Sermon - Brad Brookins

03-25-18                      

Palm/Passion Sunday

Sermon Part 1

Luke 22. 14-23

 14 When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. 15 He said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ 17 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, ‘Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ 19 Then he took a loaf of 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 he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. 21 But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. 22 For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!’ 23 Then they began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this.

 

It may be that the hardest thing about being human is other people.

 

We are bound together—families, lovers, friends, neighbors and even enemies; and this isn’t easy.  Everything we do involves other people.  We draw in those we love and push away those we don’t.  We avoid annoying people and argue with those who are “wrong”.  And, of course, there are enemies to battle.  Even our most private hopes and fears and dreams and anxieties are held in relation to other people.  We cannot hope or fear alone.

 

If we are lucky, our most intimate relationships will be with like-minded people who know us well and love us anyway.  Life is hard; we need these connections to give us courage.

 

But if we are really lucky, our relationships in our larger communities—our neighborhood, our town, or here at church, will include people who are not like us; sometimes wildly not like us.  As hard as it is, we need this.  A community needs differences to be healthy.  We need disagreements and perspectives, arguments and discussions because these are our growing edges.  The way forward is through our differences.

 

Jesus knew something about this.  The 12 men he chose to walk around Palestine with him held little in common with each other.  He chose liberals and conservatives. He chose some who sympathized with Rome and some who sympathized with rebel terrorists. In their lives, pre-Jesus, these men would have been at each other’s throats.

 

While he was with them, Jesus held this motley crew together by the strength his personality and the attraction of his message.  In his presence they were able to put their differences aside.

But when the time came for him to leave—that is, when he knew who would betray him and who would desert him and who would crucify him, a new bond was needed; a new way to make his presence felt among the 12, and within the church that would grow from their small number, was needed.

 

So as they gathered for the Passover meal—for what would be his “last supper” with them, he took a loaf of bread from the table.  He blessed it and broke it and gave it to them saying, “This is my body.  It is for you.  From now on, when ever you eat together, re-member me”.

 

Then he took a cup of wine, blessed it and gave it to them.  “This cup”, he said, “is my blood ‘of the covenant’—the contract, between me and you; my promise that we will always be together.  Whenever you drink at this table, re-member me”.

 

The re-membering we do at the table is not a matter of recalling to mind something we have forgotten.  We don’t forget Jesus.  But we do sometimes let ourselves get separated from him; we are sometimes unaware of his presence.  The bread and wine re-pair us; they re-store the relationship between us.  We eat the bread and drink the wine and we are re-membered with Jesus.              

 

Some days we are dis-membered.  Then we eat, and we are re-membered.

 

We don’t forget each other, either.  But sometimes things come between us.  We are one body, one church, but we are very different people.  Our values, our hopes and dreams, our politics and our theologies pull us in different directions.  So we fight and we disparage; we ignore and we annoy.  We are one body called by one name but we feel dis-membered; torn or tearing apart.

 

We are dis-membered.  

 

Then we come to the table.  We eat and drink and we are re-membered with a bond stronger than our differences.  Re-membered with Jesus, yes; but also with each other.   

 

Life pulls us apart at the seams, pits us against each other.  The differences remain.  

 

But every Sunday here in this church Jesus comes to the table—as he promised he would, and invites us—calls us—urges us, you and me together, to eat and drink and be re-membered, with him and with each other.

 

And here’s the thing.  This works only because it is Jesus who invites us.  It is Jesus himself who welcomes us to the table.  All I do is repeat the words he has already spoken—“Come, you who are weary.  Remember.  Be re-membered”.

 

We are welcome, you see, not because I say so, but because Jesus says so.  This is his table.  The welcome is always his; never mine.

 

So—whoever we are, wherever we come from, whatever we believe, whatever our profession or our politics or our religion or what we are arguing about today, we are welcome at his table.   No one can deny this to us.  No one can take this from us.  That’s the way it is.

 

Everything is now ready.  So come.  Eat.  Drink.  Re-member. 

Sermon Part 2

 

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon,  while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two.  Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last.   Lk 23. 44-46

 

There is a old version of the very old Apostles’ Creed that isn’t used a lot these days.  The opening lines go like this:

 

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,

maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord;

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

born of the Virgin Mary,

suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, died, and was buried;

he descended into hell…

It’s that last line that marks where we are in the story today; or, more precisely, where we will be  a few days from now on Good Friday.

Suffered.

Crucified.

Dead.

Buried.

He descended into hell…

A more accurate translation for the word “hell” here would be “grave”, but you get the point.  Jesus goes all the way down—plumbs the depths, hits the bottom of the human experience.   He knows pain, suffering, loss and abandonment.  There is nothing that can be known to us—at any stage of life or death, that is not already known to him.

Jesus comes to his own end a man—praised, then betrayed, rejected, abused, forsaken.  He comes to the end of his world.  And for those who loved him most—his mother, Mary Magdalene, the lepers, the lame, blind and dumb he healed, this day was the end of everyone’s world.  It was the undoing of Creation itself.

Suffered

Crucified.

Dead.

Buried.

He descended into hell…

 

When you pay attention to it, this whole Holy Week thing becomes a strangely unsettling roller coaster ride.  It begins with the exhilarating expectations of the Palm Sunday parade into Jerusalem.  The crowds shouting out their dreams; not so much what they believed about Jesus, but what they hoped was coming to them and to their nation—freedom, and justice; food for their children and a future without servitude.

They were hoping—daring to believe even, that the Age to Come promised by the prophets—the age of the Messiah, had come. 

Belief is a difficult thing.  Faith, in hard times, is always hard.  But at the very least, the crowd is on the edge of believing.

It doesn’t take, though.  Jesus, it turns out, is not the king they’re looking for. The exhilaration plunges precipitously through betrayal to desperation, on through rejection to torture and finally to death.

He descends into hell…

 

We hear this story every spring as the church year cycles through Christmas to Easter.  The church has been rehearsing this story for over 2000 years.  Every year Jesus rides into Jerusalem.  Every year he is tried and rejected.  Every year he descends into hell.

So it is understandable, it seems to me, that we perhaps don’t feel the story as deeply as those who witnessed it first hand so long ago.  Even as we imagine the praise of the crowd or the sound of nails driven through flesh; even as we hear the final words Jesus speaks from the cross, it’s clear that most of us listen from a distance.  

It isn’t our pain, after all.  And empathy, like belief, is hard.  Holding open a space of empathy for an event that occurred 2000 years ago is probably impossible.

But that’s ok.

It’s ok, I think, because—contrary to what most of us have heard for most of our lives, Jesus’ pain and suffering is not the point.  His suffering, which was almost certainly as bad or worse than we have ever imagined, is not what we are supposed to take from this story.  His suffering is not what carries us through Good Friday.

What does carry us through—through that Friday and every dark day we face in our lives, is this deeper truth of the story:

Your world is going to come to an end—probably more than once in your lifetime.  You can count on that.  Maybe it already has. 

Jesus descended into hell.  You will, too.

So before we go, the story is telling us—maybe when we’re standing on the edge and the end is near, we need take the last word of Jesus as our first word:  “Father, into your hands I commend —I entrust, my spirit.”

Take that word as your own.  This is the word that brought Jesus out of hell.  This is the word that makes resurrection possible.  This is the word that bring us to Easter.

Into your hands, Faithful God, I commend my spirit.  Into your hands I fall knowing, trusting, that before those strong  hands hell itself cowers and flees.  Love wins—always, because those hands are strong and trustworthy and true—always.

We are held in those hands; and nothing— “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will ever be able to separate us from the love of God”.

 

This is Jesus’ last word—spoken when the worst had been done.  When his world was collapsing—when the gaping maw of hell was all that lay before him, Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I centrust my spirit”.

Death has no power before those words.  Hell itself—whatever hell we make for ourselves or is made for us in this world—hell itself has no power before those words..

“Into your hands…” 

Spoken at the end, I think, to remind us to speak them at the beginning—at every beginning. 

Don’t go out your front door without those words on your lips.  Don’t go into your child’s hospital room or to a loved one’s funeral without those words echoing in your head and heart. 

Life can be hard.  Pain and suffering are hard.  Descending into hell hurts—like hell.

So before you go, do what Jesus did.  Commend your spirit—entrust your life now, to the God who is love, and only love.  Entrust your spirit to the God who emptied hell;

to the God who stands beside you on Good Friday and every dark Friday of your life;

who will never leave you or forsake you;

who descended into hell before you and who has, by creative powers we can only imagine, transformed its darkness into the light of Easter morning.

This is the last word of every Good Friday, and the first word of every good day:

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”.  Amen.

Bible Study

Text and Questions

 

John 12: 12-19

12 The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,

‘Hosanna!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—

   the King of Israel!’

14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written:

15 ‘Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion.

Look, your king is coming,

   sitting on a donkey’s colt!’

16 His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him. 17 So the crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to testify. 18 It was also because they heard that he had performed this sign that the crowd went to meet him. 19 The Pharisees then said to one another, ‘You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!’

 

 

You will find it helpful to read the story leading up to today’s text.  Chapter 11 of John’s gospel contains the account of the death of Lazarus (the brother of Mary and Martha) and Jesus raising him from the dead.  This passage includes the well known “I am the resurrection and the life” saying.  John describes there the reactions of the people and some of the Jewish authorities to the raising of Lazarus, the hatching of the plot to have Jesus killed and the speculation the crowds as to whether he would come to the Passover feast in Jerusalem.

So as John tells the story, what we call the “Triumphal Entry” was not Jesus’ idea.  He’s just walking into Jerusalem for the festival (v. 12).  The crowds come to him with shouts of Hosanna and waving palm branches (v13).

1.         Notice v.14:  “Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it”.  How is that detail different from the telling in the other 3 gospels?  (Matthew 21; Mark 11; Luke 19)

2.       What kind a king rides a donkey to victory?

3.       What kind of victory would that be?

4.       The Old Testament quote used by both John and Matthew is from Zechariah 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.”  Notice the part both John and Matthew leave out.  Why do you think they did this?  What effect  does their omission have on the meaning of the story?

5.       Imagine you are one of the priests or Pharisees charged with keeping the peace and maintaining the status quo in Jerusalem and you had concluded: (v. 19) “You see, (we) can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”  A: What would be at risk for you?  B: How would you feel?  C:  What would you want to do?

 

Luke 23: 44-46

44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon,  45  while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two.  46 Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend (I entrust) my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last.

 

1.        This short passage is rich in symbolism.  Discuss the meaning of these 4:  noon;  darkness;  sun’s light fails;  the curtain separating the holy from the most holy room of the temple (the place of God’s throne) is torn in two.

2.       (v. 46)  The Greek word translated “spirit” is “pneuma”, as in pneumatic tire.  It is also the word for breath, wind and air.  It is not the word for “soul” (That word is “psuche” and comes from Greek philosophy, not Hebrew theology).  In the Hebrew imagination, the body did not possess a soul nor was a soul clothed in a body.  Rather (as in Genesis 2)  human being is a body (dust shaped by the hands of God) enlivened by the breath/spirit (pneuma) of God.  In Greeklish, v. 46 reads this way:  “Into your hands I entrust my pneuma.  Having said this he ex-pneuma-ed  (expire as opposed to inspire, or breathed out as opposed to breathe in).   What did Jesus entrust to his Father?

3.       Read “pneuma”, in v. 46, as breath, or the ability to breath, or the fact you are breathing.  What might it mean to entrust your breath to God?

4.       Point for discussion:  Jesus entrusted his breath to God and then stopped breathing.  Apparently entrusting yourself to God and dying are not contradictory.

5.       Can you describe a time when you have entrusted your breath/spirit to God?

March 25, 2018 Sermon - Brad Brookins
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