Archive for April 2007
Palm Sunday April 1, 2007
Isaiah 50:4-9a Psalm 31:9-16 Phil 2:5-11 Luke 19:28-40
Blessed is the One who Comes in the Name of the Lord!
Today is Palm Sunday, celebrated by Christians around the world as the day Christ made his royal entry into Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the Holy City in our hearts and as Christians we acclaim Christ our Lord and Savior with palms and glad shouts of Hosanna to become one with him. “Yes, blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.” Oh, son of David, blessed are you who come in the name of the Lord! And blessed are those who come to him, come to this church, come to his table.
Our epistle lesson says to have the same mind as that was in Christ Jesus. That means we are to have his mind in our body. We are really also his body; we are the body of our King. A king has two bodies. Thus he speaks in the royal “we.” We are his body and he is our Lord, because every knee shall bow and every tongue confess, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. That is the famous “Christ Hymn” of Philippians. Paul was quoting a song that the early Christians sang, much the way I quote songs in my sermons. We do not know the melody.
Jesus came riding into Jerusalem from the lower slopes of the Mt. of Olives, from Bethphage and Bethany, about two miles to the East the city. “The Mount of Olives is just east of Jerusalem; God was expected to appear there on the day of the Lord and become ‘king over all the earth’ (see Zech 14:4-9).” The Messiah was to appear to the east of the city over the Mount of Olives.
Jesus sent two of his disciples ahead of him in advance to prepare his royal entrance. By his divine knowledge he tells them of the donkey and the foal, the colt of a donkey, that they are to get for him. When the owners ask them what they are doing, they are to say, “The Lord needs it.” The king had a right to use it as his royal prerogative. The owners of the donkey foal or colt may have been Jesus’ disciples too. In any case, a huge crowd of pilgrims from Galilee on their way to the temple in Jerusalem attended him.
When the disciples bring Jesus his mount, they place their cloaks on it for a saddle, and place their cloaks before the animal, and give him a two mile red carpet treatment. There are precedents in the Old Testament. Jehu is proclaimed the king of Israel that way. To show that Solomon had become the king after David, he was given David’s royal donkey to ride when they acclaimed him the son of David, the new king. Jesus is also embodying the words of the prophet Zechariah, fulfilling his prophesy word for word by this Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem. Hear the words of the prophet written three or four centuries earlier:
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, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He will cut off …the chariot, …the war horse, … the battle bow, … and command peace to the nations”
(Zech 9: 9-10).
Only the crowds around Jesus, the pilgrims going to the temple in Jerusalem, those who knew the prophets, knew what Jesus was doing. Those who had ears that could hear, ears that had been awakened, eyes that could see, and a tongue that knew how to sustain the weary with the word, they had the hearts that perceived and could understand. The anointed of God, the Messiah was riding into the Jerusalem of our hearts and ushering in the kingdom of heaven. So Christ needs to rule you from within your heart, if you confess that Jesus Christ is your Lord. He too will say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest.” “Hosanna” is a Hebrew word that means “Save, we pray.” Dear Jesus, come be our Lord and save us! When you give Christ authority over yourself, you will become one of the number of those who are being saved.
The various gospels tell this wonderful story in various ways. Here in Luke the word “hosanna” is not used and palms are not mentioned, although they are in the other stories. The palms acclaimed the new king with joy and celebration. He is the king of our hearts and we confess that he is the one sent by the Most High to save us. We are his people and God guides and directs our lives through him.
Now ask yourself, what could Jesus have been thinking? He was allowing himself to be proclaimed the king right in the city in which Herod, the Edomite, was the king and Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor. What were they chopped liver? (That is my wife’s favorite expression.) Herod, whom Christ had called a fox, was threatened and indeed intended to kill Jesus. But he need not have been threatened, because Jesus was making an overture to his heart, trying to win his heart for God, just like he keeps nudging our hearts reminding us that he is the Lamb of God. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high is God’s government over ours, God’s thoughts over our thoughts, and God’s ways over our ways. Jesus is the divine warrior riding a donkey, as symbol of humility and peace; yea, the colt of a donkey no less. He is not only the servant of God, the way Moses was, but also the suffering servant of God, the way the Prophet Isaiah described him.
The colt had never been ridden before. I do not know if a donkey has to be broken in like a horse. Do you know the famous poem by Gilbert Keith Chesterton? If you recite it your children, have them guess who is speaking:
When fishes flew and forests walked
and figs grew upon a thorn
Some moment when the moon was blood,
Then surely I was born.
With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
on all four-footed things.
The tatter’d outlaw of the earth
Of ancient, crooked will
Starve, scourge, deride me, I am dumb.
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour,
One far fierce hour and sweet.
There was as shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet!
When you recite this wonderful poem to your children, you can ask them, “Who is this poet talking about? Who is speaking?” They might guess it is about the donkey Jesus chose to ride into Jerusalem. Then you hug them and say, “If Jesus could use a donkey, then he could also use you.” We are all dumb compared to God.
Thus Jesus is no threat. He is winning our hearts by gentle persuasion. He emptied himself of his almighty power, and his omnipotence expressed itself in unconditional love. That was why he set his face for Jerusalem. He was willing to take three steps and go right to the cross, because of his love for us in order to win our hearts.
Did you ever think, the Chinese do not have to conquer us. All they have to do is open Chinese restaurants throughout the whole city and they have gotten us with their delicious food through our stomachs. It is an old trick. Many a woman has got her man that way. Some men are now getting their wives that way. But Jesus was getting us all through our hearts. He was winning our hearts for God, reconciling the world to God that way. With his unconditional love he was converting our hearts to God and when his Holy Spirit causes us to surrender and we finally holler, “Uncle!” because we realize we can’t break God’s hold on us, then we no longer control our own lives, nor can we control the lives of others, but we have to serve Jesus Christ our Lord since we now belong to God.
As Luther says in the catechism we all learned, Jesus purchased us “at a great cost, not with silver and gold, [that is not with money], but with his holy and precious blood” and now we do not belong to ourselves, but to God and we invite the Holy Spirit to rid our lives of all our prejudice and all our sin.
Now Jesus could become angry, even though “God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love” (Joel 2:13). He became angry. “Zeal for the House of the Lord consumed him” (Psalm 69:9) and “Judgment starts in the House of the Lord” (1 Peter 4:17). He made a whip and knocked over the tables of the money-changers. “My temple is a house of prayer for all nations and you have made it into a den of thieves!” (Mark 11:17) he shouted.
A favorite professor of mine who was an expert on banks said that Jesus separated the two institutions, banks and churches that day. If you have ever noticed, banks often resemble a temple with their lofty ceilings and high arches. In Trump Village all the senior citizens sat in front of their bank there on Fifth Street in Brooklyn. Bessie and Margaret from our church used to say, “They are out there guarding their money!”
Well, tearing up the temple did not do Jesus any good. The temple guard soon came and got him. And now we are thrown together to contemplate Jesus’ passion, his betrayal, his last supper, his scourging, his crucifixion and his resurrection in three days, that is, a short while thereafter.
Let us rejoice to participate in the suffering of Christ, for as St. Paul says, if we participate in a suffering like his, we will also be raised up in a resurrection like his.
Ah, in the cross of Christ I glory! Let us plant that cross squarely between our shoulder-blades and know, that that will be glory for you and glory for me!
In the cross of Christ I glory,
towering over the wrecks of time,
shouting out-loud, the marvelous story,
in lives, holy, Christ-like and sublime!
“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Hail, Son of David! He’s the King of Glory! Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is the one that comes in the name of the Lord!” Amen.
 “Normally, it is not just the moral strategy but the whole outlook on life that must change. And this can be achieved only by recasting our interpretation of the world and of our place in it in terms of the sovereignty of God and of his kingdom.” Wolfhart Pannenberg, Christian Spirituality, (Philadelphia: The Westminister Press, 1983), p. 26. When Christians ask me to remain solely with moral guidance for their individual lives in my sermons, I hold that Christ can not be preached as an individual apart from his kingdom.
 Harper Collins Study Bible, NRSV, (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, Inc., 1993), p. 1997, n. 19.29
 D’Anghel Rugina, my economics professor at Northeastern University, Boston, Mass, 1962-1967.
Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 25th 2007 Old Zion Lutheran Church in Philadelphia
Isaiah 43:16-21 Psalm 126 Phil 3:4b-14 John 12:1-8
God Makes a Way Where There is No Way
Jesus fills our mouth with laughter. Jesus makes our dreams come true. It is because of Jesus that we go our way rejoicing, “Bringing in the Sheaves”. Let me read Psalm 126 to you, because it is about changing a wilderness into a garden, it is about a “seed that must die first, no water for thirst, deep in the ground,” so that a new plant can come up and bear fruit, and sometimes thirty fold, sometimes sixty fold, or even hundred fold. It means new people coming into the church, of course, adding to the number of those being saved.
Read Psalm 126
Jesus is the one who called Moses and sent him to the Pharaoh to say, “Let my people go.” God opened a way through the Red Sea, a way through the water where there was no way. And the children of Israel walked through the water on dry land. Isaiah says, “God is about to do a new thing, now it springs forth, can’t you perceive it?” It does not say that God is doing an old thing. I cannot change the Word of God so that we can be comfortable. [The Word of God afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted.] God was doing a new thing by making a way through the desert; this time, so the captives could break down the iron bars fastening the gates of Babylon so they could escape. Their Babylonian Captivity was over. God made a way through the desert by changing the dry land into water so that the people could walk along the River of God to get back to the promised-land.
And do you think God’s arms have grown short? Do you think God is not at work among us today? Even now God is making a way where there is no way for this congregation to grow and to discover and fulfill the mission that God has for it here in Philadelphia, here in this place.
St. Paul says that he would gladly suffer the loss of all things for the surpassing value of knowing Christ his Lord. His whole proud heritage, his being such an ethnically pure Hebrew, his being an illustrious Pharisee, righteous and blameless under the law, he counted it all for loss in comparison. To be like St. Paul, you have to have the vision of all the promises that lie before you or you cling to what you have and you cannot set foot on the journey of faith upon which our Lord God is calling us.
To detach himself, St. Paul uses strong language. We put in the word “rubbish”, he counts it all rubbish, but the word is stronger still. It is all excrement when compared with the surpassing value of knowing Jesus Christ his Lord and living the life of the Gospel in the wonderful company of the church.
Just look at the scene in the Gospel of John. There is Lazarus, who was raised from the dead, Martha, as usual, serving them, and Mary, what a thing she does! She comes in with perfumed oil made out of pure nard, spikenard that comes from the Himalayas in alabaster jars. It cost a whole year’s wages! How much do you make a year? That is the price she paid for the perfume. Can you imagine the extravagance of her love? Then she anointed Jesus’ feet with it and wiped them with her hair. In another story, she wet them with her tears, dried them with her hair, and anointed his feet with this priceless perfume-oil. The whole house smelled like it!
Now God was doing a new thing? Don’t remember the
former things of old. God was doing a new thing.
Jesus was going to be the Passover lamb and he was
going to open the way of heaven to all believers.
I’m not only talking about heaven in the after-life,
because I certainly believe in that too,
but Mary was bringing a little bit of heaven right
down to the earth that day. That comes from an
Sure, a little bit o' Heaven fell from out of the sky one day,
And nestled on the ocean in a spot so far away;
And the angels found it, sure it looked so sweet and fair.
They said suppose we leave it, for it looks so peaceful there!
So they sprinkled it with star dust just to make the shamrocks grow;
'Tis the only place you'll find them,
No matter where you go;
Then they dotted it with silver
To make its lakes so grand,
And when they had it finished
Sure they called it IRELAND!
Everyone wants to be Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.
When we get into our souls, everyone will want
to be German or American on our days. Our nationalities
should not be exclusive, but we should
celebrate the love of other cultures as they
celebrate ours. That is what makes us so rich with
One can hear all the love in that Irish song. Can’t you picture all the love Mary had for Jesus in that wonderful anointing? I thought that Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit, so I never thought this anointing by Mary made him the Christ, which means “the anointed.” But lo and behold, find another place in the New Testament where Jesus is anointed besides this one. You will not find one. The way Mary Magdalene first witnesses his resurrection, Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus, anointed the one who was God’s anointed. No one else ever thought to do so, if everyplace in the New Testament where a woman anoints Jesus’ feet, is a variation of this story.
Now Jesus did not say, “Don’t touch me!” He did not cringe and be so embarrassed that he yelled at her. No, he accepted her love and protected her from being attacked because of the great love she displayed.
Don’t think that when you love and make yourself very vulnerable that all people will accept you. That kind of love is threatening and you can see that she was attacked from all sides. But Jesus protects her. “Leave her alone. She did this to prepare me for my burial.”
Judas says, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold for that whole year of wages and the money given to the poor?” Often people hide their corruption behind false charity. Jesus also should have done an audit on his treasurer. He used to steal what was in their box. And the fact is that the poor are always there and give us the opportunity to show charity.
Mary did anoint Jesus for his burial. He was on the way to Jerusalem and the cross. Now he has gone up into heaven and is really present among us here in worship, and we are now his body, bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh, when we receive the body and blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Ah, like St. Paul, let’s count everything as loss for the surpassing value of knowing Jesus Christ our Lord, because he is the way of salvation and will restore the fortunes of Old Zion, so that the glory days of the past will not even compare to what lies ahead. The Lord is doing a new thing. Also for you so you will find a way where your feet can go, make a way for you where there is no way. Make a little bit of heaven fall into your life today.
Let me continue in German.
Wenn Sankt Paulus von der Gerechtigkeit spricht, dann gibt es midestens zweierlei: eine Gerechtigkeit, die aus dem Gesetz kommt, und eine andere Gerechtigkeit, die durch den Glauben an Christus kommt. Judentum glaubt an die Erlösung durch das Gesetz und dadurch wird die Erlösung durch Jesus Christus überflüssig. Sankt Paulus dagegen erachtet die Erlösung oder Erkenntniss oder Rechtfertigung durch Jesus Christus so überschwenglich höher, dass die Erlösung durch das Gesetz, dagegen eitel Schaden ist.
Wenn wir vom Gesetz sprechen, dann sind es wir und unsere Werke darauf es ankommt. Menschlich sind wir sehr unvollkommen. Wenn wir von der Person Jesus Christus sprechen, dann erhalten wir die Gerechtigkeit die zu uns aus dem Glauben kommt. Jesus kommt in unseren Herzen herein und mit ihm kommt seine Liebe, seine heilende Kraft, seine saftmütige Gesinnung, seine Vergebungsfähigkeit. Er ist der leidende Knecht, der zurselben Zeit der erhabende König aller Könige ist.
Durch den Glauben, durch den Hl. Geist, durch die Taufe, durch das Brot und Wein, mitdem wir auch sein Leib und Blut erhalten, werden wir sagen können, ich lebe nicht, sondern der Herr Christus lebt in mir und wirkt in mir in dem er die Augen der Blinden auftut, die Ohren der Tauben öffnet damit sie nicht nur Lippenworte, sondern Seelenworte, Herzensworte hören können, d.h., Worte die aus den Herzen kommen; wenn Christus in uns lebt dann sind wir voll von Glauben, d.h., wir sind von der almächtigen Liebe Gottes gefüllt dass wir auch die Toten auferwecken können, wie Jesus das auch tat.
Daher kann ich es nie verstehen wenn gesagt wird dass wenn wir passiv die Glaubensgerechtigkeit empfangen, dass wir dann passiv werden und nichts tun. Wir sind passiv Gott gegenüber um solche göttliche Almacht zu empfangen, aber dann sind wir neue Christi unserer Nächsten gegenüber. Wie Paulus sagt, „Ich lebe, doch nun nicht ich, sondern Christus lebt in mir,“ (Gal. 2:20) und Christus war kaum passiv.
Wir wollen diese Glaubens Gerechtigkeit bekommen, denn sie ist die almächtige Liebe Gottes in uns. Diese Liebe kann einen Weg einschlagen wo es keinen Weg gibt. Diese Liebe gibt Gottes Kinder einen Weg durch das Wasser, einen Wasserfluss in der Wüste, lebendiges Wasser, Brot des Lebens, unmögliche Sachen werden hier unter uns geschehen. Ja, wenn der Herr die Gefangenen Alt Zions erlösen wird, dann werden wir jauchsen und frohlocken. Wir werden sein wie die Träumenden und andere Kirchen werden sagen, “Der Herr hat grosses an Alt Zion getan.“ Und wir werden es dann auch merken und fast mit Bewunderung umfallen und gestehen, „Der Herr hat grosses an uns hier in Alt Zion getan.“ Dann werden unsere Herzen wie Kerzen leuchten und wir werden in Christus und dem Hl. Geist fröhlich weiter auf Gottes Weg gehen! Amen.
 From my song “Turn, Turn, Turn” from Psalm 126.
 Folk Songs from St. Patrick Day Parade, http://www.saintpatricksdayparade.com/songs.htm#s18
 In Acts 10: 38, it does say, “How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit….” Mary can have the claim of being the human being who anointed Jesus, however.