the sunday of the passion …

the passion according to luke (22:14–23:56)
The only way we get closer to god is when god comes closer to us!

Each Sunday morning, every time a preacher steps into a pulpit or behind an altar, he or she has one chance – and only one chance – to get it right. There’s no three strikes rule. No four downs. For better or worse, you get one try. Either you make it or you don’t. And if it doesn’t go well … if you could do better … well, there’s always next week! Metaphorically speaking, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and move on. Five weeks ago, on the first Sunday in Lent, I preached one of “those” sermons. Preached one of those sermons I wished I hadn’t. It wasn’t bad … exactly. I didn’t say anything wrong … terribly. It’s just that it was … muddled. Awkward. Confused. I could have – should have – used a bit more time. Think it through.

You see, for a couple, three years, now, I’ve been describing our life as a congregation as a journey. Sort of like Moses and Israel in the Wilderness. Traveling from Egypt to Canaan. From mud pits to promisedLand. Mile by mile. Day after day. One oasis to the next. And the prayer we’ve been using reïnforces all that. Unending ventures. Untrodden paths. Unknown perils. So, when Lent came along, it was, just, more of the same. We doubled down. Tripled down. After all, if Lent is nothing else, it, too, is a journey. A pilgrimage. A wandering in the wilderness. Going from here to there. From now to then. Made not in distance or time, but with things like self-examination and repentance, fasting and prayer, sacrificial giving and works of love. The discipline of Lent we call it. Each breath pushing us forward. Every heartbeat pulling us ahead. We’ve been on a journey. And there’s one week, seven days, to go.

Then, on ashWednesday, as we were saying we’re sorry and promising we’d never do it again, I remembered the words with which we Lutherans begin worship, almost every Sunday …

We believe we’re captive – in bondage – to sin
and cannot free ourselves.

We believe we’re captive – in bondage – to sin
and cannot free ourselves.

Sin, for us, isn’t, simply, a mistake, an indiscretion. Sin isn’t, just, a weakness or an inconvenience. It’s more than that. Much more. Sin is a trap. It snares us and won’t let us go. No matter how long, no matter how hard, we struggle to escape. We believe we’re captive to, bound by, sin. And nothing can change that! We can’t go anywhere … even if we wanted to!

So, five weeks ago, attempting to make the yoke a little easier and the burden a little lighter, I said that instead of walking, Jesus picks us up, and carries us to where god wants us to be. Picks us up and carries us to where we need to go. We’re still on the journey. Still on the way. Still wandering across the Wilderness. But now, Jesus carries us! Carries us in his arms! Carries us on his shoulders. Like shepherd carries lamb. And by that afternoon, I regretted what I’d said. I wished I could have it to do all over.

Where I went wrong … was in thinking the journey was ours to make. Truth is, captive or not, in bondage or not, it was never ours. Bottomline, the gospel isn’t about our going. It’s about god’s coming! Problem is, when we focus only on our going, the assumption we make is that god is somewhere else and it’s up to us to get there. The assumption we make is that being here is never enough. That it’s always better, always more, to be somewhere else. Around the next bend. Over the next hill. The assumption we make is that god is unmoved, unmoving. God up high and far away. Waiting. Watching. For us to come into view.

But that’s not how it works. That’s not how any of this works. Because of our sin, because of our humanity, we’re the ones stationary. Static. God so loves that god gets up and comes to us! God so loves that god sets aside heaven and comes to earth. That’s the gift god gives at the very end of the newTestament. In the final chapter of the final book. Creation doesn’t roll up like an old window blind. But heaven descends to earth to live right here. And it’s all counter, contrary, to everything we assume about god. “‘See, the home of God,” John writes, “is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples!” And as if to underline the point repeats, “And God himself will be with them!” It’s not our journey! It’s god’s!

If the world’s to be salvaged, creation to be changed, god must do it! God and god alone! You and I … we’re in bondage to sin. We’re captive to our humanity. So, god acts! Doing what we don’t! Doing what we can’t! Doing what we won’t! It’s not our journey; it’s god’s! All we do is sit! Waiting! Watching! In wonder! Awe! Heaven comes to earth! The future to today!

That’s why the song for today … the song sung by the crowds outside Jerusalem … is what it is! “Blessed is the king who comes!” Comes to the manger in the stable! Comes to the battered and to the broken crumpled up and tossed aside along the way! God comes to them! God comes to us! In the words spoken! In the words sung! In the water! In the bread, the wine! Comes in the forgiveness! Comes to, comes in, the unlikeliest people! The hungry and thirsty! The naked and sick! The stranger! To and in people just like us! Captive! Bound! Who can’t free themselves!

The journey’s not ours to take! It’s not ours to make! Not even during lent! No matter how many the prayers! No matter how long the fasts! The journey belongs to god! Christmas! Epiphany! AshWednesday! PalmSunday! MaundyThursday! GoodFriday! Easter! They’re all gifts from god! Gifts that come to us! Getting closer and closer! Nearer and nearer! By our own strength, our own understanding, we can’t! All the wishful thinking, all the good intentions in the world, get us nowhere! Even if Jesus picks us up and carries us, we’re still going in the wrong direction.

The only way – the ONLY way – we get closer to god is when god comes closer to us! Let me repeat that. The only way – the ONLY way – we get closer to god is when god comes closer to us! And that, my friends, is of what these fronds are a sign! It isn’t the ones-who-go who are blessed! It’s the king! The king-who-comes!

Midland Lutheran Church