Photograph by Lindsey Kramer
By Pastor Tracey Leslie
Scripture: Luke chapters 19-23
We have included art within our sermon series this Lenten season. This morning is another photograph taken by Melissa Kramer’s sister, Lindsey… a photo of a little girl blowing bubbles. I can’t imagine there’s anyone in the sanctuary this morning that didn’t blow bubbles as a child. Even before you bought them at the store, people knew how to make them at home with soap. Bubbles were a rite of spring when I was growing up. We were sent outside to play with our friends and our bubbles and our wands. We would watch with joy as the bubbles drifted into the spring breeze and sunshine, the light creating a display of colors like a rainbow; a friendly competition of whose bubble could last the longest before it burst. Bubbles inevitably burst. Sometimes we destroy them ourselves if we poke them or touch them. But often they simply and suddenly collapse for no apparent reason. Bubbles are as fragile and mysterious as life itself.
Today is Palm Passion Sunday. Each year, one week before Easter, we remember that day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem. It was like a parade for Super Bowl champions… only Jesus wasn’t on a float; he rode on a colt… and not to be confused with the Indianapolis Colts. Like a Super Bowl parade, while the crowd honored him for – as Luke puts it – “all the deeds of power that they had seen”[i] – clearly it’s not enough; they want more. I was a teen in those years when the Pittsburgh Steelers (with Terry Bradshaw as their quarterback) won super bowl after super bowl. They won four super bowls… meaning four super bowl rings. They had a chance for a fifth championship in 1981, spawning the slogan “one for the thumb in ’81.”
So, one might consider Jesus’ triumphal entry on Palm Sunday the “one for the thumb” campaign of first century Jerusalem. “What you’ve down so far, Jesus, is pretty awesome. Keep it up. We’re eager for your next victory; let’s defeat team Rome.”
But popularity – like life and bubbles – is pretty fragile. It didn’t take long for that crowd to become angry, aggressive, even murderous, when Jesus didn’t do all they expected of him.
A few years back, I read a book on preaching by Andy Stanley called Communicating for a Change[ii]. I found some stuff in it that was really helpful. It recommended being able to answer some key questions as you develop your sermon to insure that you are making a meaningful point and not just saying a lot of words. Using Stanley’s ideas, I put together my own questions that I frequently use as an outline/ a framework for my sermons:
And yet, there are those times – well, like this morning – when we must grapple with the limits of our doing and even our being for while we seek to live as disciples, learning from Jesus what to do and how to be; while we pray for the Spirit to renew the image of God within us… at the end of the day, we will never be Jesus and perhaps at no time is that reality more vivid than today. On Palm-Passion Sunday we are slapped in the face with the reality that Jesus, alone, can be consistently patient and compassionate and gentle and courageous and faithful. Jesus, alone, will do what God the heavenly Father wills 100% of the time no matter how hard it is. Jesus alone will not fold in the face of trials and temptations and suffering. Jesus alone is able to say and pray “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done.”[iii] Jesus, alone, says it and means it 100% of the time no matter how ugly things get.
And that’s why we’re here. That’s why we are here to worship and remember. We need a Savior. We cannot, by ourselves, save ourselves from our own fears and uncertainties. We cannot, by our own powers, eliminate all that is fragile and fix all that is broken in our lives and our world.
Author Gayle Boss tells the story of her son, Kai, who – at age 11 – discovered an abandoned newborn chipmunk in their yard one spring.[iv] Knowing the ways of nature, she wanted to discourage her son from becoming attached to this frail creature, barely clinging to life. But Kai’s passion and tenderness toward the fragile creature pulled at her heart strings. She relays the story of how – over the course of a weekend – her rough and tumble boy tenderly nursed this tiny creature, feeding it milk with an eye dropper, wrapping it gently in a small towel and laying it in a shoebox, keeping watch over it every waking hour. Initially, it seemed to rally. But Monday morning, things took a turn for the worse. Kai did not want to leave for school but his mother insisted. That afternoon when they all returned home, the baby chipmunk was found cold, dead and rigid in its shoebox. Gayle’s heart broke as her son, speechless, walked through the house slamming doors and stomping off to his room, emerging an hour later with reddened eyes and puffy cheeks. What a deep compassion he had demonstrated for one of God’s most fragile creatures. And yet, she includes within her story the mention that – on the same afternoon as the chipmunk’s death – her son participated in his little league game, his usual rough and tumble, competitive self and that, on the drive home from the ballpark, how he tore the video game out of his little brother’s hands in the backseat; only begrudgingly returning it at his father’s insistence and resentfully parroting in the obligatory “I’m sorry.”
And that is human nature, isn’t it? We are all a complicated mixture of compassion and cruelty; generosity and envy; collaboration and competition; gentleness and aggression… whether we want to be or not. We cannot, on our own, accomplish our own transformation. Only One who ever walked this earth was a consistent, non-wavering example of compassion and generosity and collaboration and gentleness. And only that one – through who he is and what he did, what he is still doing – can work the change within us that we all so desperately need.
So, as that preaching book taught me to ask:
And that is why Jesus did what he did for us. Life is fragile and often we are not very gentle. Often we poke at one another’s souls with no more care or restraint than a child bursting bubbles. Oh how we need a Savior who was stronger than this brutal world; one forever strong and courageous, yet gentle and compassionate, even in the face of this world’s sin and suffering.
So today, friends, we remember: we worship, we pray, we give thanks… and we confess that we need a Savior who can do for us what we, frankly, cannot do for ourselves. Thanks be to God!
[i] Luke 19:37. NRSV.
[ii] Communicating for a Change: Seven Keys to Irresistible Communication by Lane Jones and Andy Stanley; Crown Publishing Group; 2006
[iii] See Luke 22:42.
[iv] Story found in “Weavings: A Journal of the Christian Spiritual Life”; vol. XIX, no. 4; Upper Room Ministries; July/August 2004; story found on pp. 36-42.
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