusiasm for their candidate.

Hailed as the savior of the country.

Someone who will bring the country out of the dark age created by the prior administration.

This happened at both conventions, because they both thought they were nominating the next president.

Then the march to November.

Two groups of people following their candidate around, singing his or her praises.

Recipient of billions of dollars in donations.

But only one can win in November.

What happens to the loser?

There have been 45, right?

Name five.

These folks are lost to history.

Trivia questions assuming anyone cared enough to include them in a trivia contest.

So what does this have to do with Palm Sunday?

Well what was going on in Jerusalem when Jesus rode into town was very political.

Let’s set the stage.

It’s Passover.

Every Jew who could came to Jerusalem to do what?

Celebrate their freedom from slavery in Egypt.

Throwing off the chains of Pharaoh!

The beginning of the Exodus.

Not the kind of celebration the Romans wanted.

This could always turn into an attempt at revolt.

If you are Pontius Pilate, appointed governor of these troublesome Jews, you are thinking this would be a prime opportunity for them to protest their current enslavement.

To think they can cast off the chains of Roman slavery.

Can’t have that!

One way to squelch such activity would be a nice show of Roman power.

So every year Pilate would do just that.

He traveled from Caesarea, where his palace was, to Jerusalem.

He would then enter the city in grand splendor.

Leading his legions of soldiers and his adoring court while riding a white stallion.

Pilate would then parade through the streets of Jerusalem so that his entrance could not go unnoticed.

Kind of like the way the Soviets would parade their tanks and missiles around on May Day.

The message would be clear.

Challenge the status quo at your peril.

No dissent will be tolerated.

That was certainly Pilate’s message.

Rome is in charge here.

Don’t think that is ever going to change.

No dissent will be tolerated.

Then Jesus came riding in.

And when Jesus arrives, he represents sort of an opposition party.

His entrance certainly says that.

He uses images that the Jews understand.

Jesus rides into Jerusalem looking like the king described by the prophet Zechariah.

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.

Sure Jesus is being humble riding on a donkey rather than a white stallion.

But that is how the prophet said the new king would arive!

And Jesus knew that prophecy.

So he points to it and says – “That’s me!”.

And he has supporters.

Followers.

They are for the most part out of towners.

Remember Jesus’ ministry mostly took place in Galilee some distance north of Jerusalem.

They have followed him to Jerusalem and have gathered new followers along the way.

They are singing Jesus’ praises and making a statement, too.

Here is who we have been waiting for!

He has come to save us.

The dark age of Rome has come to an end.

They are crying out the words of Psalm 118.

26 Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

They get it.

Happy days are here again.

They don’t have confetti but they do have their coats and palm leaves.

This is their candidate for king.

Now there is turmoil.

Competition for the allegiance of the people.

Jesus and his followers.

And the opposition.

The Romans and their followers.

The Temple Authorities – the Sanhedrin.

Herod and his court.

And Jesus rides right into the middle of it all.

Seemingly ready to take them all on.

But he is not there to conduct a political campaign.

Jesus was there to deliver a message.

A message that called for a demonstration.

Non-violent protest.

Jesus tells the people this:

These Romans and these religious people and this Herod proclaim a world where the ultimate goal is power and wealth and where love and justice are pushed aside – or killed – in order to preserve that power and wealth.

But Jesus has come to tell the people, those in power and those not, that the only thing that really matters is the Kingdom of God, and that is what Jesus is bringing with him.

And that Kingdom is more powerful than any human institution.

Jesus proclaims that a kingdom where we love God and each other and where justice prevails is the ultimate goal.

And Jesus will not be dismissed or ignored.

He speaks this truth to the power of Rome.

To the power of Herod.

To the power of the Temple authorities.

Regardless of the consequences.

When it soon becomes clear that Jesus is not waging a political campaign or revolution against Rome the  praises of those who followed him to Jerusalem stop.

Once that happened, the opposition moved in.

The religious folks start to plot.

Herod is not about to do anything that will put his fake kingship at risk.

Pilate is ready to squash any trouble.

But Jesus knew all this was inevitable going in.

That is what happens when you speak truth to power.

This was the purpose of the march on Jerusalem.

I heard an interview of John Lewis recently.

Lewis was a close associate of Martin Luther King, Jr. and was part of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

He described how they prepared for their protests.

He said that before someone was allowed to participate they had to go through training.

They had to be prepared.

Lewis said this:

[B]efore we even discussed a possibility of a sit-in, we had role-playing. We had what we called “social drama.”

And we would act out. There would be black and white young people, students, an interracial group, playing the roles of African Americans, or an interracial group playing the roles of white. And we went through the motion of someone harassing you, … pulling you out of your seat, pulling your chair from under you, someone kicking you or pretending to spit on you. Sometimes we did pour cold water on someone — never hot — but we went through the motion.

This was drama because we wanted to feel like they were in the actual situation, that this could happen. … So when the time came, we were ready. We were prepared. …

When we left to go on the freedom ride, we were prepared to die for what we believed in.

Prepared to die?

Because that so often happens.

People who speak truth to power are often killed.

The thought is that if you eliminate this person, the movement will die.

So if you are going to speak, you have to be prepared.

And Jesus was prepared for the consequences.

Right from the beginning of his ministry.

He spoke truth to power before.

Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

Jesus was hungry and the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’

But Jesus refused and answered, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, God will not allow you to be harmed.

Jesus refused and said to him, ‘It is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’

Finally, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’

Jesus refused and said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
“Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”’

Jesus was not going to concede to the power of human institutions. He would rather die.

And he knew he would.

He was prepared for it.

Jesus would deny the world’s temptations and lead the people into the kingdom.

And he would die doing it.

Jesus knew what was coming.

Spectacular entrance.

Humiliating rejection.

Brutal death.

But then a spectacular reappearance.

And because of that we know the truth.

We know where the power really is.

Which is why we celebrate Palm Sunday.

It was the beginning.

The March on Jerusalem was just the beginning.

The beginning of the longest running march in history.

It has been going on for the last 2000 years.

And it continues today.

It is a protest march.

Protesting those who lift up power over justice.

Decrying those who lift up wealth over generosity.

Denouncing those who lift up hate over love.

Proclaiming a better way!

The Jesus way.

So as we consider Jesus’ week leading to the cross, can we commit ourselves to his cause for another year?

To the cause of the Kingdom?

It is a hard road.

But there is a promise at the end.

I’ll tell you all about it next week.



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We are a community of ordinary people who are followers of Jesus Christ.

We are trying to live in God’s love and share God’s love with the world.

 

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We hope to see you Sunday.