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Are You Ready to Carry Your Cross – Today?

Ash Wednesday, March 6, 2019 - Sermon Text: Mark 14:35-36

“Going a little farther, he (Jesus) fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. Abba, Father, he said, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:35-36). This is the first prayer in which Jesus petitions the Father as he begins His Passion, his journey of suffering and death on the cross for our sake. Over the course of the next five weeks, we will be exploring, during our mid-week worship services, the prayers of the passion which Jesus spoke before the finality of his death on the cross of Calvary.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, we hear the grievous pleas of a very human Jesus asking the Father to ‘Let this cup pass.’ In modern terms, we might be able to equate the same petition to something we might have heard before. “It’s time for bed”, we might say to a youngster in our household, only to get the challenging petition in reply; “Do I hafta?”

I suspect that we are all familiar with the wonderful little question which challenges us to exercise our authority over the simple matter of bedtime. And who knows, some of us might have even said “do I hafta” to our parents, especially when we saw older siblings being privileged to stay up later than us. Maybe the issue in question was something more challenging than bedtime? Maybe, we had to go and apologize to Mrs. Crabtree because of something we said or did. “Do I hafta?” might develop into a long debate between a child and the parent at which point we begin to ask ourselves if “do I hafta” is intended as a serious challenge to a parent’s authority, an attempt to undermine who is really in charge, or maybe “do I hafta” is just the simple result of human selfishness expressing itself once again?

And really, if you think about it long and hard, you might also come to the same conclusion as me, as the question “do I hafta” is never asked regarding something pleasant or happy. I’m pretty sure that you will never hear Art or Dennis say “do I hafta” go to a hockey game tonight any more than you will hear Rick say “do I hafta” eat a plate of sweet deserts. We simply don’t hear people saying “do I hafta” when they get something pleasureful. But, we think quite differently when this question involves unpleasantness, inconvenience, or discomfort. When the doctor says you need to do this, we might answer back “do I hafta?”

Today, I want to pounder another aspect of this wonderful little question. “Do I hafta” go through Lent? ... and “do I hafta” do it again this year! In the Garden, Jesus tells his disciples to “stay here and keep watch” (Mark 14:34). It was a simple enough task. No big demands. “He (Jesus) returned to his disciples and found them sleeping” (Mark 14:34). The task must have just been too much for them! Is the task too much for us? “Jesus said to his disciples, sit here while I pray” (Mark 14:32). As we again begin our journey with Jesus through the forty days of Lent, as Jesus offers up the Prayers of His Passion, will we be able to stay awake and keep watch. We aren’t asked to pray, fast or give alms, we are simply asked to keep watch.

Ash Wednesday, the first day of our Lenten Journey with Jesus might just takes us a lot further, a lot deeper, than we want to, than we are comfortable going. “Do I hafta” wear those ashes on my forehead? “Do I hafta” think about being only a mortal human being? “Do I hafta” think about dying? “Do I hafta” be reminded of those words of judgement because of disobedience, because of Sin, “for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19).

Of course, the honest and truthful answer to that question is NO! You don't hafta! You don’t hafta have ashes smeared on your forehead, pray, fast, give alms, sit or walk with Jesus, or even think about your mortality. We don’t need to be reminded that we are in the process of dying and Christians of all people know – that the reason we die is because of our Sin.

The reason we know that we ‘don’t hafta do’ anything is because of Jesus. Jesus demonstrates to us the freedom which God gave humanity right from the beginning. A very human Jesus kneels before His Father in Heaven in the Garden of Gethsemane and asks, “do I hafta”? “Father, is there any other way that we can save these wicked and vile human creatures?” Every time we contemplate asking Jesus “do I hafta” we should hear Jesus asking the Father, “do I hafta”, “do I hafta” drink this cup?" “Abba, Father, he said, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36).
Long before His Passion, James and John came to Jesus asking for the two places of power and authority in the coming Kingdom of Jesus. Like many today, the Sons of Thunder were looking for prominence and prestige. “You don’t know what you are asking, Jesus said. Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with? We can, they answered. Jesus said to them, you will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with” (Mark 10:38-39). They did drink of the cup of suffering and martyrdom for the sake of the Gospel, which was not the same cup that they had originally requested.

Unlike James and John, the message of Lent says the exact opposite. When Jesus asked the Father, “do I hafta” drink of this cup He also answered the Father saying “Yes … I do hafta”. Unlike Adam and Eve, and you and me, Jesus didn’t need to drink of the cup. He was without Sin. The punishment of death because of Sin doesn’t apply to Him. You and I deserve death because of our Sin. Jesus answered Yes, “I hafta’ because He freely chose to.

“Not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36) concludes Jesus’ prayer in the Garden. Jesus chose death because it was God's will. And what is God’s will you might ask. It’s simply this for “all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). This is a good verse to commit to memory when you are not sure what God’s good and gracious will is. The Word of God is clear in that having been redeemed from Sin, we might eventually also drink from the cup of salvation with the Lord in Paradise.
“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, take it; this is my body. Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many, he said to them. Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God” (Mark 14:23-25).

Jesus answered the Father saying, Yes, I hafta – for their sake. So then, what is the problem today? Why is the Christian church reluctant to follow in the footsteps of Jesus? Why do we still find ourselves asking, "Do I hafta?" Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent might just be a good a time as any for us to take note of this. Sometimes, we just need something or someone to remind us of those things that are needful. As we grow older, we put notes around the house to remind us, pill boxes to remember our medicine, alarms on our phones to prompt us and friends to call us. Even in the church, if we are always praising God and giving thanks, we might grow lethargic, apathetic or simply indifferent as we forget whose we are. Sometimes, our problem is much deeper; when we fall under the influence of those things we call the Seven Deadly Sins, which include selfishness and laziness. Then the rebellious nature of our original parents, the Sin which causes death becomes obvious to us.

When we hear ourselves asking "do I hafta?" we also need to stop and to ask ourselves if we are taking sides along with our first human parents, with Adam and Eve, in opposing the will of the Lord God who simply said, “you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:17). Like the small child who asks “do I hafta” are we also challenging authority?
If we are challenging God’s authority, then we need to also ask ourselves if our decisions or indecisions might also affect our eternal welfare. “For dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19). Let’s be honest, dust is not something that we want to look forward to. Jesus' parable of Lazarus and the self-centered rich man, who ends up in hell, pleads for just a single drop of water in order to quench his fevered thirst. In light of his eternal fate, we might wonder if the man might have ever asked in life ‘must I drink this cup?’ He would of likely welcomed that cup in the afterlife - but it was too late for him after he was dead.

Today, we again find ourselves in a Garden with Jesus who simply asks us to stay put and watch while he prays. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of our Lenten journey, as we sit and watch and decide if we are going to drink of the cup that is being offered to us to drink. Like James and John, and the disciples gathered in the upper room, we are being offered the cup of salvation. This is not the same cup from which Jesus drank. He offers us the cup of blessing, the cup that runneth over, the cup of his gracious and loving presence all because Jesus chose to drink for us from the Cup which He had to drink from to make all this possible for us.

And so, let’s reframe today’s question. “Do I hafta” go through Ash Wednesday, Lent, Good Friday in order to appreciate what Jesus has done for me? Maybe not! But then, I need to ask myself what does that ash cross really mean to me – as my mortality, symbolized in the ash, is nailed to the cross with the One who is not under the condemnation of Sin. That alone should be reason enough to re-examine ourselves and motives when we ask “do I hafta”.

Copyright © 2019 St. Andrew's Lutheran Church, Kamloops
https://www.standrewslutheran.ca

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Rev. Marc Lapointe

  St. Andrew's Lutheran Church, Kamloops

Grief, Judgement or Both?

March 17, 2019 - Sermon Text: Luke 13:31-35

Today’s Gospel, is likely one of the strangest readings we will ever come across in the recounting of Jesus’ life. It’s unlikely that too many people would actually want to preach on this reading. But, since we use the Revised Common Lectionary as a guide to determine which scripture readings we are going to use on any given Sunday, somebody in their great wisdom must believe that this odd little story is relevant and important for us to hear.

This short reading appears to be filled with a mixture of emotions; sadness, grief, hurt, regret and love, which are encompassed in sarcasm, commitment and judgement. The essence of this reading is highlighted by the apostle John many years later when he writes “He (Jesus) was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him” (John 1:10-11).

It’s abundantly clear according to Luke this morning, that the love which Jesus want to share with the people of Jerusalem is being rejected and knowing this, Jesus walks away as he moves onward and forward on his mission leaving Jerusalem in the dust behind him as he once told his disciples to do when they were sent saying “but when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: the kingdom of God has come near” (Luke 10:10-11).

In order to understand what is taking place in this morning’s reading, we need to look a bit deeper into the context in which the reading has been set. Back in chapter 10, Jesus is not far from Jerusalem, visiting at the home of Martha and Mary in Bethany. In the next few chapters, we find Jesus healing and teaching outside of Jerusalem.

The closer Jesus gets to Jerusalem the greater the opposition he experiences from the religious leadership, while the common people appear to be gathering around him, maybe unsure of what to make of it all. Should they be obeying the teachings of the Pharisees or of Jesus? As we come to the confrontation which opens today’s reading we find “Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem” (Luke 13:22).

Jesus is destined for a death on a cross for the sin of the world, while the religious leadership, who would like to kill Jesus themselves for exposing their hypocrisy in public, meet Jesus as he prepares to enter Jerusalem as they warn him “leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you” (Luke 13:31). If they want Jesus dead, why would they warn him to stay away?

You can begin to feel the mixture of emotions as the ordinary people love Jesus and run to him in joy, while those in authority are jealous and their hate is expressed in their desire to see Jesus dead. “Some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you” (Luke 13:31).

Without a doubt, Jesus already knew this. Luke explains how Herod Antipas had the authority to execute anyone he desired - having John the Baptist beheaded at the request of his stepdaughter Salome. But, Herod suffered nightmares for having done this and he believed that Jesus was John the Baptist brought back from the dead in order to haunt him. Herod would have grabbed any opportunity to kill Jesus on the spot and this would prevent Jesus from seeing God’s plan for the salvation of humanity to completion.

Herod Antipas was not related to Herod the Great who ruled at the time of Jesus’ birth. After the visit of the Magi, Joseph is warned in a dream to escape with the child and mother and to go into Egypt until the death of Herod, who in a jealous fit of rage kills all the boys two years of age and under in order to protect his reign as king. A major component of God’s plan for our salvation requires that Jesus dies at a specific time and place.

No matter what Jesus says or does he is still mortal and he cannot purposely or foolishly put himself in harm’s way. This would be no different than accepting Satan’s temptation to jump off the temple to prove that God would directly intervene and supernaturally alter the course of events.

And so, Jesus replies to the Pharisees’ claim of being concerned about Jesus welfare with a touch of sarcasm saying “Go tell that fox, I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal” (Luke 13:32).

The same Greek word is used to refer to a sly person. Foxes have always been associated with cleverness and craftiness, while in essence, a fox, as an animal, is of no real threat to anyone. Jesus humorously downplays the threat, saying that Herod is no threat and Jesus will keep going until his mission is completed – emphasizing that it will be done on the third day.

John the Baptist had identified Jesus as the sacrificial “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). This was the goal which Jesus just spoke about to the Pharisee. In order to redeem a sinful humanity, Jesus knew what had to be done, how it had to be done and when it had to be done. Often, people ask why God picked this particular time and place in history to bring to fulfillment God’s plan for the salvation of humanity. The answer is simple – because that’s the way God planned it and Jesus knew this & was determined to reach Jerusalem and that cross in a timely manner, and nothing would stand in his way.

Jesus could not die as a baby or at the hands of Herod. The conditions for Jesus’ sacrifice had been pre-determined long before the foundation of the world. John identifies Him as “the lamb who was slain from the creation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). He had to be innocent, as his death was a perversion of justice, as Isaiah declares “though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth” (Isaiah 53:9).

He was accused falsely. His destiny required for him to die in a specific way – because a martyr’s death was of no use to him. He had to lay down his life willingly as confirmed by his own words; “the reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father” (John 10:17-18).

Jesus already knew everything that would happen as he often tried to prepare his disciples for it by explaining why he was going to Jerusalem – to die and be raised in three days. Jesus wasn’t afraid because his love for us was perfect and the Father’s love was also in him as “perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18).

It’s interesting to note that the Gospel according to Mark symbolizes Jesus as a powerful and courageous lion, while Luke symbolizes Jesus as an ox, a creature of service and a prominent animal in the sacrificial service of the Hebrew Temple. The Gospel according to John symbolizes Jesus as the humble, spotless lamb, while Mathew initially describes Jesus as a man, presenting his readers with Jesus’ genealogy from Joseph all the way to Abraham describing the importance of his humanity with regards to God’s plan to save sinful humanity.

Surprisingly, after sarcastically calling Herod a fox, Jesus describes himself as a mother hen in today’s reading. At first, this doesn’t appear to be the most flattering of symbolism. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (Luke 13:34).

Initially, one might think of the fox trying to steal the helpless chicks from the hen house – only to be chased away by the protective mother hen – but I think this is reading too much into the text. Jesus is simply describing his passion, his heartache, the grief he feels for his children, for his followers, to be like that of a mother hen.

There is a beautiful story which has been circulated and been changed by different authors over the years. As far as I can find, the essence of the story is based in fiction, although nature continues to prove us wrong all the time. One day, a farmer’s hen house caught fire. He eventually put the fire out, and as he searched through the rubble, he found a scorched hen, dead near her nest, but as he lifted the dead bird, he was surprised to see movement beneath, as five small chicks were found alive under the mother’s body. The mother could have easily escaped, but she chose to face the fire, and the pain, to protect her young.

The original version dates back to 1945, while a different version of the same sacrificial love was written after the Yellowstone Park fire of 1989. But, as I have said and most farmers would attest to, stories of sacrificial love abound in nature and last year a picture appeared on the internet showing a mother hen using her wings to shield her babies from a heavy downpour of rain at a downtown market in India. True or not, the lesson we get from God’s Word clearly teaches us that Jesus could have taken the easy way out, but he chose to shelter us from our eternal judgement of hell, by dying, and protecting or shielding us in the process.

“Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart” (Psalm 91:3-4). The heart of God is looking to shelter and protect you and me from harm, harm from the world, from Satan, from death “and you were not willing” (Luke 13:34). It’s easy to understand why the heart of our God is breaking at the stubborn pride of his children. Jesus wept, because his children would not seek the shelter that he offered them – under the wings of his love.

Okay, so God’s children are rejected. These are not just sad words, but also words of judgement. “Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Luke 13:35). ‘You were not willing’ are harsh words. Jesus loved us so much that He died for our sins, yet there are so many people in this world today who still refuse to believe this. The bible is clear in telling us that there is both a heaven and a hell, and many people today believe that when they die they will go into heaven – because they were a good person. We are afraid to hurt people’s feelings by telling them that if they live their entire life rejecting the love of Christ, then they will spend eternity in hell. Jesus is saying “I wanted to protect you, but you were not willing”.

The Jews were and are still God’s chosen people and they were the ones who should have accepted Jesus’ love first, so we can understand why the heart of Jesus is breaking and disappointed, because his own refused to accept him as John reminds us saying “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him” (John 1:11). But, there is still hope as Jesus says “you will not see me again until you say, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Luke 13”35). We know that God is not done with Israel, because they are scheduled to play an important role in the end times. Thanks be to God, that we are now living in the age of God’s amazing grace as salvation has also been offered to us - the gentiles.

But, “the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). To this day, many of Jesus’ children are still blinded about who Jesus really is. Paul makes an interesting statement to the Christians living in Rome when he says “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:25). Taken in context, Paul warns Christians to not be arrogant because of the unbelief of certain Jews, because God’s plan is to forgive their sin as all Israel will be saved.

The prophet Zechariah describes how Jesus will be identified by his own when he returns as “they will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son” (Zechariah 12:10).

Further on Zechariah goes on to say “what are these wounds on your (hands) body?’ they will answer the wounds I was given at the house of my friends” (Zechariah 13:6). Written hundreds of years before Jesus birth, Zachariah speaks of Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus’ finishes today’s lesson with a word of judgement saying “your house is left to you desolate” (Luke 13:35).

The great temple of Jerusalem and the city were destroyed and laid waste by the Roman General Titus in 70 AD and to this day, Temple Mount is still desolate and unwelcoming to the Jews as it now houses the Dome of the Rock. (Mosque).

Although the passage is filled with both grief and judgement, Jesus leaves us with the four most powerful words of the Bible. The grace and love of God shines through all of the rejection and desolation as Jesus says that you and I have the power to choose. “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (Luke 13:34). Jesus offers to shelter and protect us – if we are willing.

Copyright © 2019 St. Andrew's Lutheran Church, Kamloops
https://www.standrewslutheran.ca

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