by The Rev. Jonathan Naumann
Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from Almighty God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This morning we will meditate upon the Gospel according to St. John, where we are told that '...the great crowd that had come for the Feast (of the Passover) heard that Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet Him, shouting, "Hosanna!", "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord". "Blessed is the King of Israel!"
At first His disciples did not understand what was really happening. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realise that his Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem had been written about Him centuries before it happened. Meanwhile they were carried along by the circumstances.
I am sure that all of us have know times when we were so carried along by circumstances that we didn't know what was going on until after it was finished and we were able to look back on it, haven’t we?
In his Gospel, St John admits that for him and Jesus' other disciples, the first Palm Sunday was one such occasion. They had no idea what was really going on behind the cheers of Hosanna and their master entering Jerusalem riding on a donkey. Only with the benefit of hindsight could they make sense of what had happened. At the time, they didn't have a clue.
Wasn't it great that God didn't leave them permanently in the dark? In their case, God shed light on their lives through His Word. We are told that, '...after Jesus was glorified (they realised) these things HAD BEEN WRITTEN ABOUT HIM and that they had done these things to Him'. God still does shed light on life.
I now feel that this favour God does for us, of helping make sense of life, is one of the most wonderful gifts He gives us. 'All things will work together for good for those who love God, those whom He called according to His plan', the Bible tells us (Rom 8.28).
I suppose it is a sign that I have lived a few years that I can finally see that this promise really applies to me. It applies not only to the resolution of individual situations, but it applies to all of life.
Sometimes, just living day by day can feel like being swept along by circumstances doesn't it? Yet, wouldn't it be pathetic if that were all that life was about and nothing more? - just being swept along by circumstances, until we are finally swept into a grave and forgotten?
Yet, that pathetic view of life is all that many people may actually see, unless they know better than that and are able to grasp the reality of that which is unseen or behind the scenes.
People need to know the rest of the narrative to make sense of what they see happening in our lives, even what is happening before their very eyes. For example, imagine how mystified someone from a primitive culture who had never seen a cell-phone would be to see someone conversing on a cell-phone. They would conclude that anyone speaking into a plastic banana-shaped object was mad. They would go back to their tribe and say that they saw a pathetic sight - a mad person speaking into a plastic banana. The truth, of course, was that the whole thing would have made much more sense, had the foreign observer been able to hear the voice speaking from the other end of the line.
I think you see the analogy. Life itself can seem mad and pathetic, a matter of being swept along by circumstances, unless you hear the voice of God speaking to you from His word. Those who don’t listen to Him, cannot really make much sense of life.
You can imagine how St. John and the other disciples would have felt about life if they had not listened to God's explanation to what happened to Jesus on that Passover weekend. They had given three years of their lives to following Jesus. They hailed Him as Messiah. They heard Him cheered as He entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and they saw circumstances change - leading finally to Jesus gory execution and death. Had they not listened to God's living-word and met the risen Christ, they would have written Jesus off as a pathetic victim of circumstances just as they would have regarded themselves as such.
Perhaps they initially did write Jesus off. After all, they all forsook Him and fled. But when Jesus came back from the dead and spoke to them, He helped them understand and make sense of all that had happened. From listening to God, they were able to see that even Jesus' crucifixion made sense in the plan of God to redeem the world.
St Paul is another great example of listening to God, even when His message practically contradicted the man's whole approach to life. St Paul was originally a Jewish scholar , and more than that, a Pharisee, who among all the Jews in history were the ones who were the most confident that they had everything all figured out. This Pharisee, Saul certainly felt that he had it all figured out - even to the point of forcing his views on others. Jesus Christ met that persecutor of Christians and explained Himself. Then St Paul too was able to see how the picture really looked.
Take the Passover as an example. As a Jew Paul knew that God had instituted the Passover as well as many other times of sacrifice. By listening to God, even the crucifixion of the Messiah made sense. So he was inspired to write: '(The Messiah) Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us – therefore let us celebrate the Feast' (1 Cor. 5.7).
For many of us, having it all figured out, means concluding that we are all right as we are – we don’t need to change. Our philosophy of life works – and, as they say, “if it ain’t broke – don’t fix it”. Yet nothing quite shakes human beings out of our complacency like being face to face with what happened to Jesus.
Maybe that’s why Lent comes around every year – to expose us to the most life-changing thing of all: the suffering crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Because we know that if God had to suffer that way to redeem us from eternal damnation, then something was indeed broke and in need of fixing.
And, when we listen to God, we hear Him says to us, 'All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Him as a sacrifice of atonement through faith in His blood. He did this to demonstrate His justice, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished - He did it to demonstrate His justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus' (ROMANS 3.23-26).
Why the Passion of the Christ? Because 'God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself ...God made Him who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God by means of Him' (2 COR. 5.19.21)
'God was pleased ...to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross' (COLOSSIANS 1.19,20).
God saw that our relationship with Him was broken. So He sent His Son to pay for the repair of that breach. 'Christ also has loved us, and has given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God' (EPHESIANS 5.2).
'Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, by becoming a curse for us ...hanged on a tree' (GALATIANS 3.13). '(He) ...gave Himself as a ransom for all' (1 TIM.2.6).
St John the author of today's reading from the Gospel agreed with St Paul:
'This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins' (1 John 4.10).
Likewise that other, once disillusioned disciple, St Peter saw how it all made sense and wrote: 'For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed ...but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect' (1 PETER 1.18,19).
'Christ died for sins once and for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God' (1 PETER 3.18).
Carried along by circumstances? - yes and no. Yes, God, the Son, volunteered to let His saving plan carry Him along. But, no, it was all more carefully planned and executed than it appeared to be at the time. As it is said of Christ “I have come to do Your will”.1
Parachute troops, (or 'Paras' as they are called in the British army), who jump from aeroplanes into battle may not know the whole plan as well as their commander, but they have thrown their lot in with their commander. They go where he carries them, and they listen closely to their commanders' instructions.
Every Christian baptised in infancy can look back at his own baptism, and see an example of being carried along by circumstances. But for Ian and Helene today, their baptism is more than that. And for Steve and Julianna, their Christian life has become more than that.
They, as individuals and as a family, have listened closely to God's word. Now, like the rest of us, they may not know the full plan of God for their lives, but they do know enough to know that no matter what life will throw at them, they must listen to His voice. He will instruct them. He will explain Himself to them. He will comfort them and He will sustain their faith in Him. Finally He will carry them to Himself to live with Him forever.
They are baptised that they might share their lot with Christ in life eternal. Today the God into Whose neverending family they are baptised and confirmed will express His love for them by giving them the body and blood of His sacrificed and risen Son, Jesus Christ, in the form of bread and wine.
Here again something happens for which we need God’s explanation for us to make sense of it. Jesus took bread and wine and gave it to His disciples, but not before explaining to them that “This is my body” and “This is my blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins”.
Perhaps we need to re-consider those words, lest Holy Communion be reduced to mere circumstances when it is intended to mean much more to us.
It is because of Jesus’ words that we cherish this sacred meal as we do. It is because He tells us that He feeds us with His very Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sins that we seek to receive this sacrament as often as we do. And the more we contemplate those words of promise, the more frequently we wish to receive that Sacrament.
The word of God is His explanation to some of the most important circumstances of our lives. It is a letter written in love and His holy Sacraments act as a seal of that love.
Today we thank God that he has brought the Traceys to us that they and us may be swept along together by the circumstances that He in His gracious will has brought into our lives. We welcome this family to take comfort with us in both God’s love letter to us and in its seals, confirming that God does give us His Holy Spirit and wants us to be sure that His love and His grace apply to us all.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen
1 Hebrews 10.9
The Reverend Dr. Jonathan Naumann is pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church & School in Oakmont, Pennsylvania. He previously served as a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in England... and he is Stan's Pastor!
Created: March 20th, 2008