Year B — The Sixth Sunday in Lent (Palm/Passion)

Commentary for April 1, 2012
Click here for today’s readings

Isaiah 50:4-9a
As I consider the overwhelming passion of the Lord on this beginning of Holy Week, I am struck (and I genuinely intend no pun here) by the depth with which Isaiah’s text connects us to the willing submission of Christ. 

“I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard.” (v. 6) I am simply stunned at the unbegrudging audacity of Jesus in accepting the fulfillment of this passage in his life.

The haunting refrain of an old gospel hymn comes back to me at this point: “I gave my life for thee, what hast thou given for me?” 

(for the powerful background on this hymn text by Frances R. Havergal, click here

Psalm 31:9-16
In the midst of plotters and schemers, the confidence of the Christ is ultimately in God. 

Again, I am reminded that, for Jesus, the imminent threat of death was very real; the run-up to Golgotha was not some dress rehearsal or momentary discomfort. Jesus is going to die, and I suspect he knew that.

Close behind that thought must have been, “If God does not save me, I am lost.” That may be the deepest truth of the Passion.

Philippians 2:5-11
This classic worship text of the early church is a reminder of the close proximity of privilege and humility, of submission and glory, of obedience and exaltation. Needless to say, it prepares us for the greatest proximal opposition of all: life out of death.

Mark 14:1-15:47
When considering this entire passage, opportunities for preaching abound. The real task is deciding what must be left unsaid in the sermon. (The story does, after all, speak for itself — and quite well, at that!)

One organizational theme that suggests itself is that of acceptance vs. rejection. In his characteristic rapid-fire manner, Mark presents several characters in rapid succession who all make decisions based on either accepting or rejecting participation in the unfolding drama of the passion:

  • the woman with the alabaster box of ointment — accepts Jesus and anoints his feet
  • those in attendance at the meal who complain — rejecting this seemingly pointless extravagance
  • Jesus affirms the woman’s action — accepts her offering and memorializes her action 
  • Judas Iscariot, who departs for the purpose of betrayal — rejection of Jesus and his actions
  • the man with the jar of water — acceptance displayed by provision of the upper room
  • Peter of the bold predictions — penultimately rejects Jesus at the crowing of the rooster
  • Jesus struggling in prayer in the garden — acceptance of the difficult task before him
  • the mob from the “chief priests, scribes and elders” — arrest and rejection

And so on, and so forth…you get the idea.

The theme of acceptance and rejection will continue through to Mark’s stark ending of his gospel at 16:8 — basically handing the story off to we, the hearers and readers of his story. (More on this next time!)

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Sir Isaac Newton, the great scientist and mathematician, had a dog that he loved very much. Wherever Newton went, the dog went with him.

The story is, one time he had worked for months and months on a theory about the nature of the universe, working late into the night by candlelight, his worktable covered with papers, which were in turn covered with formulas and theorems and conclusions.

Late one night, newton got up from the table to leave the room and the dog jumped up and bumped the table, turning over the candle, which set Newton’s papers on fire.

Newton returned to the room to find years of work gone up in flames.

He put out the fire, then sat on the floor and wept. The dog nuzzled up to him and licked his face and Newton hugged his dog and said, “You will never, ever know what you have done.” (Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Other Gods, p. 36)

The story is that when Eve took the fruit from the tree and when Adam took the fruit from Eve; things fell apart. And God looked at Adam and Eve with great sadness and said, “You will never ever know what you have done.”

What began in Adam and Eve continues in us.

Each of us plays out our own, personal little Garden of Eden in which we discover our capacity for doing things that tear God’s creation apart.

Back when I was young and knew everything and had not had either the time or inventiveness to really mess things up in life, I didn’t worry too much about the sinfulness of humanity in general and my own sinfulness in particular.

But I’m older now and I don’t even like to think about the ways that I have been less than I meant or hoped to be.

I have not just failed to do good, I have on occasion done bad; and knew I was doing bad when I did it, and I did it anyway.

And I don’t know why.

And I have no excuse other than the fact that I am human and that is what humans do sometimes.

I don’t blame any one or any thing else; not my mama or my daddy or my environment or anything else.

It was just me and my life and an occasional fit of sorriness.

And I’m sorry.

And I have a deep, deep need for a voice from outside myself who will neither condone my misdeeds nor condemn me for them.

And we meet that voice, that God, in the one “who did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,” (Phil. 2:6) but rather “emptied himself,” and come to be one of us, to live with us, to die with us and for us on the cross.

My daddy’s sister, Aunt Mildred, never, ever really threw anything away. When her nieces’ and nephews complained to her about this, she would say, “You just never know when you might need it.”

Our protests that you had to be able to find “it” in order to use “it” when you needed “it,” fell on deaf ears. She was confident that she knew where all her “its” were. And I think she did.

I would ask her about a bill or a letter or a magazine and she would say something like, “It’s in the back bedroom, in the left hand corner of the closet, third shoebox from the bottom, in a plastic bag.” And she’d be right.

God is, I think, a bit like Aunt Mildred; if not southern then at least eccentric.

God shares her passion for saving everything and her awareness of everything she
had saved.
God doesn’t do the expected and normal thing and condemn useless and unholy trash to Gehenna, the fiery garbage heap outside the walls of Jerusalem.

Instead, where others may see worthlessness, God sees something worth saving, something worth hanging on to, something worth taking a risk for, something worth making a great effort for, something worth dying for.

And God knows where all that saved stuff is. God cares about that which God has saved.

And it is God’s will that it all be saved, because God made it all, and God loves it all, no matter what it has done.

The Gospel is that it is because of our great need and God’s great sorrow and anguish over our great need that Christ came into the world.

. . . but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness, and being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death – even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2: 7-8)

And so, the great question is not whether or not God loves us and cares about us – that question has been answered once and for all by Christ upon the cross.

The question is; are we being obedient to our call to take up our cross and follow?

The Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville was for a long time the home of the Grand Ole Opry. It was originally a church, built as a preaching place for a famous evangelist named Sam Jones.

The story is that Jones was holding what the holiness folks called a “quitting meeting,” during which people confessed their sins and swore off drinking, and smoking and cussing and running around with people they weren’t married to and such like misbehavior.

The meeting had reached an emotional high point when Jones called on one ultra-righteous woman in the congregation and asked her what she was going to quit.

She said, “I ain’t been doing nothing, and I’m going to quit that too.”
I’m a Lutheran, and we Lutherans learned a long time ago that there is nothing we can do to make God love us, nothing we have to do to earn our salvation.

The problem is, some of us learned that lesson too well and we do nothing in response to God’s love for us.

God calls upon us today to “quit doing nothing,” in response to the Gospel.

We are called to give ourselves for others as Jesus gave himself for us.

We are called to care about the hurts and pains of others as Jesus cared about our hurts and pains.

We are called to live lives of obedience to Jesus’ call to us to take up a cross and follow.

Follow him into the world with hope in our hearts, with acts of love in our hands and with words of grace and promise on our lips.

Amen and amen.

2 thoughts on “Year B — The Sixth Sunday in Lent (Palm/Passion)

  1. Yeah, we're working on our first book — it has the evocative title, "The Gospel According to Aunt Mildred." We find her (God and Aunt Mildred) in the lives of people we know and love…and some we don't!

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