Five Words That Can Change Your Life
Rev. Estelle Margarones
Psalm 23 John 10:11-18
It's been a joy to serve this community. During this time, I've gotten to know you and you've gotten to know me. You've met some of my family and closest friends. There is a special soul in my life that you haven't met. It's my 16 year old. He hasn't been here on a Sunday morning because he likes to sleep in and he doesn't drive. He means the world to me, though, and I want to tell you about... my cat.
Over the past 16 years, we've lived in 6 different cities and traveled by car from Maine to California. My little guy has seen me through the breakup of an engagement, the death of my best friend, my Master's degree, job loss, the founding of my web ministry All Things Are Possible.org, and the loss of a parent. He is my constant companion.
Last June, he began to face a serious health challenge. I care so much about him that I've taken him to the vet several. He doesn't know why I make him get in the cat carrier, but I do. He doesn't know where we're going when I buckle him into the front seat, but I do. He doesn't know why I give him three different medicines, but I do. It's all for his well being.
In ten months, his meds and prescription food have cost just over twenty-five hundred dollars. He has no way of obtaining that money, but I do. I provide for him and I keep him well.
In the liturgical calendar, or church year, this is known as Good Shepherd Sunday. The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus is “the good shepherd”. A shepherd would provide for his sheep and he would keep them well. In those days, sheep were valued. People depended on them for milk, wool, cheese, meat, and even sacrifices.
A sheep herder, or shepherd would have cared for the flock. He would have been powerful, yet sure to use gentle guidance. Had the shepherd used force, sheep would simply have scattered--remember, this was a time before fences. Christ is both a personal shepherd, guiding us each through our lives, and collective shepherd as the head of the Christian church.
Jesus said, “I will lay down my life for my flock.” And he did. He cared so much for us that he was willing to endure the crucifixion. The promise of the Resurrection is that we will now share in the glory of eternal life with Christ. Jesus, the good shepherd, lives and continues to lead us today.
The pastoral imagery of sheep and shepherds is possibly best known through 23rd Psalm. We take comfort in the familiar words when we're faced with a time of loss. Indeed, dwelling in the house of the Lord forever is a precious source of solace. Today, I want to illustrate why this is not only a psalm for dying, but also a psalm for living.
Psalm 23 is richly steeped in metaphor, some of which is lost on us since we live in a technological society, rather than an agrarian one. Over the next few minutes, I'll unpack the symbolism. I'd like you to note that throughout the psalm, there is relationship, trust, and movement.
“The Lord is my shepherd.. I shall not want.” This speaks to the relationship of a caring sovereign and his trusting subjects. In the Israel of Biblical times the word shepherd implied one who herded sheep, but also a ruling figure. One biblical commentary says that the shepherd was regarded as one who, “actively intervenes to protect and secure the poor and needy who lack resources to guard their own lives. Thus, the term is at once pastoral (bespeaking caring attentiveness) and political (bespeaking power).” (1) When we have Christ, the good shepherd, in our lives, we have the assurance that we shall not want. Our needs will be met.
“He makes me lie down in green pastures.” The green pastures would have provided nourishment. To graze, sheep must keep their heads down, making them susceptible to predators. However, they can chew their cud lying down, with their heads up. While we may think that after a day of grazing, they would want to lie down to rest, there are many reasons they might not do so.
Phillip Keller, a pastor who worked as a shepherd for almost a decade says that, they "refuse to lie down unless they are free of all fear . . . Sheep will not lie down unless they are free from friction with other (sheep within the flock). If tormented by flies or parasites, sheep will not lie down . . . Lastly, sheep will not lie down as long as they feel in need of finding food".(2) By removing the obstacles, the shepherd could encourage the sheep to lie down. The knowledge that we walk with Christ helps to remove fear, irritation, and aggravation. We can safely rest in his presence.
“He leads me beside still waters” If you've ever washed a wool sweater, you can imagine why it would be important to be led by still water. Wool gets very heavy when wet. If I sheep fell into turbulent water, it would sink and be carried off quickly. For the sheep, their coat was both an asset (for the wool) and a liability (as it could literally sink them). Christ knows our limitations and leads us in places where we'll be safe.
“He restores my soul” By providing food, water, and safe conditions for the sheep; the shepherd would allow the sheep to be comfortable and content. When the world drains us; Jesus will refresh, renew, and restore us physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
“He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake” Sheep have a wide field of vision but very poor depth perception. The shepherd would have led the sheep, walking with them to keep them healthy and safe. Christ came in God's name and we can count on him to lead us on right paths for our own well being and the well being of the wider world.
“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” This may refer to an actual place or a dangerous route—rocky and steep, possibly dark since the mountains would have blocked out sunlight. In an effort not to tire the sheep, the shepherd would have led the sheep through the most direct route to get where they were going. Rather than going around the mountain, they went through the valley. Sheep have difficulty seeing details and they tend to avoid shadows, but they would walk through the shadows with the comforting presence of their leader.
We may try to avoid dangerous situations, but sometimes we find ourselves in that valley anyway. The valley of the shadow of death may address fear, insecurity, addiction, shame, or anything which casts darkness into our lives.
On this 4th Sunday of Easter, I will remind you that Christ's Resurrection has taken away the power of death. Christ lives now. The knowledge that he walks with us always, allows us to conquer fear and things that take away our vitality.
If we understand this passage to be about physical death, we can truly take comfort because we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, with Christ at our side, and into eternal life with God.
“I fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” These were the tools of the trade for a shepherd. The rod would have been club-like and used to beat away anything that attempted to prey on the sheep. The staff, similar to a walking stick, had a crook at the end to rescue any sheep that lost their footing and fell. The rod and staff speak to power and authority. Kings and emperors in antiquity would have held scepters. We have the the power of Christ protecting us and saving us when we fall.
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” A shepherd sustains his flock. The world 'enemies' could reference predators. Remember, the sheep graze with their heads down, but the shepherd would have kept watch. 'Enemies' may have meant poison plants, thorny weeds, or stones that the shepherd would have removed. Christianity doesn't guarantee us a life without dangers or possible harm, but it does assure us of Christ's personal attentiveness.
“You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows” Oil mixed with herbs could act as a natural insect repellent. Oil has long been associated with healing properties. A shepherd would have put oil on a sheep's head to help seal and heal scratches. Christ was a healer when we walked with humankind, and those that put their faith in him today may be healed physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The overflowing cup speaks to God's generosity. Christ said, I have come so that you might have life and have it abundantly. (God gives abundantly. He isn't stingy.).
“Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” These are powerful words. Surely. Absolutely. Positively. Goodness will follow me. All the days of my life. But, wait, the shepherd leads, doesn't he...why does it say 'follow'?
Shepherds would have been constant companions to the sheep; aware of where the sheep were at all times. If you've taken a small child to a store, you can understand the idea that the shepherd not only leads but also follows. Kids fancy themselves independent and they often run about, oblivious to any possible dangers. You can lead with direction, but sometimes you must circle back to keep a watchful eye to ensure the child's safety.
I'll also share that it is possible that goodness and mercy follow you in a different way: through the impact you have on others. As with saw with the children's commission this morning, the words and work of one are passed along through others, to many. When you follow the Good Shepherd and model good Christian behavior, others can become inspired.
Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I will lay down my life for my sheep.” And he did. Yet he lives still. Through the crucifixion and Resurrection, Jesus removed the obstacle of death, ensuring us our place in the house of the lord, forever.
In summary, the metaphor of a shepherd with sheep implies relationship, trust, and movement. Shepherds would have kept the flock on the move so as not to destroy the very land they would need for nourishment. They would have been moving away from one area and toward another. Just as the sheep would receive sustenance as they walked through green pastures and beside still waters, so do we have our needs met through Christ. We take comfort in our savior's concern for us and his powerful protection as we walk through darker places and darker times. We are nourished emotionally as our good shepherd heals our scrapes and generously provides shelter. Finally, we are assured that our good shepherd leads us through--and beyond--this life to our final destination which is none other than the house of the Lord. Forever. The five words that can change your life are these: “The Lord is my shepherd” and you need only follow. Blessed be and amen.
1.Brueggemann, Walter. Texts for Preaching, (Loiusville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993), p 300.
2. http://www.precioustestimonies.com/Hope_Encouragement/LivingWaters/greenpastures.htmKeller, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, 35
Allen, Charles L. God's Psychiatry,(Old Tappan, New Jersey: Spire Books, 1982)
It Was Good. (It Can Be So Again.)
Rev. Estelle Margarones
John 1:1-3, 14 Genesis 1:20-31
Today is Earth Day! I invite you to observe the day today, and always. The Bible says:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And God saw that it was good.
And it was all good. And the Bible says:
And God said, “Let the waters swarm with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, every bird. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.”
Today, we've got fish full of mercury(1) as Marvin Gaye sang in the 1970's. So much so that pregnant women have been urged not to eat fish such as tuna or swordfish because the mercury could harm the fetus. The birds have not escaped our hand, either. DDT was a pesticide that killed bugs....and so much more. You see, birds ate those bugs and DDT caused egg shells to be so thin that the eggs crack during the incubation process, resulting in the death of the baby birds.
During the manufacturing process, tons of DDT was dumped to the Pacific Ocean...and it's still damaging the ecosystem today. That chemical stopped being dumped into the water in 1961...and they are still cleaning it up.
As recently as 3 years ago, the EPA was entertaining plans ranging up to 64 million dollars to put clean sand on the ocean floor so that by 2023, they would hopefully bring the water to acceptable standards and that by 2039—78 years after they stopped dumping the poison into the water, they would lower (but not eliminate) the concentrations of DDT in the sediment.
And the Bible says:
And God made the beasts of the earth and the livestock and everything that creeps on the ground. And God saw that it was good.
But the creeping animals are disappearing. According to National Geographic, the harlequin frog species are going extinct because of global warming. More frightening still is that two thirds of the 110 known species of harlequin frogs disappeared between the 1980's and the 1990's.(2) (Two thirds! In less than two decades!) And it's possible, some scientists speculate, that because amphibians are so sensitive to environmental changes, they may be the proverbial 'canaries in the coalmine'. In other words, they are most susceptible, so though we may not see or smell or taste anything yet, something is awry and the harlequin frogs may only be the first of many to go.
And the Bible says,
So God created man in his own image, And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and have stewardship over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.
According to scientists, we are now in the midst of an extinction event...one that started about 50,000 years ago but is now increasing speed.(3) The most troubling thing about it is that we, who the Bible tells us were given stewardship of the earth and the waters and the creatures. We, created in God's likeness...stewards of the earth...are causing it.
We are consuming the earth's natural resources in a way that has never been done before. We are polluting the air and the water and the land with our factories, and our cars, and by dumping our old medications down the drain.
While that is regrettable news, there is good news. We can step up and take our place as the trusted caretakers. There are things that each one of us can do to right the wrongs and to keep from causing more damage. There are tons of things we can do to be 'greener', 'cleaner', and 'more efficient' everyday. Some are incredibly simple; others take a little bit more of an investment. But it is an investment...in the future.
This is an interdependent world and what affects of of us, does affect us all. Think beyond the here and now. We should each realize what an important task we have been given....stewardship of the earth to which we were entrusted by God. We need to see the present and be long range planners.
We've all heard about about global warming, but many do not even know what it means, why it's important, and what we can do about it.
I'll share with you the short version: The sun warms the earth. Some of the sun's heat is absorbed by "greenhouse gases" such as water vapor, carbon dioxide, and ozone which slows down how fast it escapes from the atmosphere. This is a good thing. Essentially, the greenhouse gasses trap the heat and insulate the earth. If we didn't have the greenhouse effect, our planet would be approximately 54 degrees—and that temperature wouldn't sustain our current ecosystem.
In large part, the issue with global warming comes from what humans have done to distort the natural greenhouse effect. We're adding too much into the atmosphere. There are things like farming practices and production in factories that add gasses to the air. Deforestation is an issue because trees take in the CO2 and release oxygen. While you might not be able to stop these practices, you can help to slow them down by thinking about your purchases. You can buy more food at the Braintree farmers market (open June 16-October 27) and you can use recycled products, and you can bring your own reusable bag when you go shopping.
We don't often think about it, but by heating our homes and driving our cars, we're burning natural resources like gas and oil and raising the level of carbon dioxide. The good news is that we now have more energy efficient ways to heat our homes and we have choices everyday about how we travel....public transportation is readily available, we can carpool, we can be mindful of the planet when planning our errands—saving things for a time when we'll be in the neighborhood for another reason. We can also avoid sitting in idling cars.
There are tons of things that homeowners can do to make a big difference—with everything from using double glazed windows to using energy efficient appliances. Renters, too, can make a difference.
Small things can make big differences. You can cover your pots when you cook. A lid on a pot locks in the heat, causing the food to cook faster, so you use less energy. You can put your heat a little lower in the winter and a little higher in the summer...even as little as 2 degrees either way, could save about 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide a year. You can run your dishwasher and washing machine only when they're full. You can take a shower instead of a bath—it uses less water. You can recycle, plant a tree, clean up a beach. You can donate clothing and household items to Goodwill...and you can buy gently used things there. You can use compact florescent light bulbs. They use 60% less energy than a regular bulb so they'll last longer and can save about 300 lbs of carbon dioxide a year. They're a few more dollars more expensive, but worth it in the overall scheme of the world.
This is the 3rd Sunday of Easter and we honor and praise the risen Christ. There are a number of Biblical stories that put Jesus in the context of nature. A heavenly star heralded his birth. He was born in a stable, his bed a manger, borrowed from the animals. He gave us the parable of the sower. He walked on water. He calmed the wind. People waved palms as he rode in to town on a borrowed donkey. Jesus prayed in a garden. As we discussed a few weeks ago on Easter, he was laid to rest in a garden...in a borrowed tomb.
When Jesus walked this earth, he taught people about being in relationship. Not only are we in relationship with God and each other, we are very much in relationship with the natural world. Were Jesus physically among us today, I have no doubt that he would encourage us to reduce, reuse, and recycle.
In the beginning, God created the world and it was good. We have been entrusted with the stewardship of our home and if we're going to ensure that our world will be here for our children, their children, and beyond, we need to open our eyes to see past the immediate concerns of time or money or effort. So Let us celebrate the Earth on this 42nd Earth Day...and always!
And God will see everything, and behold, it will be very good. Blessed be and amen.
1. Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology Song), Marvin Gaye
2. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/01/0112_060112_frog_climate.html3. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/4555025/ns/us_news-environment/t/report-sees-major-extinction-under-way/
Rev. Estelle Margarones
Psalm 133 1 John 1:1-2:2
Christ is risen! Last week we sang our Alleluias. We had our biggest moment of the church year.
Now, the work begins! To say, now that we've got they key to Heaven, we can just do whatever we want, whenever we want, however we want is a bit like saying, okay—we bought the house, we're done. Okay, I joined the gym, I'm done. I got into college, I'm done. I bought the guitar. I'm done.
Now that you've got the hope and assurance that you have a place to live, or to go exercise, or to learn or now that you have an instrument to play, you need to do those things! Now the work begins!
Now we need to move into the house, and paint the rooms and buy curtains. Now you need to go to the gym and workout if you want to be fit. You got into college, now you need to choose classes and study. You bought a guitar, now you need to learn to read music and practice playing.
Christ is risen, opening eternal life to all who believe. Now the work begins.
We heard in the Scripture that , “If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true, but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another” and forgiveness for our transgressions.
Being a follower is not just wearing a cross or just going to church or just donating money to a charity. You can do these things, but if you live in a judgmental and completely disingenuous way, you are ‘saying that you have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness.’
We are called to walk in that light of God. We are expected to demonstrate our belief in Jesus and in his ways. We are called to have fellowship with one another. Remember that in the very early church, this meant different groups of people coming together, Greeks and Jews. Today, this means whoever you are and wherever you are on life's journey, you are welcome here. The church is called to be a place where different people can come together and be one.
Shining your light will mean different things to different people. Demonstrating that sense of belief may involve prayer and it may involve change. It is about opening our doors and our hearts and our minds. It is about taking a sense of caring and concern and opening it to the broader community.
Now what? You must do unto others as you would have them do unto you....as you would have them do unto your elderly mother....or do unto your sister riding in the car with her infant. You must help when and where you can. You must live in the light of God and bring that light to others. Kindness matters. Sharing matters. The larger community matters.
Now what? Get to work with what God has given you. Jesus opened the door to new life for all of us. Each of us—as a follower—also has the chance to make a difference in the world, too.
Life presents us with all kinds of situations and troubles. I have a saying, “Live Life. Get Stuff.” I also have another: “Where is God in this situation?” Because surely God is there!
Once you see God’s light, you can reflect that back into the world. Each of us has had experiences that have shaped us. How might you use your experiences? Now what? Get to work!
Here is what one person did: As a young wife and new mother, Rachel Coleman had the first-hand opportunity to make a difference to her own deaf daughter...and to the deaf community locally, nationally, and internationally. In her own words, here is Rachel's story:
“One night, I came to my mom’s house to pick up Leah. When my mom heard me come in the house she said, “Don’t let Leah see you. Stand behind her and call her name.”
You know how there are times in your life that are lines of demarcation? Once you cross it, things are never the same. Well this was one of the moments. I stood behind Leah and called her name. Leah showed no response.
I asked my mom how she knew. She told me that they had turned a CD player on, full blast by mistake. Everyone screamed and jumped. Everyone except for Leah.
We read a lot. We asked advice. We had early intervention services. We asked deaf adults what they would do if they were us.
Over the years we noticed how many of our friends and family members claimed that they wanted to learn ASL... (but)....they didn’t have time to learn it (or) it was too hard to learn.
I thought if we moved away then it wouldn’t hurt so badly. We wouldn’t have to hear the excuses and the apologies for why people who loved Leah couldn’t communicate with her. We moved. Moving away didn’t work. Now we were surrounded by a new group with the same excuses.
We saw kids and parents shy away from her when they realized she was different. I had seen the difference in the interactions with children who knew no signs and children who knew only 4 or 5 signs.
Children with a handful of signs tried to communicate with her. They were excited to show her what they knew. There was a bridge to communication! Now I had a mission and I volunteered to teach weekly signing story times at our local pre-schools. Through this, Leah’s circle of friends widened. Her community of communication was growing. These were the seeds that grew to become 'Signing Time'.” (www.SigningTime.com)
Signing Time is a company that has American Sign Language resources and products for deaf infants, toddlers, and young children as well as their friends, siblings, parents, daycares, and educators. There are certified signing time instructors all over the country. Rachel Coleman started Signing Time out of her desire help her deaf daughter experience, engage, and communicate fully in the world around her.
Leah Coleman was born deaf. Her mother, Rachael Coleman, was presented with a situation and may have said, “now what?” She has opened hope to thousands of hearing impaired children and their families. (Pause)
Christ died and through that experience we may live. Are you living in the light? How might you bring that light to others?
Each one of us is part of the whole. Together, we are one. One body. One community. One world.
A pebble dropped into water has far-reaching ripple effects. Imagine the impact you can have simply by being you, simply by taking your experiences and walking of the light of God....reflecting that light into the world...
Christ is risen, opening eternal life to all who believe. The good news is that you have a future with God! In the meantime, right now, you're here on earth. So I ask you, now what? Now.... what will you do? Blessed be and amen.
The Glorious Garden
Rev. Estelle Margarones
Isaiah 25:6-9 John 19:41-20:18
Today, in the presence of these beautiful Easter lilies, I feel as though I'm in a very special garden. The lilies are white, symbolic of purity. White is also a color associated with God. The shape of the lilies is reminiscent of a trumpet, heralding the good news that Jesus Christ is risen! This is, indeed a glorious garden.
I was struck by the mention of the garden in the gospel reading. According to the Bible, Christ came here for our edification and for our redemption, to teach us and to save us. The Easter story as we know it is one of the crucifixion and the resurrection.
We know that Jesus died on the cross and was laid in a tomb. As we heard in the gospel reading this morning, when Mary went to the tomb to prepare the body for proper burial, she found to empty. She asked a man she took to be the gardener where she might find Jesus.
She expected to find a dead body, yet the Lord was standing in front of her. Not a dead body to be carried somewhere or laid somewhere, but a living being to stand tall, to recognize her and to speak with her. Only when he called her by name, were her eyes opened and did she recognize Jesus.
Jesus who was dead is now alive.
Why mention that the tomb was set in the midst of a garden? Why did she think Jesus was the gardener?
According to the Book of Genesis, humanity was banished from the Garden of Eden for transgressions against God. Yet, God still loves his people. God made covenantal relationships with Noah and Abraham and Sarah. We know that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life. We understand a clear connection between Jesus and the new covenant.
On our behalf, Jesus was given up as a sacrificial lamb taking the place of humanity. In Biblical times, it was common practice to offer a sacrifice in order to obtain forgiveness or absolution for transgressions.
Could it be that the Easter story doesn't start 1600 pages into the Bible...in the Gospels in the New Testament; but instead, on page 2, in the very first book of the Old Testament?
This, from Genesis chapter two, verse eight, “And the lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east; and there he put the man who he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and, also the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” God told Adam and Eve that they could eat whatever they wanted, but “tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat for in the day that you eat of it, you shall die” (2:17).
In the paradise that was the Garden of Eden, the master gardener there was no less than God Himself. In the Garden of Eden, there was no sadness and no death. Adam and Eve ate that forbidden fruit and their eyes were opened to the pain and suffering of this world. God sent them away from the Garden, but even then, he loved them.
In the Resurrection account we heard this morning, Mary is in the garden with the opened tomb. She is weeping, but her sadness comes to an end when she realizes that it is Jesus before her. Her eyes have been opened to hope and new life.
Jesus was crucified and rose on the third day. When he instructed Mary to share this good news, he said, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God”.
He included humanity in that announcement. My Father and your Father. My God and your God. That inclusion assures us that we, too, will share in Jesus' triumphant victory over death. Through Christ's sacrifice, we have been granted eternal life. His act, done our our behalf, assures us that we too, will have the honor and the privilege of joining him in his kingdom.
I'll ask that you hold the Garden of Eden in mind as I define a few of the words so common to the accounts of the Resurrection. The resurrection is a story of redemption.
“Redemption” means “the act, process, or instance of redeeming.” “Redeem” means, “repair”, “restore”, and “to atone for.” It also means, “to free from what distresses or harms”, “to free from captivity by the payment of ransom”, and “to free from consequences of sin”.
Jesus did free us. His crucifixion was payment for harm, debts, mistakes, and errors of judgment...none of which he committed. Yet his sacrifice served to atone for the sins of the world.
The word “Resurrection” means the rising of Christ from the dead. It's root is the Latin word “sugere” which means “to go straight up or rise.” Re-surrection, then is “re” plus “sugere”.
“Re” is a prefix that means “again, anew, and back”. Through the Resurrection, Jesus was victorious over death. Through the Resurrection, Christ became alive again, he was transformed, and he went back to Heaven. Through the Resurrection, Jesus opened eternal life to all who believe.
Jesus is risen and new life conquers death. Could it be that Jesus, assumed to be a gardener, shows us through his redemptive work, we have been reconciled back to to the garden?
We know that when Jesus was on the cross and one of the criminals said “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”; Jesus replied that the criminal would be with him in Paradise. (Luke 23:42-43)
When you look up “Paradise” in the dictionary, you'll find, “the garden of Eden” and “Heaven”.
Christ is risen! We have been given the gift of eternal life. We give our praise. Let us remember also to give our thanks. Thank you, Jesus! Thank you God! Blessed be and Amen.
Good News: Jesus Saves!
Rev. Estelle Margarones
Psalm 118:1-2, 24-29 Mark 11:1-11
Today marks the beginning of Holy Week. It is Palm Sunday, a day that recalls and celebrates Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. This gospel account is more than simply about curious onlookers wanting to catch a glimpse of one whose celebrity was spreading. This gospel account is one of a king and his people. The people note his heritage from the House of David. The praise him with the words, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord”.
The portrayals or “news reports” you are about to observe are based on true events. Imagine, with me, if you will, what it must have been like to be in the presence of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
The date is Nisan (pronounced nee-SAHN) 10, the year 3793. It is an event that will be celebrated as Palm Sunday in the years that follow. A man called Jesus, a rabbi, and more recently a miracle worker passed through here just a little while ago. You can see the crowds behind me have begun to disperse. People began gathering last night they learned that Jesus would, in fact, be here for the Passover Feast. There were people from all walks of life, and all generations. Children sat on their parents shoulders; elders leaned against trees. It seems no one wanted to miss the opportunity to see Jesus in person.
It appears, though, to be more significant. It appears that the crowds weren't comprised of gawkers, but of followers. Many had heard that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and it is clear that recognize him as someone of great importance. They have put their trust in him. One person who asked not to be identified said he'd heard that there is trouble ahead, but he is sure this King will triumph! As he said, “No matter what the future, right now, our savior, our king, healer, redeemer, peacemaker is here.”
As you can see from palms scattered around, this was quite a sizable crowd. Many with whom we spoke were unaware of any possible trouble ahead. There was a very real sense of revelry during this procession or parade and a very real sense of hope pervasive throughout the crowds. Many here cried out “Hosanna” which means “save us”. Even as it was a cry for help, it was a declaration of praise. They have put their hope in this Savior. No doubt he will save them.
This morning, I'm reporting to you from a tiny village on the river island of Majuli. We're in northern India where a life was saved, just in time. Early in June, a two and a half year old girl came down with a fever. Her parents tried tribal remedies to no avail. When their daughter became jaundiced, they took her to the village medicine man who charged them 1281 rupees for ineffectual medicine. They then called upon healers who charged 360 more rupees. The girl's condition worsened. Three weeks after her fever began, she was swollen and in and out of consciousness.
It was only after traveling six miles on a dirt road to bring their toddler to the hospital in the next town, that they learned she had “severe falciparum malaria and anemia.” Immediate treatment, including a blood transfusion was necessary to save her. The parents had spent all of their money within three weeks. Through a charitable organization, funding was provided. In only three days, the little girl had improved enough to be discharged. Her treatment was valued at approximately 4000 rupees.(1)
Jesus was known as a great healer. Jesus saves. It really comes as no surprise that this little girl was given free treatment and a second chance at life at....Baptist Christian Hospital.
It is November 30the and this morning, we're in Atlanta, Georgia. Thanksgiving may have passed, but two women are giving thanks today. They were on the brink of eviction, but the sheriff and his team couldn't find it in their hearts to put the owner of the home she's lived in for close to fifty years. The homeowner, in this case, is a bedridden 103 year old. Her caretaker and housemate is her 83 year old daughter. For more than two years, the bank holding the mortgage has been at odds with the homeowner over a second mortgage. The homeowner told us, she wasn't afraid when the sheriff came. She said, quote, "I just know God says that when things go wrong, He'll make it right".(2) What moved the sheriff and his men to allow these two women to stay in their home? Some would save that Jesus saved these women from eviction. Myself included.
We began on Nisan 10, 37-93, a year that would become known as 33 A.D at an event that would become celebrated as Palm Sunday. The crowds cried out, “Hosanna”, a cry of praise; a cry for mercy. “Save us.” For centuries, Jesus has saved. Jesus continues to do so.
Jesus watches over us and cares for us. He's been called a shepherd and we, his flock. We don't see very many shepherds around here today. You're aware, no doubt, that shepherds would carry a staff...a tall stick of sorts, with a crook at the end. When sheep walk in mountainous areas, occasionally one falls...sometimes even into a ravine, where it gets stuck. The shepherd uses the staff to extract the sheep from trouble. In a similar fashion, our shepherd Jesus saves us when we fall to dark times or get stuck in bad behavior. All we need to do is trust him.
Jesus Saves. And what do we do in return? Over these past several weeks, we've talked a lot about covenental relationship. A covenant is a holy pact. In return for Jesus' loving, saving grace, all we need to do is be his disciples. Part of that is giving and serving where we can.
Let that mind of Christ be yours. Open wide your ears and your hearts and listen for God's will to be known in your life. Listen to hear how you can be of service.......
We've walked these many weeks, together, toward the cross. This time in the church year, more so than any other, is a time when we follow Jesus closely, aware of the behavior he modeled and aware of the controversies he faced. We know all that he endured--for us.
Palm Sunday marks the beginning of a week that is bittersweet. This Holy week stirs up mixed emotions: wild excitement, deep despair, and, finally, the absolute certainty that all is well.
Today, we celebrate our King's triumphant entrance to the city. The crowds gather and rejoice. Later this week, in a service on Holy Thursday, we will bear witness to the betrayal and the desertion that Jesus faced in a service of Tenebrae. Some in the crowd that even today wave palms as Jesus enters Jerusalem will turn their backs upon Jesus and demand the release of a common criminal. Jesus submits to God's will and endures the crucifixion.
Good Friday is a day for solemnity. Were we watching a movie, the scene would fade to black and the theatre goers would be rooted to their seats, unable to move so gripped with pain and emotion. But then, moments later, the screen is filled with blinding white light and we learn of the Resurection. All is well! Hope lives! Compassion lives! Peace lives! Jesus lives!
Next Sunday, we celebrate Easter. This Sunday, we throng the sidelines to see our King. When you look upon the palm you now hold, remember to wave it in joyful recognition of all that Jesus has done and in joyful anticipation of all that will yet be!
This week, as you step forward to see the King, step forward to claim your own obligation to be the person he called you to be. In the days and weeks ahead, as you look upon the palm in your home or office or car, may you be moved to reaffirm your steadfast allegiance to our King, Jesus Christ.
The crowds cried, “Hosanna” (save us) and Jesus does.
When we meet again next Sunday morning, we will celebrate the fact that Jesus death isn't a tragic ending, but instead, a triumphant beginning. Blessed Be and Amen.
1. http://www.malaria.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=113&Itemid=402. By Ray Downs , Christian Post Reporter, November 30, 2011|4:56 pm http://global.christianpost.com/news/eviction-of-103-year-old-woman-83-year-old-daughter-halted-at-last-minute-63587/