March 29, 2015
:: Sermon Audio (link)
scroll down for written draft
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell."
:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "The Palms" (Linda Jenkins, organ; Rick Bean, piano) (Faure; arr. Fred Bock)
Processional Song: "All Glory, Laud and Honor" (TESCHNER; arr. and chorus, Austell)
The Word in Music: "Lift Up Your Heads" (Pote)
Offering of Music: "Hosanna/Praise is Rising" (Baloche, Brown)
Song of Praise: "The Doxology"
Song of Sending: "Build Your Kingdom Here" (Rend Collective Experiment)
Postlude: "Build Your Kingdom Here"
:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf):
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.
I’d like to start a little differently this morning. I’d like to try a little exercise. I’m wondering about what brought you here… I mean originally.
If you discovered Good Shepherd from driving past it or from the phone book or the Internet – more or less on your own – would you raise your hand?
If you came to Good Shepherd because someone told you about it or invited you to come, would you raise your hand? Thank you.
Palm Sunday, A.D. 33
Today is Palm Sunday, the day on which we remember Jesus’ “triumphal” entrance into Jerusalem five days before his arrest and crucifixion and one week before his resurrection on Easter Sunday.
There is much to celebrate about Palm Sunday. Everybody loves a parade, and even our small procession this morning gives you some small sense of the fun and excitement of such an event. It was a Jewish Passover tradition on this Sunday to process into Jerusalem and up to the Temple. Psalm 118, of which we read part for our call to worship, describes that tradition.
There is every indication that many believed Jesus to be the One God had promised. Starting outside the city, up on the top of the hill with a road down, through a valley, and up to the city gates, they were shouting the line from Psalm 118 – “blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord” – and probably had Jesus in mind as that king. It was an exciting moment and the people and disciples were caught up in it. Even Jesus did not seem to avoid or downplay it. When some Pharisees tried to calm down his followers, Jesus replied, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” In other words, this was a time of praise to God and all creation knew it.
I feel that way sometimes after a particularly meaningful worship service. …or after an especially close time together with other Christians, like on a mission trip. Yes, there are many times we doze off and our attention wanders, but when God is present and we are tuned in, it can be really exciting. I hope each of you has had or will have the opportunity to experience something like that in your lives.
I describe all this to highlight the extreme nature of the mood-change when Jesus drew near to Jerusalem. Look, there in verse 41…
Before I read that verse, do you know the shortest verse in the Bible? It is John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” It’s in the middle of the story of Lazarus, Jesus’ close friend who had died. Jesus delayed going to see Lazarus when he was sick, and by the time he got there, Lazarus was dead. In the story, Jesus is talking to the sisters, Mary and Martha, who are both crying and full of emotion, and Jesus weeps. It is very interesting, because we can read the story to the end and know that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Why would you weep for a dead friend when you have the power to bring them back to life and plan on doing so? It would seem that this Jesus who so deeply shares our humanity was just moved deeply by the sorrow of his friends and the moment.
Do you know how many times Jesus cried in the Bible (that we know of)? Twice. One was in John 11:35, at the death of his friend, Lazarus. The other is in today’s story, halfway through a very exciting, exhilarating, and celebratory parade. All of a sudden, with Jesus getting something like a hero’s welcome, he starts crying. And it’s not the single, subtle tear on the cheek, he is weeping over something he sees when he looks at the city of Jerusalem.
He says (to Jerusalem), “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace!” (v. 42) Jesus is referring to his own entrance into the city. The coming of the Messiah was to usher in God’s peace to His people. Jesus probably says “even you” because the word Jerusalem means “city of peace.” If anyone should recognize God’s peace when it comes riding into town, it is this capital city of peace, full of God’s own people. And yet, Jesus also sees what lies ahead for Jerusalem. He knows there is a plot brewing against him. He foretells enemies of Jerusalem barricading and surrounding the city to overtake it. This comes to pass within a generation, when Jerusalem is attacked and the Temple destroyed in A.D. 70. And Jesus pins this fate on the fact that “you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” We will see, as this “holy week” progresses, that while many gathered to shout hosannas as Jesus entered the city, many more would shout ‘crucify’ and turn against him.
Jesus, the bringer of God’s peace, was weeping because he recognized that so many would not receive God’s great gift even as it was among them. Jesus was weeping for the lost souls of Jerusalem.
Fast-Forward, A.D. 2015
Has that much changed in 2000 years? It is easy for the followers of Jesus Christ to gather and celebrate, to process and pray, and to go home feeling topped-off spiritually until the next service or study.
And yet I think Jesus could stand right here in this room, receive our praise and worship, and weep for all the same reasons he wept that day. He is still God’s gift of peace, particularly of peace with God, and we have that message and that hope right here. It’s what we hear and respond to week in and week out. But we also live in the midst of a city not so different from Jerusalem. It’s a spiritual city, full of churches and southern culture. And it’s full of people who seek peace – peace at work, peace at home, and peace with themselves. But like those who missed Jesus the first time around, our friends and neighbors who do not know God risk living and not recognizing the time of God’s visitation.
Why does it matter? Why should we care or risk offending them with caring? Like you and me, our friends and neighbors are surrounded and barricaded by things that will hurt them. Our children are growing up in a scary and uncertain world. Young adults are taking longer and longer to find a place to take root, and many get lost along the way. Our older adults find themselves living in an increasingly alien culture, and one that doesn’t seem to value their wisdom and insight. People need the peace of God that is found in the news of Jesus Christ, which is found in the person of Jesus Christ.
But most of all, we should care and risk sharing our faith with our friends and neighbors because God cares. He weeps for those who do not know Him. And if we are truly His, we will weep at the things at which God weeps.
I believe we shine brightly with the light of Christ here at the corner of Rea Rd and Swan’s Run. People see and hear that God is at work here. We offer guidance and safe harbor to all who notice us and come to check us out. We have effective and clear ministries to children, youth, and adults, particularly in the arts and teaching ministries. One of our main challenges is to continue tending the flame so it shines brightly.
But it enough to build a great church and wait for people to wander through the doors? I believe every visitor who comes in this place feels warmly welcomed, hears the good news of Jesus clearly presented, and senses the special bond of family here.
But what of Jerusalem? What of Charlotte? What of all the other addresses on Rea Road and Swan’s Run and in Old Providence, Candlewyck, and Chadwyck? God does not sit still, waiting for worship; God is a seeking and finding kind of God. He sent His Son, Jesus, into the world to seek and save the lost and hurting. And so He sends us. Jesus prayed that in John 17: “Send them into the world as you sent me into the world.”
I’d like to pause for a moment and ask you to watch the slides on the screens. This is our church neighborhood; this is our first “Jerusalem.” Let your thoughts and prayers go towards the people and places you see. What is God doing? Where might you share in what God is doing?
We are also here to get up and get out because God’s heart is in the homes and the circumstances of each house up and down these streets and in your neighborhoods. I’m not talking about some sort of mass conversion program. I’m talking about going where God goes and inviting people to hear or glimpse God at work. Yes, invite people to church. That’s a great start. Invite people into your homes and lives. Meet people where they are. BE salt and light – that’s what God made you for.
Next Sunday and each Sunday through the end of May I will be trying to speak as simply and clearly as I know how about Jesus and the peace and hope God offers us through him. This is a great time to invite friends and neighbors to come and see. Tell them what to expect – from the music to the preaching to the friendly people. Tell them their children will be well-cared for. Invite them to go out to lunch afterwards. Whatever you want… but go where God’s heart is. Amen.