Sunday, March 24, 2013

Palm Sunday Sermon ~ The Rev. Peter M. Carey ~ 24 March 2013

The Rev. Peter M. Carey
Palm Sunday Sermon ~ 24 March 2013
St. Paul’s Memorial Church, Charlottesville, VA

Enter the scene
Write your creed

There is no denying it, today’s gospel is difficult to read, and difficult to hear.  For us, and for Jesus’ disciples, the story reaches a high-pitched dramatic point this week, this week we call Holy, which, for me, on the surface seems anything but Holy.  Just as Good Friday seems, on the surface, to be anything but Good.  Today’s gospel, along with the story of this final week of Jesus’ week seems to be tempting us to deny it all.  Of course, we could rush beyond these 6 days and embrace the glory of the Easter Vigil and the hope of the Resurrection.  Of course we could, but somehow, we have chosen to be here, to hear the story, and in some ways to enter into this strangely Holy Week, culminating in the strangely Good of this Friday. 

Several weeks ago, on Ash Wednesday, we offered an invitation for you to observe a Holy Lent.  Today, I will invite us all to enter the great story of Holy Week. 

Enter into the story.  This week has deep riches to offer us, however, these riches, like most precious gems, are buried deep.  To find them, we must enter into the story, find an entry point so that we can experience this story anew.  The details of the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, and these final days are specific and rich.  The gospels themselves slow down to a nearly excruciating pace and we are offered the difficult opportunity to enter the story anew.  This year, in our cycle of readings, we focus our lens upon Luke, however, all four gospels have gems to offer to us. 

Will you enter this story by focusing upon one character in the drama of the week?  What about a member of the crowd who on Jesus’ entry into baptism shouted “Hail,” but by the end of the week was shouting “crucify him”? 

What about entering the story as one of the women followers of Jesus who followed faithfully, who cared for him, who became disciples and apostles, even if the Gospels give them little air time?  What must have the week been like for them, as they prayed with Jesus, as they gathered with him, as they ate with him, and finally, as they witnessed the terrible crucifixion? [and later found the tomb empty]

And what about Peter, the one who seemed at many points to be the leader of this merry band, while at other points seemed to be about as clueless as one could be.  To focus the lens upon him this week, we see his humanity, his fear, and his denial of all of the love and teaching that Jesus had shown him.  Peter, who would be offered up as a central leader of the fledgling church after the Resurrection, is seen here in all of his failings, all of his humanity.  For a church that just last week enthroned a Pope in the Roman Catholic Tradition, and the Archbishop of Canterbury in our own Communion, Peter is seen as the patriarch of our church.  However, the Peter of Holy Week surely reminds us of the ways that the church is made up of faulty, flawed humans, and that God is the true Rock of the Church.
What about the more minor characters of Holy Week, what about the one who owned the donkey on whom Jesus rode, what about the ones who prepared the upper room, what about the Romans who nailed Jesus to the Cross, what about Ciaphas’s underlings who went along with his terrible verdicts.  Perhaps one way into this story is to place ourselves with these more minor characters, who are probably most like us, bit parts in the play, non-speaking roles who merely know when we enter and are somewhat confused about the larger drama.

A few years ago, the former Dean of Duke Chapel, Sam Wells wrote a marvelous book, “Power and Passion,” in which he explored several characters of Holy Week that we rarely explore in our Bible Studies or our Preaching.  These are the characters who enter the stage for a bit, who perhaps have a line or two, but then leave the scene, but who are particularly interesting .  Especially Joseph of Arimathea and Mrs. Pilate.  These characters seem to be followers of Jesus, but don’t quite embrace it fully.  Perhaps like many of us, not dramatically denying Christ or trying to protect Christ with the sword, but merely becoming half-way followers of Christ. 

Pontius Pilate, Barabbas, Joseph of Arimathea, Mrs. Pilate, Peter, Mary Magdalene

Wells explores the ways that some of these characters try to be followers of Jesus, “by night” and “privately,” but when the daylight comes, they are tentative at best, and the reader still wonders if they are followers at all. 

This week, we walk the way of Jesus, and even as we walk through the everyday lives of our week, we can also experience and enter into the drama of Holy Week.

This week, of course, is a week that dominates our Gospels, 8 chapters of Mark are devoted to Jesus’s turning to Jerusalem through the crucifixion, Matthews gospel, Luke’s gospel, John’s gospel.  This is a central story, the central story of the Christian faith.

And, of course we have stories in the church, stories from our Jewish heritage from the Old Testament; this is why we want our members of all ages to know the stories from the Bible.  The stories inform us.

Passover story…questions posed by youngest child…why do we know these stories.  And this story of Passover is one that many many people around the world find to be particularly hopeful.  Oppression is overcome.  … Liberation Theology …

For Jews:
The Shema is an affirmation of Judaism and a declaration of faith in one God. The obligation to recite the Shema is separate from the obligation to pray and a Jew is obligated to say Shema in the morning and at night (Deut. 6:7).
The first line of the Shema, "Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One" (Shema Yisrael Adonai eloheinu Adonai ehad) (Deuteronomy 6:4) is repeated throughout the prayer services. It is said in the morning blessings, in the musaf Amidah of Shabbat and holidays, when the Torah is taken out of the Ark on Shabbat and holidays, as a bedtime prayer, as part of the deathbed confessional, and at various other times. (Shira Schoenberg, The Shema)
How well do you know the story?  Could you tell the story?  We are called to be disciples, to be apostles..apostolo … being sent into all the world.  What are we proclaiming by word an example?  How will you tell the story of this week.  How will you visualize and embody this story. 

How do you tell the story of your faith.  How do you speak about your faith?  How would you summarize your faith. 

The Maasai Creed is a creed composed in about 1960 by Western Christian missionaries for the Maasai, an indigenous African tribe of semi-nomadic people located primarily in Kenya and northern Tanzania. The creed attempts to express the essentials of the Christian faith within the Maasai culture.
We believe in the one High God, who out of love created the beautiful world and everything good in it. He created man and wanted man to be happy in the world. God loves the world and every nation and tribe on the earth. We have known this High God in the darkness, and now we know him in the light. God promised in the book of his word, the Bible, that he would save the world and all nations and tribes.
We believe that God made good his promise by sending his son, Jesus Christ, a man in the flesh, a Jew by tribe, born poor in a little village, who left his home and was always on safari doing good, curing people by the power of God, teaching about God and man, showing that the meaning of religion is love. He was rejected by his people, tortured and nailed hands and feet to a cross, and died. He was buried in the grave, but the hyenas did not touch him, and on the third day, he rose from that grave. He ascended to the skies. He is the Lord.
We believe that all our sins are forgiven through him. All who have faith in him must be sorry for their sins, be baptized in the Holy Spirit of God, live the rules of love, and share the bread together in love, to announce the good news to others until Jesus comes again. We are waiting for him. He is alive. He lives. This we believe. Amen.  (From “The Need for Creeds” – “On Faith”)

New Zealand Prayer Book Creed
You, O God, are supreme and holy.
You create our world and give us life.
Your purpose overarches everything we do.
You have always been with us.
You are God.

You, O God, are infinitely generous,
good beyond all measure.
You came to us before we came to you.
You have revealed and proved
Your love for us in Jesus Christ,
Who lived and died and rose again.
You are God.

You, O God, are Holy Spirit.
You empower us to be your gospel in the world.
You reconcile and heal; you overcome death.
You are our God. We worship You.

This week, we are offered the opportunity to enter the story, this difficult but wonderful story.  We are offered and invitation to enter in this strangely Holy Week.  We are offered the gift, strange as it is, to be a follower of Jesus, even as he enters Jerusalem in glory, only to be denied and put on the cross.  Enter the story, and reflect upon your own understanding of this week, and of our faith in general. 

Enter the story, consider the story of this week, and then tell that story. 

“You, O God, are supreme and holy.
You create our world and give us life.
Your purpose overarches everything we do.
You have always been with us.
You are God.”

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