Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Saying Hosanna

Sermon Notes for March 25, 2018 
Read Psalm 118:1-2,19-29 and Mark 1:1-11 ..

How often do we really celebrate our Lord? How often do we have a day where we march around and sing in honor of our God? That’s how we start out celebrating Palm Sunday, remembering the day when the crowds of Jerusalem offered a procession to celebrate the one who came to live, and walk, and work, and dance among us. This week we begin our service with glad songs and waving palm branches. We seek the joy and the attention of our beloved God. Hosanna!

I keep coming back to that strange word, "Hosanna."  You've got to admit that it is not a term that comes up in everyday conversation.  If you are like me, the last time you uttered "Hosanna" was probably last Palm Sunday.  It is a strange word that is difficult to define.  Scholars' best guess is that "Hosanna" is a contraction of two Hebrew terms: yaw-shah, meaning to save or deliver, and naw, meaning to beseech or pray.  So you might translate the shouts of the crowd as: "We beseech you to deliver us." Or as we more commonly say today "Save us."  The people cheered.  They tossed branches from the nearby trees to the ground, and they called out, "Hosanna."  They looked upon this prophet who was rumored to be the Messiah and they cried out to him, "Save us.  Save us."  The meaning of Palm Sunday hangs on those two words, on the plea of those crowds so long ago that we echo today.

Hosanna originally comes from Psalm 118:25: "Save us, we beseech you, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!" But by the time of Jesus this Psalm verse had found its way into common parlance as a greeting and blessing, so even the not particularly religious would know the term.

The crowds that lined the street cheered Hosanna for Jesus as he entered the city in his humble way. Some of the people there had already heard of Jesus and were followers, thrilled to have him come. But not all of them.

I imagine many of those gathered there that morning had been drawn in by the noise of shouting. And like any good crowd at a parade, they joined in, crying Hosanna! and waving branches with the others, enjoying a moment of spectacle in their day.  After all, people are drawn to what is popular, to who is popular. We cry out for the one everyone else cries out for. We cheer with everyone else. We all cry out Hosanna, just as those crowds did long ago. We cry it triumphantly, gladly, rejoicing in the glory of our king. We smile as children call out, waving their palm branches aloft. We mimic the actions of the crowds around Christ.

The crowds that morning cheered together for Jesus. They were excited to see him, joyful even. Everyone who heard became caught up in the excitement and joined in the cheering. But facing this week, we have to ask, how did they go from cheering his entry on Sunday, to calling for his painful, bloody death on Friday?

I think it is because Jesus didn't behave they way they wanted him too. They were crying out Hosanna, Save us. Please, Save us. The crowds cried to Jesus for salvation, but they didn't get the salvation they wanted.

It is a complicated thing to ask, "What does God save us from?"  When you ask people that question, the most common answer you get is "hell," or at least I did. I’m not sure if that’s because the people who I was asking knew I was a pastor or not. Occasionally I would get answers like the devil, and one in awhile "myself."

Now the people lining the streets of Jerusalem weren’t primarily concerned about "hell" when they were shouting out to Jesus.  Hell wasn’t a concept in the Jewish religion, or at least not as we understand it. If the gospels hint at the crowd's motivation, it was that the people wanted to be saved from the Romans.  They wanted deliverance from an occupying army, from the conquering empire. That was the whole point of having a messiah in their minds. But Jesus didn't come with armies to save them from the Roman government.

Instead Jesus disrupts the status quo. He over turns the stalls of the money changers and drives them out of the temple. He preaches peace and forgiveness instead of war and freedom.  He doesn't do what they thought he would.  The people wanted salvation, which they defined as "freedom from the Romans."  When it became apparent that Jesus was not "that kind of Messiah," the people's jubilation quickly vanished.  "Save us," they cried, but then Jesus did not set about saving them in a manner that they could recognize.  He did not take up a sword and send the Romans fleeing.  Instead, he threw a fit in the temple, costing them money. Instead he went and had supper with his friends. Instead he went and prayed in a garden. He didn’t do any of the things he was supposed to do.  It only took a few days for the crowds to switch from crying "Hosanna" to the shouts of "Crucify him."

I asked a group of teenagers once "if God was on the ball, what would God save you from?" One of the youth piped up, saying "Death."  Another joked that God could really help him out by saving him from an upcoming math test.  Then one of the seventh graders said, "Pressure."  And "My parents' expectations."  Then another, shy individual, almost in a whisper said, "Fear.  I want God to save me from my fears."  All of these answers struck me as more sincere than "hell." Though you could argue that their comments gave a pretty clear picture of what "hell" looks like to a teenager.

How would you answer that question today? If you really thought about it, what do you want God to save you from?  When we wave our palms and boldly cry out, "Hosanna," do we dare imagine what we really want God to save us from?  Save me from anger.  Save me from cancer.  Save me from depression.  Save me from debt.  Save me from the strife in my family.  Save me from boredom. Save me from the endless cycle of violence.  Save me from humiliation.  Save me from staring at the ceiling at three a.m. wondering why I exist.  Save me from bitterness.  Save me from arrogance.  Save me from loneliness.  Save me, God, save me from my fears.

When we cry Hosanna, what are we really asking for?

Palm Sunday begins an intrusive time for Jesus. He has quit preaching and gone to meddling. It began to go bad when it became clear that Jesus was a threat to the way things were organized in the city of Jerusalem. Jesus was most welcome when it was believed that he would help you with illness, raise your brother from the dead, cure your cousin's blindness, and make the demons go away; but he does not stop there. Jesus wants to redirect our lives as part of saving us.

On Palm Sunday it becomes clear that when God saves our lives he not only blesses, heals, teaches and leads, he also confronts and disturbs. Palm Sunday is the moment when it becomes clear that God is concerned with saving more than our spiritual and physical health. He is concerned with our moral health and has claims on the power centers of our lives. You see we have little trouble with Jesus in churches or in the hospital.

But Palm Sunday reminds us that God is not satisfied with being Lord of our spiritual lives or our inner lives, that is easy enough, but on Palm Sunday Jesus goes down town and enters the law offices, the financial districts, the brokerage houses and the halls of government and that is where the trouble really got started.

Because we are broken in more than one way. And some of the ways we have been broken we are comfortable with. Some of the ways we are broken, we don’t want to be saved. And yet, we cry Hosanna. We ask for God to save us.

If you cry out to Jesus to save you, you have to be ready for the changes that he will make of your life. Calling out Hosanna with the crowds, is inviting the Lord to come and save you and you don’t get a call in how you get saved. But at the end of the day your life will never be the same.

Despite our resistance. Even though we kick and scream and do not want to change, Jesus died for us anyway. Even though we cry for his crucifixion, Jesus saves us anyway. He responds to our cries of Hosanna with such love and joy that our lives will never be the same again. Jesus saves us, even as we condemn him. Christ stays with us even when we are at our worst. We know what is coming this week, but we aren't quite there yet. We who stand among the Palm Sunday crowds know that the Word will soon be beaten, mocked, and killed. We know, too, that that is not the end of the tale

But for today, is there any better way to commence Holy Week than with palms in our hands and "Hosannas" on our lips?  Is there any more faithful way to embark on this sacred journey than to ask God, out of the deep, honest places inside of us, to "Save us... please, save us"?

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A Time to Praise

Sermon Notes for March 18, 2018
Read John 12:20-33 and Psalm 66 ..

Finally we come to a praise psalm. You may be wondering why I have a Praise psalm during Lent at all. Or why I didn't start out with praise and then got darker as we headed to the cross. It's because I think that so often in our lives, praise is most sincerely given after we go through the dark times. When we have reasons to offer praise.

We often get to the joy and awe and gratitude  that results in praise only by going through the darkness of the past weeks. We get there through the lamentations of life and the confessions of our wrongs. We understand the need for praise by being thankful for all we have.

I'm not saying that everyone has to go through big dramatic hurts and turmoils in order to be able to praise anyone. What I'm saying is that the daily hurts, the little laments of our lives help bring us to honest praise of the Savior that helps bring us through them all.

And there are so many reasons why we are called to lift our voices in praise! One of the biggest reasons we offer praise is that our delight and enjoyment is greater when we offer praise. The great C. S. Lewis talks about this, saying "Just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: ‘Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?’ I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete til it is expressed."

When we delight in something, really delight in it, we naturally want to share it. When I read a book I love, or find a restaurant I like or see a movie I really enjoyed, I want to tell people about it. I want to share just how wonderful the story was, or just how delicious the food was with anyone I know will appreciate it. When I do that, It’s like I get to experience it all over again. My enjoyment of the movie or my pleasure in the food is lengthened because I took the time to remember and praise it to others.

We also offer praise for things that have been done on our behalf. The praise found in Psalm 66 is not just praise for the sake of praise, but is praise because of the confidence found in God’s deeds on behalf of God’s people. It is not praise so that we might get something in return, but praise because of what God has already done for us. It’s recognizing all of the wonderful things that God has done for God’s people over the centuries.  The Psalm excitedly tells others about all that God has done for God’s people, because the psalmist is just so eager to share.

Praise is intended to do more than just give thanks, but also to invite others to share in the celebration: "Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what he has done for me."  It’s saying, "I am so excited about all that God has done, you should be excited too!" It is worship as testimony about God, about who God is and what God has done for God’s people. And in response to this kind of God, the psalm suggests, we should freely and joyfully offer praise and thanksgiving and blessing.

We also praise God because God is worthy of praise! God has done so much for us, both in the history of faith and in our own lives. And for the world! It is an amazing place. Since I have moved to Watkins I am constantly in wonder of the natural beauty of the area: the waterfalls and lakes, the trees and hills. Even the beauty of fresh fallen snow. All of which is created by God. How can you see a really beautiful sunset or sunrise and not be moved to offer praise?

The one thing we shouldn’t do is praise God out of obligation. There are some people who are only giving praise to God because they are supposed to. Not because they feel driven to praise God and not because they think God has done something in their lives, but out of obligation.  If we say the words with no feeling behind them, they are nothing but chatter.

Rob Bell has a great analogy for what meaningless praise to God is like for us humans. "It's like when you go to buy your wife some flowers and when she gets them she's overjoyed. Now as she's thanking you, you explain, "well you're my wife, it's my duty." Or "well I wasn't really thinking of you I just saw them, they were on sale, I figured you needed them." Does she even want the flowers anymore? No. Why? Because what she wants is your heart and if she doesn’t have that the flowers mean nothing." If our heart isn’t in it, the praise means nothing. God doesn’t want us to speak words of praise that we don’t mean.

Because, really, God doesn't need our praise. The almighty Creator of the universe doesn’t need our validation to be God. We aren't praising God for God's sake. We're praising God for ours. Because we are so overwhelmed with joy and love and awe and gratitude and those feelings have to come out somehow and we erupt into praise. Because we recognize just how much God has done for us and we want to share it with other people!

If we don’t feel that way, if we don’t have that sense of awe or wonder or joy or gratitude, then the book of Psalms is full of other prayers that we can offer in those times. If instead we are depressed, we can turn to a lament, or if we are feeling guilty we can turn to confession. That’s why there are so many Psalms! There are so many ways we can talk to God because there are so many different reasons we need to. But when we are amazed with the wonder of the world and all the God has done, these Psalms of praise give us words to lift up to God when ours seem inadequate.

They can also give us words when we don’t know what to say at all. I will admit that there are days when I don’t feel very praise filled. I don’t feel particularly bad or guilty, but I also don’t feel like shouting with praise. On those days, I will flip to the Psalms, skimming until one speaks to me and use that one as my prayer. The poetry of the Psalms can often bring me to a state of praise when I am having trouble getting there on my own.

So in this next week, as we head to Palm Sunday where we will shout Hosanna together, let us try to offer praise to God with our whole hearts, knowing all that God has done for us, now and always. Amen.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

A Time of Thanksgiving

Sermon Notes for March 11, 2018 
Read Ephesians 2:1-10 and Psalm 30..

Now, as we move through the psalms, we began with a psalm of lament, where we cry out to God for all that we have gone through, for the times when we suffer. Then we moved to a psalm of confession, where we admit the times we have fallen short. The things we have done that we shouldn’t have or the things we left undone.

That moves us naturally to today's Psalm. One of thanksgiving for delivery. We offer thanks for getting through the times that caused us to lament. We offer thanks for forgiveness for the times we have gone astray. Basically, we are thanking God for moving us through the last two types of psalm.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

A Time for Confession

Sermon Notes for March 4, 2018 
Read John 2:13-22 and Psalm 32..

Today we turn from the Psalms of lament to the Psalms of confession. We move from talking about what has been done to us and instead take a hard look at what we have done instead.