This sermon was written and preached for Church of the Apostles, Kansas City where I serve as Theologian in Residence. You can watch the whole Maundy Thursday liturgy, including the sermon, here.

Everything is different. 

There is no other way to describe our present reality: overarching, overwhelming, overactive change. We have had to change the way we shop for groceries; the way we work Monday thru Friday; the way we “do” Church; tragically, we have even changed the way we interact with our fellow humans. 

Tonight is no exception.

Typically, Maundy Thursday is a very hands on liturgy. As you probably remember, Maundy Thursday’s liturgy normally mirrors Sunday worship but adds a foot washing. It is a powerful experience, often with many smiles and many more tears. Then we come to the altar as we remember the Last Supper which Jesus shared with his friends; we drink the wine and eat the bread; we experience, taste, touch, and smell the body and blood of Jesus in a poignantly palpable way. Finally, the altar is stripped and washed. We watch as the sacramental vessels, the candles, and the liturgical accoutrement are silently removed, the lights dimmed, and the cross draped.  

All of this is thick with meaning and beauty…and yet this year is different.

What does it look like for the church to celebrate Maundy Thursday when she is separated, scattered, and dispersed? How do we enact and embody Jesus’ command to love one another and to “do this” in remembrance of him when we are under order to “stay-at-home”? We are separated by time in addition to distance because I am recording this sermon on Wednesday which means you are watching it a day later…

Everything is different.

And yet…it is all the same. It is all very much the same.

It would be so easy to sit amid the changing landscape of human history and modern society and throw our hands up in the air, exasperated, and proclaim, “Things will never again be the same!” You would be right on one hand…many things won’t ever be the same. There are so many variables at play, and we’re still so in the midst of this situation, that we really don’t know what our world will look like when this is over. 

Friends, we are disoriented.

But disorientation is never an isolated event when things are changing. Change involves the same progression over and over: orientation, disorientation, and reorientation. 

We all know just how often things change in our lives, and just how much we typically hate it. However, and this is an important however, there are some things which are always the same; some things do not change; in some things we can place our trust or perhaps even the entirety of our lives and know that they are secure…

…and this is precisely what we encounter on Maundy Thursday.

In the Exodus story we find Israel on the very cusp of a change–a change which would affect her identity and her memory forever. Israel had been enslaved in Egypt for hundreds of years and in our text we find YHWH giving instructions for a meal that would become the ritual which defined Israel more than any other, even to this day. YHWH tells his chosen people to take a lamb and slaughter it at twilight. The people were then to take some of the blood and mark the doorposts of their houses before eating the lamb hurriedly, with girded loins, sandaled feet, and staff in hand. Why? Because this is the night that YHWH would pass over the houses of Israel and strike down the firstborn in Egypt. This is the night when YHWH would secure the release of his people so that they could worship him in the desert. YHWH finishes by saying: This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.

The remembrance was always the same because the event that they were commemorating was always the same. When Jews celebrate Passover during times of peace or times of trial, she always remembers the Passover when YHWH redeemed his people. Throughout Jewish history, though, we know that the Jewish people had vastly different circumstances year to year. From wars, global dispersion, and persecution, the faithful celebrate the never-changing ritual of Passover even when life looks radically different. 

During the Passover celebration, the youngest child asks, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” This is a question we should be asking ourselves tonight. Ask yourself or look to the person next to you and ask, “Why is this night different from all other nights?

This night is different because tonight we remember the last night before everything changed forever. Passover was the calm before the storm; so too was the Last Supper. Passover was the meal before YHWH struck down the first born and Israel’s redemption from the hands of Pharaoh; the Last Supper was the meal before the crucifixion and resurrection. 

Both the Passover and the Last Supper were rituals given to carry people through disorientation.

Jesus gives his disciples not one, but two, ritualistic remembrances. The first is the washing of feet. This was the most powerful symbolic act demonstrating love, a pouring out of divine love, for one another. Jesus said that the world would know his disciples by their love; he revealed to them what that love would look like: it was the master taking on the form of a servant. 

The second was the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus broke bread and poured wine for his followers during the Passover celebration because he was the Paschal lamb; he would be the blood on the doorposts allowing God to “pass over.” The Lord’s Supper is the festal remembrance, the perpetual ordinance which we have been given. 

Notice that Peter did not want Jesus to wash his feet at first because he knew just how lowly it was for Jesus to do the job of a servant. Clearly he did not see it as humility but as humiliation. When he finally understood, Peter wanted his entire body washed! Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, even Judas’ feet when he knew he was about to betray him. Would we consider washing the feet of our enemies? How about those we disagree with theologically? How about those from whom we are estranged? Forget washing, would we even pray for them? 

In washing each others’ feet we are invited into the unending love of the Trinity extended to all of creation. We open ourselves to the overwhelming love of God.

Holy Week allows us to enter into the full disorientation of the crucifixion and the resurrection; we see the Son of Man glorified and lifted high, we see God being glorified in Christ crucified, we see Christ enthroned upon the cross. All of this forms our remembrance when we celebrate Holy Eucharist. Paul tells us that as often as we eat and drink the bread and wine we are proclaiming Christ’s death until he comes. 

The same ritual which carried us through disorientation is the very fabric of our reorientation. 

Tonight is different, not just because it’s Maundy Thursday, and it’s “different than all the other nights.” That’s already baked into the liturgical cake. Tonight is different because we’re at home. One of the very rituals given to us that we normally celebrate tonight, the Eucharist, we can’t because we’re separated. We’re dispersed. We’re disoriented. 

We may not have the visible symbols and tangible experiences in front of us this Maundy Thursday the way that we have in the past, but God has not changed; the Passion of Christ has not changed; the command to love one another and to share in Jesus’ meal has not changed. As we worship in “a foreign setting” I want you to hold on to the fact that Eucharist is still part of our re-orientation; the very absence we feel tonight because we lack Holy Communion is evidence that every Eucharist we have celebrated before–flowing directly from the Last Supper–is an action which still affects and directs our reorientation toward God.

The symbols and signs of Holy Week remain true whether we’re dealing with a global pandemic or “life as we remember it.” Despite everything else going on around us, we remain tethered to the God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. I leave you with an invitation and a promise: enter into the most powerful three day period in the liturgical calendar with the assured knowledge that the changes occuring in the world around us can do nothing to mitigate, mute, or muffle the cosmic victory of Christ’s Passion. These rituals, then, keep us rooted in who we are as God’s people. They keep us rightly reoriented toward God despite the disorientation we are presently experiencing. May your Holy Week disorient and then reorient you toward Almighty God.

This sermon was prepared for and preached with Church of the Apostles, Kansas City (my home parish) in mind. I offer both the audio link and text here for any who may be inclined to listen/hear. I hope you find it to be an encouragement and blessing — all critiques and feedback welcome.

AUDIO VERSION HERE

“Constant Vigilance”

The human ability to adjust to our surroundings is unparalleled, a byproduct of both God’s design in creation and the faculties developed and nurtured through centuries of survival. The human eye is able to adjust to a dark room within 20-30 minutes. The process, known as “dark adaptation,” occurs as the cones and the rods in our eyes adjust to the lack of light, allowing us to gain a sort of night vision. According to Rafael Caruso, an investigator in the National Eye Institute’s Ophthalmic Genetics & Visual Function Branch in Bethesda, Md., “The human retina can perform its light-detection function in an astounding range of light intensities, from bright sunlight to dim starlight.”[1] Athletes often train in higher altitudes in order to shock their systems with less oxygen, therefore requiring their bodies to adjust to the intentionally imposed stress and forcing them to thrive; this is particularly true for the world’s greatest runners and cyclists.

Similarly, researchers and thought leaders say it typically takes 30-40 days to form a new habit. Our bodies are able to adapt to a new diet, the engaging of regular exercise, or a new sleep pattern. The first 10 days are rough because you are essentially shocking your system by introducing something new. The next 10 days are the normalizing process during which you are learning to walk like a newborn foal; you have your legs underneath you but you are still wobbly, as it were. The last 10 days see you flourishing in your new practice so that by the time you hit that 30-40 day mark, you have put in a significant amount of hours and minutes in adopting the new practice, your body and mind have adjusted to the new thing, and you have now successfully incorporated it into your daily routine,…the success, however, is dependent upon one key principle:

Constant vigilance.

You cannot start-stop your diet or your exercise on a daily basis and still achieve the same weight-loss results. Trust me, I’ve tried. You cannot save money for a season, then spend it all, and then save, and keep it up and still hope to retire with a fat bank account. Again, trust me, I’ve tried. In the words of the imposter Mad-Eye Moody, aka Barty Crouch Jr, you have to practice constant vigilance…you have to constantly be watching, working, pursuing the goal.

Today we celebrate the First Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the church’s calendar, and we begin to prepare our hearts and minds for the birth of Messiah. However, and this is a very big however based on the lessons for today, we cannot adequately reflect upon the First Advent of Jesus without also bearing in mind and thinking about his second Advent, that day when he comes in glory to judge, to reign and rule, to usher in his kingdom fully and finally. The lessons for today are focused on that second advent and thus prompt the question, “What do the two advents have in common and what do they mean for our daily lives?” and beg an answer that is at once both reflective and applicable.

So, we start. The passage from Isaiah is both prophetic and apocalyptic. Here we see an outline of the end times. There will be a day, says Isaiah, when the whole world will come to the city on a hill (Jerusalem) and there they will learn from God. Remember, Isaiah is writing during the reign of the kings of Israel. There have been good kings and bad kings. Before that there was the period of the judges when Israel was push-me-pull-me with her God. One might, just might say, that in the realm of covenantal faithfulness, Israel had not been practicing constant vigilance with any regularity…

This will be a time of peace, a time when the wars shall cease, and the swords are beaten into ploughshares. So powerful is this prophetic image that even the musical Les Misérables references it in its closing song citing the day when, “We will live again in freedom in the garden of the Lord, we will walk behind the ploughshares, we will put away the sword, the chains will be broken and all men shall have their reward.” This is not a temporary cease-fire between warring nations, nor is it the promise of man-made world peace. We also know that Isaiah isn’t describing the first advent of Christ because when Jesus finally does come on to the scene, he both enters and leaves amidst fighting, wars, hostility, and pain. This is the day depicted by John in his revelation when there will be no more tears or crying or sorrow or pain or death, the day when the whole world resides with God…and don’t miss that key fact. This is not Israel’s future with YHWH, but the future of the whole world, the opening of covenant to Jews and Gentiles alike.

The Psalm also depicts this. What you need to bear in mind about Psalm 122 is that it is one of the Psalms of Ascent. Israel made pilgrimage to Jerusalem three times a year for the great festivals. During this pilgrimage, those traveling along the road would sing the Psalms of Ascent. These Psalms ascend in two senses. First, Jerusalem is the city upon a hill, and one must ascend the hill to reach the city. The second is that thematically, these Psalms gradually ascend until reaching final crescendo in Psalm 134 when Israel proclaims:

1 Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord

who minister by night in the house of the Lord.

2 Lift up your hands in the sanctuary

and praise the Lord.

3 May the Lord bless you from Zion,

he who is the Maker of heaven and earth.

We can see the theme of ascent from the beginning because Psalm 122 begins with, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD?’” Where is the house of the LORD? Jerusalem! Why would one be glad to go there? Because her life had been shaped and oriented around worshipping God. Israel made these pilgrimages tri-annually because she believed that worshipping YHWH in this manner, on these occasions, was an intimate part of her relationship with him. Despite Israel’s lack of constant vigilance, this festal worship was a regular reminder, a regular call to return to God and to joyful receive his compassion and forgiveness. It was an opportunity to step back into the bright light after days, weeks, months, or years of living spiritually with dark adaptation vision.

We come to Romans and Matthew and we get into this sticky matter of time. Who knows what time it is when the Son of Man will come again? Only the Father! Not even the Son knows the time of his parousia. Don’t worry, Jesus is still seated at the right hand of the Father, reigning and ruling over all things. When we read that the Son of Man doesn’t know the time this is a nod to Jesus’ incarnation and the fact that he was both fully God and fully man. It is in the humility of his humanity, just as the Collect suggests when it says, “now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility,” it is in this humility that the Son of Man does not know the time.

Jesus talks about other events that happened when no one was expecting them…Noah and the flood, two women working and two men working, and one is taken and the other is not. The point of these stories is not a retroactive marketing ploy to boost sales of Left Behind. Most commentators agree here that the point of these vignettes was to highlight the sudden and unexpected nature of Christ’s return rather than the manner of how it happened.

The real meat of these two passages, though, is when they begin highlighting the types of behaviors and actions we should be engaging in and/or abstaining from while we await his coming in glory. We are to give up smoking, drinking, chewing, and dating girls that do…seriously, drunkeness, licentiousness, sexual immorality. What if we added lying, stealing, cheating, dishonesty, judgmental thoughts, portraying a holier than thou persona on social media, hostility in relationships and friendships based on unmet expectations and hurts, pride of position, lack of humility …oh dear, I hope that list wasn’t too specific and uncomfortable 😉

Jesus describes the master of the house who keeps watch when he knows the hour of the thief coming to rob his house. If you knew that the burglar was coming to your house at 1:07am then of course you’d be ready. But what do you do when you don’t know the time or hour, the day or month, the minute or year? How does one adjust one’s life to include constant vigilance when considering an earth shattering even over which you have no control and for which you can only prepare but can never know the exact time?

But now we have finally come to the crux…what are we to do with these lessons about the second Advent when we are in fact gathered to celebrate the first coming of Messiah?

Jesus’ first advent was like a thief coming in the night. After Isaiah’s prophetic-apocalyptic vision of jubilee, Israel was exiled and conquered over and over again. She went 430 years without hearing a word from YHWH and then a little boy was born to parents with royal blood but no real position in the world. In Herod’s and Caesar’s backyards, men who believed themselves to be the sons of god, Jesus is born in the town of Bethlehem and his coming was only known to his poor, unwed mother, his father, the wise men, the shepherds, and of course the paranoid, bloodthirsty, and murderous Herod. He came quietly; the religious leaders expected a military and political leader to come and vanquish Rome, usher in the theocracy, and instead they/we received a humble king who rode into town on a donkey rather than a chariot and warhorse.

This season, we will sing songs about preparing our hearts to make room for Christ. This is not a sweet, poetic it of theological pander…there is actual work to be done here. Constant vigilance! To be vigilant is to be on the watch, to be alert and aware, to be ready and prepared. We cannot be lazy, distracted, slow, or negligent in our care and concern.

So, friends, I would like to take this opportunity to propose that we treat this Advent season as a mini-Lent. In Lent we take on disciplines and practices, while also giving up unnecessary stuff, in order to prepare for Easter Joy. Let us do the same thing during these four weeks as we prepare for Christmas joy. And, don’t worry, I have given you a list of 4 pairs: a discipline alongside something for you to give up. You have 25 days until Christmas to embrace and introduce a new habit to your life.

  1. Take on the discipline of reading the Daily Office and give up worrying about the future. The good news is that God is god and you are not. The bad news is that this will likely hurt your ego. Worrying about the future does nothing other than rob us of joy and energy in the present. The Daily Office will help you trust God by spending your time focusing on him instead of worrying about things outside of your control. This means people, places, things, events, acts of God, traffic patterns, money…
  2. Take on the discipline of abstinence and give up impulsivity. I am not talking about “that” kind of abstinence. Figure out the activities from which you ought to abstain: social media, gossip, speaking critically of others, lying, drinking, overeating, an obsession of self. Instead take on slower habits: reflection, thoughtfulness, prudence. Little good actually comes from impulsivity. Exercise restraint of pen and tongue—that is, don’t like your lips write a check you aren’t willing to cash—and think before you act. The goal is to become slow to anger and quick to love rather than quick to anger and slow to forget…
  3. Take on the discipline of daily confession and give up judging others. We cannot adequately prepare our hearts, minds, imaginations, and lifestyles if we have been unwilling to look into the darkest corners of our hearts. We typically judge others when we have unconfessed sin in our own lives. Set aside time every day to reflect and confess your sins to your Heavenly Father, not because he is a despot or task master, but because you truly desire absolution and remission of sin. Focus on yourself here and thereby stop focusing on the sins and shortcomings of others…
  4. Take on the discipline of sacrifice and give up self-serving endeavors. Let’s be honest and admit that the next month feels like Christmas instead of Advent, a focus on me instead of he. We will be pressed for time, money, and energy. This is the moment to shift our focus to others and give more than we have before. Find people to serve in discrete ways. More than anything, think on others instead of yourself. If you think about what you can achieve or get out of something it’s not the right thing.

We are not awaiting the thief to come in the night. While the second coming might be compared to a thief coming in the night, please remember that we are actually talking about the return of the King, the coming of the One who has a rightful claim to the throne and who will judge all things and put the world to rights. Jesus is coming, both King of kings and Lord of lords, and our call is to prepare our hearts for his return, even as we reflectively prepare to celebrate his birth once more. May we be found faithful and vigilant.


[1] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/experts-eyes-adjust-to-darkness/

You will find both the transcript for my recent sermon and the link for the audio version in this post. I tend to mirror/follow my writing version with some degree of intentionality, but often it serves as the foundation from which I then branch out as the morning develops and the Spirit moves.

As always, a special thanks to the Rev. Cynthia Brust and the Rev. Canon Ellis Brust of Church of the Apostles and all the fabulous people at COTA for allowing me the space and opportunity to preach and work on my craft. I am truly blessed with such a fabulous, kind, and welcoming community!

LINK FOR AUDIO

Ought to. Want to. Have to. Need to. 

Would. Could. Should. Wouldn’t. Couldn’t. Shouldn’t.

It all gets extremely overwhelming, doesn’t it? I really want to eat this third serving of King Ranch Casserole but should I? I know I ought to call so-and-so on their birthday, but I don’t want to. It is highly advisable to exercise regularly and get your oil changed every 3,000 miles, but this book is too good and I’m too comfortable gearing up for some late night TV watching…

You’re laughing now, but let’s make this less fun:

I see that person stranded with a flat tire. I ought to stop, but…

I know I’m supposed to love my neighbor, care for the poor, the orphans, and the widows, visit the sick, the dying and the shut in, and be an expression of Christ to Democrats and Republicans, Libertarians and Independents, black, white, brown, yellow, even the Presbyterians…but they are just so different from me; they just make it so hard; I really ought to but they just…

And we give our excuses time and time again.

We tend to associate with only those who look like us, talk like us, spend money like us, or vote like us. Is that not the heart of the matter in our Gospel passage this morning? We’ve become so desensitized to the radical nature of the Good Samaritan that we risk missing the point completely. Let’s enter into the story once again and see what’s going on.

So, we enter Luke’s Gospel this morning and the passage beings, “Just then.” Ok, we need to stop 😉 “Just then” tells us that we are in the middle of a specific scene in the story. Ellis preached on Luke 10 last week and the story concluded with verse 20. 

Jesus has just sent the 70 out on their mission with the knowledge that “the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” They are given instructions as to what to pack, how to go, and what to do when they encounter hostile/unrepentant cities. They go out and they return exuberant. They were able to cast out demons in Jesus’ name–I don’t know about you but I think the ability to cast out demons during your mission is something to rejoice about! Jesus rejoices with the disciples but then we enter into this interesting set of verses when Jesus blesses the disciples for being able to see what God has revealed, especially when there are kings and rulers who would love this type of information.

It is in the midst of this gathering–of the disciples’ return from mission and Jesus’ praise of their work and his comments about seeing and hearing–that a lawyer stands up and asks Jesus a question: what must I do to inherit eternal life?

It is so easy for us to miss this and move straight to the second question: who is my neighbor? We cannot afford to move too quickly here.

Remember the scene with me one. Last. time: they are corporately rejoicing in the successful mission of being sent-out-ones in Jesus’ name and talking about casting out demons and the relationship between the Father and the Son and a lawyer asks, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Talk about non-sequitor. Talk about a buzz kill.

Jesus’ answer isn’t surprising: what do you read in the law? A lawyer asks the question and Jesus tells him to read the law…it might be like us having a conversation right now and me turing to you and asking, “what must I do to celebrate the Eucharist properly?” and someone replying, “What do you find in the Priest’s Handbook? Or what does it say in the Book of Common Prayer?” Are you with me here?

The lawyer responds with the shema–Israel’s ancient prayer which she was to recite multiple times throughout the day, the prayer that was supposed to be written on her heart, her forehead, the doorposts to the house, talked about as you she was walking with her children–that is, this is the very fabric of Israel’s life with YHWH. This is his response, with the addition of loving your neighbor, and Jesus says, “Yes, you are right. Do this and you shall live.”

Wait…what? That’s a weird response! We miss the verses preceeding the Shema in Deutoronomy 6…but they have been printed in your bulletin!

Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the ordinances—that the LORD your God charged me to teach you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy, 2 so that you and your children and your children’s children may fear the Lord your God all the days of your life, and keep all his decrees and his commandments that I am commanding you, so that your days may be long. 3 Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe them diligently, so that it may go well with you, and so that you may multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you.

Do you see it? The Great Commandment given in Deuteronomy, the very foundation and backbone of the Shema, is preceded by an important promise: do this and you will live. Follow YHWH and you will enter the land flowing with milk and honey. This YHWH, the one who redeemed and rescued his people out of Egypt that they might worship him in the desert, the one who gave the law to a people already redeemed, the one who promised Abram long ago of a people and a land…this YHWH already told them what it would look like to follow him and live in the promised land…

So of course Jesus would tell the lawyer to look at the law and then tell him that the foundational premise of the law found in Deuteronomy 6 would be the key to eternal life…of course he does. It makes complete sense now that we see it this way…right?!

BUT…

There is a but here and it is simple: the lawyer wants to justify himself and so he asks who his neighbor is.

Now don’t go giving the lawyer a hard time, friends. Sadly, if we are going to identify as anyone in this passage it ought to be the lawyer who asks the question. Why? Because how often do you ask God questions like this one? How often do you say, “But surely you can’t mean that folk in Wyandotte County are my neighbors? Surely, you don’t mean that Republicans or Democrats or immigrants are my neighbors, Lord?” The answer is simple, “Yes, and don’t call me surely.” 😉

The question instantly creates an us versus them, and we love that, don’t we? If everyone isn’t your neighbor then it means that some people aren’t your neighbors and if some people aren’t your neighbors then it means that you are off the hook for helping them, caring for them, loving them, treating them with dignity and respect…you see? 

The lawyer is hoping for an out, a get-out-of-jail-free card, and he doesn’t get one. Instead, he gets a parable. Jesus tells the story of a man walking from Jerusalem to Jericho. This is no easy walk. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was about 18 miles long and you would have started at the high elevation of Jerusalem where the warm air and moisture coming from the Mediterranean was still present and then you would have descended into the Dead Sea Valley to reach Jericho, the oasis city in the desert. The road would have been arid and dry barren wasteland. This is NOT an easy journey and people hearing the story would have known that. The journey would have been lonely because while it was a primary thoroughfare between these two cities, it was so dry and arid hot with so many twists and turns that it was easy for travelers to be robbed and mugged. Bandits would hide out along the road, mug their victims and then travel into the desert and know they were safe, because who wants to chase someone in the desert?! 

So the man traveling this treacherous road, both because of climate and because of the potential for criminal activity, encounters a group of robbers who strip him, beat him, and leave him half dead…really, they leave him to die.

We read that a priest was traveling down that road. Whether the down here means down from Jerusalem toward or Jericho or along the road and on his way up to Jerusalem is irrelevant. This priest was either on his way to Jerusalem to worship or he was on his way back from worship in Jerusalem and he sees a man half dead. Given the way that Jesus tells the story it is safe to assume that this man who was beaten is an Israelite and therefore there is no reason for the priest to ignore him. However, the priest ignores him, likely because he did not want to put his purity at risk by touching blood, and he passes him by. 

A Levite is the next person to encounter the man and he too passes by him without stopping to help him. Levites were from the tribe of Levi which was the priestly tribe of Israel during the Exodus. While their rules and regulations were not as strict as the high(er) priests in Second Temple Judaism, they were still a priestly people which means that this Levite was yet another religious authority who passed by/over the dying man and did nothing…quite the commentary Jesus is providing!

Side note: the passage along which they were traveling is so narrow at some points that you would have needed to literally walk/step over the man in order to keep moving. Jesus’ point is clear here: the priest and the levite didn’t just turn a blind eye to the man…they stepped over him and kept moving without giving him a second thought.

And if you thought that was bad then hear the rest of the story: it was a Samaritan who stopped and took care of the man. It was actually rumored and forewarned to travelers from Jericho to Jerusalem to watch out for the Samaritans who might stop and rob you as you went on your way…do you see what Jesus is doing here? He is turning the entire structure on its head and making some pretty outrageous claims here, claims that would have gotten the attention of his listeners.

The Samaritan doesn’t just take the man into his care. He places him on his animal, pays for his expenses with the equivalent of 2 days wages and then says give me the bill if more is needed, and makes sure that he receives the medical attention he needs to make a full recovery.

“Who was the neighbor?” Jesus asks. The Samaritan, of course. “Go and do likewise.”

Instead of letting you sit with that story, I want to meddle again. Think about it like this. There once was a man traveling along the road between two countries. He encountered a group of robbers who beat and left him for dead. A politician walked by and said, “He isn’t my neighbor because he isn’t part of my political party” and he walked on. Then a pastor walked by and said, “He isn’t my neighbor because he doesn’t belong to my faith community” and he walked by. But then an immigrant, a foreigner, someone who did not belong to the country, someone about whom vicious lies had been spread, someone who had received the brutal end of diplomacy and democracy, and she was moved to pity. She took care of that man. She used her money, took him to a shelter…

Go. And do. Likewise.

There is no escaping the call of Jesus this morning. The lawyer asked two questions: what must I do to inherit eternal life? and who is my neighbor? The answers left no wiggle room: love the Lord your God and your neighbor and if a Samaritan taking care of a Jewish man after he was beaten by robbers is applauded for acting as a neighbor then that means everyone. And I don’t mean the neighbor next to you with the well manicured lawn who never leaves trash at the curb or throws raucous parties or who never comes asking for anything but when she borrows your allen wrench she returns it within 24 hours and the man who borrows some sugar comes back with cookies for you…not just them…I’m talking the immigrant, the migrant, the poor, the destitute, the DIFFERENT FROM YOU AND ME. We will be overwhelmed, I suspect, by the vast diversity of the Kingdom of God supping together at the eschatological banquet table. 

The lessons and the collect are rather clear this morning: you know what you ought to do and you need to pray that God would change your oughta’s into wanta’s so you can go about doing it…and we will be able to see the results based on the fruit of your labors…the proof is in the pudding my friends. When you live a life based on principles, 99% of your decisions are already made…when you live in the Kingdom of God, 100% of your decisions are already made…but will you follow through? Will you accept the call of God today, here, now, and begin reordering and reorganizing your live so that it aligns most fully with God and his kingdom? Will you commit to not only knowing what you ought to or should do in a moment but to actually doing it? 

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and your body, and your mind, and your strength, and your soul, and your wallets, and you resources…and love your neighbor as yourself…Go and do likewise, friends.

This sermon was preached on Palm Sunday, 2019 at Church of the Apostles, Kansas City. The audio recording can be found here.

I think we all need to recover after that long reading! I’ll go ahead and open us with a prayer and you can allow your legs and mind to rest for a moment 😉

The Sunday before Easter is a bit of an anomaly. It is like the Sunday that could not make up its mind: Palms or Passion, Palms or Passion, Palms or Passion…at some point there was a gathering and it was decided that instead of picking one or the other, we would do both.

We are covering the whole of the Passion from a big picture, 40,000 foot perspective today and then we will begin focusing in ever more closely during the coming week. Palm Sunday was used for centuries as the day during which churchgoers would hear the whole story of Holy Week other than the story of Easter. Why? Because getting people to church on a Thursday and Friday between two Sundays isn’t the easiest accomplishment…but I’m sure we don’t know anything about that! Palm Sunday became the one day when people could hear the full story of Holy Week, when they would be taught what happened on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Put it like this…let us assume that this is your first time in church. And let us also assume that you won’t be back until next Sunday…this assumption is only for this sermon, by the way, you are utterly and absolutely expected to be here Thursday and Friday…well then, if I kept my sermon only to the liturgy of the palms and the Triumphal Entry so that Thursday and Friday could be stand alone texts…then you would hear about Jesus entering the city on Sunday and the following Sunday you would hear about how he rose from the dead…are you following me? You might be a bit confused on Easter!!

So, I don’t want to focus my time on the intricacies of the Last Supper institution, though I could go on and on, nor do I want to add anything to the crucifixion scene—I’ll leave those two texts to these two preachers!—instead, I want to show you how Kingdom permeates the entire Passion narrative. We are not left with a choice between Kingdom and King on one hand and Palms and donkey on the other as if the two are mutually exclusive, as if we have to pick between Palms and Passion. The One who rides into the city amidst cries of Hosanna and palms on one Sunday is the same One who is exalted and enthroned upon the cross on that Friday. Let us begin.

For many Christians in the world, the Saturday before Palm Sunday is known as Lazarus Saturday. We heard from Ellis last Sunday about the scene at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus when Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume. This took place in John 12 and then the story moves forward in John’s gospel to the chief priests plotting to kill Jesus AND Lazarus because it was his fault that Jews were deserting, and then the story moves to the Triumphant Entry and to the Last Supper in Jerusalem. The Gospels all place Jesus in Bethany before the Triumphal Entry. The Orthodox have a unique perspective leading into Palm Sunday and it is one that I think needs a great deal of reflection on our part. The Saturday before Palm Sunday is known as “Lazarus Saturday” in the Orthodox tradition. Why? Well, we may have read John 12 last Sunday, but what story immediately precedes the scene at Lazarus’ house? Yes, you’ve done well! It is the raising of Lazarus from the dead. The Orthodox celebrate this miracle on the day before Palm Sunday because it creates a fantastic backdrop for the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and ultimately what will happen on Friday and Sunday. Think about it with me for a second: Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead and proclaims “I am the resurrection and the life.” He then shares a meal at their home and is prepared for burial by Mary. Then, and only then, does Jesus enter Jerusalem as a triumphant king…what exactly has he triumphed over?

We spend a lot of time in the church talking about how Jesus’ entry is one of a humble king, riding on a colt rather than a war horse. It was the people who placed their hopes for a king of a militaristic and political nature upon Jesus, ascribing to him the value and worth that they would for a conqueror. We then admit that Jesus wasn’t doing what they thought he was…or was he? Have we so missed the forest for the trees with our relentless theological nitpicking that we lose sight of the fact that Jesus was in fact entering the city as a conquering king?

In our attempts to highlight Jesus’ humility, even using the passage from Philippians 2 as support, we have poked so many holes in the triumphal entry text that it will no longer hold water. We have placed so many cuts along the support beams that the text can no longer bear the weight it was meant to.

John’s account of the triumphal entry includes what feels like a random verse from the Old Testament. John writes, “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” We emphasize the donkey and minimalize the coming king. Here is the context for the verse: Zechariah 9 in which the prophet prophesies about the end of Israel’s oppressors, about their downfall and destruction, and about the God who is watching over his people and who will enter the city in triumph to the cries of the people. Here is the passage in full:

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!

    Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!

See, your king comes to you,

    righteous and victorious,

lowly and riding on a donkey,

    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

10 I will take away the chariots from Ephraim

    and the warhorses from Jerusalem,

    and the battle bow will be broken.

He will proclaim peace to the nations.

    His rule will extend from sea to sea

    and from the River to the ends of the earth.

11 As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you,

    I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.

12 Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope;

    even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.

13 I will bend Judah as I bend my bow

    and fill it with Ephraim.

I will rouse your sons, Zion,

   against your sons, Greece,

and make you like a warrior’s sword.

The King has come. The kingdom is coming. The entry on a donkey is in juxtaposition to the chariots and warhorses that Caesar or another demigod may use, but the coming King is still triumphant, still victorious. “See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious…”

The triumphal entry did not happen in a vacuum. It was not an accident. Everyone gathered together would have seen the meaning before them plain and simple. I would like to experiment with this idea and I need your full attention and effort. I will start saying a well known phrase and I want you to finish it for me. For example, if I were to say, “Give me a break, give me a break” you would say “break me off a piece of that kit kat bar.” Bonus points for those who said, “Fancy feast.” Ready?

The Lord be with you : and also with you

Therefore we proclaim the mystery of faith: Christ has died, Chris is risen, Christ will come again

Ok, those were the easy ones because they have a natural response. Here are a few others:

Here’s looking at you kid.

Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.

They may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!

There is meaning to these phrases well beyond the actual text. You know them because you have a context for them, they do something to you, they take you somewhere. For a moment there, even the most fleeting of moments, were you not on an airstrip in Morocco, or a bench waiting the hope on the bus, or even in the Scottish highlands many centuries ago? I won’t belabor the point much longer, but we are able to go to those places because we have been there, we know them, we have them ingrained in our memory, etched on our hearts…and now we have the triumphal entry.

This is a key to the whole text because even though we end up at the foot of the cross or outside of the Garden Tomb with Joseph of Arimathea, the whole liturgy is framed around Triumphal Entry and the Coming King. The star of the show, as it were, is this verse in Luke’s gospek which has been borrowed from Psalm 118. Surely you heard it twice today during the liturgy of the Palms and your mind went straight to the Sanctus during the Eucharist. You have a context for this theological concept: holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might. Heaven and earth are full of your glory, hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, hosanna in the highest.

Hosanna means “save us.” The people lining the street to Jerusalem were singing the praises of YHWH and crying out to him that he save them, that he rescue them, that he deliver them. They did this and then anointed the “King who comes in the name of the Lord.” You heard the majority of the Psalm read this morning: it is a Psalm of praise and victory. The LORD heard the cry of his people and his mighty hand has delivered them! The use of Psalm 118:26 here suggests to us that the whole Psalm would have been used by the people against the backdrop of Israel’s long history with YHWH. This crowd may have cried “crucify!” just days later, they may have expected Jesus to overthrow Pilate and Caesar in explicit fashion, but they got one thing right: the King was entering the city in righteous victory and they, the crowd, were in desperate need of salvation and rescue…

We’ve spent the overwhelming majority of our time this morning going through the passages from the Liturgy of the Palms because honeslty the rest doesn’t make sense without it. Jesus as the true King, as the one coming in the name of the LORD, as the one entering in triumph, this is what helps us to understand the passion more fully. It was never about human thrones and powers, it was always about triumph over evil and death. The One who resurrected Lazarus comes to Jerusalem in faithful obedience to the covenant to allow humanity to expend its evil upon him and to resurrect from the dead.

Jesus has been traveling toward Jerusalem with his face set like flint ever since he descended Mt. Tabor after the Transfiguration. As Cynthia reminded us, he walked slowly through the crowds en route to his destination, but he was always on his way to palms and passion, cross and tomb, death and life. He enters the city after demonstrating his power over death only to be met by the full embodiment of human evil and execution: the Roman cross. He rides into the city that is the center of Israel’s religious life, the city on a hill that was see as the meeting place of heaven and earth, the city that would have been the logical site of a restored Israel…and he does so only to leave the city a few days later under the burden of a wooden cross and a crown of thorns…

Humanity exhausts its evil upon the Son of God.

The powers and principalities of the world snuff out the light of rebellion.

Satan claims victory over the God with whom he thought equality could be grasped.

And friends, there isn’t any relief from this predicament. We don’t get to move beyond the text and see resurrection here. We don’t get to see the story fulfilled and completed. As we journey through the texts today and through the next 6 days we are left with this unhappy and uneasy feeling of “but what happens next?”

We have to do some work today to hold firmly in our hearts and minds that which Israel had never forgotten: YHWH was covenant maker and covenant keeper and he would redeem his people. This is what Lazarus helps us to see: the God who raised Lazarus from the tomb is the same God who made the valley of dry bones walk and is the same God who will raise Jesus from the dead. The story of Lazarus is a kingdom story. It is triumphant. It is victorious. It is the beginning of the reversal and renewal of all things and it is (one of) the reason that Jesus can enter the city hearing, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Friends, here is what I ask of you today:

As you look upon the King entering the city, say…

As you look upon the Lord sharing a meal with his friends and followers…

As you witness the beating and scouring of the King of the Jews…

As you gaze up at the King who is enthroned upon the cross…

As you enter into Holy Week and travel toward Easter…

Perhaps we can make it more personal: Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem, a city over which he would weep, and he does so in triumph as the one who raises the dead to life. What parts of your life need raising? What areas of your heart need the triumphal entry of Jesus? What gates and doors in your hearts, minds, emotions, imaginations, or dreams need to be flung open to allow the King of kings and the Lord of lords to enter? Or, if we can move out just a moment: what parts of our city, our offices, our state, our nation, our world, need to be opened up to the entry of Jesus?

This is not religious speak! This is real, friends. He comes to you in the same way he came to Jerusalem…amidst the praises of the people, enthroned by the cries of “salvation” and royal welcome…he comes to you to lead you through Passiontide, to guide you through Holy Week, to bring you to share in his meal, kneel at his cross, wait by his tomb, and proclaim “Alleluia” once more next Sunday…will you join?