Exploring the Word | Spreaker

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Jesus is Lord (3.28.10)

Luke 19:28-40
28After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.29When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30saying, "Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' just say this, 'The Lord needs it'"
32So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, "Why are you untying the colt?" 34They said, "The Lord needs it." 35Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, 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, 38saying,
"Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven, And glory in the highest heaven!"
39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, order your disciples to stop." 40He answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out."

Philippians 2:5-11
5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-even death on a cross. 9Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

For many chapters now it’s been clear that Jesus is going to Jerusalem. Today we finally get there. As Jesus and his crew are getting close to the city, Jesus sends a couple of disciples into a nearby village to prepare for his arrival.

Long before, the prophet Zechariah had proclaimed: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey.” Jesus sends his disciples to get a donkey to fulfill this prophesy.

In case we’re still confused about who Jesus is, Luke tells the story carefully. Jesus tells his disciples that if anyone asks why they’re taking the donkey they should answer, “The Lord needs it.” Luke wants it very clear that Jesus isn’t just the Lord’s servant or prophet or messenger; Jesus is Lord.

What does it mean that Jesus is Lord? Since Jesus gets a royal parade and a criminal execution in the same week, obviously the answer is complicated. The crowd of disciples that followed Jesus into Jerusalem waving palms and lining the streets with a red carpet of their cloaks didn’t miss the significance of the donkey Jesus is riding. The Psalm they sing with joy was a royal Psalm used to celebrate the crowning of a new king in Israel. The people watching get it; they see Jesus and expect a king.

The Pharisees get it too, that’s why they’re upset about the singing. It worries them that people see Jesus as David’s heir. For one thing, they’re not so sure about this Jesus guy. Sure, he draws in a crowd and clearly he knows the scriptures and has authority in his words, but his teaching is sort of unorthodox and his behavior challenges tradition.

Besides this, the Pharisees are probably concerned that all this attention, especially this royal parade, is going to attract Roman eyes. If the Romans think Jesus is trying to be king they might respond with the overwhelming violence that always lurked behind the Roman peace.

Everyone watching this procession and everyone taking part seems to understand they are bringing a king into the royal city. The procession is about the fact that Jesus is the Lord. And as he points out in his reply to the Pharisees, nothing can change that fact; even the stones know Jesus is Lord and rejoice at his coming. Christ the eternal word of God was there when the world was created; the earth itself knows the voice and rule of its Lord. Jesus Christ is Lord, no matter who proclaims it and no matter who stays silent.

But this procession isn’t a fairy tail and it isn’t a Disney movie. The King’s royal entrance doesn’t wrap things up neatly; the story isn’t finished. The crowd welcomes Jesus as a king, like a conquering hero, but Jesus doesn’t play the role of the conqueror or the king in armor. He teaches with authority; he even drives the moneychangers out of the temple with a whip, but Jesus doesn’t gather an army to throw off Rome’s rule. He doesn’t consolidate his power with orders and hierarchy.

Jesus had the power to mobilize people: we’ve seen him gathering crowds everywhere he goes just by teaching and healing. Often we’re told the religious leaders wanted to arrest him or kill him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the crowd was wrapped around Jesus’s finger. He had the power to lead a movement that could challenge Rome.

The power of the crowds is nothing compared to the hidden power Jesus has. In one version of Jesus’s arrest later that week he says, “Don’t you know that if I wanted to I could ask and my father would send legions of angels to fight for me?” Jesus has all the power of heaven at his command because he is Lord of heaven and earth. Jesus can rule any way he wants.

But Jesus isn’t that kind of king; Jesus isn’t that kind of Lord. Though he was in the form of God he didn’t think equality with God was something to take advantage of but instead poured himself out and took the form of a slave. Jesus gave up incredible power by becoming human at his birth in Bethlehem. He was God; Lord from the beginning of time, but he became a weak, fragile human baby and grew up like everyone else.

Not only did Jesus give up his power to become human, not only did Jesus become a faithful servant for God, he became obedient to God’s will all the way to an early death, even death on a cross. Jesus is Lord but for him that means giving up power in service instead of hording power through greed. Jesus is a different kind of lord than the so-called lords of the world we know.

Most of the time when we see powerful people in the world whether its bosses at work or political leaders on TV their main concern is keeping and adding to their power. Power is addictive and so those who have had a taste of it usually can’t help grasping for more.

Not Jesus. Jesus starts with unimaginable power and puts it aside. Jesus starts with heaven and takes his place as a simple man in a backwater town. Jesus starts at the Father’s right hand and ends up despised and rejected by people, a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief. Jesus starts on a throne and ends up on a cross, spit on by soldiers and beaten by servants.

We’re getting a little bit ahead of ourselves here since we still have Holy Week ahead of us, but we know where this story is heading. And we know that death on the cross isn’t the end of Jesus’s story either. God didn’t leave Christ in the grave but raised him up in power. God highly exalted him and gave him a name treasured above all others. Jesus is God’s only begotten son and he is the first of those raised from the dead by God’s power. When the world comes to an end every knee will bend and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Jesus is Lord: Lord of heaven and earth, Lord of the living and the dead; Lord of the past, present and future. And Jesus is Lord not in the grasping, self-promoting way of power we’re used to seeing but in a new way. Jesus uses power for service; he uses power for obedience and love.

That’s our calling too. Paul writes, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…” That means we are called to use the power we have for service instead of selfishness. We’re called to build up others, not just ourselves. And we are called to obedience, yes even obedience to death.

That’s not the same thing as ignoring our power or pretending it doesn’t exist. Often in the church we think of power as a dirty word. Maybe some of us have had experiences where religious power was used to crush difference or to exclude people. For many of us power is troubling and so we ignore it or deny that we have any. We say, “I’m just a regular person, I can’t control X, Y or Z.”

The truth is we do have power. We can’t control every part of our lives and we certainly are not God. But we do have power. Some of us have pretty significant financial resources, especially compared to the majority of the world. Some of us supervise or manage people at work. Some of us hold leadership positions in the church. Many are parents who have power in our kid’s lives, even if sometimes it doesn’t feel like it.

Those of us who are citizens have the power of a vote and with it a voice in the most powerful country in the world. All of us have a voice in the communities we live and work in. All of us have some kind of power and of course that power comes with responsibility to use it well. When we forget our power we don’t do as much ministry as we could, and God calls us to ministry.

What does that calling mean practically? It means solidarity with the poor: embracing not only charity but being open to real people in need and being changed by them. It means spending time outside our comfort zone finding out what struggles others face and learning how to be there with them. It means grasping less, holding back less of ourselves from our neighbors.

Paul Farmer grew up in a family that struggled economically but always found ways to encourage each other in their interests. As Farmer grew up he found himself drawn to medicine and also drawn to Haiti. He spent time living in Haiti and was transformed by the people he encountered. As a medical student at Harvard he spent most of his time living in Haiti, coming back to Boston to take tests. Despite growing fame, Paul Farmer has consistently used the power that comes from places like Harvard to serve with the poorest people in the world. He spends most of his time travelling and building compassionate, grass roots health organizations in places like Malawi, Haiti and Peru. That’s having the mind of Christ in solidarity with the poor.

Having the mind of Christ also means using our power to empower others. When we discuss projects with a junior colleague at work do we tell them what to do or do we lead in a way that builds them up and encourages them to grow in their professional and spiritual identity? When we make decisions at church do those decisions invite others into ministry? When we raise our kids do we give them orders or train them to be independent, morally responsible adults some day? When we vote do we think about our advantage or the needs of those most vulnerable in our society?

One ministry our One Great Hour of Sharing offering next week supports is the Presbyterian Church’s Self Development of People program. This program focuses on supporting communities in need by helping them to develop their own abilities rather than giving money in a way that encourages dependence. One example is a grant to the Bernice Bakery right here in Rochester. The bakery was founded by refugees from Nigeria who sought a way for members of their community to make a stable income and learn new skills. By helping people develop themselves we use power to empower others.

Having Christ’s mind also means actively seeking God’s calling for us so we can become obedient. Not everyone has as Jeremiah moment when we hear God calling us directly and almost out loud. But each of us has gifts God wants to use in ministry. The way to find how God is calling us is very tricky and very simple.

We find God’s calling by listening for it. We find God’s calling by really praying about decisions as we make them, not just deciding and then asking God to bless the decisions we’ve already made. We find God’s calling by taking the time to pray and study scripture regularly so God’s word and Spirit take root and grow within us. We find God’s calling by reflecting on what we know about God and thinking about how that should shape our choices. We don’t develop the mind of Christ by accident, but by intentional prayer and seeking.

So let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus. Give yourself in service to others and in obedience to God. Welcome Jesus as king not just of Jerusalem but of your heart and soul and life. Truly some day every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Until that day let us make that confession, that proclamation with our tongues and with our lives. Jesus Christ is Lord.

Thanks be to God.

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