The Wardens Wands

 

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I am a history geek with a sub-specialty of church history geekdom and as such I am interested in all things related to church and the history of worship.  This season, I have been hired by the Old North Church Foundation as a Church educator.  These are the folks that give tours to people and try to debunk many of the myths of history like “did Paul Revere hang the lanterns in the steeple.”    Like I said, I am a church geek and so the unusual things attract me and first up will be what are known as the Wardens Wands.  The wands at Old North are not as fancy as others, but the purpose is the same.

The role of the Church Warden varies not only by congregation but by country of origin.  Christ Church in Boston, Commonly known as Old North, began her life as a Congregation in the Anglican tradition.  After the War for Independence, the Church became Episcopal, but many of the traditions carried over.

The role of the Warden has changed since the 18th century.  Elected or appointed wardens had the responsibility to keep order in the church and the churchyard.  Wardens could remove unruly parishioners and fine them for their unsavory behavior.  They had powers of arrest on church property and would patrol the inside and outside of the church during services, and this is where the wand comes in.

The wand is usually a long wooden pole that is topped with a finial of some sort often silver or brass.  In the case of the wands at Old North, they are wooden.  The wand was a symbol of office and would be carried by the Wardens in process ahead of the bishop, and used for protection of the bishop

The wands were also used as a way to move large groups of people in and out of the church and for self-protection during the exercise of their duties.  The wand was also used to keep people awake during services, especially the sermon.  18th-century church services could last several hours, and sometimes the preacher was not very skilled in his oration so people might nod off a little.  The warden would come by and poke them with the end of their wand to bring them back to consciousness.  I have heard that there was an additional wand with a feather on it that was used on the ladies in the congregation.

I am not sure what would go on inside of the Church, but obviously, there must have been some unruly crowds if there was a need to arm the wardens for their protection.  There are historical accounts of clergy saying things that the congregation has disagreed with and even some historical accounts of clergy being rushed and taken out of the church by force.  But those accounts are left to history, I hope.

I Wardens Wands at Old North are primarily decorative now and can be seen in the first Box Pew as you enter the sanctuary.  A reminder of the past but also there to be pressed into service if necessary.

Feed My Lambs

 

FishingSimon Peter felt like a failure. On the last night of Jesus’ life on earth, Peter made an impossible commitment: “I will never run away and leave you.” But only hours later, Peter shouted, “I told you, I don’t even know him. Leave me alone!”

Now, Christ had died, Christ had risen, but Peter understood none of this. He was literally at the end of his rope. What had the last three years been about anyway?

Imagine one of those scenes that, in a few short weeks, will be duplicated all over the United States.  Imagine a brilliant, sunny day in late spring. Outdoors on a university football field, or maybe in a high school gym… folding chairs will be set up, row upon row. Proud parents and family members will be stretching their necks to see. Down front, will be the squirming graduates, in caps and gowns. They will look like the very picture of scholarship.

Suddenly feeling self-conscious, the grinning graduates will march across the platform, receive their diplomas and return to sit with the rest of their classmates… these special people they’ve felt so close to, most of whom they will never see again.

At the punch bowl reception a few minutes later someone will walk up to the graduate and say, “congratulations!” Then, suddenly, with tear-filled eyes, they may say, “You know, you may not realize it now, but these years you’ve just completed are the best years of your life!”

The person doesn’t mean it to come across this way, but these are among the deadliest words one human being can say to another. It’s like saying, “You may think you’re at the threshold of something new, but don’t fool yourself, kid, it’s all downhill from here.”

Peter may have been feeling something similar when, in our Scripture Lesson for this morning, he tells the other disciples, “I’m going out to fish.”

Then the scene changes and Jesus is talking with his disciples.  There he was standing on the shoreline asking them if they had any food.  They had been out all night, and they were tired, and the fishing had not gone well.  Jesus asked them to cast their nets again, so they did, they brought in more fish than they could handle.

As they sat by the campfire eating Jesus singles out Peter for a little chat.  History tells us that Peter was the oldest of the Apostles and for that, and several other reasons, he was the defacto leader of the little group.  But Jesus singles out Peter for another reason, forgiveness.

Peter was the first to proclaim and profess his love for Jesus and was the one who tried to defend him when he was being arrested.  But Peter was also the one who denied Jesus not once, not twice, but three times.  Jesus told Peter this was going to happen, but he would not listen.

Now comes the time when Jesus needs to restore Peter’s confidence.  They are about to be sent out on a mission that will change the world, and Jesus needs Peter to be at his best.  So he turns to him and asks him, Peter, do you love me more than these?

Now there is some disagreement as to what “these” means in the story.  I believe there is a double meaning in all of this.  As they sat there, and Jesus asked Peter this question, he motioned around with his hand at all that was around them, the fishing boats, the equipment necessary for fishing, but the disciples were also there as well as their families.  Jesus is asking Peter do you love me above all of this?

Peter answers, “Yes, Lord: you know that I love you.”  And Jesus responds, “Feed my lambs.”

After a little while, Jesus turns to Peter and again asks him if he loves him.  Peter answers that he does, and Jesus tells him to “Tend his sheep.”

Again a little while goes past, and Jesus asks Peter if he loves him.  Now Peter is a little concerned and a little sad that Jesus is asking him again if he loves him. Peter turns to him and says, “Lord, You know everything, and you know that I love you.”  Jesus says to him, “Feed my sheep.”

Now this little dialogue is confusing enough and it loses some of its meaning in English.  You see in English we have one word for love.  It’s the same word we use to say we love hamburgers and the same word we use to say we love our children.  In fact, this is one of the most overused words in the English language.

But what we see here before we is that Jesus uses different forms of the word love.

The first two times that Jesus asks Peter, Do you love me?”  Jesus is using the agape form of love.  Agape love is the highest form of sacrificial and self-emptying love; this is the kind of love that God has for all of the humanity and that we can develop only through maturing in the grace of God.

Also, notice that Peter never truly answers the question he only says, “You know I love you.”  Jesus asks a simple yes or no question, “Do you love me?”  Peter says you know…  Perhaps it has to do with his emotional ties to the denial, but Peter is unable to say that he loves Jesus in this agape way.

So the third time Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” he uses the philo form of love.  This is a lesser form of love more like brother affection.  Jesus lowers his expectations and is willing to accept whatever form of love Peter is ready to give.

But through all of this Jesus knows that Peter will grow into the agape kind of love for him and even shows Peter how that will come about as Jesus tells Peter about his death.  Peter was grieved by Jesus’ asking him three times if he loved him or not and I am sure that Peter had his denial on his mind, but with each semi-answer, Peter gave Jesus gave him a mission, to feed and tend his lambs.

What sort of love do you have for Jesus today, is it that all in agape love or is it the more philo love.  It does not really matter because just as Jesus was willing to accept whatever he could get from Peter that is the case with us today, Jesus is ready to take us as we are, right here in this place, and he is willing, through the grace of God, to move us from philo to agape!

Jesus has charted the course for us; he knows we are tired from our many years of labor, and he is asking us to cast our nets on the other side.  He is showing us a different way to live, to love, and to grow.  Jesus did not abandon Peter when he denied him, Jesus reached out his hand and told him that it was okay, sure you stumbled, but it’s okay.

Forgive Them

A Good Friday Meditation

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Last Sunday night, the Fox Television Network premiered a retelling of the story of Jesus journey to the Cross.  Set in the City of New Orleans the Passions was a mix of Scripture and music that made the story, that we are witnesses to this week, new for a new generation.  Not unlike Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar the attempt was made to make the story fresh. I liked what they did and thought it would speak to a generation that needs to hear this message in their language.

The one thing that stuck out was that there was no scene of the crucifixion.  There was no scene of Jesus being whipped, beaten, and spat upon, the focus of this portrayal was not the usual blood and gore of Good Friday but the unconditional love and forgiveness of the entire life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

When I was in seminary, the movie the Passion of the Christ was shown.  We traveled to the theater as a group to see the movie and then went back to the seminary and had a discussion about it.  The images of a bloody Jesus remain with me to this day and when you ask anyone about the movie they will talk about the blood and the gore, but no one seems to mention love and forgiveness.

Now I fully understand that in order to have the Resurrection we first need to have the crucifixion, but I believe we have focused way too much attention on the violence of the day and not enough attention for the reason for the day.

Anyone who has heard me preach for any length of time knows that I usually circle back to the theme of love and forgiveness, why because that is what the entire story is all about.  Everything that Jesus did and said was about this radical idea, and yes it was radical for them, of unconditional love and forgiveness.  Until this time, believers had to sacrifice; they had to make long journeys and offer up animals for sacrifice to find forgiveness from God.  There were all sorts of rituals and superstitions that one had to perform and believe in to find forgiveness of sin.  Then Jesus comes along and stands it all on its head.

I sometimes wonder if we have lost the understanding of the mission of Jesus.  I sometimes wonder if in all of the committee meetings and other such churchy things if we have entirely lost the reason for why we do what we do.  How often in Church meetings do we speak about love, compassion, healing, feeding, clothing, and the like.  Sometimes I feel like we are more pharisaical than apostles.  More like the Sanhedrin than the disciples.  More like Judas than the repentant thief hanging on the cross beside Jesus.

We live in a world that has been turned on its end.  I witnessed a conversation on Facebook yesterday decrying the for-profit corporation Cadbury dropping Easter from its Chocolate eggs.  I entered the fray by saying who cares it’s not about chocolate eggs it’s about the resurrection.  Immediately I was scolded and reminded that Christianity in America is under siege.  We seem to be more concerned about Chocolate eggs then we are about childhood poverty and hunger.  Christians it’s time to wake up and remember what being a Christian truly means!

Everywhere Jesus went his message was clear, love God and love your neighbor.  He also spoke of the need for forgiveness not just between God and us but between our neighbors and us.  Each time we recite the prayer that Jesus himself taught us we say for forgive us as we forgive others.  Lack of forgiveness leads to hate and hate very often leads to violence.

Forgiveness is not about the other person forgiveness is about you.  When we withhold forgiveness, we are only harming ourselves for we give the other person, or person, power over us and we re-victimize ourselves in the process.  Sure, it will take time and God’s grace to help us to forgive, but it is a necessity if we are going to have a balanced spiritual life. I will add that the most important person that we need to forgive is us, we need to forgive ourselves.

So back to the cross.  Jesus was there, between two thieves, one who recognizes the severity of their predicament and understands that Jesus was indeed innocent.  We have no understanding of what they were accused of, it does not matter, but one of them turns to Jesus and asks that he be forgiven and Jesus, says yes, you are forgiven.

He looks down from the cross, and all of those who had been with him for the three years of his ministry are gone, except for James and the a few women and his mother, but he does not curse the ones who fled for their lives.  He does not curse Peter for his denial, and he does not curse Judas for his betrayal.  He forgives them all.

He looks down from the cross, a symbol of hatred and persecution, and sees the men who have just nailed him there, casting lots for his clothing and making fun of him.  Rather than curse them, he looks up to heaven and asks God to forgive them.  He asks God to forgive the very people who have just killed him, and he puts no condition on this forgiveness at all, he does not even care if they believe in him or accept their forgiveness, he just simply forgives them.

I like to use the image of the cross when I speak of this notion of unconditional love.  When you welcome someone home, as the father welcomed back his prodigal son, you throw your arms wide open as a symbol of welcome and embrace.  Jesus is there, with his arms wide open welcoming us all into his loving and forgiving arms.  He’s not there to judge and say that we cannot come because we love the wrong person or we have the wrong skin color, his arms are wide and open for all who desire to know that he forgives, and I want to assure you this day and every day that he truly forgives you.

If you are here today, in this place and at this hour, and need to know this love and understand this forgiveness, do not leave this place without the full knowledge and assurance that you are indeed forgiven.

This day is not about blood and gore; it’s not really even about the cross.  It’s about the love of all of God’s children, and it is about forgiveness of all of God’s children.

Return to the Cross of Golgotha

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“I simply argue that the cross be raised again at the center of the market place as well as on the steeple of the church, I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on a town garbage heap; at a crossroad of politics so cosmopolitan that they had to write His title in Hebrew and in Latin and in Greek … and at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse and soldiers gamble. Because that is where He died, and that is what He died about. And that is where Christ’s [followers] ought to be, and what church people ought to be about.”

Rev. George Fielden MacLeod

Love One Another

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Just to make to clear, I write this from a position of privilege.  I am a white male Christian, who has never faced any discrimination in my life.  I have never been prevented by anyone from practicing my faith as I see fit, and I do not buy into the argument that Christianity is under attack in America.  Regardless of what people think we still have more freedoms than most of the world’s population.

I also understand the fear and how fear sells in politics and I also know that many people in America and the world are fearful right now.  But what we do not need is more fearmongering what we need is more love and understanding.

Two of the Republican Presidential candidates, hours after the Brussels bombings, called for roving patrols in a Muslim neighborhood in America and the ability to torture people to gain information.  If there is one way to ensure that you will radicalize a population it is single them out and blame them for all of the problems.  In his statement about the terrorist attack, Governor John Kasich said, “We are not at war with Islam, we are at war with radical Islam.”  I would add that we should be at war with radicalism that flies under any flag be it Muslim or Christian.

Not long ago, in fact, it was after the terrorist attack in Paris, my church hosted a gathering of religious leaders in our community.  There were Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Jews, and non-believers all gathered together to pray, in our way, for peace in the world.  We gathered as religious leaders but also as fellow members of humanity as a sign of solidarity.  We heard prayers for peace from all of those religions and we all joined our voices together as one.

America is an incredibly polarized place right now and what we need is unity, not more polarization.  I do understand that people are afraid but rather than sending armed patrols into Muslim neighborhoods, I’m not actually sure those even exists, why not have people gather at churches, mosques, and community centers and talk about what brings them together and how we can all work to end violence and racism in our communities.  Sending armed guards and rounding up people just because they are of one religion is history repeating itself and not in a good way.

What brings people together is understanding, the understanding that comes from mutual love and respect for all our neighbors, not just the ones that look like us.  Polarization is a tactic that is used to win elections and making us afraid of those who look different.  America should be different than that.

Soon Christians will celebrate Holy Thursday.  It was on this night that Jesus washed the feet of his Apostles and gave them a new command. The Gospel of John records the events of that evening and this new command of Jesus not only for those that were there on that night but for all of us. “I give you a new commandment, which you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have a love for one another.”

During this holy week on the church calendar, Scripture passages will be read about what hatred can do and the destruction it can bring and leading to the horrible death of Jesus Christ.  Thankfully we Christians know that the story does not end there and that what the story is truly about is sacrifice and unconditional love, and it was that love that changed the world.

We have to do more than pray for peace we have to work for peace, we have to, in the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “be the change we want to see.”  Throw off the fear, throw off the hate and take on a love of neighbor.  Get to know people and truly understand them and what they believe.  In the end, we will be a stronger nation.

Spy Wednesday and the Redemption of Judas

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The Wednesday of Holy Week has as its theme the betrayal of Jesus by one of his Apostles namely Judas Iscariot.  Traditionally it is believed that one this day Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Lazarus, who he raised from the dead, and Lazarus’ two sisters Mary and Martha.  This was the night that Mary anointed Jesus’ feet and then dried them with her hair.  It is also the night that Judas made a big ruckus about the cost of the ointment that Mary used.  He claimed that it could be sold, and the money was given to the poor, but we are led to believe that Judas wanted the money for himself.

It is also believed that this is the night that Judas left the house and went and made a deal with the Jewish authorities to betray Jesus a few days later.  I have always found Judas to be a curious figure.  Why did Jesus pick him as one of his Apostles?  We do not hear much about Judas until this time in the story so was he always concerned about the money?  We know from Scripture that he was in charge of the purse, so money must have been on his mind.  Did he participate in the healings like the others did?  Did he preach along the highways and byways of the area as the others did?

I believe that Jesus knew the character of each of the people he chose, and it was for that reason, their character, that they were chosen.  Knowing that he was to be betrayed by one of his closest friends he chose Judas, someone of weak character and given to greed and avarice, to be one of his intimate friends.  Many of us have been betrayed by those close to us so in a way I can sympathize with Jesus when this happens.  But at the same time, he knew this was coming.  I get the feeling it still hurt a little.

But what of Judas?

Scripture tells us that he did, in fact, betray Jesus, but he then had a moment of conscious and tried to give the money, what he called blood money, back to the Jewish Authorities.  They would not take the money back for the same reason that Judas wanted to give it back; it was dirty money.  Judas throws the money at them and runs off.  In the end, they do take the money, but they use it for the purchase of a burial ground.

But Judas, now faced with what he has done, runs off into the wilderness where he ends his life.  But does he physically kill himself or is the end of his life more of a spiritual thing?  Judas is so overcome with the realization of his betrayal, and he agonizes over this fact.  In the recent television portrayal, The Passion (read my review here) we see this awareness play out with Judas.  Where or not he physically killed himself is not the point here the question is what happened to him?

Later on in the story, when Jesus is praying, he says that he did not lose one of the ones, the Apostles, which God had given him save the son of perdition.  It is believed that he is speaking of Judas.  But did Jesus mean he lost him as a follower in the physical sense or that he lost him as a follower in the spiritual sense?  It is certainly unclear.

Now I have nothing to back this up other than my faith in an all forgiving God, but I believe that Judas was redeemed in the end.  Here is my thinking.  Someone had to betray Jesus, and it was Judas that was chosen.  Betrayal was his vocation and maybe even the reason he was born.  In another place in Scripture, Jesus tells his followers that a man was born blind so that he could be healed and glory brought to God.  So God chose Judas, as he did all of the others, for a purpose and that purpose was the betrayal.

In the end, Judas repents of what he has done.  We see this in the action of his attempt to return the money to the Jewish Authorities.  My theology teaches that if we repent from our wrongdoing and are truly sorry for what we have done, God will forgive us.  The way I read the story is that Judas was indeed remorseful and repentant for all that he had done so God must have forgiven him!

My belief in a truly merciful God a God that believes all of us are his children, would not have let Judas perish.  God gave Judas a job, a job he had no choice in, and in the end, he carried out God’s will and then repented for what he had done.  So it is my belief that at the end of the day Judas has been forgiven and will be in paradise.

The Amazing Paradox

The Tuesday of Holy Week

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 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. John 12:23-26

In this passage from John, Jesus is saying three things that are all variations of the central truth and at the heart of the Christian faith and life.

He is saying that only by death comes life. The grain of wheat is ineffective and unfruitful so long as it is being preserved in safety and security.  It is only when the grain of wheat is thrown into the cold ground, and buried there; this is will bear fruit.  It was by the death of the martyrs that the Church grew.

It is always because people have been prepared to die that the great things have lived. But it has to be more personal than that.  It is only when people bury their own aims and ambitions that they can begin to be of real use to God.  By death comes life! By the death of personal ambition, a person becomes a true servant of God.  This hold true for the Church as well.

Jesus is saying that only by spending life do we retain it. The person who loves their life is moved by two aims, by selfishness and by the desire for security. Jesus insisted that the people who hoarded their lives must, in the end, lose it, and the ones who spent their lives must in the end gain it.

Jesus was saying that only by service comes greatness. The people that are most remembered and loved in this world are the ones who have served others. So many people are in business or politics only for what they can get out of it. They may well become rich, but only one thing is sure – they will never be loved, and love is the true wealth of life.

Jesus came to the Jews with a new view of life. They looked on glory as a conquest, the acquisition of power, the right to rule. Jesus looked on it as a cross. Jesus taught that only by death comes life; that only by spending life do we retain it; that only by service comes greatness. When we come to think about it, truly think about it, Christ’s paradox is nothing other than the truth of common sense.

The Passion: A Review

The Passion

It has been a long time since a television show or a movie has impacted me but the presentation of The Passion that premiered last night on the Fox Television Network is now one of those times.

Each generation needs to tell biblical stories in their way, in ways that speak to them in language that they will understand.  In the 1970’s we had Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell.  In the early years of this century, The Passion of the Christ premiered and told the story in a very different and graphic way.  The Passion now joins with these great telling of the Greatest Story Ever Told.

With one of America’s greatest cities, New Orleans, as the backdrop, the story of Jesus final week is told in music and word.  With scenes like Jesus in the coffee shop telling his Apostles about what is coming next, to him stopping by the food truck to buy the bread that will be used for the last supper, the story becomes real in the 21st century.  The choice of New Orleans could not have been better for this is a story of hope from despair and lives rebuilt out of ruins just like the City itself.

I was a bit skeptical of the choice of Trisha Yearwood as Mary the Mother of Jesus, but she hit it out of the park with her emotional songs about a mother saying goodbye to her son.  I believe that this was more than acting but pure raw emotion as she put herself into the shoes of Mary as she watched Jesus die.

Chris Daughtry gave an outstanding performance as Judas, the betrayer and for the first time we were given a glimpse of the agony that Judas must have gone through as he wrestled with the very human emotion of a choice between good and evil, between doing what is right and doing what is popular and between faith and greed.  We do not see Judas’ end in the story for just the way he walks away from Jesus and the others points to the emotional turmoil that he was now in as a he faced the reality of what he had done.  The traditional story is that Judas took his life by hanging from a tree, well in a sense this is what we see here, he took his life by his actions, and he will be tormented for his role in it all until his last days.

All during the telling of the story, a giant illuminated cross was carried through the streets of New Orleans.  Beginning at the site of suffering after Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans Super Dome, and moving through the historic French Quarter to Jackson Square the crowd was building until they reached the final spot where the story would, at least for now, come to an end.  But unlike the Passion of the Christ, there was no crucifixion; there was no scene of Jesus being whipped by the Roman soldiers. This did not detract from the story at all, but the storytellers chose to focus on what came next.

Standing high atop of a hotel not far from the center stage Jesus belts out a song about unconditional love, the ultimate message of all that had come before.  We tend to focus a lot of time and energy on the bloody parts of Holy Week and pass over the message of love and hope that the story is all about.  I want to give credit to the creators of this program for shifting the focus back to where it should be on the timeless message of hope and redemption, forgiveness, and love.

If you did not have an opportunity to see The Passion, take time this week to watch it.  You will not be sorry that you did.

Love’s Extravagance

The Monday of Holy Week

Anointing Jesus Feet

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” John 12:1-8

It was coming near the end of the ministry of Jesus.  As I mentioned in my last essay (The Entry of the King) the action of Jesus coming to Jerusalem, when there was a price on his head, took great courage.  The crowds in the city during Passover would have been so great that finding lodging with the town would have been impossible, and so they went to Bethany to the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.

He arrived at the home of his friends, and they made a meal for him and it was at this time that the love that Martha and Mary felt for Jesus overflowed.  Of course, they loved Jesus, after all, he raised their brother from the dead, but it was deeper than that.

Martha was a very practical person, and the way she chose to show her love for Jesus was to serve at table and with the work of her hands. As we have seen before, Martha also gave what she could. Caring for the creature comforts of one at home enables them to concentrate on their work outside of the home and Martha was doing this for Jesus.  Service to Jesus takes on many forms and Martha shows us just how important the various roles of his followers truly are.  It is just as possible to serve Jesus in the kitchen as on the public platform.  The one who cares for others physical needs in ministry is the hands of Christ as much as the one who cares for the spiritual needs of others.  Martha shows this to us by her love for Jesus.

Mary was the one who above all loved Jesus, and in this passage we see three things about this love.

We see love’s extravagance. Mary took the most precious thing she possessed and spent it all on Jesus.  Love does not love if it nicely calculates the cost.  Love gives all, and its only regret is that it has nothing left to give.

We see love’s humility. It was a sign of honor to anoint a person’s head. The psalmist says, “You anoint my head with oil.” Psalm 23:5. But Mary would not look so high as the head of Jesus; she anointed his feet. The last thing Mary thought of was to confer honor upon Jesus; she never dreamed that she was good enough for that.

We see love’s unselfconsciousness. Mary wiped Jesus feet with her hair. In Palestine, no respectable woman would ever appear in public with her hair unbound. On the day, the girl was married her hair was bound up, and never again would she been seen in public with her hair unbound.  To appear in public in such a way was a sign of an immoral woman. But Mary never thought of that. When two people love each other, they live in a world of their own.  Many are self-conscious about showing their Christianity; they are always concerned about what others are thinking about them. Mary loved Jesus so much that it was nothing to her what other thought.

But we see something more in this passage.  John tells us that when Mary anointed the feet of Jesus, the fragrance filled all of the room.  This statement, like so many others in John’s Gospel, has a double meaning. One is on the surface, and one lies just under the surface.   Mary’s action has filled the entire Church with the sweet memory of what she did for Jesus by anointing his feet. But the action goes deeper than that. The fragrance filled the room and moved out from the house into the entire world.  The fragrance changed the surrounding area with the sweet smell of love and added a bit of beauty to the world around them.

When we do something nice for someone else out of love the world changes around us just a little bit.  Do something for someone today for no other reason than they are a fellow human being and you love them.

The Entry of the King

A Sermon on Luke 19:28-40

Palm Sunday

There is no doubt in my mind that the consistent message of Jesus was love and doing things for others.  There is no doubt in my mind that this message was unconditional, and is required of all of us who say we follow Him.  So great was his love for us that he chose to do something so great that it would eventually get him killed not for himself but us, all of us.

Today we begin the holiest week on the calendar of the Church.  Today we have a celebration with a crowd whipped up into a frenzy that will soon turn ugly, and the cries of Hosanna will soon turn to shouts of Crucify him.  Today we see the crowds coming out in large numbers to get a glimpse of the man they had only heard about, a man who, until now anyway, had been somewhat of a secret but is now taking his boldest step, entering the capital city not simply as just another pilgrim but as King.

Jesus and his followers had been in Jericho, only seventeen miles away less than a day journey.  For Jesus his journey was coming to an end, his long three-year ministry would soon be over as the goal, Jerusalem, was at the end of this journey.  Jerusalem, the place where all of this would come to an end.

The prophets had a regular custom of which they made us again and again. When words were of no effect, when people refused to take in and understand the spoken message, they resorted to some dramatic action which put their message into a picture which none could fail to see.  There are many examples in the First Testament about such actions and it is a dramatic effect that Jesus has now planned for his entrance.  He proposed to ride into the city in a way that would be an unmistakable claim to be the Messiah, God’s Anointed King.  The only one who would ever be anointed by God to rule the people.

There are a few things to make note of about this entrance.

It was a carefully planned event.  It was not sudden, and it was not an impulsive act.  Jesus did not leave anything for the last minute. He had his arrangement with the owners of the colt so when one of his followers came to get it and said, “the Lord needs it,” it was a password that had been arranged long ago.

It was an act of glorious defiance and superlative courage.  By this time in his ministry, there was a price on the head of Jesus.  Jesus certainly would have known about this, in fact, his apostles argue with him about not going to Jerusalem for this very reason.  Jesus did not avoid controversy and had angered the authorities against him.  They were afraid of losing the comfortable positions they had created for themselves. It would have been very natural for Jesus not to go to Jerusalem at all, or that he should slip quietly in by some back entrance so he would not be seen.  But he chose to enter the city in such a way as to focus the full limelight right on himself and to occupy the center stage.

Just think about this for a moment.  Jesus had a price on his head and was sure of capture and death.  He was considered an outlaw, a criminal and here he was deliberately riding into a city in a such a way that every eye was certain to be fixed upon him.  Until this time he had always moved around somewhat unnoticed in fact he often told those who he helped not to tell anyone about it.  When the crowds would grow too large, he would take his followers and move on to some other place, and he often went off alone.  Now he is standing all of that on its end and taking this bold step.  It is impossible to exaggerate the sheer courage of this action that Jesus was about to take.

This action that Jesus was taking was a deliberate claim to be a king.  This would be understood not only by the Jewish folks in Jerusalem but also by the Roman Soldiers and leaders.  This was a deliberate fulfillment of the prophecy in Zechariah:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

But even in this action, Jesus was underlying the type of King that he was claiming the type of kingdom that he was ushering in.  The donkey in Palestine was not the lowly beast that it is here in America. The donkey in Palestine was a noble beast. Only in wartime did the king ride a horse, the horse is a symbol for war.  When the king came in peace, they came on a donkey.  When one king was going to visit another king as they approached the gates of the city, they would do so on a donkey for if they came riding upon their horse that would have been a sign that war was about to take place.

So Jesus, choosing deliberately to enter the city riding on a donkey was a sign that he came as a king of love and as a king of peace.  This action would be lost on most of those who would witness these events.  So insecure were they that the very appearance of Jesus, this lowly itinerate preacher, riding into the city with cries of Hosanna and glory to the King, would blind them to the reality that he came in peace and love, not for war.  He came not as the conquering military hero whom the mob expected and awaited, but he came with his message love and his message of peace and his message of hope.  No doubt the crowd was angry, but this action of the simple carpenter turned preacher from Nazareth riding on a donkey soothed their minds and their hearts, well some of them anyway.

This action, this bold action of Jesus was one last appeal.  In this action Jesus came with pleading and hands outstretched saying, “even now, will you not take me as your king?” Before the hatred of the crowd would engulf him, once again he confronted them with love’s invitation.

We stand here today at the gates of Jerusalem.  We stand here today looking at Jesus coming in peace with his outstretched hands before us bidding us come.  Will we open the gates of our hearts for him to enter in and bring love and peace and joy to our lives, or will we slam them shut and spit in his face and yell Crucify him!  Open wide the gates of your hearts today and let the king of peace come in and make his dwelling place there.  Open the gates of your hearts today and let the king of peace and love come and bring you refreshment from all of your pain and sorrow.  Open wide the gates of your hearts today and let the king of Joy come and restore to you the joy of your life.