Welcome Rev. Portia Corbin!
Psalm 31 9:-16
Mark 14:1-15:47 or 15:1-39, (40-47)
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in your sight oh Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
First, let me say that it is an absolute JOY to be here with you.
We’ve been looking forward to this day.
YOU haven been looking forward to this day for an even LONGER time than I have,
And here we are today,
A joyous, long awaited day.
It’s the perfect day actually,
To celebrate Palm Sunday:
Remembering the joyous shouts of “Hosanna!”
As Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
And we don’t just celebrate that either.
We also celebrate today because We’re HERE.
In Church together.
Gathered, when for so long, we could not.
Knowing full well that there were no in person shouts of “Hosanna!” last year.
Today, our joy echoes some of the same feelings on that first Palm Sunday over 2000 years ago.
And so let’s talk about that first Palm Sunday.
In Jesus’ time, the people of Judah:
The Sothern Kingdom of Israel,
Had been under foreign rule for a long, long time.
Over 600 years, actually.
They were oppressed, over-taxed, defeated in wars,
and scattered to all the ends of the earth.
Through all that hardship, they developed various theories of how God would intervene to restore them to their rightful glory.
Most of these theories involved some sort of messiah.
There were lots of different ideas about what the Messiah would look like,
But all of them had some sort of connection to King David:
The greatest king of Israel’s memory:
The one who represented God’s covenant of kingship with the people.
And so the people expected a Messiah who would be a king:
A powerful king: restoring them to their former power and glory.
And against the backdrop of this expectation, Jesus enters.
By the time Jesus enters Jerusalem on that triumphant day,
He has already gained a tremendous reputation as an exceptionally wise teacher and wonder worker:
Precisely the kind of person God would send to restore Israel.
The people were excited as they started to realize that Jesus might really be the one.
A return to the Davidic line.
A sort of restoration to Israel’s old power and glory.
That’s why they cry “Hosannah! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”:
Its a direct callback to Psalm 118:
A Psalm about King David.
The people very clearly see Jesus coming to reinstitute David’s reign on earth:
To cast out the oppressors,
And to liberate Israel to its former glory.
To get back to the “good old days”
Or to the “way things used to be.”
But that’s not really what happened.
The rest of today’s liturgy: and the rest of this week:
Is going to be less than triumphant.
(Until Sunday at least)
This one that was supposed to be the King of splendor:
The one to make Israel whole, and restored, and powerful again:
Will be tried, tortured, and executed like a common criminal:
A far, far cry from the powerful ruler the people were expecting.
Things did not turn out the way people expected or wanted.
Not anywhere even close.
We know that Jesus DOES prove to be the messiah:
But it’s important to remember that he does so in a way that was totally unexpected.
He does not institute a political revolution.
He does not become the ruling king of his country, or of the world.
Instead, by conquering death,
He institutes the most radical revolution of overthrowing oppression itself.
And he inaugurates the full reign of God in the complete transformation of the whole entire cosmos.
But we don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves in the story.
It’s not Easter yet.
As I said at the beginning,
The excitement that we feel at returning to in-person worship,
And the excitement we feel at beginning a new adventure together,
Is not unlike the excitement that the people of Jerusalem had on that first Palm Sunday.
We are excited to be back:
We may be thinking that this is the beginning of the restoration of how things were.
Like the people in Jerusalem that day,
We might be expecting something like a return to “normal”
To the “before COVID times”
To the “good old days, and the way things used to be.”
But just as the progression of Holy Week showed with the people’s expectations,
There was no return to the past.
There was no restoration to this golden age.
And like the people of Jerusalem,
We need to be prepared for moving forward in the new realties of our world.
We will probably experience significant frustrations and disappointments when the realities we may have envisioned or expected do not come about in the way that we hoped.
And this is the heart of the Good News:
We know that God will be faithful:
To a degree that is so much greater than we can ever expect:
So much greater than we can ever ask for or imagine.
We will likely be disappointed in our expectations,
But only for God to explode them with something so much more marvelous than we ever could have anticipated.
So the question for us:
The lesson to learn in looking at the normal and natural response for the people of Jerusalem to this upsetting of their expectation is:
Can we learn from it?
Can we allow our disappointments that will likely arise,
To open us up to what God is doing?
Rather than closing us in our expectations of what used to be?
Will we be able to set ourselves into a posture of constantly looking for the new and marvelous thing God will be doing in our midst?
Will we be ready for an unexpected Easter?
Or do we just expect it to be how it used to be?
Now I know it would be great for your new priest to know what’s going to happen:
To have all the right answers,
And all the magic words and tricks.
Yet I have NO idea what our new unexpected Easter will look like or what it will bring.
But I DO know that it’s coming.
And that it will be greater than anything we could’ve ever imagined:
If only we’re open to it:
If only we’re willing to shed our expectations,
And see that anything is possible.
Let us pray: God of order and unity, direct our thoughts and actions to sharing your unfailing love with all we encounter. In the name of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Lent, a season that calls us to repentance, in which we change our vestments to purple, a color associated with mourning. It is a solemn season, and this may resonate with many of us today. It has been about a year since our worlds were completely changed. It has been a year of grieving – a year of adjusting to new ways of gathering. A year of limiting in-person gatherings to protect each other and the most vulnerable. A year of many changes, regardless of where you find yourself on life’s journey.
And maybe this Lent, you decided to do some self-care or take on a specific spiritual practice. If you did, great! And if you did not, that’s great too! With a pandemic raging and all of the unprecedented events, it is important to be kind to ourselves. It is important to be present with all these changes and feelings.
Current news and the social unrest of this past year have probably left us with the same request as the Greeks in today’s gospel: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Now, we do not know much about the Greeks in this story; Andrew and Philip did not know what to do, but Jesus made sure to respond.
Of course, right before this passage, many people had witnessed Jesus calling Lazarus from the tomb, so they wanted to meet and listen to this man. Lazarus was drawing crowds, and this understandably caused a lot of concern among many, including the religious authorities.
Similarly, this pandemic has highlighted our desire to “see” or experience Jesus. We have come face-to-face with the ways in which our world continues to oppress, but it has also lifted new movements to create opportunities to correct what has been wrong for so long. Our Old Testament lesson reminds us that the Lord will forgive Israel. A radically new future is presented. Maybe this is a time of God forgiving our collective sins and making way for a radically new future. Forgiving us for not listening to the voice of the Father. For not listening to the voices of those suffering. For perhaps trying to ignore the realities or experiences of those whom we label as outsiders. Allowing this sin to separate us from God and others.
This pandemic has allowed us to see what privilege looks like and whom it benefits. And this has left us wondering what it looks like to serve the Father. Jesus says that those who serve must also follow. Today, we are serving the Father by loving our neighbors, by listening to those voices telling us that they are not doing well. We are following Jesus by protecting our neighbors.
In our gospel reading, Jesus heard the voice. Some thought it was thunder and others an angel, but they all heard something. And like the crowd, we may sometimes confuse the voice, or even deny it. But Jesus reminds us that this voice is for our benefit. That we must pay close attention to what God is doing and saying.
This year has been one of much listening. We have heard the voices of so many. We have heard the voices of our neighbors who are Black and indigenous people of color in ways that we have never heard before. We have heard the stories of families in need. We have heard the voices of anger, despair, and rage. We have heard the voices of the marginalized, the once forgotten.
What if we found God in these voices, too? Today, we can decide to be intentional about listening to these voices. We educate and inform ourselves in what matters to those who do not look or think like we do. We make space to welcome them into our lives, our communities, our churches, and our families. We welcome them in authentic ways that leave nothing to the imagination – because our actions make clear statements that we embrace all.
As we come to the end of this Lenten season, can you stop and wonder where you have heard that voice? From whom the voice came? Or even with whom have you shared this voice?
In answering and understanding these, you will also find love. You find God. You find forgiveness. You find that even in the midst of chaos, there is love. Even in our struggle, we will find love. You hear God saying that you are enough – that listening to God’s voice is transformative and healing.
Yes, it has felt like an extremely long season of Lent, but Easter is coming. We believe in a God who gives life. We believe that joy comes in the morning.
Perhaps you have been feeling like this unrest will never end. Although we are slowly coming to a new normal, we know that nothing will entirely go back to what it used to be – nor should it. Be reminded that the same Jesus who cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” will do the same with us even when we don’t see it. Even now, God is calling us with a loud voice, saying, “Come out!”
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry reminds us in his book, Love Is the Way, “The journey is always a struggle. But the movement is always forward.” He adds, “Now, if you ask me why, I’ll answer I don’t know. But as Fredrick Douglass put it, ‘If there is no struggle there is no progress.’” We cannot learn from blocking changes or denying our struggles – and this is difficult to understand. There will be days when we will not get all of the work done, days when we will not know which voices to listen to – but God will remain with us. We must take our time when listening to the voices around us and decide where we can find God in them. We must decide to love because we know that hate is too much to carry. We must continue to say, “We wish to see Jesus.” Let us continue to boldly claim this for our lives and for our world.
Be reminded that we are not alone. Remember that God delights in our peculiarities and that God sees our struggles. God recognizes all of who we are and all of what we experience. We have the example in Jesus, who also offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the One who was able to save. Jesus is the example for us to follow. So, offer up your prayers, your loud cries and tears, knowing that God hears them, knowing that we belong to a God whose compassion blots out our offenses. We serve and follow a God who sees our transgressions and loves us the same.
May the God who saw your tears yesterday and heard your silent prayers today provide and care for you in ways that cannot yet be described. May the voice sustain you, may love guide every part of your life, and may the loving and liberating Son, our Savior Jesus Christ give you peace. Amen.
Let us pray: O God, who sent Christ to be the light of the world and the light for the world, shine within us, upon us and around us. So guide our reflection on the life of Christ that we might find new purpose in our own. We pray in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If you are squeamish about snakes, this might not be your Sunday! But, if you can set that discomfort aside, you will be treated to an insight about how the ancient Hebrew Bible reading from Numbers connects with the Gospel reading from John.
If you were running from something, brutal slave labor, for example, you could hardly write a tougher scenario of a flight to freedom than the Exodus. The people of the Hebrews were fleeing through the desert, and their wilderness wanderings were plagued by lack of food and water. They complained continuously against God who was delivering them.
All told, Numbers depicts five of these so-called “murmuring episodes,” where the Hebrew people grumble and complain about an assortment of perceived grievances. They don’t like the food; they want more water; they’re tired; they want to go back to Egypt; they’re sick of camping. Picture a minivan loaded up for a road trip with a gaggle of disgruntled toddlers kicking the seats, throwing popcorn, and screaming, “Are we there yet?” and you won’t be far off!
Each episode follows a predictable pattern: the Hebrew people complain, God gets angry, the Hebrew people realize they’ve made God angry and beg Moses to intercede on their behalf, Moses does, and God calms down. Then, a few chapters later, another tantrum erupts, and the same pattern unfolds. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Finally, their sniping reaches a boiling point. “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness,” they grumbled against God and Moses, “For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.”
If you listen carefully, you’ll catch the level of absurdity behind their whining. “There is no food and water,” they moan in one breath, and then, “we detest this miserable food,” they grumble in the next breath. In response, God punishes them for their insolence and rebellion by sending venomous snakes into the encampment.
Now, at this point, some of us may be thinking, “Well that was a little harsh, God. Those snakes bit people, and some folks even died!” But we must leaven our reading of Scripture with a bit of theological imagination.
So, when was the last time you found yourself in traffic complaining about its slow pace, while your air conditioner or heater hummed, and you listened to satellite radio in stereo? Here you are in your own little island, but you are upset because you can’t get to work or home any faster. And while you might not be tripping over snakes, you at least know you’re going to get there eventually. The Hebrews didn’t even know where “there” was.
Being miserable is something we try to avoid, but how we handle it really hasn’t changed much. The power goes off and we call the power company and complain. The water is turned off for a few hours because of a water main leak, and we complain to the water utility. The waiter tells us they have just run out of the dish we had so looked forward to, so we fuss and grumble as we order another choice from a diverse menu.
Okay, so maybe this is a little over the top about complaining, but really – what do we have to complain about? Besides, it’s Lent! Aren’t we supposed to feel a little miserable?
Like Moses with the Hebrews, somebody prays for us. Somebody offers up our fears of snakes that bite us and frighten us. Somebody breaks the bread and blesses the cup and offers us real spiritual food. The bread is broken, the cup is offered, and we see the sign like the people saw the bronze serpent in the wilderness and lived. We receive the bread and the cup, and our impatience and complaining retreat, even if only for a while.
“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,” proclaims the Psalmist. And if God is good, what he offers us is never a snake that bites us, but the bread of life. “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.”
Lent is all about who truly delivers us from the hardships we suffer, the complaints we offer, and the peril of the snakes in this world.
Paul writes to the Ephesians, carefully setting up the situation: we are all dead through our sinning because we think the things of this world will save us, keep us comfortable, and drive the snakes away. He describes God as rich in mercy and able in our dead state to make us alive in Christ Jesus, saved and raised up with him. And most of all, we can’t cause it by our good works. Rather, God’s free gift of Christ on the cross—recalling the serpent lifted up by Moses—brings us salvation. The snakes can’t win. Thanks be to God.
So, we come to the Gospel from John, and the one verse every Christian knows by heart: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” This passage is so well known that it is often cited on billboards and in ads as John 3:16 with no text provided.
This Gospel taken by itself is almost a romantic rendering of the Gospel, as if somehow God came into the world and erased evil in all its forms from our lives. That leaves us with a lot of questions. Good, well-intentioned, and brave people are killed every day: some by accident, some by violence and mayhem. Simply quoting John 3:16 to their families and friends will not provide a lot of comfort.
The story of the Gospel is about our encounter with it, and how even after hearing it, we may choose evil rather than good. Jesus’ life and ministry are a judgment because despite his being in the world, people still love darkness rather than light, and our deeds are often evil, as John continues to proclaim.
Somehow, we have to connect with these readings, with the Hebrews who wandered in the desert. Somehow, we have to embrace St. Paul who writes in Ephesians about our being dead because we follow the course of the world. And somehow, we have to take what is offered this Sunday, the word and sacrament, and let it begin to work in us so that, as John writes: “those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that [our] deeds have been done in God.”
As the collect for this 4th Sunday of Lent says, “Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us and we in him.” Amen.
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Let us pray: Eternal God, through the life, death and resurrection of your Son your kingdom has broken into our troubled world. Help us now to hear your Word, and give us grace to respond in faithful obedience, that our lives might be signs of the new life given through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Each Sunday during Lent we begin the recitation of the Decalogue (the ten Commandments) with these words: Hear the commandments of God to his people: I am the Lord your God who brought you out of bondage. You shall have no other gods but me.
In this time, when Mammon is worshipped proudly in the public realm of both politics and of what passes for popular religion, it is healthy to read St. John’s depiction of Jesus’ visit to the Temple, to his “Father’s house,” as he called it. It makes us cry aloud, “Oh, for a whip of justice to clean out the corruption in our own temples of power.” Yet, we know that only Jesus has the courage and the authority to do so. All we are able to do is wait and repeat, “How long oh Lord, how long?”
For Jesus, it is the first Passover of his public ministry and his first known visit to Jerusalem as a grown man. This is exclusively St. John’s history of the event; no less an authority than Archbishop William Temple declares that it is the correct one. The Archbishop makes it clear that early in his ministry, Jesus still considers the Herodian Temple his “Father’s House.” But by the end of his ministry, when he weeps over Jerusalem as “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it,” he declares it to be the people’s temple. “See, your house is left to you,” he cries, and the implication of desolation is in his words.
The Temple was finally finished in A.D. 64 only to be destroyed six years later. By then Jesus’ resurrected body was the temple he was talking about in his prophecy. “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” Later the cronies of the high priests will force witnesses to accuse Jesus of saying that he himself would destroy the temple, but as false witnesses do, they lied. It was not he who destroyed the temple; it was human arrogance and sin.
Why did Jesus become so angry when he saw his father’s house being made into a marketplace? The Old Testament lesson gives us many clues to the answer. Idolatry of any kind was forbidden by God. The money changers had the following purpose: taxes had to be paid to the Roman overlords, but the Roman money carried the image of Caesar on it. The High Priests, considering this image idolatry, had ordered that the money paid in taxes should be converted to the shekel in order to be acceptable for Temple business. In that exchange, a great profit went into the coffers of these same priests. Jesus knew that this was both profanity of the Temple and exploitation of the poor citizens. It was another form of idolatry, but this time the idol was Mammon, a god ever present both then and now—a god not named by his followers but worshipped nonetheless.
In today’s gospel, St. John shows the scandalous activity of Jesus in all its glory. The leaders of the Jews had fooled the people with a piety that had become idolatry and had allowed physical structures to take the place of a God who demanded, “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” Our culture has forgotten this command also, and so many signs or symbols have been turned into idols: the Ten Commandments are not obeyed, but their depiction on stone is approved; the flag that is supposed to remind us of the human longing for freedom becomes an idol to be worshipped at athletic games; money that should be used to educate and feed children becomes an idolatrous acquisition for those who already have too much of it, while our streets fill with homeless people; and other, old symbols of the evil of violence return to trouble our world.
We need Jesus’ courage to cleanse the temples of idolatry. We long for his kind of integrity that dares to call out the oppressors, no matter who they are. We pray for the power to overthrow the tables of the moneychangers who cheat the poor and the voiceless. In St. Paul’s words, we too must “proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Nowhere does St. Paul ever speak of a prosperity gospel.
Tony Campolo, writer, teacher, and pastor, writes in his book Who Switched the Price Tags? about growing up in his hometown in Philadelphia. The night before Halloween was designated as “mischief night.” On that night the adults braced themselves against all sorts of petty mischief at the hands of the younger generation. Windows were soaped, air was let out of tires and all the other annoying mischief which an adolescent could conjure up was done.
One year, he and his best friend devised what they thought was a brilliant and creative plan for mischief. The decided to break into the basement of the local five and ten cent store, not to rob the place (after all Sunday school boys would not do that sort of thing), but instead, they would do something really mischievous. The plan was to get into that five and dime store and change the price tags on things.
What chaos it would be when the next morning people came into the store and discovered that radios were selling for a quarter and bobby pins were priced at five dollars each. With diabolical glee, they wondered what it would be like when nobody could figure out what the prices of things really should be.
He goes on to say that Satan and the world have played the same kind of trick on all of us. Our world has been broken into and the price tags have been changed. Too often, we treat what deserves to be treated with loving care as though it were of little worth. And on the other hand we find ourselves making great sacrifices, paying a high price, for those things which in the long run of life, have no lasting value.
As we approach Holy Week, we need the love and the passion that can sustain us even unto death. We will be laughed at when we too resist the culture of the day, but we will remember with St. Paul that, “The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Let us be aware, more than ever during this season of Lent, that the power of God goes with us.
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, your law challenges our priorities and turns us away from the darkness of greed and selfishness towards the light and peace of your presence. Help us to discern those things in our lives that stand in the way of more perfectly fulfilling your will for us. Hear this and all of our prayers through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Fr. Jim is providing his sermons online during the Corona virus pandemic. Enjoy!