The Spirit is Coming – 04/24/2022

John 14:15-31

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.

“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe. I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me; but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us be on our way.

Sermon Text

 Last week we celebrated Easter. The first Sunday after the full moon after the spring equinox, but more importantly the day we mark to remember the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Like all our holidays, we find ourselves busy with every possible distraction. Eggs need made and sold, or else stuffed or deviled. Our family gathers to share ham or other roasted meat and our children busy themselves with whatever goodies are put away in their baskets. On the other side of the long week of celebration that we all had, do we remember that it was really all about the resurrection of our Lord and Savior? Are the lingering feelings we hold within us about the busy schedules we keep or the miraculous work of God?

There is a push and pull within our minds, the immensely important and the immediately interesting. There is nothing wrong with being diverted from the important things of life, I would say that that is inevitable. All of us here probably had more than a few times over Easter where the object of our celebration fell behind the ways that we were celebrating. The same is true for Christmas, or Lent, or any time we set aside for our religious devotion. There is a limited amount of focus within our human minds and as human beings we will often find ourselves locking into the more mundane aspects of life simply because they are always near to us, always right in front of our face.

I think one of the problems with how we talk about keeping our focus on the important aspects of life, especially on our life of faith, is that we talk about it as though people wake up one day and find that they are very good and very serious and very pious. I hope that our look into virtue made us all realize that it is never so simple. We all have to practice being focused and serious and committed. It takes time to learn how to do anything well and that includes being a person of faith.

The good news is that we are not in this training period on our own. As we fight to overcome the negative aspects of ourselves and to sharpen the positive, we find that every step we take is onto ground that has already been prepared for us. We are always preceded in life by God, God who is clearing the way to allow us to move more efficiently toward our goal of perfection. God is with us and active and working, because God has sent us an advocate who will never leave us. God who proclaimed the truth of the Torah from Sinai came to dwell among us. The Son who came and lived, Jesus of Nazareth walked the earth for thirty years to show us what holiness could be. The Son left us our eternal comforter and helper, the eternal and Holy Spirit.

God has always been near to God’s creation. There has never been a time when God was not looking over and caring for all people of the earth. An old German hymn sees God’s provision in the coming and goings of the seasons, “We plow the fields and scatter the good seed on the land, but it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand. God sends the snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain, the breezes, and the sunshine, and soft refreshing rain.”[1] If we think of God in this way, as always seeking to be close to what God has made, then the flow of scripture’s narrative makes perfect sense.

After humanity and God were torn from one another by Sin’s interference, God set out chasing after people. Genesis describes God as clothing Adam and Eve, as watching directly over Cain and Abel. Even those directly working against God receive God’s care. The rest of scripture focuses in on Israel and Judah, but the message is still clear. God is working to be close to God’s people. Exile cannot separate them, nor can empires or war, God is eternally near to them. Through God’s prophets the Word of God was proclaimed, as the Spirit rested on individuals.

Eventually, at a time and place no one can fully comprehend the significance of, God sent part of Godself to dwell among us. The Son, the eternal Word of God, took on flesh and set up a home among us. Cut off from the eternal power and knowledge he once knew, but not ever from his Godhood, Jesus of Nazareth lived as a poor son of a wood worker. His mother was an object of scandal, and his family was poor as could be. After his step-father died, he walked from his hometown to Jerusalem again and again as he preached a penniless gospel of salvation. Christ’s ministry ended in his death on a Roman cross, his burial, and his resurrection, all of which we remembered last week.

But what comes after? God has come and dwelt among us, and we are given a reason to celebrate that Sin is finally defeated! Yet, even in the face of the resurrection, Christ has told his disciples he will not be gone from this world very soon. The resurrection is cause to celebrate, but the ascension gives the disciples another reason to mourn. Even though they are given yet another sign of God’s presence in Christ, they now live with Christ far away from them. There is no friend, no teacher there to guide them through life. The sorrow they feel is made to bubble up in them once again, and there is uncertainty seeping into every aspect of their life once again.

They do have a reason to hope though, because before Jesus is raised into Heaven, even before Jesus goes to die on Calvary, the disciples are promised a helper that will not leave them. From the moment that a divine wind sweeps through their lives to the triumphant return of Christ at the end of all things, there will not be a moment that God will not be right with them. Not only will God be with them, but God will dwell inside them. We all are promised to know what it is to join in God’s Trinitarian life, through our unity in Christ, by the power of the Spirit.

The next forty-nine days will take us through the Great Fifty Days that lead to Pentecost. In Jewish congregations, these fifty days are counted from Passover to the Feast of Weeks, a celebration of the first fruits of the harvest and of God’s gift of the Law. For we Christians, we count those days from Easter Sunday, and when we reach the Feast of Weeks, or as we call it, the Pentecost or “The 50,” we celebrate God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. The visitation of the Spirit in previous eras led to people speaking God’s truth and in the working of wonders. The habitation of the Spirit on that Pentecost long ago led to the birth of God’s new community, the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God, the Church.

We here in North View will spend the next few weeks focusing in, one Sunday at a time, upon the various traditions that have birthed our specific flavor of faith. This building we stand in was founded by the United Brethren, it became the Evangelical United Brethren, and eventually the United Methodist Church. So, to understand how we are who we are today we must look at the Anglican tradition that birthed John Wesley and the Wesleyan tradition that birthed Methodism. We also must see how Philip Otterbein and his Brethren came together with the Evangelical Church to make the Evangelical United Brethren. Then we must look at the United Methodist Church they formed, and finally what the future might hold for the legacy of our denomination.

So, in other words, we will be working through some history throughout Pentecost. Every Sunday will be a communion Sunday, and every Sunday the communion we celebrate will be modeled after the liturgy that each denomination utilized. That means that we will have new Eucharistic prayers to pray over the next month or so, and that we will be enjoying a lot of prepackaged juice and wafers. However, I hope that as we look into our history we will see the truth that God’s Spirit has always been with us, always moving us toward something better.

We will see a lot of missteps in our foray into our past. We will see denominations refuse to show mercy and love, refuse to accept all God’s children, refuse to do what is right in the face of evil. We will also see the great good we have worked again and again. Live’s transformed by Christ, people fed and clothed and cared for, and all manner of wonders worked through the love of God and the Spirit’s emboldening power. There will be a lot to take in, but I hope that you all will embrace this journey as more than just historical facts being proclaimed from a pulpit, and see in it a testimony that our past is never too far from us, and that we are all working toward the future God has prepared for us.

We on an individual level strive to be more focused, more intentional, in our relationship with God. However, that is only truly manifested when we come together with one another as the Church. The Spirit of God is not given so that individuals may become holy, but so that God’s church may grow and prosper and become God’s kingdom. The light of this world is shining out from the Spirit which dwells within us, but to see it really overcome the darkness, we cannot shine alone – we must shine together. With God’s Spirit within, beside, and before us, we will see ourselves overcoming all trouble. With a mind of where we have been we will understand that God’s Spirit has moved behind us to bring us to the ample mission field we have today.

We begin a journey now, an examination of our past and its manifested light and darkness, and we look to our future together. The disciples spend the fifty days between Easter and their enlivening visit by the Spirit in prayer and study, seeing how God had been working toward their present reality throughout all of history. We will be doing the same together, because the Spirit which dwells among us is also the Spirit that is coming to be with us. The past is the present is the future in a Kingdom that is truly eternal. Let us walk this long road together, and trust God will see us through it. – Amen.

[1] Wir pflügen und wir streuen. Matthias Claudius. Trans. Jane M. Campbell

Christ is Risen – Easter 2022

John 20:1-18

Early 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. So 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.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and 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. They 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.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” 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.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus 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.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Sermon Text

What would we do if we could walk in a garden with Jesus? Would we spend the whole time asking questions? Would we listen carefully as he spoke to us? Or would we both, in silence, walk through the morning dew that had blessed the new day? I like to think I’d listen carefully, but I also know myself well enough to say I’d probably start rattling off questions before I even realized what I was up to. To spend time with Jesus, just us and him, that is one of the dreams we all have as people of faith. Our beloved savior and no one else to distract us or get in the way.

Mary and Jesus in this moment show us a lot about what it was like to travel with Jesus. Though this interaction is brief, we get a glimpse of just how wonderful Christ was with those who followed him. Mary is distressed when she thinks he is gone. She does not notice who he is when he appears. She is instantly comforted when she hears her name said in his voice. Her amazement at Christ’s words to her lead her to go and proclaim his resurrection to all who will hear it, but first and foremost to all the others who knew the comfort and joy of hearing Jesus say their name.

It was not in the style of ancient writers to give us especially long accounts of individuals speaking to one another. Outside of philosophic pieces which go on and on with imagined conversations between great thinkers, the ancient world only records dialogue when it was public or when a general outline of what was said is known publicly. The average piece of writing in the ancient world was focused more on what a person did to impact the public sphere much more than they were what individuals did to impact those around them personally. We, therefore, only get brief glimpses of the personalities of our Biblical siblings, and only then through the lens of what they do out in the open.

This passage stands out to us because of how rarely we see someone just being alone with Jesus. It stands out because we all dream of this kind of open interaction with our God. It stands out because, when Jesus returned to life on that Easter morning long ago, Jesus did not do so with drums and trumpets, but with the quiet speaking of a single person’s name. Jesus showed us that day long ago, as Jesus did throughout his ministry, that there was more to the Kingdom of God than we dare to dream, and that God’s kingdom is always able to grab us unexpectedly and surprise us with just how different it can be.

I have always been fascinated by Mary’s inability to recognize Jesus in this story. Elsewhere, like in Luke when disciples on the road to Emmaus see Jesus, a similar problem occurs. Something about Jesus dying and being raised again has changed the way he looks. He still has scars in his hands and in his side, his body is still the same one that went into the tomb on Friday, yet he has been changed by death and changed once again by resurrection. As I understand it, this is a result of Jesus being the “first fruit,” of God’s resurrecting of the entire world. Jesus the man had become glorified, this was how Jesus was going to look for all eternity now, because Jesus had died and been raised as all of us shall one day be.

Some people talk about Heaven as though we will not exist the same way we do now. Some do this by talking about having completely new bodies, others by making it seem like we have completely incorporeal or spiritual bodies but no physical self. While I cannot speak to the time between our death and the establishment of Heaven on Earth, I can say that both these perspectives miss the ultimate point of our resurrected life in Christ. We are not going to one day get new bodies, or cease to have bodies, but be risen and perfected in the bodies we currently are in today. We are not souls who will some day be free from flesh or souls waiting for some new, different shell, we are a perfect unity of flesh and spirit, or at least we one day will be.

Jesus shows us what that sort of existence looks like. Jesus, despite having never sinned, was not fully revealed in all his glory until after the resurrection. In being resurrected, we see in Jesus what we will all day look like. Jesus was still who he had been before death, but was now somehow changed. Whatever roughness that human existence gives to our being is erased when God re-imagines us for eternity. We are the perfect example of who we should be, not in human terms, but in God’s terms. The beauty innate to all of us is exemplified in the beauty of our resurrected forms.

People often ask ministers like me how we’ll recognize one another in Heaven. Honestly, I think that we often times won’t at first. When we all rise in the resurrection of dead and get to meet one another again, I think there will be many moments like what we see with Jesus and Mary. As we make our way through eternity we’ll bump into all sorts of people, and only after talking for a bit will we have the sense to go, “Wait a minute! Are you who I think you are?” Then, seeing each other as we were always meant to be, I think that we will shed more than a few happy tears in our reunion with one another.

            Our resurrection will be absolute. We will no longer know how to do evil, because the image of God will be fully restored in us. We will no longer know what it means to fear, because we have faced death and been brought into eternal life. We will know what it truly means to be joyful, to be united as a family, to sing God’s praises through all time. The miraculous power of God that shone out on that Levantine morning long ago is going to surge through all the earth one day and it will see all flesh made new. The work of God and God alone is to see us brought into this glory, the work among ourselves in the meantime is to get out of the way of what God is doing in the here and now.

            This morning, as the sun was rising on the world, we looked at how Luke tells the story of Jesus’s first morning back into the world. There we saw God showing God’s glory to the women disciples and the refusal of the men to listen to them. We are all at different times one or the other of these groups. Sometimes we meet God, and we know immediately that something miraculous has happened, going out to tell everyone we can about it. Sometimes we are unwilling to believe that God could still really be working in the world, so lost are we in our own fear and doubt and troubles. Obviously, one is better than the other, but both are endemic to our life on this side of eternity. The key is to try and move always from one to the other. Away from sorrow and into joy, away from jadedness and into trust.

            This isn’t always easy, and we in the Church seldom make it easy for others either. Despite our call to be people of the resurrection, we get caught up in the world-as-it-is. We do not dream of God setting things straight, only of God keeping them from getting worse. Without the divine imagination enlivening our visions of the future, we inevitably fall into despair and in that despair we fail to bring others into the joy of God’s kingdom. We are so convinced of our defeat that we cannot show the world that Christ has already won the victory.

            Now, I’ve got chronic depression, so I am not gonna stand here and pretend I do not struggle with this myself. My brain is wired specifically to focus in on the doom and gloom of life, so I am often chief amongst the doomsayers. Yet, despite all that, there is another inclination within me that I can never snuff out entirely. This is not something innate to my being, but something which I have to carefully watch over and foster. This is the first spark of something new, something special in a way I cannot begin to fully understand. This is the Spirit of God beginning the regeneration of my mind, body, and soul. This is hope made manifest. This is resurrection power.

            Though my inclination to negativity is not inherently bad, God made me this way after all, it can definitely impact my life in negative ways. The same is true for all of us. The God given inclinations of our heart meld with the evil we have grown on our own and the circumstances we find ourselves in to make a complicated mess of emotions and desires that are not always easy to sort out. The good news for us is that, when these complicated things grow up alongside one another, we do not find ourselves with a God who will just cut it all down and replace it with something else, but a God who is much more thorough and careful. I do not think it was a mistake that when Mary saw Jesus that day she mistook him for a gardener.

            The resurrection we are all going to know one day, that is already beginning in our hearts, is the transformation of ourselves into who we are meant to be. This is a constructive journey rather than a reductive one. God is not cutting away aspects of our personality till we are a carbon copy of some ideal apart from who we are. Instead, God is cutting away the things that are not part of who we are. Thinking to one of my favorite songs of the faith, God asks us all “Will you love the “you” you hide if I but call your name?”[1] We are all slowly being shown that we are, in fact, beloved by God because of who we are and not in spite of who we are.

            The ideal self is, of course, not just the elevation of what we want in life, but of ourselves-as-we-ought-to-be. We become the most loving people we could be, the most joyful people we could be, the most Christ-like we could be. This does not erase who we are, but it does transform us. We may, if God truly shapes our soul, change enough that people do not even recognize us. Yet, when we call their name, they will have no doubt whose voice is behind it all. This Easter, let us all seek to be our ideal selves, let us all be who Jesus has always meant us to be. – Amen.

[1] The Summon. John Bell

A New Dawn – Easter Sunrise 2022

Luke 24: 1-12

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

Sermon Text

As the sun rises this morning, we welcome its light as a sign of our Lord’s resurrection. The darkness of Holy Saturday cannot stand against the Light of Easter Morning. Death has lost its sting this day, Sin all its power over our lives. The dread oppressors of humanity cannot hold onto us any longer. We have the power now to follow God as we never had it before, the power to do what is right in this life, and the assurance that our life shall carry on fully into the age to come. Today life wins out and today God has been established as the ruler of all things.

The story of this morning, as recorded in our scripture, shows people responding to Jesus’s resurrection. The women who gathered to give him a proper burial enter to find him gone. We are not given a description of their reaction in Luke’s gospel, the angels are too quick in appearing to tell them what has happened. The women hear of Jesus’s resurrection, and are reminded of his promise this would happen. When the angels bring Jesus’s words back into their minds, their hearts catch fire with the glory and love that God had shown them. They suddenly realize just what this day means, and they run off to tell the other disciples about God’s miraculous work.

No one believes them when they speak. The exact word used to describe their story, “and idle tale,” in English, is used elsewhere in ancient texts to describe the way people talk at parties. The disciples hear the Jesus was telling the truth, that angels appeared to confirm it, but are unwilling to believe it. The women who first witnessed that God’s salvation had come into the world were being told, essentially, that they sounded like they had been drinking when they said things like this. Only one disciple investigates the matter, Peter, and we are not told that he believes the story after going into the tomb. Instead, he simply is amazed that the events of this morning are taking place. He knows Jesus is gone, the resurrection is not yet revealed to him.

In the dawn of our own new day, we know better than the disciples did then. There are lessons to be taken from this story. Firstly, we see the value of good news, and the truth that it carries. We are so jaded as a people that we, like the disciples tend to hear people promising good things and we assume they must be selling something or that they have lost touch with reality. In truth, those who bring us the good news of God’s salvation – not of money, or power, or any other distraction – are some of the most wonderful gifts God could give us. Like those who went to bury Jesus properly, they speak the truth of the Gospel in adoring love of Jesus, and they sustain us in this life.

These women are able to spread this wonderful news, because they are reminded of God’s promises by the angels. Alongside our tendency to doubt good news, we also forget to tell each other the good things God has promised us. We forget that we are told there will be a day where there is no war. We forget that there is life and life abundant here and now. We forget that there will be a renewal, and not a replacement, of all things everywhere. When we proclaim God’s promises, we have the potential to relight the fire in the hearts of those around us.

Finally, we are reminded in this story that the morning sunlight of God’s new kingdom can sometimes be too much for us to comprehend. Sometimes when God is working, we are unable to see just what that work means for us. The light blinds us in some ways, and we like the disciples are left in our own doubts and preoccupations. Some of today may feel like, even if God is doing something wonderful, we simply cannot bring ourselves to see it. Well, let us all take heart in the truth of this Easter morning. There is light bursting into this world, some have seen it and some have not yet seen it, but it is there. God has brought life back into this world, and we will all know its glory, even if we cannot see it just yet. Remember these words, and count them as true, Christ the Lord, is risen. – Amen.

Salvation Approaches – Palm Sunday 2022

Luke 19:28-40

After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “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. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As 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, saying,

“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven,  and glory in the highest heaven!”

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

Sermon Text

Welcome to Holy Week! We are seven days ways from Easter and our celebration of the Lord’s resurrection. Lent is nearly ended, and with its close we hopefully find ourselves a little bit stronger, wiser, and maybe even more virtuous than we were before. We end Lent with the slow march to the cross, the terrible price of our salvation, the most dreaded and fearful day in human history – the day that God was killed by our own selfishness. However, before we get there, we see the darkness of the days to come illuminated for a single shining moment as Christ is given his full due as the Son of God and King of Kings. Jesus enters Jerusalem, a crowd gathers to welcome him, and all the town in abuzz.

Every Gospel tells this story a little differently, each focusing on a different part of what is going on as Jesus makes his way into Jerusalem. Mark keeps the story pretty barebones, John focuses on just how many people were involved in the event, while Matthew is more interested in how it aligns with prophecy. Luke tells his own version of the story, an almost perfect mixture of Mark and Matthew, but with his own distinct emphasis that tells us an awful lot about who Jesus was and what his work was really about.

Luke tells us about Jesus going to Jerusalem for the Passover. As he makes his way, he sends the disciples to find a colt for him to ride on. Unlike in Mark, we are not told whether or not they told the owner it would be sent back to him, only that it was “for the Lord.” Jesus rides into the town and the disciples begin making some noise, bringing together all those who were in Jerusalem for Passover and knew about Jesus. They began to cheer for him, calling for the salvation that he was supposed to bring. They bless him as a King sent from God, and they treat him like one. There are those in the crowd though, whether there to rain doubt on Jesus, or disillusioned former followers, who tell him to silence this loud, singing crowd.

The irony of Holy Week is that it plays backwards from how a typical story would be told. Rather than beginning with someone being down on their luck and ending with them being celebrated for all that they have done, it begins with celebration and ends in the silence of a sealed grave. From now till Holy Saturday we are watching the light of Christ slowly dim in the world, until it looks – for three terrible days – like it was completely snuffed out. Holy Week is a time where our rejoicing and waving of palm fronds becomes weeping and wiping away of tears. We know that Easter is coming, but the mountain we have to climb to get there is the most beautiful and terrible days of human history.

Our scripture shows us a side of Jesus’s ministry that we are not always able to see. Luke tells the story of the Triumphal Entry without much creative flourish, and so we get to see the events unfurl as distinct story beats. He is not afraid to show the slow cascade that leads to a large celebration along the road. It begins with just Jesus and the disciples, then when the disciples start making noise other people begin to join in. The massive crowd which gathers outside the city is not something that just exists, it is created by the enthusiasm of the disciples as they bring Jesus into the city. The shouts of “Hosanna,” get louder and louder as more and more people join in, this is spontaneous, and Spirit filled worship.

Luke presents the chant which the crowd sings slightly differently than the other Gospels. While other Gospels see the crowd yelling out, “Blessed is the one [ὁ] who comes in the name of the Lord,” Luke is intentional in saying the crowd called Jesus the “King,” who comes in the name of the Lord. This makes the implicit message of Jesus’s procession into the city clear for anyone to see. This reenactment of 1 Kings 1: 32-49, in which Solomon enters Jerusalem on a mule and takes his rightful place on the throne over and against his brother, referenced elsewhere in Zechariah 9, is a clear statement that Christ is the rightful King over Caesar or any Herod.

The explicit nature of this cheering from the crowd is probably what makes the pharisees in the crowd tell Jesus to stop them from yelling. The Passover brought a lot of people into Jerusalem and those people were from many different religious and political groups. Rome had ruled over Judea for about seventy years at this point, and there was never a moment of peace between Rome and Jerusalem. The current governor, Pontius Pilate, had previously put down rebellion in the territory, and had bungled his response to it so badly that he was essentially on probation as a governor. Gathering together such a massive amount of people, in the place that was the symbol of what all this conflict was about, was a risk in itself, it certainly did not need someone riding in and claiming they were the rightful king.

The conflict of Holy Week is established in this one story. There is Jesus, riding in to fulfill the long-prophesied work he has been brought into this world to do. There are the crowds of people ready to proclaim that salvation. In opposition there are the religious authorities who see him as a threat and a provocateur and the Roman authorities who are trying to suppress even the smallest hints of dissent. These would all coalesce into the drama of that week, the conclusion of one story and the beginning of another. In one event, small compared to the rest of the celebrations happening that week, the entire story could be seen unfurling bit by bit.

As particular as the first Palm Sunday was to its own context, it still teaches us things about our own world today. There are still authorities that push against the work of the Church, there are still religious people who are more concerned with appearances than doing what is right, and there are still crowds of people that need ministered to. The players may have changed over time, but the central conflicts are largely unchanged. We simply have to look at where we fit into it all, and how we can carry the wonder of that day long ago into our own lives.

There is an anti-authoritarian streak in the Church today that is sometimes very helpful, but oftentimes just causes trouble. Two plus years of mask protests show that some people just want to get into fight without actually caring about whether it is worth it or even good to start the fight. Yet, there are powers in this world that need someone to oppose them. There are people who have actively worked to make the world more unsafe for other people, to make it legal to plow cars into groups of people, to forbid people from living their fullest lives, to actively sue people just for teaching hard truths about history. Even here in West Virginia we have seen such legislation argued in the legislature, sometimes passing and sometimes being defeated only because time ran out to pass it. With all the problems in the world, love for others was chosen as a crime. When that sort of thing happens, the church has no recourse but to oppose authority.

Yet, we often find ourselves like the pharisees in this story. We see the need to change the world around us for the better, but to really change would be to give up our comfort or our power. To change the world would me changing ourselves – shifting our viewpoints, changing the way we worship to be more inviting, maybe even mixing up the music we use to be something other than “what we’ve always done,” or “used to do.” We would rather have the models of ministry that worked twenty years ago than imagine what the world needs for us today, accepting that when Jesus comes to us and gives us a mission to fulfill, we cannot dictate what he is going to ask of us.

Finally, we must see in this story the way that a movement can grow. It is not effective marketing that made the Church burst to life in the first century, it was simple enthusiasm. People came to welcome Jesus into the city because the disciples were excited about him coming to save them. The people did not know this new song the disciples sang, but they joined in anyway. It was not the old standards, it was the outpouring of their heart and soul into what they had been handed. The song itself meant very little, as long as the people were pouring themselves into it.

Something lost on us today is that when this crowd that gathered around Jesus is described, they are called an “ochlos,” which might be better called a “rabble.” This term is often used in Greek to refer to the unwashed masses. This is not just a group of people, these are the sort of people that angry opinion pieces are written about. If Jerusalem had a version of the Exponent Telegram, you could picture the sorts of things they would have written. “Homeless Crowd gathers outside of town: Backwater Populist Leads the Mob.” Other Gospels describe the people inside Jerusalem being afraid of this group outside the city, the well-to-do inside the walls terrified of this rural mob.

Jesus brought together people who were enthusiastic about the coming Kingdom of God. The most enthusiastic people were those who had nothing to lose and everything to gain from this Kingdom. These were the poor, the oppressed, the downtrodden and the rejected. These were the sex workers, the drug dealers, and the drug users. These were the backpackers riding around town on their bicycles, the people who slept with chains in their hand in case they needed to defend themselves. These were the people whose tents were bulldozed in the middle of the night without warning, these are the wretched and the uncounted. These are God’s Children, and these were the people who came together to welcome Jesus in.

Today we stand as the disciples, ready to bring together people who can be as enthusiastic as we are about Christ’s coming. Yet, where is our cheering, where is our loud singing? Is it lost in the sea of what was or what we would like to be? We must begin to be enthusiastic about our salvation, because it is coming to be among us – not with loud trumpets and pomp – but with a poor, homeless man, riding a donkey surrounded by others like him. – Amen.

The Virtues: Faith, Hope, and Love – 04/03/2022

1 Corinthians 13

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Sermon Text

Our scripture for today is something that we all know well. If a person has never read the Bible they can probably rattle through a few of the characteristics of love. They may fall off after “insist on its own way,” but patient and kind, everyone knows that! Beloved in and out of the Church, the way Paul talks about Love here carries an amazing amount of weight. Everyone knows what love is and we all strive to be loving people. Love is the crown of human experience, more important than being strong or smart or talented, there is the ability to love.

We have spent our Lententide looking at the virtues. Courage, Temperance, Prudence, and Justice. All these things are found behind every good action which we take part in. Still, there are three virtues which are lifted up above them all, these are the virtues of faith, of hope, and of love. Without these three, the other four are left inert. There is no point to being courageous, if your courage is not in hope of something else. There is no true prudence that does not hold faith in the outcomes of our discernment. Most of all, there is no justice which is not rooted in love of other people.

Faith is the foundation of our lives in Christ. We talked in February about how faith justifies us and equips us for all the works which God has put before us. The two are not competing impulses in our life, but work hand in hand to see us perfected. There is more to faith than just simply believing what we have been told about God. Any person can say that they believe in God, any person can say they have faith in Christ. Faith is instead a combination of belief, commitment, and above all trust. To have faith in Christ is to have trust that Christ will see us through. To have faith in Christ is to accept the life we are called to live. To have faith in Christ is much more than reciting creeds and memorizing scripture.

Faith in Greek is pistis, (πιστις) and comes from a word meaning, “to convince.” Yet, that convincing is not about making arguments that cause someone to agree with us, instead it is about bringing someone into a place of trust. One of the biggest gripes I have about how ministry was taught to me in High School, was that it focused on having the right answers for people when they came to you asking questions or picking fights. Sometimes its good to have a few answers up your sleeve, but no one has ever converted to Christianity because they heard a really good argument. Instead, we accept Christ into our lives because we have been given a reason to trust the good news, and that trust begins when we trust those who tell it to us.

One of the things we have lost in the Church is the trust of the average person. Some of that loss of trust is unfounded, sure, but a majority of it we earned fair and square. People see the Church as a greedy thing, restricting people’s lives while squeezing them of every last penny. They see the people in the pews as judgmental and cruel, and they doubt the sincerity of the love they give when it is so often tied to a conditional – “but!” The Church is shrinking for many reasons, but one is that we are unable to convince people we are trustworthy, and so we make it hard for them to trust the savior who sent us.

For those who do find that trust, there blossoms yet another gift of God. This is hope. When we trust God, we hold onto the promises God has made and do not give into despair. That’s not always easy to do, not when the full weight of the world bears down on us. Even Christ, in the midst of his passion, cried out asking why God had forsaken him, yet he knew that the resurrection was ahead of him. Hope, that furtive force that sustains us in the midst of all our troubles, is something we exercise just as much as we exercise any other capacity of our being. We become better at holding hope when we learn to hold it out no matter what comes our way. That does not mean we deny reality, even hard realities, but it means we believe God can make the hard things of life into something new and beautiful.

I am fairly open about my persistent depressive disorder, and anyone else who struggles with mental health will have their own stories they could tell. Hope is an even harder thing to grapple with when thing that sorts out all our emotions and perspectives is actively taking us down far less helpful roads. How do you hold onto hope, when your brain lacks the chemicals to see a happier outcome? How do you manifest a vision of a better future, when the wires just won’t connect to imagine such a thing? Willpower isn’t enough – only good friends, good therapy, and maybe a few milligrams of medication here and there can break through that wall. For me, Hope is an endangered thing without my Lexapro to lean upon.

Yet, small as it can be amidst the constant beating on the walls which has defined our past few years, hope never disappears. I have an image in my mind, from a book about Greek myths when I was a kid, of Hope floating out of Pandora’s Box. The illustrator chose to show hope as a small wisp of smoke, pinkish purple, forming the shape of a butterfly as it drifted out into the world. I think that that captures something of what hope is. It does not always bowl us over, frequently we barely even notice it coming into the room. Yet, when we feel it flutter onto us, we know that we can keep going, it sustains us through even the toughest days of our life.

Yet, Paul is clear that even these two things are not eternal. There will come a day, when we all are together in the New World that God is bringing, that we look out to the future and know that there is no darkness to fear, and so we have no need to hope of what will come later. Likewise, we will not need to have faith in anything, for we will trust out of what we know to be true rather than out of anything we have to reason or be convinced of. We will trust simply because there is no other reality than the goodness of God present in all things.

There will be no need to be temperate with the many gifts of God, nor no evil to stand up against, no fearful thing to be brave in the face of, not a single injustice to be righted. In the world that is to come, the utility of our virtues is transformed into something else. In a perfect world, there is only a single thing which transcends the needs of a person and define the very essence of a person. That is the virtue, the pinnacle, the absolute immensity of love. When all is said and done, the universe will not be composed of any force except for love. God will pour out the Spirit and all the world will be bathed in the communion it was always meant for, no separation between you and me, but only the knowledge that in Christ we are all one.

Paul makes clear in our scripture today that if we want to be good at anything in this life, anything that is really important, we should practice being loving first. A person who loves another person is not going to treat them poorly, a person who loves another person will stand up and take risks when necessary for them, they will fight for their justice, they will ensure all the right steps are taken to see them through this life. When we hear that “God is love,” or that, “They will know we are Christians by our love,” we should take that seriously. No other metric matters in this life as much as our ability to love one another – even and especially when we love the difficult people in our life.

Over time I have fallen in love with different parts of our Methodist liturgy. Lately, it’s the assurance and pardon which we give during communion that really tugs at my heart. “Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, that proves God’s love toward us.” When we go into our life, we have faith that this is the case. We can truly have hope that Christ cares for us. We know all this because God has proven God’s love to us, again and again, and again. Let us join God’s work and let us love one another. – Amen.