An Uncertain Pilgrimage

A Sermon for Palm Sunday:
            The Palms: Mark 11:1-11, Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
            The Word: Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16, Philippians 2:5-11, Mark 11:15-19                        The Passion: Mark 15:1-39, [40-47]

 We don’t often get to hear the two stories together. They are part of the same story within Mark’s Gospel story of Jesus’ unexpected journey to Golgotha. It just might raise awareness of the unexpected journey that you that we are on. It is a story fraught with mystery (Hoezee). It invites you to confess what is disturbingly mysterious in your life right now.

Jesus’ journey begins on a borrowed colt. Roman soldiers’ commandeered animals for their use, all the time (Keener and Walton). The promise to return the colt makes Jesus’ request different, so, we know this story is different (Perkins). Animals that have never been ridden are often preferred as dedications to God (Keener and Walton). It also reminds Jesus’ disciples of Zechariah’s return to Jerusalem (Zech. 9:9) which draws on Jacob’s last words to his sons assuring them the scepter, the staff of office will never leave Judah (Gen 49:10) (Harrelson; Gaventa and Petersen, Zech.). Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem is deeply steeped in Israel’s history, full of promise.

The people are perhaps aware of the stories. Even if they are not, they shout “Hosanna” they shout “Save us” (Gaventa and Petersen Mark) they shout “Savior” (Lose). Their shouts express their hopes, pleas, dreams, needs, and expectations. They are worn out by continual occupations. They want to be welcomed as friends in the promised land. They hope to improve day to day life. There hasn’t much hope for a long, long time. So, they turn to Jesus.

Their expectations are also steeped in history. Throwing their garments in front of Jesus is a reflection of religious festivals and the army commanders throwing their cloaks on the bare steps for Jehu as he had been anointed King over Ahab (2 Kings 9:13) (Keener and Walton; Harrelson; Perkins)

We are used to this being a triumphal entry. But not so much for Mark. He avoids this sense by keeping the celebration on the road and out of the city (Perkins). A reason that at this early point in the story there is an air of uncertainty (Epperly).

When Jesus gets to Jerusalem he goes directly to the Temple, takes a look, and then goes to a nearby town because it is late in the day. This is a curious decision given all the effort to get there and it adds to the air of uncertainty. The next thing we hear is that Jesus is at the Temple. Temple is huge covering more than a quarter of Jerusalem (Keener and Walton). It is also prominent in the life of Jews. It is where God lives; it is the only place where you can offer required sacrifices. It is intended to be a house of prayer for everyone (Keener and Walton; Perkins). Jesus’ “house of prayer” is a reference to Isaiah’s proclamation that the foreigner, the eunuch, all those who choose to keep Sabbath and God’s ways, all those who love the name of the Lord, who are God’s servants God will bring to God’s holy mountain, give them a place, a name. God will make them joyful in God’s house of prayer, accepting their offerings and sacrifices because God’s is a house of prayer for all people. (Isaiah 56:3-7) (Gaventa and Petersen; Harrelson).

Unique to Mark is Jesus keeping anyone from carrying anything across the Temple grounds, probably meaning through the gentile court, which was open to anyone. Not much written about this verse. Still, it strongly suggests that Jesus has authority in/over the Temple (Perkins).

Our story ends with Jesus leaving the city at evening. The prior verse And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him (Mark 11:18). leaves the air of uncertainty even more uncertain.

As we heard, Jesus’ entry captures the hopes, pleas, dreams, needs, and expectations of a crowd of people who were worn out by occupation. What has worn you out? Where or to whom do we look to save us; to be our savior? Do we, like ancient Israel did, ask for a King “to fight our battles for us” (1 Samuel 8:20)?

Jesus and his disciples are not the only visitors in the Temple. It is Passover, Israel’s biggest festival. Jerusalem is crowded, they had to leave town to find lodgings. Would you leave home, journey across the county, the state, the country, the empire for a Holy Week or for an Easter pilgrimage (Perkins)? Jesus’ presence in the Temple assures you that you are welcome, there, or where ever you are, whoever you are, just as you are. It is an extension from Solomon’s prayer of dedication of the 1st Temple (2 Chron 6:32).

Bruce Epperly notes that Philippians invites us to look at our all our decision-making in terms of relationships rather than power (Epperly). Do you, do we seek salvation on our terms, or are we willing to be transformed by our relationship with God? Are we willing to acknowledge that Rome, or China, or Russia or whoever they are is not the threat to our lives? Are we ready to confess that we ~ are the threat to our lives (Lose)? Even as we seek safety from the many forms of harm others may do, or seek to do us, will we confront our own complicity in violence and injustice, so that our relationships with them may be healed? Will we accept the need for our own thoughts, known and unknown about other people, money, and social bounds to be transformed, so that we don’t give in to demonization and so that our relationships with the others may be healed (Epperly)?

Since the moment of our baptism, our confirmation we have been wandering through the wilderness. We call our journey many things. We seek all kinds of individual, social, physical, emotional, and spiritual forms of shalom to make us whole. We have just heard the story of one pilgrimage to a point of shalom. We have witnessed through holy writ the first step of the final commitment. Today begins Holy Week. Today you are invited to commit to entering the shadowed valley (Ps 23). The goal is freedom from the continual devilishly appealing whisper that You too can be like God. The uncertainty challenges our wisdom, our belief, our trust. Today the beginning of your pilgrimage is right here, right now.

 


References

Cox, Jason. Sacrifice, Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday (B). 25 3 2018. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 25 3 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Mark 11:1-11. 25 3 2018.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Lose, David. Palm/Passion B: Cries, Confusion, Compassion. 25 3 2018.

Perkins, Pheme. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Mark. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Bel and the Dragon. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols.

Ruge-Jones, Philip. Commentary on Mark 14:1-15:47. 25 3 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Walton, John. Chronological and Background Charts of the Old Testament. GrandRapids: Academie Books, 1978.

 

 

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Uncertainty

A Sermon for Proper 28

1 Samuel 1:4-20, 1 Samuel 2:1-10, Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25, Mark 13:1-8

I’m sure you remember some 23 weeks ago when we read from 1st Samuel the story of Israel asking Samuel for a king to rule over them. Well, this morning we read the story leading up to Samuel’s birth.

Hannah is t Elkanah’s primary wife; however, she is barren. Pennianah, Elkanah’s second wife, had children and harangued Hannah about her children at every turn (Wines, 2015). Her husband did not make life easier when he asks her “Am I not worth ten sons to you?” He just didn’t understand what it meant for a woman to be barren. He did not feel the sense of shame arising from the belief that she is being punished by God for some undefined reason (Miguelina, 2015). Think Job. Needless to say, there is tension in Elkanah’s family.

This is not a new story. You remember that Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel were barren. You remember the tension in Jacob’s family between Leah, who had children and Rachel who did not. However, there are some significant differences.

On one trip to Shilo, Israel’s primary shrine, the Temple has not yet been built, Hannah sits before the Lord praying and weeping (Harrelson, 2003). Unlike the other barren women, she presents her concerns to God (Wines, 2015). Eli, chief priest of the shrine, assumes Hannah is drunk and confronts her. She explains that she is deeply troubled and is offering her anxiety and grief to God. Showing no interest in Hannah, without asking what her complaint is, he brushes her off saying, “the Lord will grant your request” (Hoezee, 2015) (Wines, 2015). The next thing we know Hannah is pregnant.

We have no idea how much time passes between Shiloh and conception. Unlike Sarah, Rebekah, or Sarah, or Elizabeth and Mary there is no angelic pronouncement of pregnancy. There is no apparent supernatural intervention. Nonetheless, Hannah gives God credit, by naming her son Samuel, which means, “I’ve asked of him from the Lord” and by returning him to God, for life, as a Nazirite servant (Harrelson, 2003).

In place of a psalm this morning, we recited The Song of Hannah.” It is similar to the Song of Mary, in that it is lifted from scripture, here chapter 4 of First Samuel. Unlike Mary, she does not speak to God but rather about God. She Praises God’s willingness to intervene for those on the margins of life. As Doug Bratt notes, the Song of Hannah praises God for creation and for caring about creation (Hoezee, 2015).  The song as a whole offers hope, in the face of despair; because it attests to God’s willingness to intervene.

There is an unexpected link between Hannah’s story and Mark’s account of the disciples’ awe at seeing the Temple, and Jesus response. Both stories are apocalyptic. The connection emerges when we remember apocalyptic literature is the writings of the oppressed. Moreover, it is not end of the world stuff; the word means “unveiling” or “revealing” (Jacobson, Lewis, & Skinner, 2015) (Wines, 2015). Gleanings emerge from the whole context, not just this morning’s appointed verses. Jesus is not so much concerned with the state of the Temple as he is that the disciples understand:  the world is not now nor is it soon to be safe, the Jewish and Roman authorities are not now, nor will they be the disciples’ friends, and those who families have rejected them will not soon welcome them home. When Mark is writing the Temple is a smoking ruined pile of rubble. Jesus wants the disciples to understand that in the face of the world’s troubles God is always present (Jacobson, Lewis, & Skinner, 2015). In short Jesus is asking the disciples to follow Hannah’s example in facing life’s uncertainty (Miguelina, 2015).

Hannah’s world was uncertain. Beyond her barrenness, Eli was unaware of his sons’ belligerent behaviors. Even though Joshua secured the promised land, well mostly, the surrounding kingdoms continually threatened Israel. And within Israel there was significant animosity among the tribes. Jesus’s world was uncertain; as it always is when your country has been conquered and is occupied by a foreign power. Mark’s world was even more uncertain; the center of Jewish religious life, the Temple, has been razed. With the home of God on earth gone, how does one live in God’s presence? In all ages, including ours, life has been uncertain. We are unsettled by ISIS, Syrian refugees, continuing conflict in Libya, Yemen, and countries of North Africa and Egypt. The Russian Airliner presumably bombed, and the terrorist rampage in Paris Friday raises everyone’s anxiety. Many are not thrilled by the vitriolic, bitter nature of the current political season, nationally and locally. For some finances or employment are sources of uncertainty; for others, retirement or health disrupt life. Or perhaps it’s children, ~ or maybe it’s parents. I haven’t read this mornings’ paper, so I may not be aware of the latest source uncertainty.

Some seek to peer into the future and glean what’s to be as a source of certitude to counter life’s uncertainty (Lose, 2015). It doesn’t work; elsewhere in scripture Jesus tells the disciples, no one, not even he, can know the future (Mark 13:22). But, as Hannah reveals, we are not without an antidote; courage is the antidote to uncertainty (Lose, 2015). Br. Luke in a posting last week reminds us, courage is not the lack of fear, rather ~ it is stepping into whatever it is that confronts us (Ditewig, 2015). At times that includes letting go of what weighs us down, the indulgences that disorder our lives, and leaving them at the altar, which frees us to move into life as God envisions it (Tristram, 2015)(SSJE, Br. Geoffrey. And we never have to pretend to be who we are not, life is what it is; God knows us, loves us, as we are gently turned towards who we shall be (Vryhof, 2015).  And of course, we have the ultimate source confidence. Our great high priest Jesus by whom we, with certainty, approach the throne of grace with boldness, to receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need, in time of uncertainty (Hebrews 4).


References

Ditewig, B. L. (2015, 11 11). Courage. Retrieved from Give Us A Word.

Harrelson, W. J. (2003). The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press.

Hoezee, S. (2015, 11 15). Old Testament Lectionary Text is: 1 Samuel 1:4-20. Retrieved from Working Preacher.

Jacobson, R., Lewis, K., & Skinner, M. (2015, 11 15). Sermon Brain Wave. Retrieved from workingpreacher.org.

Lose, D. (2015, 11 15). Pentecost 25 B: Pretenders to the Throne. Retrieved from In the Meantime.

Miguelina, t. R. (2015, 11 15). Pentecost 25, Pretenders to the Throne. Retrieved from Sermons that Work.

Tristram, B. (2015, 11 13). Let Go. Retrieved from Give Us A Word.

Vryhof, B. D. (2015, 11 12). Invitation. (S. o. Evangelist, Producer) Retrieved from Brother, Give Us A Word: http://ssje.org/word/

Wines, A. (2015, 11 15). Commentary on 1 Samuel 1:420. Retrieved from Working Preacher: http://www.workingpreacher.org/