Kirby lawrence hill

“Hosanna,” we sang at the beginning of the service. We echoed the crowds that accompanied Jesus as he entered Jerusalem. “Hosanna to the Successor of David, the greatest king Israel ever had. This one riding into town is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Indeed the exaltation would also be expressed from the highest heaven, for in our second reading, we hear of God exalting Jesus for humbling himself and becoming obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross. We are at the beginning of Holy Week, when we delight in the celebration of our Lord’s entry into the central location of Hebrew life, even as we pray he comes into the center of our lives. But in recent years, the church has also adjusted the beginning of its Holy Week focus so that we move beyond the celebration of palms this day toward Christ’s passion. The intent is so we don’t go directly from today’s “Hosannas” to next Sunday’s “Alleluias” without notice of some event called the crucifixion. There is pain in that part of the story and names like Tylenol, Bayer, Buffering, Excedrin, St. Joseph’s, Advil, Motrin, Aleve, and others bear witness that a lot of us do what we can to avoid pain and those product names only address physical, not emotional pain. Some who study human behavior talk about the pain and pleasure principle, suggesting that the things we do, have as their motivation, either an effort to avoid pain or to gain pleasure. I know I’m not thrilled about doing something that is going to be painful, and I don’t want my loved ones to suffer pain. Some might even say that Jesus in his ministry addressed and healed people who were caught in painful situations. Earlier in Matthew, there are accounts of Jesus healing those with epilepsy or who are understood to be possessed by demons. He makes whole, people who had been lame, maimed, blind, mute, or paralyzed. He cleanses lepers and raises the dead. He frees them from their suffering. He also takes away the pain of alienation by restoring outcasts to community. He is willing to challenge teachings about Sabbath observance in order to alleviate human suffering. He feeds those who feel the pangs of hunger. Much about Jesus’ ministry is about addressing people who are in painful situations. But then, he himself willingly takes on pain, as the Apostle Paul puts it in our epistle reading, “he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” Paul had challenged the church in Philippi to allow this same mind to be in them. So here’s a question: is the gospel about helping to alleviate pain and suffering or is it an invitation to enter pain and suffering? The One we follow reached out with compassion to touch and heal all kinds of human pain. But the main symbol of our faith is a cross and Jesus teaches that all who would follow him must take up their own cross. 1 Have you ever heard people refer to someone with a bossy relative or a chronic disease, as someone who has a “cross to bear”? But isn’t taking up our cross really about that good for which we would lay down our lives? Isn’t it about doing God’s will as we understand it regardless of the cost? Don’t we see the mind of Christ we are to emulate when Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane struggling to align his will with God’s will? That’s why Jesus suffered on the cross – his life was utterly dedicated to doing God’s will to the point that he would rather give up his life than reject God’s ways. There can be suffering that leads to new life. To her great credit, it is very rare when Nancy brings up how long and painful the deliveries of our children were for her. I can only imagine that if I had gone through that much pain to bring them into the world, I would use that to invoke some guilt when their actions lacked a bit of gratitude. Every expectant mother has the decision before her as to whether she is willing to suffer and even risk death in order to bring the life that she is carrying into the world. Are you and I also willing to endure pain in order to bring to life that good which must be born in and through us? 2 Earlier on, when Jesus told his disciples that he was going to have to undergo great suffering, they tried to steer him in a different direction. “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’” Peter’s urgent appeal for Jesus not to suffer in that way, to avoid the cross, was like pleading with a woman not to suffer for the birth of her child. That’s when Jesus says to Peter, “You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 3 The mind of Christ that Paul described is not about seeking suffering for suffering’s sake. It is not in any way masochistic. But neither does it stand by passively when people are victimized by disease or oppression or unmet need. Those who have the mind of Christ are willing to undergo suffering in order to enable others to move toward new life. As Christians, the goal for our lives is not simply to avoid pain, nor is it to endure pain for pain’s sake. Instead, the goal is to follow Christ, to seek the will of God, to choose love and justice and wholeness, and to bear whatever suffering is required to bring the Christ-in-us to life in the world. Matthew joyfully tells of the exaltation that Jesus received when he entered Jerusalem. In jubilant worship, we join in, voicing our Hosannas and waving our palm branches. And yet, those first Palm Sunday worshipers, as they were coming into Jerusalem, did not understand what lay ahead for Jesus. I dare say that even on this side of the story, we don’t fully fathom the extent of Jesus’ suffering on our behalf. As Paul points out, for Christ, the essential exaltation comes not from human acclamation, but from God’s commendation. Jesus knew that the excitement expressed by human voices can quickly fade. But God saw the faithfulness in Jesus’ heart, in his words, in his actions, in his whole being through his willingness to go to the cross, so he was given the name that is above every name. Our Lord had no interest in seeking out pain or avoiding pleasure. His primary dedication and delight was in carrying out God’s will. In response, God exalted him, which is the highest praise any of us should seek. As those who seek to follow the One who came in the name of the Lord, there is suffering that God calls upon us to relieve. But there is also suffering that may need to be entered, like a woman going into labor, as we move toward being a part of the new life God wants to bring into being. What will be born, by God’s grace, in and through our efforts? We can’t say at this point. But with what we know about the God of Easter, it may well end up being more than a bundle of joy! 1 Matthew 16:24 2 Ideas in this part of the sermon dependent upon Pam Driesell, “The Whole Story,” April 17, 2011, 3 Matthew 16:21-23


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