Passion Sunday

General

What are the two things that you’re just NOT supposed to talk about at family events?

Religion and politics – they say.

Why?

I think it’s because talking about these two particular topics reveals who you really are. As long as you are embracing the truth about you, your belief system will rear its ugly little head and let everybody know what you really think.

Disunity. Discord. Disagreement. This seems to mark us as humans. Its drives us apart. Capitalists don’t like socialists and conservatives can’t hang with liberals. Theology, in of itself does not divide, but it gives us a platform to embrace our human need to separate. What? You baptize babies? Anathema!! You reject the (read: my understanding of) body and blood?? Shame!! How can you call yourself a Christian and believe that there is no pre-tribulation rapture!! I mean, when you get to heaven, there is going to be a test –St. Peter will ask you what your interpretation of Romans chapter 1 is in relationship to gay marriage. So… get it wrong and it’s the boot for you!

Politics and religion highlight our need for “getting it right.” Our need for being right.

This does not make it a useless study or minimize the need to seek for the truth – I note it because there is something greater than “being right” – it’s unity.

Paul writes from a Roman prison. It’s likely that he dies there. He writes to a working church. One of his favorite churches. A church that is doing the right things. He likes this church. But there is discord. There is some strife and he addresses it head on in chapter 2 vs. 1-12.
I would bring to mind what he has already stated, namely, in chapter one, he notes that the pain and agony of imprisonment have not hurt him or the Gospel – it has made it better! Authorities have tried to contain Paul but it has not happened. The witness has gone forth in spite of the prison walls. He ends the chapter with a charge: 27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit,[e] striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.
The assumption here is that they already are doing this. They are already living it out – so, continue! Chapter two carries the narrative: 2:1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

“If there be” – there is. It’s the mark of fellowship. It’s the mark of a healthy family and congregation if there is encouragement in Christ, comfort of love, fellowship in the Spirit. A church body, following/living in the Spirit, are going to have these attributes present.

What prevents this from being present?

Strife/selfish ambition.
Vain glory/empty pride.

What?? Common!! Not in the church right? That never happens. Preachers don’t say things so that they will hear, “great, great message pastor!” Leaders never make pronouncements just to make the news or to affirm/justify the hatred of their flocks. Ever. Does. Not. Happen.

This, of course, is silly. Of course it happens. Every day a million times. We do this because we’re humans. We do this because of ego. We do this because it feels good and righteous. We do this because we carry the flawed notion that for me to be right – you have to be wrong. We do this because, fearing change, we rage against things we cannot control. Instead of resting in the grace of Christ that has carried us through far worse things, we embrace what we thinks is power and fight shifting sand.

Paul appeals to the church to embrace a higher way. To embrace a better way. Unity. The only way to get beyond your own stuff is to recognize that whatever you are going through, it resonates in Christ’s story. Whatever you want to fight about – it wasn’t worth it to Christ. Hear the story:

5 Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:
6 Though he was in the form of God,
he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
7 But he emptied himself
by taking the form of a slave
and by becoming like human beings.
When he found himself in the form of a human,
8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
9 Therefore, God highly honored him
and gave him a name above all names,
10 so that at the name of Jesus everyone
in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow
11 and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

I really like how Eugene Peterson tells the story in “The Message”
Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.
9-11 Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.

Think on Jesus. He, rather than Adam, Satan or anyone else, had the actual right to be called God. He had the actual right to BE God, but he laid that aside for me. Jesus, looking from Heaven sees mankind unable to come to terms with God’s righteousness, unable to make it to purity even with the grace, even with the examples, even with 2nd, 3rd, 4th and more chances – “when the fullness of time was come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.[b] 6 Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba,[c] Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

Sons. Daughters. Children of the King.

That’s who Jesus came for. He looks from heaven, sees that we can’t get it right and does it for us. Pays our debt. Takes our charges, our punishment, our confinement, our execution. Our Death.

And we beat each other up about the proper interpretation of an obscure passage of Scripture written thousands of years ago. We pass judgment upon one another and destroy relationships – the gift of God to get us through hard times. Nice.

Jerusalem. Passover. AD 30. Pontius Pilot Rome’s appointment to control Palestine.

People from all over the world are converging on Jerusalem in order to do business, reunite with family, worship Jehovah, celebrate. It’s a party. Tensions are high. Pilot himself has come from his usual seat of power to Jerusalem to oversee security. Crowds, Soldiers, Priests, Peasants, Lords – they are all there.
Word comes that Jesus of Nazareth is coming up the hill. The word travels fast. The pilgrims are singing as the ascend to the Holy City,

“ I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The LORD watches over you—
the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
7 The LORD will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
8 the LORD will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

But their songs change. A man, dressed in the simple tunic of a peasant approaches the gates of the city riding on the back of a donkey. The people press in on all sides to see this thing that is coming to pass in front of them.

There are zealots sharpening their swords. Jesus is the answer to their wait. He has come to Jerusalem to lead them over the Romans. The Pharisees look with suspicion. The Zealots are the insurgents to Rome’s occupying force. They pine for what was in Israel, they chafe under the yoke of Roman (before that it was the Greeks, before that it was the Persians and on and on it goes) oppression. Christ has always had a very tenuous relationship with them.

One of Jesus’ own, Simon, is known to us as “Simon the Zealot.” Isn’t it interesting that Jesus also has in his entourage, Matthew, the Tax Collector. Here’s a group of people: blue collar, peasants, craftsmen – and a government official and a revolutionary. Somehow, they are able to lay aside their dynamically opposed views of the Roman Occupation in order to be a Disciple.

The Zealots get involved with the song – it changes: “Hosanna!! Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!! Blessed is the coming Kingdom of our Father David!! Hosanna!!” They dry out for the kingship of Christ. They, in that moment connect Jesus, not with metaphorical salvation from sin but real, literal salvation from Rome!

In that moment of passion – all the oppression ceases – in the ecstasy, all the joy of connection with God is restored!! They have been remembered! They have been thought of! They have not been forgotten!! Jehovah cares and sees! The Psalms are true, the prophecies are fulfilled!! Salvation has come!!

I am not forgotten
I am not forgotten
I am not forgotten
God knows my name.
He knows my name.

Light over darkness
Strength over weakness
Joy over sadness
He knows my name

Father to the Fatherless
Friend to the friendless
Hope for the hopeless
He knows my name

I will praise You
I will praise You
For I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

I am not forgotten
Never forsaken

Feels good to hear those words! Feels good to know that God remembers us in our distress, in our defeat and pain. Hey! If God be for us who can be against us right?

Think about that for a moment. Think about that crowd in Jerusalem that day. They cried out for their king – but that’s not what Jesus was about. They threw the only clothes they had on the ground so that the hooves on his donkey would not touch the dirt or mud – they ripped branches off trees to create a road for the King!

They knew what they wanted. They interpreted Jesus’ words and actions in light of their own needs and wants. They made Jesus into their image and worshiped accordingly.

We do this every day. We do this when we act and speak as though we own Jesus. We own Jesus’ teachings. We own Jesus legacy. We do this when we worship Jesus as we want Jesus to be. Jesus in our image. Jesus in our tribe. Jesus with our prejudices. Jesus with our troubles. Jesus with our failures. Jesus with our greed. Jesus with our shame. Jesus with our guilt. Jesus with our choices.

A week later, this same group would discard Christ as so much trash in the street. Pilot would discard Jesus on a tree for peace in his city. The Pharisees and Sadducees would discard the Son for perceived power. The Zealots would discard our Lord because, as it turned out, he wasn’t the king they were looking for. The disciples discarded their leader in fear and shame. In the end, those who created a god to fit their life choices, discarded that god when it didn’t pan out the way they planned. There, hangs a man discarded.

1 Here hangs a man discarded,
a scarecrow hoisted high,
a nonsense pointing nowhere
to all who hurry by.
2 Can such a clown of sorrows
still bring a useful word
when faith and love seem phantoms
and every hope absurd?
3 Yet here is help and comfort
for lives by comfort bound,
when drums of dazzling progress
give strangely hollow sound:
4 Life, emptied of all meaning,
drained out in bleak distress,
can share in broken silence
our deepest emptiness;
5 And love that freely entered
the pit of life’s despair,
can name our hidden darkness
and suffer with us there.
6 Christ, in our darkness risen,
help all who long for light
to hold the hand of promise,
till faith receives its sight.

Have you ever felt discarded? Efforts for naught? People who should have been with you, invested in you, just throw you away? Discard you in the trash somewhere? Then you know the pain of the One who laid aside his royalty, his majesty, his grace, his relationships, his comfort, pride, joy – to be one of us. This is the example Paul appeals to.

O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown;
How pale Thou art with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish, which once was bright as morn!
What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered, was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ’Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor, vouchsafe to me Thy grace.
Men mock and taunt and jeer Thee, Thou noble countenance,
Though mighty worlds shall fear Thee and flee before Thy glance.
How art thou pale with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How doth Thy visage languish that once was bright as morn!
Now from Thy cheeks has vanished their color once so fair;
From Thy red lips is banished the splendor that was there.
Grim death, with cruel rigor, hath robbed Thee of Thy life;
Thus Thou hast lost Thy vigor, Thy strength in this sad strife.
My burden in Thy Passion, Lord, Thou hast borne for me,
For it was my transgression which brought this woe on Thee.
I cast me down before Thee, wrath were my rightful lot;
Have mercy, I implore Thee; Redeemer, spurn me not!
What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.
My Shepherd, now receive me; my Guardian, own me Thine.
Great blessings Thou didst give me, O source of gifts divine.
Thy lips have often fed me with words of truth and love;
Thy Spirit oft hath led me to heavenly joys above.
Here I will stand beside Thee, from Thee I will not part;
O Savior, do not chide me! When breaks Thy loving heart,
When soul and body languish in death’s cold, cruel grasp,
Then, in Thy deepest anguish, Thee in mine arms I’ll clasp.
The joy can never be spoken, above all joys beside,
When in Thy body broken I thus with safety hide.
O Lord of Life, desiring Thy glory now to see,
Beside Thy cross expiring, I’d breathe my soul to Thee.
My Savior, be Thou near me when death is at my door;
Then let Thy presence cheer me, forsake me nevermore!
When soul and body languish, oh, leave me not alone,
But take away mine anguish by virtue of Thine own!
Be Thou my consolation, my shield when I must die;
Remind me of Thy passion when my last hour draws nigh.
Mine eyes shall then behold Thee, upon Thy cross shall dwell,
My heart by faith enfolds Thee. Who dieth thus dies well.

Christ, who stands with God, at the beginning of time lays aside all of it to embrace the shame, humiliation of Calvary. This is your king. Humble. This is our king. Poor. This is our king. Naked. This is our king. Beaten. Bloody. Crawling out of the city alone in his shame. Bearing your sin. Your choices. My sin. My shame. This is our king.

1) What wondrous Love is this, oh my soul, oh my soul
What wondrous Love is this, oh my soul
What wondrous Love is this that caused the Lord of Bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul
2) When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down
When I was sinking down, sinking down
When I was seeking down beneath God’s righteous frown,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul, for my soul
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul
3) And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing and joyful be
And through eternity I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on
And through eternity I’ll sing on

It’s Holy Week.

Stop.

Reflect.

Experience.

Now, as the Apostle reflects on his hymn of the Savior, work out what it means to be a follower of Christ, your own salvation, with fear and trembling.

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