Category Archives: Holy Week

When Jesus Wept – Sermon on Luke 19:39-44 for Palm Sunday C

April 14, 2019

There’s something missing from the passage that introduces the Palm Procession this time. Luke doesn’t mention palm branches. For that matter, he doesn’t have the crowd shouting “Hosanna!” either. Yet, we still call it Palm Sunday, and we still sing “Hosanna.”

It’s easy to get distracted by our traditions, isn’t it? It seems we only have to do something twice before it becomes, “the way we’ve always done it.” And we forget to actually pay attention to the story we’re hearing, because we already have in our heads the story we know. Continue reading

  Fools Rush In – Sermon on Mark 11:11-33, 14:1-11

Entrance to Holy Week
March 25, 2018
Watch a video of this sermon here. 

The line “For fools rush in where angels fear to tread” first appeared in Alexander Pope’s poem An Essay on Criticism, in 1711. The phrase usually refers to inexperienced people diving into things that people with more experience would probably avoid. A few other lines from this poem are also well known – such as “to err is human, to forgive divine;” and
“a little learning is a dangerous thing.”[1] But Pope’s “fools rush in” has become an idiom in its own right.

Throughout Mark’s story of this final week, fools are rushing in everywhere: Continue reading

What Did You Expect? Sermon on Matthew 22:1-11 Palm Sunday A

April 9, 2017

So tell me, how has Jesus shown up in your life over these past five or six weeks, as we’ve been asking God to unbind our hearts? What did you expect when we began this Lenten journey, and how has reality matched your expectations? Let’s do a quick review.

First, we learned that the “E” word, Evangelism, doesn’t need to be a scary thing. Evangelism is simply sharing your faith with other people. Even a reluctant evangelist, like Ananias, can tip someone into God’s love like a domino, starting a chain reaction that can go in unexpected ways. Kris shared her story of bringing her grandchildren to church after they had questions about her Nativity set. Like Ananias, Kris tipped someone into God’s love.

We learned that, before we can effectively share our faith with others, it needs to be a healthy and mature faith. We need to develop a strong relationship with God, going deep with Jesus often in prayer. So we set up the prayer wall, and began adding our prayers to it, prayers for people and situations God had laid on our hearts.

During the third week of Lent, we looked at the trinity of relationships – our relationship with God, with each other, and with those outside our church. We saw that unresolved conflict within the church can prevent people outside the church from developing a relationship with Christ, and some of us must have started working on resolving a few conflicts, because a spirit of peace has begun to fill this place. At least one visitor has noticed this.

In week four, we learned what brought Sue into a life of faith when we played the “Who Am I?” game. We heard how our own personal story is a powerful means of bringing others to Christ. The Samaritan woman at the well showed us that the Kingdom of God is for all who believe, regardless of backgrounds, ethnic roots, or cultural differences. Christ offers living water to all, a well springing up to eternal life. And we have jars of that living water to offer to others.

Last week, the paralytic who was let down through the roof, and Lazarus who was brought up from the grave, drew our attention to barriers that prevent people from wanting to know Christ. Some barriers are internal, and others are external. Bo Wright shared his and Dru’s experiences as they looked for a church when they moved here to New Ulm, and why they settled on First Church as their church home.

All of these stories, whether from our own experiences or from the Scriptures, have something in common. In every case, God has shown up in unexpected ways. Continue reading

Hope Aflame: Even the Rocks – Sermon on Luke 19:39-48

Palm Sunday, March 20, 2016

Watch a video of this sermon here.

At the beginning of the service, we heard Luke’s account of the Palm Sunday parade. Only Luke doesn’t mention palms, and he doesn’t tell us that the crowds were crying out ‘Hosanna!’ either. Instead, Luke tells us that the “whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,

“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”

The crowds are shouting the same refrain the angels sang at Jesus’ birth: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors” (Luke 2:14). Just as the angels announced the birth of Jesus, now the disciples announce the coming of Messiah into his kingdom. But, even though they claim to know that Jesus is the Messiah, they still don’t quite understand what that really means.

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it,  saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”

Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, “It is written,

‘My house shall be a house of prayer’; but you have made it a den of robbers.”

 Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard. – Luke 19:39-48

 

Last January, I walked with our tour group down the pathway from the Mount of Olives, following Palm Way in a pilgrims’ procession. We had started out early in the morning, and even though most of the trip had been cold and rainy, this day was filled with sunshine. Continue reading

Opening the Door to Holy Week

When I arrived at First Church, I noticed a sign on the inside of the “front” door – the original main entrance to the church, before the parking lot was added, and people started using the “back” entrance as the main door of the church. The sign said, “Do Not Open This Door.” Not even “please leave this door closed.” Do. Not. Open. This. Door.

I preached about it. I asked the congregation to consider the implications of that sign. What did it say, not only to the community on the other side of the door, but to us on the inside? I mentioned it in Trustee meetings and Council meetings. It’s been a year and a half, and last Sunday, I asked if we could open the door for Palm Sunday and Easter, as a sign of radical hospitality to the many people who drive past our church on Sunday mornings. Continue reading

Good Friday

Dark.
Not dusk,
no moon or stars, as on a clear night;
No.

This dark was thick, oppressively thick;
All the goodness that ever existed
had been sucked out of the world.

Nothing.
Empty.
Dark.
And we were
suddenly,
completely
alone.

Dark.
It was so….
Dark.

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.

– Latin 12th c.; German, Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676)
Translated, James W. Alexander (1804-1859)

A New Commandment

Meditation for Holy Thursday – John 13:1-17, 31-35

We gather soon, as they did in that upper room. Some will take off shoes and socks, and let the warm water bathe tired feet. Some will wash another’s hands instead. Some will receive bread and wine (or juice) and remember, as we were commanded to remember, that night when Jesus said, “this is my body, this is my blood.”

That same night, Jesus also said, “I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” Washing feet, wearing a towel, kneeling in front of each disciple, serving. That’s the example Christ shows us.

And he gives a new commandment: “Love each other, just as I have loved you.”

It’s easier to remember bread and cup, Lord Jesus.

I’d rather wear a towel and serve, dear Lord.

But love? The way you love?

Lord help me.

Whatever you have to do…

Meditation for Holy Wednesday on John 13:21-32

Get on with it.

Get a move on.

Hurry up!

We’re burnin’ daylight, people!

What are you waiting for?

Hustle!

Jesus said, “Do quickly what you are going to do.”

Get on with it. If you’ve decided to betray the Savior of the World, there is no time to waste.

Get a move on. This betrayal sets everything in motion. There are lots of players involved. They are waiting for their cue from you.

Hurry up! The time has come. Get going. There is no reason to wait any longer.

What are you waiting for? It’s too late to change your mind. What’s done is done.

We’re burnin’ daylight, people! Did you hear “Walk while you have the light” only yesterday?

Hustle! Time is of the essence. Go. Now.

Do quickly what you are going to do. Get it over with, for your own sake. Don’t draw out the agony of knowing you have caused an irreversible sequence of events to unfold, events that will lead to the death of the One you call Lord, Master, Teacher.

Oh, I’m sorry, Jesus. Were you talking to Judas?

I thought you meant me.

 

 

We Would See Jesus

Meditation for Holy Tuesday – John 12:20-36

I’ve always wondered what happened to those Greeks who approached Philip. Did they stand aside, waiting for a private audience, while Philip found his brother to go with him to Jesus on their behalf? Did they tag along behind the brothers, hoping for a word with the Word made flesh? Or did they merge into the crowd as Jesus began to teach about his own death?

We never learn the answer. By the end of this passage, Jesus has slipped away to hide from the crowd. Interesting … Many times, Jesus has escaped the pressure of the crowd around him, leaving them to pray, to be alone with his inner circle of disciples, or to rest. But I don’t recall anywhere before this that Jesus has left the crowd specifically to hide.

It is doubly ironic that, just before Jesus hid from the crowd, he told them to “walk in the light.” Just before sneaking off into the shadows, Jesus says, “If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going.” Yet Jesus knew exactly where he was going. The Light of the World was about to enter his darkest days on earth. 

Lord, help me to follow you through the shadows of my own fear, my own blindness, into the light of your glorious resurrection. Keep me focused on you, sweet Lord Jesus. Amen.

A Pound of Nard

Holy Week Meditation on John 12:1-11

This was NOT a funeral dinner. It was supposed to be a funeral dinner. Martha had been working on it for days  – but Jesus had changed all those plans when he’d shown up at Lazarus’ tomb. Now, instead of sharing fond memories of the deceased, the friends gathered around this table were talking and laughing with him. Lazarus had become an overnight celebrity: The One Who Was No Longer Dead. This was a celebration dinner.

But Death does not get to sit at this table. Lazarus offers visible proof that Death has no power over Jesus, and even if those enjoying Martha’s fine cooking don’t fully comprehend it yet, we know that Jesus will completely defeat death before John’s story is finished. For now, let’s take a closer look at this feast in Bethany, and especially at the gift Mary brings to the guest of honor.

The other gospels tell us that the nard was in an alabaster jar. The only way to open the sealed jar was to break it, so this was an all-or-nothing gift. It’s possible that the nard might have belonged to Mary’s dowry, so pouring out this perfume on Jesus’ feet could have signified a substantial sacrifice on Mary’s part. If she had been saving the nard for her own bride price, this gift has suddenly reduced her marriage chances to practically zero.

But Mary gave it all. She poured the entire contents of that jar onto Jesus’ feet, and rubbed it in with her hair.

What an intimate, scandalous thing to do! For an unmarried woman to touch a man was shocking. For a woman to let down her hair in public was also considered completely inappropriate behavior. Yet, here she was, abandoning all decorum as she wiped the perfume on Jesus’ feet with her hair. In a few days, Jesus would kneel at the feet of his disciples and wipe them with a towel in exactly the same way. But Mary was not using perfume like soap and water. Jesus said that Mary was anointing him for burial. Mary could not know the details of what was to happen in just a few short days, but she could worship her Lord now, in the present moment, with all she had to offer.

These last days of Lent are always the hardest for me. I get weary of lamenting my sins. I want to say, “Enough already! I’ve repented! I’ve confessed! I’ve submitted myself to discipline! I’m tired of all this introspection and self-examination! I’m ready for Easter! Let me get on with my life!” But do you hear those words? “I,” “Myself,” “Me,” “My?” It’s easy to fall into that trap of self-absorption, to become self-centered, instead of Christ-centered. These forty days of Lent, like the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness, are just enough time to weaken us so Satan can tempt us to lose our focus on Christ. Mary comes to remind us to choose the better part, to keep our eyes on Jesus, to serve him with all that we are and all that we have.

As we enter Holy Week, let us ponder what we can offer the Lord of All. What would cost us as much as Mary’s perfume cost her? What are we willing to sacrifice to bring honor and glory to the One who died so that we might live?