The Pilgrim’s Way

the_journeyScripture Passage:  Genesis 12: 1

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.

Have you ever noticed that no one spends much time standing still in the Bible?  The story begins with God breathing life into Creation and, in essence, making us a home, a place.  But it doesn’t take but a few chapters before we are on the move–aliens, immigrants, sojourners.  It’s pretty clear that God calls us to be pilgrims on this Way, traveling light and gathering all of Creation together as we move. And along the way, we hear lots of words like “sent forth” and “go” and “follow”.  We are called to be a people on the move (at least figuratively and probably even a little literally), essentially migrating from one place to the next, from one way of being to another.  And most of the time, those that came before us moved freely through their journey without a map, without real plans or even real provisions.  Most of the time they were just journeying to a place they did not know but that they knew that God would show them.

So what has happened to us?  How did we become so planted? How did our lives become so safe?  It was never that way in the beginning.  The journey of faith was a wildly unpredictable one into places unknown. The journey of faith called its travelers to be pilgrims in the wilderness, sojourners through foreign lands.  Oh, we like to think of ourselves as journeyers, particularly we Methodists who readily espouse Wesley’s notion of faith as movement, as, to coin his words, “going on to perfection”.  (Gee, there’s that “go” thing again!)  And yet, we will do everything possible to avoid getting driven to the wilderness or left without everything that we need (or at least the latest technological gadget).  We tend to separate ourselves from discomfort or inconvenience or chaos.  We stick to our plans.  But wildness and chaos often creates a certain energy.  It wakes us up; it makes us pay attention.  This week on the Today Show, Al Roker is doing some sort of “Tech Out” series, meaning not that he techs out but that he TAKES tech out.  He’s going analog and old school and EVEN vinyl.  (Remember those words?  They existed before we became so technologically advanced.  On Monday, he looked at vinyl (yes, vinyl) records.  The interesting thing is that a company that was about to go belly up a few years ago is searching for old LP printing machines because the sale of albums has surpassed the sale of streaming music this year.  Who would’ve thought THAT?  (I mean, because we’re so advanced and all.)

Maybe on some level we really DO crave wilderness.  Maybe that’s why Lent begins in the wilderness.  Have you ever noticed that when you travel you see a lot more than when you’re just driving to and from work?  Is it because there’s more to see?  Or is it that when one is unfamiliar territory, one is more aware of the surroundings, more open to seeing things as they are?  Seeing oneself as a pilgrim, a wanderer, is the same thing.  It keeps our eyes open and our minds alert.  We notice God’s Presence; we notice God’s People; we do not see ourselves as “owners” or even squatters.  We see ourselves as part of Creation.  We begin to see that we are called not to arrive but to journey.  Our faith IS the journey.  So Lent begins in the wilderness and asks us to travel deep within ourselves, beyond our preconceptions, beyond our assumptions, beyond our plans.  We go, open to what God has to show us along the way. (So, maybe it would help if we put down our smart phones just for a little while so that we could see the world!)

It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work. And when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. (Wendell Berry)

So as we make this Lenten journey, what do you see?  What are you missing?  Where are you being called to go? (And does that have to involve your cell phone?)

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

To Boldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before

Star TrekScripture Passage:  Genesis 12: 1-4a (Lent 2A)

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”  So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him.

We are familiar with this story that our lectionary brings for this second week of Lent.  We know it well.  Abram is called to go forth, called to leave what he knows and become someone new.  We know that it will end with him becoming Abraham.  It is the beginning of Israel, the beginning of Judaism, and, ultimately, the beginning of us and our own faith story.  The story quickly moves from a broad sweep of humanity to a focus on one family and one person.  Perhaps it was a way of reminding us that humanity is not just a glob of no-name people but is rather made up of individuals, each children of God in their own right.

We like this story of our hero Abraham.  What courage, what persistence, what faith it would take to leave one’s home, to leave everything that one knows and to follow God.  It is that to which we all aspire and to which most of us fall incredibly short.  We struggle with what leaving would mean for us.  After all, what would it mean to you to just lock your doors and walk away, never looking back at the comforts and certitudes of your existence, never look back at all the stuff you’ve gathered and stored, never look back at this life that you have so painstakingly created?  And, yet, think about it.  Abram’s people were nomadic, wandering aliens.  Their sense of “home” was not the same as it is for us.  And family?  Well, Abram had more than likely outlived his parents and he had no children.  Who was he leaving behind?  What was he leaving?  Maybe God was calling him from hopelessness and loneliness and barrenness and finally showing him home.  Maybe God was not calling him away but toward.  Maybe that was the promise.  And yet, Abram still had to have the faith to go into the unknown, to trust in the promise that God was beginning to reveal.

Maybe that’s the point that we are supposed to learn–not that God calls us to leave behind what we know but that God calls us to journey into the unknown, to journey beyond what we know, to journey far past those things of which we are certain.  It is called faith.  We are not called to know, to be certain.  We are called to trust that the Promise is real.  Do you remember the Star Trek mission–“to boldly go where no man has gone before”?  (Well, it was the 1960’s so I’ve made it more inclusive for the title of this post.)  I’m not really that big a Star Trek fan (more of a Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, and Han Solo kind of gal!) but I remember watching it when I was little.  There was something that drew me in.  Perhaps it was that notion of going beyond, traveling to a place where no one had ever been, a place where parents and mentors and clergy, where books and Scriptures and songs could talk about but never really fully depict exactly what it was.

God does not call us to “figure it out”.  There are no “right” answers.  In fact, I have found that really good discussions of faith matters generally create more questions.  (Thanks be to God!)  God doesn’t expect us to blindly follow into certainty but rather to leave what we know behind and journey far into the unknown, into the wilds of our lives where the pathway is less paved and worn down by others.  Maybe that is why Lent begins not in the Temple but in the wilderness, where the winds blow the pathways into changing patterns rather than roads and the sands swirl and blind us at times.  Maybe it is when we leave behind what we know that we can finally hear the way Home.  That is the Promise in which we trust–that somewhere beyond what we have figured out and what we have planned and for which we have prepared is the way Home.

Today we are bombarded with a theology of certitude. I don’t find much biblical support for the stance of “God told me and I’m telling you, and if you don’t believe as I do, you’re doomed.” A sort of “My god can whip your god” posture. From Abraham, going out by faith not knowing where he was being sent, to Jesus on the cross, beseeching the Father for a better way, there was always more inquiring faith than conceited certainty. (Will D. Campbell)

As this second week of Lent begins, of what are you certain?  What would it mean for you to leave your certainty behind and journey into the unknown?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Mine to Walk

path-795x380Scripture Passage (1 Corinthians 10: 12-13)

12So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. 13No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

 

Well, this is enough to rattle anyone’s self-confidence! We like to think that if we “get there”, you know, confess our sins, profess our belief, get baptized, do what we’re supposed to do, check all the boxes of good church people, that everything will turn out alright. The problem is that it’s not a one-time thing. (Yes, I’m Methodist. Sadly, we are not “once saved, always saved”.) I mean, really, what good would that do? We just spend a little bit of time on our best behavior and then we’re “in”. I don’t think God works like that. It’s not about what we’ve done; It’s about who we are. It’s about who we’re becoming. It’s about relationship. Our faith journey is long and sometimes hard and sometimes glorious. Sometimes we get it right. Sometimes we know we get it right. Sometimes we find ourselves diving into deep and wonderful pools of clear reviving water and other times we seem to wallow in the shallow mud pits of life. Sometimes we can feel so connected to God that there is no doubt in our minds or our hearts that the Divine is right there, almost touchable, almost approachable. But we cannot rest on the laurels of our past. That’s not the way relationships work.

 

Living a life of faith really does not allow us to become complacent. It doesn’t allow us to sit back and bask in our glorious history that we bring to the table. God’s not really concerned with the fact that my grandparents were good, church-going people (at least not as far as my faith journey is concerned). It was good for them and they taught me well. But, now, it’s mine. God wants to have a relationship with ME. That’s the reason that “inherited” faith can only go so far (which means that, thanks be to God, that whole “sins of the fathers [and the mothers]” thing also only goes so far. My faith journey is mine. It is my relationship with God. It is my walk toward and with the Divine. It is mine to walk, mine to navigate, mine to mess up and get all turned around and not know where to go. It is mine to choose to stop and stay mired in what I think is the “right” way or what hymns I like to sing or what style of worship in which I like to participate. It is mine to halt at any point and sit down and bask in what I’ve done or become laden down by what I’ve neglected to do. And with God’s grace, it is mine to begin again. Oh, don’t get me wrong. We help each other along the way. Hopefully, we can give each other what we do not have. And that, too, is God’s grace.

 

This journey of Lent is sort of a microcosm of our whole faith journey. We begin where we are (wherever we are) and we look at our self and we look at our lives and we see what we really are—beloved children of God. And then we look at the ways that we’re NOT what we really are, the ways that we have allowed ourselves to overstep or overreach or overindulge or somehow become a little too full of what we imagine we can be. We look at the ways that we do not walk with God. And then God offers a hand (or someone else’s hand) and we begin to walk. And the road twists and turns and the storms come and the sun’s heat bears down on us and the winds whip around and the sand gets in our eyes. And then we see the light of the path ahead once again and we follow it, at least until we get off track again. And in those times when we feel the path beneath us, those times when we are aware of God’s presence, those times when God’s grace seems to wrap around us and hold us, we realize that the hand we hold never lost its grip on our lives. And we relax a little. We become comfortable. We might become a little complacent again. We become a little too certain that we’ve got it figured out. And then the winds begin again and the curtain tears and the darkness descends upon us. But this time, we know to wait, to wait in holy silence until the stone of our lives is rolled away so that we can begin again. That is faith. That is the journey. We don’t travel it alone but no one can do it for us.

 

Deep within us all there is an amazing sanctuary of the soul, a holy place…to which we may continuously return. Eternity is at our hearts, pressing upon our time-torn lives, warming us…calling us home unto Itself. Yielding to these persuasions…utterly and completely, to the Light within, is the beginning of true life. (Thomas R. Kelly)

 

Thank you for sharing your Lenten journey with me!

 

Grace and Peace,

 

Shelli

A Much-Needed Wilderness

ivan-nikolaevich-kramskoy-christ-in-the-desert1Scripture Text:  Luke 4: 1-2

 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.

 

Yes, as a matter of fact, this IS the third time we’ve heard this account as part of our wilderness journey. But we haven’t heard it from the same Gospel-writer.  All three of the synoptic Gospels include the account of Jesus being led into the wilderness following his Baptism. It’s one of the few passages that was not only included by each writer, but actually was included within pretty much the same sequence in the happenings of Jesus’ life. There doesn’t seem to be any need on the part of any of the writers to “rearrange” things to further the focus that the writer was trying to impart. It’s just included. It’s part of the story. Apparently, each Gospel account recognizes this as, for want of a better word, a much-needed wilderness.

 

So have you ever thought of the wilderness as something that we NEED? We probably spend more time trying our very best to avoid it or, if it can’t be avoided, to at least hurry to the end, trying to cram as much as we can into it, but with the goal to get to the end as soon as possible so that we can go back to normal, go back to our lives. But Jesus was led into the wilderness and stayed for forty days. He had just been baptized. According to the Scriptures, John the Baptist had just pointed to who he was and what his life meant. God had proclaimed him the “Beloved”, and had voiced what pleasure the Divine took in him. He was set to go, set to begin his ministry. Standing there on the banks of the Jordan, he was ready to begin. And he did. He began with what was apparently a much-needed wilderness.

 

So for forty days, Jesus wandered in the wilderness. Sure, he was tempted to control it, tempted to overpower it, tempted to make it his. He was probably tempted to go home, although none of the Gospel-writers wrote that one down. But he didn’t. He walked the wilderness. He prayed, he looked at himself, he talked to God. My guess is that he probably argued with and questioned God a bit. (Well, maybe that’s what I would have done!) The wilderness was not any easier for Jesus than it is for us. But Jesus knew that he had to embrace the time, that preparing himself for the years to come, for the tiresome tasks of serving others, for the draining tasks of healing and teaching, for the frustrating tasks of calling others who did not always stay on the path, for the disheartening tasks of rejection and difficulty and questions, and, finally, finally, for the implausible task of walking to the Cross, had to be done in this wilderness. This wilderness would give him what he needed and he knew it. It was the place where he had to let go of his own plans and his own preconceptions of what his life would hold. It was the place where he had to take a good hard luck at himself, at the ways that he stood in the way of his own life. It was the place where he would know, finally know, that he WAS God’s Beloved with whom God was well pleased and that God would never forsake him. It was the place that, finally, Jesus knew who he was and what he was called to do.

 

We need the wilderness experience just as badly. It’s not a place where we prove our love to God or where we show how strong or how spiritual or how faithful we are. It is the place where we finally get out of ourselves, out of our routines, off the path that we have so carefully carved out for our lives, and, finally, without being able to see where we are going, we know that we are on the right path. It is the place where we can come to know who we are and what we are called to do.   Now we are ready to begin. And we return from the wilderness as a different one, as one who knows ourself as God’s Beloved, with whom God is well pleased.  We will return famished and ready to fill ourselves with God.

 

It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work. And when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. (Wendell Berry)

 

FOR TODAY:  Look around you.  Quit trying to figure a way out.  Just walk through the wilderness and see what God has to show you.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

This Act of Preparation

Moses at the Promised LandScripture Text: Malachi 3:1

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.

Preparation…we keep talking about, keep touting this season as the one of preparation.  So, if it’s not about decorating and shopping and wrapping then what is this act of preparation that we are supposed to do?  Our culture tells us to be prepared for whatever may happen.  The Gospels tell stories warning us against being unprepared for what is to come.  And this season…this season of waiting is also laced with exhortations to get ready–for the coming of the Lord but, as hard as we try to ignore the culture closing in on us, for that big day ahead.  I mean what would happen if we awoke unprepared on Christmas morning–without the required number of gifts perfectly wrapped and under the tree, without all the luscious foods prepared, without a decorated house, and, most of all, without a ready heart prepared to receive our Lord.  Whew!  That’s a lot on our plates!  No wonder we’re stressed.  What, pray tell, are we supposed to be doing to get prepared?

 

For what exactly are we preparing?  Maybe that’s our whole problem.  We live lives that are so results-oriented that we don’t see life itself.  What if everything we did, every act we lived, every breath we breathed was not so that we could have a good result or count it as something done, but, rather, was part of who we are, part of the very journey itself?  What if it was our journey, our living, in which the Lord delighted, rather than merely the result it attained?

 

You know, I love Thanksgiving. It is the one family holiday that I can truly take the time to do right. Sure, I cook way too much food. And, this year, I probably spent more than twenty hours preparing for a 30 minute meal. I planned the menu. I put the leaves in the table. I planned what the table would look like. I drug out all of Aunt Doll’s china and Grandmother’s silver (you know, all that stuff that has to be hand washed!) I set the table. I arranged the centerpiece. I straightened the house and rearranged the back porch. I carefully picked out which bowl or which plate would hold which dish.   I chopped and I rolled and I mixed and I stirred and I cooked and I cooled. There were no shortcuts. Everything was made from scratch.   Because you see, for me, the preparation for the meal is for me as gratifying an experience as the meal itself.

 

And now as the Thanksgiving meal’s leftovers begin to wain,  we prepare for the next big thing.  But it’s hard to remember that act of preparation.  It’s hard to look upon it as a thing in and of itself rather than merely a way to the next thing.  And yet, the passage tells us that it is the messenger in whom the Lord delights.  It says nothing about where the messenger ends up or how many people the messenger gets to the end or whether or not the messenger did a good job.  God delights in the messenger; God delights in our acts of preparing the way.  Don’t you remember Moses standing on the edge of the Promised Land?  All of the journeying, all of the heartache, all of the wilderness wanderings, all of the frustrations with covenants and golden calves and burning bushes and parted waters…all of that…that whole journey to the one moment…when he looked at the Promised Land that he would never enter.  There are those that would look upon that as a failure, as if he had not completed his mission.

 

Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain—that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees—as far as Zoar. The Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” (Deuteronomy 34: 1-4)

 

But Moses did exactly what he was supposed to do:  he prepared the way.  That is what we are called to do.  Results are great but it is the way, the journey, the preparation that teaches us, that gives us life.  Our salvation does not come in one moment because we’ve done all the things we’re supposed to do but rather in a lifetime of preparing the way for God, making our way toward a promised land that we may or may not enter.  Advent is not about the results; it is about what we become on the way there.  God calls us to a journey of preparation–preparing our hearts, preparing the way, being open to that act of preparation to which we’re called.  Advent ends on Christmas morning.  Whether or not we are fully prepared is probably of lesser importance than the journey that we had to the moment when we looked over and saw the promised land, when we knew in the very depth of our being that God was in our midst.

 

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. (From “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”, a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., April 3, 1968. Dr. King was assassinated the next day.)

 

FOR TODAY:  Look at your journey.  Look at your preparation.  Live it.  God is there.  You may get there and you may not, but, oh, what a ride!  Live a life of holy preparation because the Promised Land is already prepared for you.

 

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

The Winds of Change

Wheat and WindsScripture Text:  John 12: 20-36 (Holy Tuesday)

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.  “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.

And now the conversation turns to this talk of death and loss.  We’d like to run now, to hastily make our exit back through that heavy gate behind us.  We’re not sure that our journey really prepared us at all.  But it is too late.  The hour has come. 

The reading starts by telling us of the arrival of some Greeks. Now this may seem to us to be sort of periphery to the point of the story but it’s not. For you see, this arrival of the Greeks is something new. It marks the beginning of an entirely new section of the Gospel. These are not merely Greek-speaking Jews, but Gentiles who have made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. These are non-Jews, Gentiles from across the sea who wanted to meet the Hebrew holy man. This is the beginning of the world seeing Jesus and knowing who he is.  They approach Philip and request to “see” Jesus, to have a meeting with him. Perhaps they want to know more of who this Jesus is. Perhaps they just want to talk to him. Or perhaps they want to become disciples. But regardless of why they are here, their arrival points to the fulfillment of the church’s future mission—to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the redemption of the world. This is the decisive dividing line between Jesus coming as a Jewish Messiah and Christ, through his death and resurrection, fulfilling God’s promise for the renewal and redemption of all of Creation. Now is the time for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Jesus did not just come to save you and me.  Remember, Jesus is the Savior of the World.  Jesus has begun to draw the world into the Cross.

Change is all around us.  Our world is beginning to shake a bit.  Sure, we could run, go back to our old ways, to the comfort and safety of home.  We could yell and scream and demand that someone put it back the way it was.  The problem is that nothing stays the same.  Even if we could return, it would not feel like home.  For you see, this journey has changed us.  We have lived this season of clearing and surrender.  We are different.  We don’t look different but we do see differently.

But what is this thing with wheat?  (OK, to the end, Jesus seemed to continue speaking in confusing parables!)  Well, wheat is a caryopsis, meaning that the outer “seed” and the inner fruit are connected. The seed essentially has to die so that the fruit can emerge. If you were to dig around in the ground and uproot a stalk of wheat, you would not find the original seed. It is dead and gone. In essence, the grain must allow itself to be changed.  So what Jesus is trying to tell us here is that if we do everything in our power to protect our lives the way they are—if we successfully thwart change, avoid conflict, prevent pain—then at the end we will find that we have no life at all.  He goes on…”Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. And whoever does this, God will honor.” This is the only time that the Gospel speaks of God honoring someone. And we begin to see the connection unfolding. Whoever follows Jesus through his death, will become part of his everlasting life.

You, we can’t go back to what we know because it is not longer ours.  The Light has become part of us.  Jesus wanted us to understand not just that he was leaving, not just that his death was imminent, but that this journey to the cross was not just his to make, but ours. This lifting up and this drawing in is all ours.  We ARE the Children of the Light.  Now is the time to walk with Jesus to the cross.

Discipleship is not limited to what you can understand – it must transcend all comprehension. Plunge into the deep waters beyond your own understanding, and I will help you to comprehend. Bewilderment is the true comprehension. Not to know where you are going is the true knowledge. In this way Abraham went forth from his father, not knowing where he was going. That is the way of the cross. You cannot find it in yourself, so you must let me lead you as though you were a blind man. Not the work which you choose, not the suffering you devise, but the road which is contrary to all that you choose or contrive or desire – that is the road you must take. It is to this path that I call you, and in this sense that you must be my disciple. (Martin Luther)

This Lenten journey was not preparing us for this by building us an armor to protect us.  It was preparing us by stripping away all that we know, all that we have planned.  It was preparing us to truly see Jesus and to realize that the journey to the Cross is not something that we watch, not something that we just walk along offering Jesus moral support; rather, the journey to the Cross is ours.  What does it mean to you to die to self?  Of what do you need to let go?  What must you put down so that you can pick up the Cross?  The air has changed.  Jesus is walking to the Cross.  Where are you?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

At the Gate

 

The Lion's Gate, Jerusalem
The Lion’s Gate, Jerusalem

Scripture Text:  Matthew 21: 1-11 (Palm A)

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

I know…you were expecting palms.  Most of us love this day.  Since my childhood, I have been waving palm branches on Palm Sunday morning, shouting “Hosanna”, and reenacting that first century parade with Jesus riding on that donkey.  It was Jesus’ grand procession (or something like it) as he entered the city.  And so we wave our palm branches and try to pretend that we are oblivious to all that comes next.  We look at the palm branches and we ignore the heavy gate just up ahead.  You see, Jesus was already setting himself up for accusation.  He was entering through the East gate, the gate through which the prophets had long ago proclaimed the Messiah would enter.  So Jesus was setting himself up for blasphemy charges for claiming that he WAS the Messiah.  The truth is that this is not just a parade.  It is full of overtones of the suffering to come. The rumblings of what would come next were all around them. So, this “celebration” is not merely a parade; it is the beginning of where the journey will now take us.  It is the procession that takes us to the gate.

I think if we see this day as merely a parade, it is too easy to walk away, too easy to just lay our palm branch down, and fall off with the crowd.  The “hosannas” are easy.  The hard part is to stay with Jesus as he walks through the gate.  Because, sadly, the parade would fizzle. As it turns and begins moving toward Bethany, toward the edge of the walled city, people turn and go back to their lives. And Jesus, virtually alone, with a few disciples in tow, enters the gate. Jesus is in Jerusalem.

This procession represents transition, a movement from one life to the next, a change in the journey. Processions are a call to begin something different, to enter that new thing that God is doing. Essentially, this Palm Sunday processional is exactly that—a calling to move to a different place. The palm branch means nothing by itself.  In a way, it is a parody of our life as we know it, a life that reveres Christ without following and celebrates without speaking out.  This procession of palms is the way to the gate, the way to the threshold of what life holds.  It is scary for us because we know what lies ahead. We know that just beyond those city gates lies a city that will not be kind over the next several days, a city that will certainly not act in a way befitting of who it is and who it is called to be. It is a city that is not in procession, a city that will attempt to silence the cries to change the world.

The Eastern Gate (or Golden Gate), Jerusalem (sealed in 1541)
The Eastern Gate (or Golden Gate), Jerusalem (sealed in 1541)

So where do we stand?  On this side of the gate, the one with all the palm branches, is celebration and safety and comfort and the way we’ve always been.  Beyond the gate is anointing and questions, betrayal and handing over, last meals together and mock trials, declarations of guilt and death.  But there is another gate beyond that, the one that brings us Life, the one that takes us to who we are called to be.  Havelock Ellis once said that “the promised land always lies on the other side of a wilderness.” This is our wilderness. This is our procession from slavery to freedom, from who we are to who we will be, from the life we’ve designed for ourselves to the one that God envisions for us. This is our procession to life. This IS the Way. So, keep walking. “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”

 

Our hosannas sung, our palms waved, let us go with passion into this week…. It is a time to greet Jesus as the Lord’s Anointed One,to lavishly break our alabaster and pour perfume out for him without counting the cost. It is a time for preparation. (Ann Weems, Kneeling in Jerusalem)

As this holiest of weeks begins, where are you standing?  The journey has brought you to a gate.  Jesus has entered Jerusalem.  Are you willing to give up what you know for Life?  What will you leave behind?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli