Palm Sunday Devotional: The Divine Stir Stick (From Matt. 21)

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This morning my eyes beheld something not entirely unique, but still fairly special: April snow!  It didn’t last long.  It was gone by the time our Sunday worship service began.  I spent our Sunday School hour watching it melt quite quickly off of our church roof.  It is still glistening in the sunshine on the mountains outside my window but won’t be for long.

I spent the informal parts of our morning services talking to my congregants about the snow.  Some were thrilled.  One woke up at 4am just to watch it fall.  Others were not quite as excited, a few choosing to sit the morning out in order to stay in the confines of their homes.

Overall the snow seemed to have a calming effect on my congregation.  It’s effect was not too much different from a heavy dose of Nyquil.  A full five minutes before we were set to begin worship, our full sanctuary was so quiet that you could hear a pin drop.  This became humorous the minute my son started screaming because someone (me) would not let him have something he wanted.

We began our service by showing an introduction video, (which you can watch below).  We turned the lights off before playing it which was a mistake.  The dark killed the last vestiges of energy and made everybody all the more sleepy.  The opening songs wakened us up a little but not much.  My sermon didn’t help much either.  On such Sundays I often joke that I keep a pillow in the pulpit to pull out and use when the last faithful parishioner nods off!

It’s been a couple hours now.  The sun is shining, the snow has melted and I am sitting here at my dining room table in my own Sunday afternoon stupor, worn out from another morning’s activities.  While I sit here stupefied, or rather stuporified, my eyes can’t stop staring at one word in Matthew 21:10, at the end of the Triumphal Entry.  “The whole city was STIRRED.”

The people were stirred.  This means that they picked their heads up.  They focused their eyes.  They took notice.  They were alerted.  They were awakened.  They maybe even were energized.

We should be so jealous!

To be honest, the last five weeks of my life have been anything but “stirring.”  This time of life continues to take a large toll.  There have been miles driven, poopy diapers changed, arguments with toddlers, marathon training, marathon board sessions, emotionally exhausting counseling sessions, long phone calls with mentors, family members and friends and on top of that many sleepless nights.  In sum, the last five weeks have been the opposite of “stirring.”  They have been exhausting.  They have been numbing.  They have been tiresome.  And they have taken their own toll.

I don’t write this out of any illusion that I am alone in this exhaustion.  My quiet sanctuary this morning certainly proved that we are all tired.  We are all worn down.  We all have been beaten up on this weary road we travel.

How badly we need to be stirred again!  How badly we need to be awakened anew to the power and presence of life in our lives!  How badly we need resurrection!  How badly we long for Easter!

As I prepared to lead my congregation into Holy Week this morning I could not help but realize that I desperately need Easter.  I need Resurrection.  I need an uplift and a facelift!  I need to be stirred again to the realities of life breaking into death, holiness breaking into sin, hope breaking into fear and light conquering darkness.  I think you do too.

The sentiment about “stirring” only appears in Matthew.  Luke, Mark and John go other directions.  And not surprisingly it is followed by a very typically Matthean sentiment: “[They] asked, ‘Who is this?’  The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the PROPHET from Nazareth in Galilee.”

From everything else we read in Matthew, he really loved poinImage result for stir straw in cupting out Jesus was a prophet, particularly a teaching one.  Allusions to the prophets appear in almost every story of Matthew’s gospels.  And Jesus’  prophetic teachings are central for Matthew in a way that they are not for Luke and Mark and to a greater extent than they are for John.

So here is Evangelist Matthew reminding us again that Jesus is the prophet.  Jesus is the divine stir stick.  His prophetic teachings mix us all up, throwing us here and there, turn our heads, capture our hearts and awaken us, illuminate us revive and pull us towards that Glorious Easter Morning!

Do you need to be stirred again?

Tune back in tomorrow where we will look at some of the prophetic teachings that Jesus gave the week before he died.

Until then I hope Palm Sunday is still stirring your hearts and your minds.  This video might help:

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Holy Monday Reflection: The Kind of Hero We Need

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For those of you closet Christians, this is a quite notable week in our faith.  It all began yesterday as we celebrated Palm Sunday, the reenactment of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  From today to Wednesday we study the teachings of Jesus in the temple.  Then on Thursday we gather together for a “Maundy” or “New Commandment” Service where we wash feet and sing about love.  Friday night we descend into darkness as we extinguish candles during a Tenebrae service.  On Saturday we wait.  And then on Sunday the party gets going!

If you are a Christian, this is our week.  It is our time to fast, to pray, to meditate and to attend the special services and to long for the salvation that only Christ can bring.  The goal of Holy Week is to give ourselves over again to the story that we believe changed the world.

But there is another story happening Friday that my news feed won’t shut up about.  It is the epic showdown between Batman and Superman.  And don’t get me wrong, I am kind of excited for Batman Vs. Superman, or BvS as us cool kids are calling it now.  And like most cool kids I am more excited for the “B” than for the “S.”  I fell in love with the Batman mythos through Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, whose stunning second act, “The Dark Knight,” is considered one of the best movies ever made.

The closing act of that movie gave us an iconic line about heroes as Commissioner Gordon tells his recently rescued son, “Batman is the hero we need but not the one we deserve right now.”  That line, right up there with the best of all movie lines, still resonates today.  Sometimes our hero doesn’t look the way we want the hero to look.  Sometimes the hero we need is not the one we want or deserve.  Sometimes the conquering king is actually a crucified criminal.  Sometimes the way, the truth and the life is a carpenter’s son from the middle of nowhere.

That can be quite unsettling.  As a pastor friend and New Testament scholar once reminded me, “The good news doesn’t sound like good news to some people.”

In Mark 11, after Jesus’ triumphal entry, those in established authority roles get nervous.  To them Jesus is not gospel.  He is threat.  He threatens to steal their followers.  He threatens to expose their arrogance and ignorance.  He threatens their long held beliefs.  He threatens their prejudices and power.  And they are not cool with that,  In fact, to them he just might be the kid in the crowd who yells, “Wait, that emperor isn’t wearing any clothes!”

So the chief priests go to Jesus and ask, “What kind of authority do you have for doing these things?  Who gave you this authority?” (Mark 11:28).

Jesus is rather coy.  He asks them a question about where John the Baptist’s authority came from, a very clever question because there is not a right answer.  I imagine they stuttered and stammered as they weighed their lack of options before spitting out, “Um, we don’t know.”

But then Jesus tells them a parable about the misuse of authority.  Like most parables it points out to the Chief Priests that they had asked the wrong question.  They wanted to know the source of authority.  Jesus wanted them to know about the misuse of authority.  Jesus told them about a vineyard owner who sent several messengers to collect his share of the profits.  They beat and killed all of the messengers who were sent until the owner finally sent his son, whom they also beat and killed.  Then Jesus closes the parable with, “But the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Mark 12:10-11).

This is not good news to those in authority.  Jesus is not the hero they want at this point and the gospel has become threat.  The stone we builders rejected has become the stone that holds the entire building up.  That tells the world we don’t know much about building after all.

In the same way the gospel reminds us that we are not all that great about religion.  The prophet the theologians and pastors and good church people rejected has become the savior of the world.  The vigilante the police force is trying to capture has become the symbol of justice in our city.  The ingredient the expert chefs threw out is now on the menu of every restaurant in America.

One of the reasons we take great care in telling the Easter story during Holy Week every year is because we need constant reminder that we are the foolish builders, the misguided theologians, the over zealous police force, the lousy cooks.  Yes, we don’t want the world to know it.  Like most people, I would prefer if you all believed I knew what I was talking about.

But in the end our salvation can only come by accepting the truth that the hero we rejected, the one we crucified has become and will always be the savior of the world.

We should not be like those chief priests who immediately wanted to arrest Jesus on the spot.  Instead we should accept the truth of our errors for what it is and turn towards Jesus the author of eternal life.  Only by admitting our ignorance and arrogance and repenting towards the truth can we enter into the glorious Easter morning.

Dear heavenly father, help me to accept the cornerstone and grant me newness of life this Holy Monday morning.

 

 

Palm Sunday Reflection: Actually “Letting It Go”

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This is the first in what I hope to be a series of Holy Week reflections.  I hesitate to call them devotionals, as a devotional implies some sort of interaction with Scripture, which I am not guaranteeing.  However, as I enter into the sacred rhythm of this holy week, I want to also return this blog to its original concept, which is to find the grace going before us in the world.

Therefore, each post this week will reference some aspect of pop culture that I think aligns itself with my own reflections on each event of the Biblical Holy Week.

I also must apologize to my wider readership (i.e. my mom and that random person from Finland that keeps popping up) because these reflections are intended more for my local congregation and context.  With that said, I still I hope that all of you who click to these posts will find something valuable in my 2015 journey to the cross.

So I guess, here goes:

This morning I found myself preaching about stuff, namely the clothes, cars, dishes, toys and paraphernalia that litter our garages, yards and houses and talked about how our stuff, even the religious objects so popular these days, can get in the way of the true vulnerability that the cross requires of us.

This was an awkward topic for a Palm Sunday sermon and I had great trouble finding the courage to preach it.  I began my sermon prep with Mark 11.  I noticed we always talk about the palms, but there were coats there too.  So I wanted to comment that though they shed their cloaks on Sunday, only one person ended up naked on Friday.  I also wanted to fit in a mention of the young man who ended up naked on Thursday, in the Garden of Gethsamene.  I also thought it interesting that the only other naked people in a garden in the Bible are Adam and Eve who cover up their shame in the hopes of lying to themselves and God about what happened.

We all have fig leaves in our lives, things we throw over ourselves to lie about who we really are.  And this is why Jesus’ nakedness on Friday seems so relevant to us on Palm Sunday.  We seem to wave our palms and welcome a King we hope will give us more fig leaves but the invitation to deny yourself and take up your cross (an instrument of complete nudity and vulnerability) shatters our expectations.

More or less, that was my sermon this morning.  As I rest this afternoon I can’t get away from a movie I watched recently that seemed to illustrate this well.  It is a not very well known film and only has a 6.4 on IMDB.  It stars Will Ferrell but dispenses with dorky humor and truly showcases Ferrell’s acting talent.

Everything Must Go (2010) Poster

Click for IMDB page.

The movie is “Everything Must Go.”  Ferrell plays Nick Halsey, an alcoholic who loses his job, his house and his wife in one day.

His stuff ends up on the front lawn and he would rather drink than figure out what to do with it all (though he knows he wants to keep it).  His police officer friend helps him by taking advantage of a local ordinance that allows you to keep your possessions on your front lawn as long as it is a yard sale.

Nick Halsy makes yard sale signs but has no intention of actually selling anything.  But over the course of a few days, he suddenly starts caving and selling his fig leaves object by object.

For the majority of the run time you live with a drunk who is powerless to save himself.  Yet as the more stuff he sells, the more authority he gains over his addiction.  The movie ends with a glorious scene of NIck driving past the liquor store, instead of stopping to go inside.

It is a resurrection moment in a cruciform movie.  In the depths of despair, as strangers cart off with his alarm clock, plunger, blender and household furniture, suddenly Nick becomes more alive, more fully human.  The pain in his story is palpable but the hope at the end is all the more real.

As we enter into a week that we know will end in crucifixion and as we try to hide ourselves from the fact that the next will begin in resurrection, (as ridiculous and impossible a task that is) it is fitting to come alongside the Nick Halsey’s of the world.  They are not unlike that naked man in the garden, who ended up vulnerable despite his best wishes.

And as we journey with them throughout this week, not only coming face to face with Christ crucified, but coming to face with our own naked humanity, may we find the power that drips out of Christ’s body, a power that frees us the holy life that awaits.

Hosanna in the Highest Indeed!