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Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion           Philippians 2:5-11             March 25,2018
 
The story goes that Sir Isaac Newton, the great scientist and mathematician, had a dog that he loved very much. Wherever Newton went, the dog went with him. The story is, one time he had worked for months and months on a theory about the nature of the universe, working late into the night by candlelight, his worktable covered with papers, which were in turn covered with formulas and theorems and conclusions.
 
Late one night, Newton got up from the table to leave the room and the dog jumped up and bumped the table, turning over the candle, which set Newton’s papers on fire. Newton returned to the room to find years of work gone up in flames.  He put out the fire, then sat on the floor and wept. The dog nuzzled up to him and licked his face and Newton hugged his dog and said, “You will never, ever know what you have done.” (Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Other Gods, p. 36)
 
The story is that when Eve took the fruit from the tree and when Adam took the fruit from Eve; things fell apart. And God looked at Adam and Eve with great sadness and said, “You will never ever know what you have done.” What began in Adam and Eve continues in us. Each of us plays out our own, personal little Garden of Eden in which we discover our capacity for doing things that tear God’s creation apart.
 
Back when I was young and knew everything and had not had either the time or inventiveness to really mess things up in life, I didn’t worry too much about the sinfulness of humanity in general and my own sinfulness in particular. But I’m older now and I don’t even like to think about the ways that I have been less than I meant or hoped to be. I have not just failed to do good, I have on occasion done bad; and knew I was doing bad when I did it, and I did it anyway. And I don’t know why. And I have no excuse other than the fact that I am human and as such we are prone to do stupid, selfish, careless, and hurtful things—often without remorse or even awareness.
 
In regards to my own bad behavior, I don’t blame anyone or anything else; not my mother or my father or my environment or anything else. It was just me and my life and an occasional fit of sorriness. And I’m sorry. And I have a deep, deep need for a voice from outside myself who will neither condone my misdeeds nor condemn me for them. Maybe you do too? If so, we meet that voice, that God, in the one “who did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,” (Phil. 2:6) but rather “emptied himself,” and come to be one of us, to live with us, to die with us and for us on the cross.
 
I am aware of a woman, who is something of a packrat; I’ll call her Mildred. Mildred has never, ever really thrown anything away. When family members complained to her about this, she would say, “You just never know when you might need it.” When family members protested that you had to be able to find “it” in order to use “it” when you needed “it,” fell on deaf ears. She was confident that she knew where all her “its” were. And I think she did.
 
If you were to ask her about a bill or a letter or a magazine and she would say something like, “It’s in the back bedroom, in the left hand corner of the closet, third shoebox from the bottom, in a plastic bag.” And she’d be right.
 
God is, I think, a bit like Mildred. God shares her passion for saving everything and her awareness of everything she has saved. God doesn’t do the expected and normal thing and condemn useless and unholy trash to Gehenna, the fiery garbage heap outside the walls of Jerusalem.
 
Instead, where others may see worthlessness, God sees something worth saving,
something worth hanging on to, something worth taking a risk for, something worth making a great effort for, something worth dying for. And God knows where all that saved stuff is. God cares about that which God has saved. And it is God’s will that it all be saved, because God made it all, and God loves it all, no matter what it has done.
 
The Good News for us today, this Palm Sunday, this Sunday of the Passion, is that it is because of our great need and God’s great sorrow and anguish over our great need that Christ came into the world.
 
As our reading from Philippians points out how Jesus “. . . emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness, and being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death – even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2: 7-8)
 
And so, the great question is not whether or not God loves us and cares about us – that question has been answered once and for all by Christ upon the cross. The question is; are we being obedient to our call to take up our cross and follow? In other words, has it made any difference in our lives? As I read the paper each morning I sometimes wonder. As I consider the sentiments shared on social media, I wonder. As I consider my own activity or more importantly, my inactivity and lack of response to the hurts of this world, I have to wonder.
 
I read recently that the Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville was for a long time the home of the Grand Ole Opry. It was originally a church, built as a preaching place for a famous evangelist named Sam Jones. The story is that Jones was holding what the holiness folks called a “quitting meeting,” during which people confessed their sins and swore off drinking, and smoking and cussing and running around with people they weren’t married to and such like misbehavior. The meeting had reached an emotional high point when Jones called on one ultra-righteous woman in the congregation and asked her what she was going to quit. She said, “I ain’t been doing nothing, and I’m going to quit that too.”
 
As a lifelong Lutheran I learned long ago in Sunday school and confirmation that there is nothing we can do to make God love us, nothing we have to do to earn our salvation. The problem is, some of us learned that lesson too well and we do nothing in response to God’s love for us.
 
This morning God calls upon us today to “quit doing nothing,” in response to the Gospel.
We are called to give ourselves for others as Jesus gave himself for us.
We are called to care about the hurts and pains of others as Jesus cared about our hurts and pains.
We are called to care for the sick and dying –regardless of whether they have insurance or not.
We are called to visit those who are imprisoned, both figuratively and literally.
We are called to feed the hungry and to offer cups of cold refreshing water to those who thirst.
Here too the reference in both figuratively and literally.
We are to assist those who are homeless, exiled, marginalized and all who have been cast off by others. The bottom line is this--we are called to live lives of obedience to Jesus’ call.
 
As we enter into this holiest of weeks, trust the good news that God loves you and God invites you to be the person you were created to be by following Jesus into the world with hope in your heart, with acts of love in your hands and with words of grace and promise on your lips. Amen.
 

Pastor Stephen Blenkush


Zion Lutheran Church
Milaca MN 56353
ZionMilaca.org

Love like Jesus!


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