Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Sermon Before the Sermon

The sermon before the sermon is the thinking process I go through to getting to the point of preparing a sermon. What passage should I look to? This Sunday, I will look to the passage about Jesus' entry into Jerusalem for the Passover Festival, Jesus' last entry into Jerusalem before he is executed by hanging on a cross.

But, I am not reading and interpreting the passage about his triumphal entry with palms waving and people singing. Because that was really a sideshow. The real heart of this movement of the Gospel story is the internal experience of Jesus which is revealed when he says: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered you like a hen gathers its chicks under its wings, but you would not . . . " This is a tragic march into the holy city, not a triumphal entry. The singing and shouting and praising as he comes riding on a donkey - these are a mockery of what is really going on. They are illusion which must make this entry even harder for Jesus.

No, I won't be preaching about the palm waving part, but about Jesus' own view of this last entry into Jerusalem,his sorrow for his fellow Jews of Jerusalem who have missed the time of God's coming in Jesus. God drew so near to them, in the flesh of the Messiah, but they would not receive the one sent to reconcile them to God and to each other. They had missed the time of God's coming. And, now Jesus was entering into the rejection of God by God's people. Jesus was experiencing that in his soul, but not simply from God's side - he was also feeling the tragedy of humanity's separation from God.

It was with a very heavy heart that Jesus came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. The angel of death was drawing near, and unlike the Hebrews who were spared in the first Passover, Jesus would not be spared during this Passover. "He had prayed: 'let this cup pass from me if it is possible,' but it was not.

He was the passover lamb to be sacrificed. He would have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death and experience the burdens of that. And, he would do so in obedience to God and hoping that God would work redemption through this suffering.

The suffering itself seemed meaningless. Why would evil humans get the upper hand over God's Messiah? What good would it do to demonstrate the victory of evil over good before the eyes of those who had hoped in Jesus? But, it was becoming very clear to Jesus that this was the way of God. Perhaps it was not the way God would have liked, but due to human rebellion and sin, it was the way that Jesus had to go to accomplish God's will.

It is comforting to me that Jesus struggled with this way. It is reassuring to me that Jesus asked God to save him from this way of suffering and humiliation. Because it lets me know that this was not the affirmative will of God but the permissive will of God. It was God coming further into the midst and mess of humanity to save - not because God wants to suffer or have his son suffer - but because suffering was the only way to bring redemption to broken, twisted and rebellious humanity. It is only in being willing to bear all the burdens that God's love is demonstrated to human beings.

It is a shameful sight, and a shameful story to read about. If you read it and believe it, it causes a deep sense of shame as a human being. This was the reception we gave to the holiest one to have ever walked the earth. This was the reception we human beings gave to the Chosen of God.

But, it is also a moving sight, because Jesus is one of us, and somehow would not be separated from us, and would not deny us. He clung to his humanity and would not let go, even until the end. Jesus suffered like a human being, not a god. He cried out from the depths of his humanity: "God, why have you abandoned me!?" He would not renounce human beings, though we human beings renounced him. Jesus was true to the way of God, and the way of God was to cling closely to the human race even in experiencing the rejection of humans. For a time at the height of his suffering, Jesus seemed to have felt the rejection of God. And, God had to remain silent for a time. This was the greatest suffering of all. Those three days. Our God. Waiting three days to declare a verdict for Jesus. It was if the "jury was out" for three days. The creation had seen her king killed by evil human authorities. The creation waited for God to speak, but there was nothing. For three days, there was nothing. God was silent for three days. No one knows how long these three days were for the Divine. We do know something about how long they felt for Jesus' friends and family and followers who had expected him to bring in the kingdom of God. They were three days of empty pain and grief. But, what God went through, no one can dare to imagine.

O, Holy, Holy, Holy God. Light beyond all light. Love beyond all love. We do not try to imagine what we cannot imagine. We stop at this gate and tremble at your beauty, your humility and faithfulness to humanity. With all the unfaithfulness that we have returned to you! O, Lord, let your heart be blessed. Let your joy be renewed. Let your love be returned a thousand times over for ever and ever. Amen.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Just Another Day and A New Day

Today is just another day, but then again, today is a new day. I have been alive for over 50 years, which is a lot of days, but I am alive right now on this day.

What I am thinking about this morning is how often I have started over in life, but then again I am never starting over from "ground zero." There is the foundation of the past or the residue of the past that is so strong in all of our lives. And, that foundation often sustains us and gives us meaning, but it can delude us, imprison us or haunt us as well.

And, whatever my past is seems to be subject to the definition I give it in the present. Now, I know that certain things happened or didn't happen, but the way they are remembered/understood and formed into the story of my life. . . well, that is a subjective and creative process. Memory is not a series of still-life pictures nor does it simply have video footage from our lives. Memory is unsettled, always shaking up the fragments of experiences gone by and seeing them in light of current experience and current ways of making meaning.

So, today is just another day, but then again it is the day from which I view and comprehend all the days I have ever lived. It is a day in which I am facing the challenges of today, but it is also a day in which I am shuffling and reshuffling the experiences of the past in light of the way I am seeing things today.