As I turn the knob I can feel the pressure on the other side of the door like the weight of the world is pressing upon it. (Indeed, it is!) And then I remember all over again why I haven’t been in a hurry to open it. The second I pop that latch an avalanche of stuff is going to pin me against the wall and paralyze me. I can already see it. It will be an avalanche of guilt producing, time consuming, checkbook reducing information and admonitions that says, “change or die.” Whales tangled in fishing traps, birds full of plastic, seafood full of mercury, deformed toads, dying bees. Yesterday in Long Beach, divers collected fifty pounds of plastic on a small stretch of beach – most of it straws. On and on it goes. Death should be a good motivator, but I’m feeling pretty good today so it’s not. For now, I’m just going to put the weight of my body against it, force it shut, and put off the inevitable one more day. Maybe tomorrow…
I am the Easter Angel and I am here to announce good news! Jesus Christ is alive! I have seen the Lord!
I know you are not used to seeing me in my angel outfit. Most of the time I leave my wings at home. But today is Easter and if there ever was a day to dress the part, today is the day.
I tried out my wings for the first time back in 1997…but the story begins even further back to the first summer I attended Riverside Lutheran Bible Camp with my cousin, Ruth. I was hooked. I was a country kid with working parents so a week of playing, singing, learning, and living in community at Riverside was the high point of summer. It also gave me a different perspective on God and Christianity. I couldn’t wait to get back to camp the next summer, the summer after sixth grade. Roxie Seeger was my counselor and her smile and warmth made me feel like our cabin had the best counselor of all.
If I read this passage correctly, the mother of James and John is trying to get some special treatment for her two grown sons. If you have ever watched Marie on “Everybody Loves Raymond,” you know the mother of James and John. “They are such good boys!” she thinks, as she approaches Jesus. She wants to make sure her precious babies are not forgotten when King Jesus takes the throne. Surely, they deserve places of honor.
Perhaps she missed the memo. Jesus sent it three times. Yes, Jesus is headed to Jerusalem, but not to restores Israel to its glory days and sit on David’s throne. According to Jesus he is going to be “handed over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified; and on the third day he will be raised.”
When you study the history of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) you learn that the founders called Peter’s answer the “Good Confession.” They were staunchly against anything that sounded like a creed. Their slogan was “No creed but Christ!” They figured that Christians may not agree on the particulars but at least we can all say, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It’s Biblical. Many of you who have been with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) for any length of time may remember making your confession of faith. The minister took your hand and asked you, “Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and do you proclaim him Lord and Savior?” That comes straight from Peter – that is the Good Confession. That Good Confession is the one thing most Disciples agree on – Jesus is the Christ or Messiah. But we don’t agree on what it means. There is no transpicuous answer for Disciples.
So, do you have your answer for Jesus? “Who do YOU say I am?” he asks.
Imagine with me this scene: Jesus is near the Sea of Galilee and he is surrounded by people pressing in on him. The crowd is moving because Jesus is on his way to the house of Jairus, the leader of the synagogue. The situation is urgent. Upon seeing Jesus, Jairus runs up to Jesus and falls at his feet, begging him to heal his dying daughter. Now, Jesus cannot move fast enough for Jairus. But the crowd is pressing in.
Then it all comes to a screeching halt when Jesus suddenly stops. Looking around he asks a question that completely mystifies his disciples. “Who touched my clothes?” The disciples think the question is utterly ridiculous. They look at the crowd and they look at Jesus and basically say, “Seriously? That’s the question you are stopping this whole procession to ask?” It’s like a Hollywood star stepping out of her car into a sea of paparazzi and asking, “Who took my picture?”
Sometimes it takes a little boat ride with Jesus to figure things out.
Do you know why Jesus said following him is hard? It’s because Jesus is asking us to share. Jesus is asking us to go out of our way and sacrificially love our neighbor. Jesus is asking us to show compassion and work for justice. Jesus is asking us to cross the street for people we don’t like and to love our enemies. Jesus is asking us to forgive the unthinkable. Jesus is asking us to resist vengeance and violence and systems the perpetuate it. Jesus is asking us to be concerned about the least of these. Jesus is asking us to live this way….to live as if the Kingdom has come and God is in charge. And guess what – it’s hard. Especially when there are Pharisees and Herods telling us otherwise.
When the Bible talks about the heart it considers the heart to be the spiritual center of a human being. Your heart, according to scripture, is the source of your motives.
The Bible speaks of hard hearts and willing hearts, defiant hearts and discouraged hearts, trembling hearts and fierce hearts, broken hearts and whole hearts…Our hearts are what make us tick – our hearts are what matter most to God because out of our hearts come our intentions, words, and actions. You are not kidding anyone if you think God doesn’t know why you do this or that, if your heart isn’t in it – God isn’t either.
All too often we don’t give our hearts an examination until there is a problem. King David didn’t recognize his heart condition until the prophet Nathan pointed out to him that he murdered an innocent man just to get what he wanted. Diagnosed with an unclean heart he cried out to God, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”
The last landmine I want to point out is the reason we end our prayers with “and we pray in Jesus’ name.” Jesus says, “I will do whatever you ask in my name.” With a statement like that you can bet we are going to pray in Jesus’ name. But this is not a passage about prayer – and praying in the name of Jesus is not “hocus pocus.” Now don’t worry about how you end your prayers – but do be concerned about doing what Jesus did because that is what Jesus is really talking about here.
Now that I have told you where not to step let’s get to Jesus’ question. It is a question that I think is very important for a room full of Christians on the first Sunday of Lent. And even though Jesus sounds a little exasperated as he asks it – let’s try not to get defensive.
While associated with the internet today, trolls are nothing new. No matter what happens there is always going to be someone to take it to the most negative place. There are even trolls in the story about Zacchaeus. Did you hear them? In the Bible, comments are called “murmuring.”
And there is plenty of murmuring when Jesus singles out Zacchaeus.
Zacchaeus lives in Jericho and is a chief tax collector. Tax collectors work for Rome, collecting taxes from their neighbors and towns people, to fund the empire. Tax collectors can, if they choose, to use the system to extort more than is owed. Given that this activity can make someone very rich, the temptation is great to betray everyone you know for the almighty dollar. Zacchaeus isn’t just a tax collector, he is a chief tax collector, and he is very rich. Draw whatever conclusions you want to draw from that.
There is no reason to think that the disciples are unsympathetic. My guess is that we might say the same thing when facing an overwhelming situation. We might write letters, post pleas on Facebook and Snapchat, and go to public meetings to get someone to do something! Someone else – someone with more power – someone with more influence – someone better equipped. That’s the someone we want to do something – someone other than me.
The plea of the disciples provides the perfect teaching moment for Jesus – and for us. Being a disciple is not about deferring responsibility for our neighbors – it is about embracing it – with compassion. Jesus tells the disciples, “You give them something to eat.”
Isn’t that brilliant? “You give them something to eat!” I would love to have a snapshot of their faces. Was he joking? Was this some kind of test?