Saturday, March 24, 2018

Sermon for Palm Sunday 2018

Jesus was alone.

If you read through the whole Gospel of Mark in one sitting, you may notice that there is a major turning point in chapter 8, a place where the story of Jesus turns on a dime and heads in a completely different direction. The first part of the book is full of miracles and good works. Jesus heals all kinds of people—a boy with demons, Peter’s mother, the daughter of a foreign woman, and man who is blind. And this starts to draw a crowd. People flock to hear him, he is surrounded at every turn, and when he tries to sneak away for a few minutes rest, they chase him down and bring him back. He walks on water. He feeds thousands of people with just a little bit of food—twice. And his twelve closest friends are there to see it all. And they are amazed, but mostly, they don’t get it.

And then one day, as Jesus is teaching, everything just slides into place. Well, for Peter, at least. Jesus and his disciples are walking along the road to Caesarea Phillipi, and out of nowhere, he asks them, “Who do people say that I am?” And after some suggestions from the other disciples, Peter blurts it out: “You are the messiah.” And it’s obvious that he is right.

And that’s when everything starts to go wrong. Because Jesus says to them, “Good. You’ve got it. Now, let me tell you what a messiah is.” And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. Which is, frankly, an absurd and awful thing to say. Everybody knows that the messiah is a great king who will rise up and defeat the Roman Empire and free the Jewish people from their oppressors and return Israel to the glories of the days of Solomon. Suffering? Rejected? Killed? No!

And as the story goes on, it seems that now whatever the disciples do is add odds with Jesus’ plans. Jesus has given them the power to heal, so they try to heal a young boy. But they can’t do it, and Jesus says their faith is too small. The disciples complain that there are other people performing great works in Jesus name. “Jesus, stop them!” And Jesus says, obviously, that those who are not against us are for us. Children gather around Jesus and the disciples shout them away. And Jesus calls them back, and says that we must all be like children in order to enter into heaven. And it’s clear: Jesus’ teaching is getting harder, it’s getting a darker tone. And the crowds that follow him everywhere are getting... smaller.

For just a moment, as he enters into Jerusalem, the crowds gather around him, shouting “Hosanna” and waving branches. But it doesn’t last long. It seems that people are powerfully drawn to Jesus. But when they find out who he really is, they run for their lives. He stands up to the religious and political leaders, and his disciples abandon him in droves, until finally, only those twelve are left.

So they gather for dinner that last time, and Jesus offers his hardest teaching yet. Something about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, and the apostles can’t understand, or maybe are too horrified, too disgusted by the idea, and they refuse to understand. And then after dinner, he goes off to pray, and only Peter, James, and John come with him. He asks them to stay awake with him, but they fall asleep. And then when Roman soldiers show up, even THEY run away. Chapter 14, verse 50, says it simply. “All of them deserted him and fled.”

Peter, God bless him, Peter at least tries. He keeps his distance, but follows where they take him, and waits outside in the courtyard overnight to hear what happens to him. He meant it when he told Jesus at dinner that even if everyone else deserted him, he would stay. And so he did. But that doesn’t mean he’s not terrified for his life. And so his last fleeting effort to stay fails when his fear compels him to pretend he doesn’t know Jesus. And so even this last faithful friend leaves. And Jesus is alone.

They would follow him to the ends of the earth, but they would not follow him to the cross. Condemned to death, he hangs there utterly alone. People pass and mock him, but they do not stay. People taunt that perhaps Elijah will come and rescue him, but Elijah does not come. And finally, he cries out, “My God, my God, why have even YOU abandoned me?” And then he gave up his breath.

We are alone, all of us. It is part of the human condition. Oh, we have lots of people in our lives, and hopefully, our relationships with one another are full of love. But you know as well as I do that we can never truly, fully understand each other. Even the closest lovers, who have everything in common, still argue, still offend, still trip over misunderstandings. Our existence ends at the ends of our flesh, and no matter how much we might want to, we cannot share that which is inside us with anyone else. The most socially connected of us has had moments where we have been alone in a crowd. To be human, in a way, is to be alone.

And so Jesus also had to be alone. He had to be fully human, he through whom all things came into being. To be fully human, he had to know the joy of the Hosannas. He had to know the sorrow of the Garden. He had to know the torture and violence of our common life. He had to know death, and he had to face it alone. Because that was the way he mended the rift that we carve out between us and God, ever since we first made it so that we were alone.

It is a gospel that can only be gestured to today, a Good News message that needs to wait for next week. But Jesus who knew how alone the limits of our flesh can be, offers himself for us, his body and blood to eat and drink, to enter and mix with our own bodies, to insist that we have God with us always, in even the most fleshly way. It is the simplest thing to understand, and at the same time, the greatest wonder and mystery of faith. We should be horrified and disgusted by the idea and run away, and yet we find ourselves to be powerfully drawn to it. This meal we gather around is just a sign to show us what God is doing, and yet it is also no mere symbol, but the very active thing that gathers us, and the way that God does everything to us. In Jesus is death. In Jesus is life. And in Jesus, we never have to be alone again.

Monday, January 16, 2017

"With:" Mountain or Molehill?

It's been a while.  Let's pick up where we left off, with verse 20.  As usual, we're going to quibble over the translation of specific Hebrew words.  :)
20. And I will make a covenant with them in that day,
    With the animals of the field,
        And with the birds of the skies,
        And with the creeping things of the ground,
And I will destroy bow, and sword, and battle from the earth.
    And I will make them lie down in safety.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Imperatives and Jussives

On our last reading, Mark pointed out something interesting in verse 18.  (Well, a few things, actually.)  He noted that "you will call me 'my man'" could be either a command or a description of the future.  English uses "you will verb" generally as a future tense, and usually forms a command by simply offering the commanded verb--in this case, "call me 'my man'" without "you will."  However, to intensify the command, those future-tense words can go back in there:  "You WILL call me 'my man.'"

Monday, October 3, 2016

My Husband

Scholars seem to disagree on whether verses 18-25 go with what comes before.  Hans Walter Wolff, who I'm using for the detail-oriented view, says there's a break before verse 18, and that we begin a new (and much later) oracle today--but he quotes others who say it's a continuation.  I'll let you be the judge:
18. And on that day
        -- This is a saying of YHWH --
                    you will call me "my man."
    And you will not call me "my Ba'al" anymore.
19. And I will remove the name of the Ba'als from her mouth,
    And they will not be remembered by their names anymore.
A strict translation of verse 18 would really begin, "And it shall be on that day..."  This is a common Hebrew expression that doesn't really belong in English, so accordingly most translations dispense with it.  But if you're peeking at a King James version, you'll find it there.  In any case, it's a way the prophets proclaim something that will happen in the future.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Good News!

It's good news today, which is a nice change of pace!
16. Therefore, look:  I myself will seduce her
    And cause her to go into the wilderness
    And I will speak to her heart.
17. And I will give her vineyards to her from there,
    And the Valley of Achor for a door of hope
And she will answer [there] as in the days of her youth
    As in the day she came up from the land of Egypt.
So far, in this long oracle, we've had lots of accusations (She said, "I will go after my lovers;" As for me, she forgot me) and dire consequences (I will strip her naked; I will take away her grain...and her new wine) for unfaithful Israel.  We've also had the word "therefore" twice in this prophetic speech, which is a little odd.  Usually, we'd only have one, but Hosea doesn't seem to be able to draw things to a close.  Instead, we now have a third "therefore."  It is to prove the final one in this oracle, as well.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Brokenhearted

Maybe I'm just in a poetic sort of mood, but there's something oddly beautiful about today's verses, despite their continued topic of divine punishment on Israel.

13. And I will cause all her joy to cease:
    Her feasts, her new moons, and her sabbaths,
    And all her festivals
14. And I will make her vines desolate,
    And her figs, about which she said,
"These are my prostitute's wages,
    Which my lovers gave me"
And I will make them a wilderness,
    And the wild animals of the field will eat them.
15. And I will visit on her the days of the Ba'als
    When she burned incense to them,
And she adorned [them] with her earrings and her jewels,
    And she went after her lovers
And as for me, she forgot me.
                --This is a saying of YHWH.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Vacillating

Last week, we talked about God as if he were a jilted lover who keeps providing for his beloved anyway.  He walled off his beloved's paths so she could not get to her lovers, but kept offering her the new wine, and fresh oil, and grain that provided for her life.  Such is God's grace-filled providence.  And then we get this:

11. Therefore I will return
    And I will take back my grain at its time,
    And my new wine at its appointed time,
And I will snatch away my wool and my flax
    That cover her nakedness.