The Coming King

“The Coming King”

Jesus Palm Sunday - Giotto di Bonde, Entry into Jerusalem 1304-06, Fresco, Cappella Scrovegni Arena Chapel, Padua

Luke 19:35-40 – April 14, 2019

The most powerful person in the world. Ever hear that expression? I suspect it is familiar to most of us from movies, from comic books, from historical fiction. With the release of super hero blockbusters every few months, we certainly have the opportunity to see the clash of titans on the big screen, and the super hero of the movie conquering the huge threat or the big bad guy—or big bad girl. The thing is…can we imagine Jesus as the most powerful person in the world?

Our Gospel reading today from Luke 19 tells us that a huge crowd of people thought the Rabbi Jesus was a really important person, a really powerful person. He was a Miracle Worker, He preached with authority, and just to be in His presence—wow! The crowd was hailing Him as the long-awaited King, the Anointed One of God, the Messiah.  

Jesus, Himself, had been telling His disciples that He had to go to Jerusalem for some time now. Even though His friends kept telling Him that the Jewish leaders and the Sanhedrin had it in for Him and wanted to kill Him, Jesus still “determined to go to Jerusalem,” as Luke tells us back in chapter 9.

Today’s story has all the makings of a great drama. (And, the narrative of the Passion Week has been recorded a number of times in motion pictures.) As commentator Alyce McKenzie tells us, “Good stories, screenwriters tell us, have a compelling protagonist, a believable supporting cast, a series of vivid scenes, and plenty of dramatic tension.” [1] Dr. Luke’s telling of the Palm Sunday story has all that, and more.

Here we are on Palm Sunday, and the weeks of Lent are almost over. That means that our series on the Lord’s Prayer is almost over, too. What sentence are we going to look at today, with our Scripture readings of Luke’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, and the Apostle Paul’s hymn of Christ’s humility? We take a closer look at “for Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever, amen.”  What more glorious Scripture readings to examine!

As we think of our great Divine drama, Jesus not only is a marvelous protagonist, but we can see He displays Divine foreknowledge. “Jesus knows ahead of time where the colt will be and what the response of the owner will be to being told, “The Lord needs it.” Luke shares with the other evangelists a portrait of Jesus as a true prophet whose prophecies are fulfilled and who has access to the secret knowledge of human hearts.” [2]

The second necessary feature of a great drama is a believable supporting cast. Look at the disciples—human, and distinctive. Listen again to Luke’s story: “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it “

We notice the rest of the supporting cast here, in the next verses. “As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. 37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: 38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

From time to time we have talked about putting ourselves into a Scripture reading, and viewing it from the inside. Where would you be, in our Gospel reading from Luke? Are you an excited disciple or crowd member, waving your arms and picking up a palm to welcome the Messiah Jesus into the city of Jerusalem? Or, are you one of the skeptical ones on the road, holding back, with a wait-and-see attitude?

“The people were obviously weary of the Roman occupation. They had been hearing rumors of a great teacher from Nazareth who healed the sick, fed the hungry, and made the scriptures come alive. Some of them had seen miracles first hand and had heard parables straight from Jesus’ mouth. Now, they had a deliverer; their long-awaited Messiah and Savior, King Jesus, was with them.” [3]

The third necessary element in any great drama is dramatic tension. Boy, does the Triumphal Entry have that! Even down to the antagonistic Jewish leaders who come up against the Messiah Jesus, this has drama all over the place.

It is almost too difficult for me to put myself into the narrative, I know this story all too well. Yes, I am tempted to rush right through the Palm Sunday celebration, go once-over-lightly through the several events recorded in the other Gospels during Holy Week, and cry again because of the Crucifixion this Friday night. Or, was it two thousand years ago?

Switching to the New Testament reading from Philippians, the apostle Paul has a slightly different point of view. Paul is writing from the other side of the Crucifixion, the Resurrection and Jesus’ ascension into heaven—as we know from the Apostles Creed, Jesus has taken His seat at God’s right hand in heaven.

As we start this reading to the church in Philippi, Paul tells us of Jesus, before His incarnation and birth in Bethlehem. The eternal Christ humbled Himself, emptied Himself of all Godhood, all Godly prerogatives, and became a helpless human baby. Imagine the most powerful person in the whole world, in the whole universe, even. The eternal Christ put aside the kingdom of the universe, the ultimate power and the infinite glory, to become human.

Another way of looking at this is that Jesus put aside all of that kingdom, power and glory so He could communicate better with us, so He could come along side of us and be Emmanuel, God-with-us, as we have talked about at Christmas. But, that is not the end. Oh, no! Certainly not!

We see this progression: the preincarnate Christ, in all His kingdom, power and glory. Amen! “Christ emptied himself of inherent divinity, and for his supreme obedience unto crucified death, he was exalted by God for unending glory. Philippians 2:5-11 keeps the focus Christologically and theologically tight. On Passion Sunday [today, this Sunday], Paul keeps us grounded in what God, through Christ Jesus, is doing.” [4]

We do not look at the institution of Communion on Maundy Thursday and the Crucifixion of Good Friday. We are skipping the additional drama, trauma, anguish and grief today. Paul does mention those things briefly, but he looks to the amazing ending. “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

If that is not a proclamation of the last line of the Lord’s Prayer, I don’t know what is. “For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever, amen.” Have you bowed the knee to our ascended and exalted Jesus the Messiah? Is your tongue acknowledging Him as Lord and Savior? Yes, Jesus was crucified on our account. It was for our sins He was crucified. His arms are open. His pierced hands are extended. Come to Jesus, today.

[1] https://www.patheos.com/Progressive-Christian/Palm-Sunday-Alyce-McKenzie-03-18-2013.html

Rewriting the Palm Sunday Story: Reflections on Luke 19:28-40, Alyce McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, 2013.

[2] https://www.patheos.com/Progressive-Christian/Palm-Sunday-Alyce-McKenzie-03-18-2013.html

Rewriting the Palm Sunday Story: Reflections on Luke 19:28-40, Alyce McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, 2013.

[3] http://www.theafricanamericanlectionary.org/PopupLectionaryReading.asp?LRID=15           

Commentary, Zechariah 9:9-13 / Luke 19:28-40, Rodney S. Sadler, Jr., The African American Lectionary, 2008.

[4] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=284

Commentary, Philippians 2:5-11 (Passion Sunday), C. Clifton Black, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2009.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Jesus is Lord of All!

Jesus is Lord of All!

Acts 10 Peter's Vision bas relief

Acts 10:45 – August 9, 2015

Here in the church, we sometimes talk about missionaries going to far-flung places in distant parts of the earth. They navigate visible and invisible borders and boundaries. But not me! I’ve always lived here in the Chicago area. One big similarity? I served in three multi-cultural hospitals. For almost ten years, in several hospitals and extended care centers around Chicago, I worked as a chaplain. I dealt with patients, their loved ones, and health care staff—on a regular basis. Instead of going to the world, I had the world come to me, in the hospital.

What in the world does this have to do with our sermon today? I’ll tell you, in a story-telling kind of way. We start off in Caesarea, a Roman city on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, the Roman capital of the Roman province of Judaea. Thoroughly Roman in every way, from its pagan temples, amphitheater and other architecture to the brand new deep harbor, thanks to superior Roman engineering skills.

Here we meet Cornelius, a Roman centurion, in charge of one hundred soldiers. (He’s a Gentile, by the way.) Let me tell you what Dr. Luke has to say in Acts chapter 10. I’m reading again from the excellent version translated by J.B. Phillips. “1-3 There was a man in Caesarea by the name of Cornelius, a centurion in what was called the Italian Regiment. He was a deeply religious man who reverenced God, as did all his household. He made many charitable gifts to the people and was a real man of prayer.”

Did you all catch that? Cornelius reverenced/revered God! The God who made heaven and earth. The God of the Jews. But, he was a . . . Gentile! Not a drop of Jewish blood in him.

What happens next? “About three o’clock one afternoon he saw perfectly clearly in a dream an angel of God coming into his room, saying, “Cornelius!” 4a He stared at the angel in terror, and said, “What is it, Lord?” 4b-6 The angel replied, “Your prayers and your deeds of charity have gone up to Heaven and are remembered before God. Now send men to Joppa for a man called Simon, who is also known as Peter.”

The town of Joppa was not just a mile or two down the road. No, the soldier Cornelius needed to send his servants between thirty and forty miles away in order to fetch this Simon Peter guy. Which, Cornelius did, right then and there.

Meanwhile, in Joppa—I imagine a split-screen sort of a deal here. On this side, here is the city of Caesarea. A large, Roman-style house. The camera zooms in on the centurion Cornelius, just having dispatched his men to go fetch Peter. And—on the other side of the screen, we have the camera: starting out in a long shot. We see the street scene on an afternoon in Joppa. The camera pans in, coming closer and closer to a particular building. A smaller house. Simon Peter is sitting up on the flat roof, catching some breeze off the ocean in that coastal town.

Dr. Luke continues: “9-13 Next day, while these men were still on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up about mid-day on to the flat roof of the house to pray. He became very hungry and longed for something to eat. But while the meal was being prepared he fell into a trance and saw the heavens open and something like a great sheet descending upon the earth, let down by its four corners. In it were all kinds of animals, reptiles and birds. Then came a voice which said to him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!” “

In the Mosaic Law, recorded in the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy, the Law code has definite restrictions on what any good, kosher-keeping Jew is and is not allowed to eat. A few well-known forbidden foods are no pigs—no pork. No shrimp or other shellfish. Also, no rabbits or snakes, and no owls or birds of prey. These are just a few of the kinds of animals, fish and birds that are forbidden, for various reasons. So, let’s see what happens next!

14 Peter said, “Never, Lord! For not once in my life have I ever eaten anything common or unclean.” 15 Then the voice spoke to him a second time, “You must not call what God has cleansed common.” 16 This happened three times, and then the thing was gone, taken back into heaven.”

Wow! Amazing vision that Peter had! Talk about totally blowing Peter away. Peter had always—all of his life—kept kosher. Eaten only the things that the Mosaic Law code said he could eat. Now, out of a clear blue sky, this vision is telling him that God calls all things clean!

I want to take a little detour. Tell you a bit about my two chaplain internships, after graduating seminary. I dug right into learning about various faith traditions. I learned about widely different cultural traditions, too. This was a natural progression for me, learning more of how to accompany diverse people in crisis, critical care, trauma and end of life. It sounds rather odd, talking about my years of intensive learning and stressful internship in this way, but I very much appreciated every intense, multicultural experience I had: both in the classroom, as well as on the floors and units of the hospitals and care centers.

Let’s come back to Acts, chapter 10. “17-20 While Peter was still puzzling about the meaning of the vision which he had just seen, the men sent by Cornelius had arrived asking for the house of Simon. They were standing at the very doorway of the house calling out to enquire if Simon, surnamed Peter, were lodging there. Peter was still thinking deeply about the vision when the Spirit said to him, “Three men are here looking for you. Get up and go downstairs. Go with them without any misgivings, for I myself have sent them.”

“23b-26 On the next day Peter got up and set out with them, accompanied by some of the believers from Joppa, arriving at Caesarea on the day after that. Cornelius was expecting them and had invited together all his relations and intimate friends. As Peter entered the house Cornelius met him by falling on his knees before him and worshiping him. But Peter roused him with the words, “Stand up, I am a human being too!”

I need to interrupt, to let you know—Peter and his Jewish friends from Joppa, being good observant Jews, were forbidden by the Jewish Law code to enter the house of a Gentile. Yet—that is exactly what Peter intended to do! Let’s continue.

27-29 Then Peter went right into the house in deep conversation with Cornelius and found that a large number of people had assembled. Then he spoke to them, “You all know that it is forbidden for a man who is a Jew to associate with, or even visit, a man of another nation. But God has shown me plainly that no man must be called ‘common’ or ‘unclean’. That is why I came here when I was sent for without raising any objection.”

As for me? All three of the hospitals where I served were in the middle of multicultural areas, a crossroad of the multicultural communities of Chicago and the surrounding area. One of these hospitals has the distinction of sitting in one of the most diverse ZIP codes in the country. (The U.S. Census Bureau says so.) I never knew who was going to be in that next room I entered, or what situation I was going to encounter next.

34-43 Then Peter began to speak, “In solemn truth I can see now that God is no respecter of persons, but that in every nation the one who reverences Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him! God has sent His message to the children of Israel by giving us the good news of peace through Jesus Christ—He is the Lord of us all.” Ahh. We can see that slowly, very slowly, Peter is taking baby steps towards being open to more than just Jews.

When I served as a chaplain, I didn’t just serve Protestant Christians. I remember a Buddhist Asian family in critical care, as their loved one died just as I came in—complete silence and intense sadness greeted me as I joined them in the room. Another time, I entered the packed ICU cubicle—wall to wall with a Pentecostal Latino family, who wanted me to pray their brother (and uncle) across the River Jordan. (The crashing, palpable waves of grief struck me again and again…I vividly remember.) It wasn’t all end of life. I remember being asked to pray the Rosary with a Filipino family around their ill auntie, lying in the hospital bed. There was the situation with an older Muslim patient, and the 20-something relative wearing black hijab and very conservative dress, sitting next to the bed; she earnestly asked me to pray. Of course I did!

In fact, Peter goes on to say: “We are those witnesses, we who ate and drank with Him after he had risen from the dead! Moreover, we are the people whom He commanded to preach and bear fearless witness to the fact that He is the one appointed by God to be the judge of both the living and the dead.”

This sermon Peter preached—for it was a sermon!—had its effect. The Gentile audience heard Peter, and what happened? “44-46a While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to his message. The Jewish believers who had come with Peter were absolutely amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit was being poured out on Gentiles also; for they heard them speaking in foreign tongues and glorifying God.”

Did you hear what happened? Praise God! These Gentiles believed, and the same thing happened to them that had happened to the Jewish believers in Acts chapter 2! The gift of the Holy Spirit came upon the Gentiles, too.

Remember what Peter told his Jewish audience, at Pentecost? Acts chapter 2? Joel’s prophecy regarding the outpouring of the Holy Spirit had been fulfilled. All who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Joel 2:32a). At first, Peter and the rest of Jesus’ followers thought that all only meant Jews. And then, Samaritans were added.

I have Good News for you. I have Good News for us all. Jesus is the Lord of all (10:36b). All Jews and all Gentiles who believe in Him receive forgiveness of sins through His name (10:43). As the commentator Richard Carlson said, the Apostle Paul had it exactly right, “In Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female” (Galatians 3:28). In Christ, there is neither Republican nor Democrat, citizen nor undocumented visitor, gay nor straight, for all are one in Christ Jesus.

In God’s salvation plan, all now really means all.

Alleluia, amen!

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!

From Fearful to Fearless

“From Fearful to Fearless”

Pentecost stained glass - Boone Tabernacle Church of God in Christ

Pentecost stained glass – Boone Tabernacle Church of God in Christ

Acts 2:1-18 – May 24, 2015

Everyone feels afraid, some time. I know I usually do not make sweeping statements like that, but I feel safe in making that particular one: everyone is afraid, sometime. Being fearful; it goes with being human.

If we look at the disciples, gathered in that upper room—the same upper room where their leader and Rabbi Jesus had them gather together to eat the Passover dinner on Thursday in Holy Week—we can see several good, valid reasons for them to be afraid.

Confusing events happening in short succession. This was compounded by the followers of Jesus scattering, running away, frightened by the very real, very legal, very official things happening to Jesus just before His crucifixion.

     Let’s fast-forward past Easter Sunday, past the weeks when the risen Jesus was occasionally present with the disciples. Past the time of the Ascension. The disciples still must have been frightened to death of the authorities. But, I suspect they needed to talk about the happenings of the past few weeks, too. Debriefed. Tried to figure things out, as best as they could. We go to the day of Pentecost, another major feast day for the people of Israel. And where are the disciples? Back in Jerusalem, in the upper room, hidden away from the authorities.

Let’s begin to read our scripture passage for today, starting at Acts chapter 2, verse 1: “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues/languages as the Spirit enabled them.”

If we were watching this scene as it happened on television, or in a movie, the special effects would be awe-inspiring! Can you see it now? Except, this was long centuries before the time of anything approaching motion pictures, even electricity. Imagine what it was like for these few dozen people, gathered together to pray in the upper room.

The biblical record refers to the coming of the Holy Spirit as being similar to the blowing of a violent wind. I’m sure this was an eye witness report. That must have been what it really felt like! Buffeted about by the sheer power of a strong wind—except—they were all inside the house, with all the doors shut tight! Let’s continue with the next verses:

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues/languages!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

Here in these verses, we take a tour of Asia Minor, and parts of Africa and some of Europe. That’s how far the Jewish people had dispersed, in the past few hundred years. Observant, practicing Jews had settled in these far-flung places many years before. Their present-day descendants were fully enculturated, and spoke the local languages and dialects as their own. However, some still came back to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage, to worship at the Temple. As I mentioned, Pentecost was a big festival in the Jewish religious calendar.

Moreover, these dispersed Jews from far-flung provinces were amazed that home-grown Jews from Galilee, the boondocks of Israel, were able to speak many regional languages and dialects so fluently! Wonder upon wonder!

These Galilean Jews had gone out on the street, rubbing shoulders with all and sundry outside. They all had gotten a big shot of courage from somewhere, and were communicating the good news—to everyone. To all of these visitors to Jerusalem, who in turn could take the good news of the Gospel with them, to all parts of the Roman Empire when they returned home.

True, I could preach about the erasing of the Tower of Babel’s barrier, the division of separate languages, and the ease of communication that took place here on Pentecost. I could talk about the birthday of the church, and how the church began its great mission of spreading the good news. But—I wanted to focus on the disciples. How they went from fearful to fearless.

Let’s turn back to our scripture passage: “13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” 14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”

Did you hear what Peter said? It’s because of the Holy Spirit. Everything is because of the Holy Spirit! That is exactly why the disciples poured out into the street after their fiery experience in the upper room! After the wind of the Holy Spirit swept through that room, their hearts, and their very lives. It didn’t matter—men, women, whoever was there. Each one in that room had the Spirit energize their hearts and their minds. The Spirit came with fire!

What is more, we see from the prophet Joel that the Spirit was prophesied to be poured upon all people. Sons, daughters, young men, old men, even men and women servants. I think that is everyone. We are all going to get power from the Spirit of God. The ruach ha kodesh, the Holy Spirit. What’s more all of us have the possibility of going from fearful to fearless!

Here is the last of today’s reading from Acts: “20 The sun will be turned to darkness  and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. 21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”

Pentecost was not just a one-time-only event. Sure, Dr. Luke put this account down on paper so we all could remember, so we all could see the power of God as it happened so long ago, in Jerusalem. But—we can see the power of the Spirit of God now, each and every day. We can tell others about what the Lord has done and is doing in our lives—how the Spirit of the Lord blows through our lives on a regular basis–today.

The important thing about the arrival of the Spirit of God was not the wind or the flames. That’s just the exterior way we all knew that the Holy Spirit had arrived! But the disciples knew, from experience, that God was now with them in power and in might. The same way the Spirit is with us, today. That knowledge changed the disciples from fearful to fearless, and that knowledge can do the same thing for each of us, today.

Is there a Pentecost in our lives today? Is the Holy Spirit living, breathing, active in our lives, today? Please God, yes. God can enable us to go forth from here in the Spirit’s power, to share what God has done for each of us. And the response? As Peter quoted from the prophet Joel, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Amen, and amen!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!)