Trinity United Methodist Church
Monday, April 23, 2018
You are the LIGHT of the WORLD

Sermons

For anyone who has missed church on Sunday, following are the most recent Sermons from Pastor Jay Sterling.
April 15, 2018

You Are Witnesses                                                    [Luke 24:36-48] 
          36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.
38 He said to them, "Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.
41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence. 44 Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you--that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled."
45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.”

Luke was writing to a predominantly Gentile audience and Luke himself was probably the only Gentile author in the Bible. For his Gentile audience, resurrection was not exactly believable. Not because they believed it was impossible for a body to come back to life but because the idea was ridiculous and made no sense.

If Luke was writing for a fairly educated audience, the common teaching of that time was that there were two worlds—and this all came from the philosopher Plato: there was a perfect world in the universe of ideas off in the heavens someplace, a perfect world ruled by a perfect god; and then there was a material world, an imperfect world, THIS world. This world was created by a being they called the demiurge, a semi-divine being that was slightly less than god and less perfect than god. This being created this imperfect world which was an imperfect image of the perfect, ideal world.

Just to give an example, we have a number of pews here in our sanctuary. In Plato’s thought, in the perfect world, the spiritual world, there was a perfect idea of a pew—THE perfect pew. Maybe the angle of the seat-back was just right or it was all comfortably padded or maybe it even reclined and had a footrest that popped up! It was PERFECT pew! But all the pews in this imperfect world, no matter where you might go, whatever church you might attend, all these pews were only imperfect copies of the PERFECT pew—and that’s all we will ever have, no matter how hard we might try to imitate the perfect pew. This was Greek philosophy from Plato.

Now where it breaks down a little bit is when we get to human beings. Everything else in this world is an imperfect copy of the ideals from the perfect world. As human beings, we have a divine spark in us, our immortal soul, but that soul is TRAPPED in a physical, material body. You know what bodies are like: bodies grow old, bodies have infirmities, bodies suffer illnesses, and bodies DIE! But in Plato’s thought, death was a GOOD thing because once the body died, the immortal soul was set free to follow the guidance of the divine spark to go from this imperfect material world to the perfect, perfect world in the heavens to be with god. You can see how that kind of thought eventually crept into the church on little Greek bishops’ feet in the early years of the church! But it isn’t biblical!

The problem the Gentiles had with resurrection was—now think about this because it actually makes some sense—if your immortal soul has been set free from the prison of a mortal body in this imperfect world to go up to the perfect world, who in their right mind would come back here? Who would want to have their immortal soul come back into a material body and return to this imperfect world? It was ridiculous. It made no sense! This was one of the hurdles the early Christians had in preaching the gospel of Jesus’ resurrection to Gentiles, particularly educated Gentiles. This is why Paul often talks about Jesus’ death and resurrection as being a scandal to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks! It WAS a foolish thought: once you have escaped, you don’t come back! Someone who escapes from prison doesn’t come walking back through the main gates!

Now the Gentiles could understand the idea of a great moral, theological, or philosophical teacher dying for his beliefs. Plato’s own teacher Socrates, if you know the story, was accused and found guilty of treason by an Athenian court and was forced to drink poison Hemlock and died. There is nowhere in Plato’s writing, nowhere in Greek philosophical thought, that three days later Socrates coughed up the poison and strolled out of his tomb! It doesn’t happen! So this idea of resurrection made no sense to some of the readers of Luke’s Gospel.

Luke couches his story we read this morning very carefully for his Gentile audience. All those little details of the story are there for their ears to hear. Ghosts were not uncommon in folklore, both Jewish and Gentile folklore. The idea of a ghost appearing—how many times in the gospels do we have the disciples thinking when Jesus appeared, like walking on the water, “It is a GHOST!”—was a common thought in that day. Gentiles could have understood a ghost, an immortal soul that kind of lost its way, was lacking a GPS system to get it to the perfect world and got stuck here for a little while. But then Jesus does something that ghosts don’t do: he eats a piece of fish. No, this is Jesus alive in the FLESH, in a body again.

Greek mythology allowed for the gods to take on human form temporarily for certain events and instances. So maybe Jesus is God or a god who took on human form only temporarily but really wasn’t fully in the flesh. But Luke says that Jesus showed them his hands and his feet with the nail prints still there and fresh. Gods don’t have SCARS when they take on human form. Gods, when they take on human form, usually take on perfect human form, not a form that has been brutally executed!

Luke had to make perfectly clear to his readers that this good news is good news of resurrection and what it means for our whole world and all of creation. You see, folks, so much of that Greek philosophy has crept into even what the church teaches that we tend to think that this life is only temporary and that when this mortal life ends, our immortal souls fly off someplace. It sounds good! If you are rich, powerful, and successful, it has that nice little reminder not to get too proud of yourself, to keep humble, because you can’t take it with you and life is temporary. Likewise, if you were born to misfortune and are poor, struggling, or suffering, don’t worry about it, life is short and when it is over, you fly off to the perfect world. That is not exactly biblical—but it’s good Platonic philosophy!

God’s goal, God’s purpose, is not to rescue a few souls for heaven. What resurrection is all about—don’t miss this—why God sent Jesus Christ, sent him to the cross, and raised him from the dead, is to redeem THIS world, THIS imperfect world, THIS material world. All those things that the Greek philosophers said are wrong with this world, God says, “I’m going to fix,” and it begins with Jesus’ resurrection—in the flesh, in a body, in a body like ours with scars that eats fish! God’s Kingdom has been inaugurated in that moment of resurrection.

When Jesus called his disciples to be witnesses to these things, he was giving them and us an incredible, powerful, world-shaking, world-changing story to tell. It’s NOT just a story of God rescuing some immortal souls so we can go to heaven when we die! Now, there is some comfort in that idea but think of heaven as God’s waiting room. We go there and read some old magazines until the day that Jesus returns in bodily form to bring in the fullness of God’s Kingdom and heaven and earth are reunited, when all the brokenness of this world is healed, when all the dead are raised up again into new and eternal BODIES—resurrected, alive, and living life the way God always intended God’s creation to be.

THAT’s how radical the message of the Gospel is! That’s why as witnesses we challenge the brokenness in THIS world. We are NOT to escape it but to work together on FIXING it! We are to work on witnessing the reality of God’s Kingdom against the brokenness of this world. That’s why Jesus calls us to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love our neighbors—and there a ABSOLUTELY, CATEGORICALLY NO RESTRICTION ON WHAT NEIGHBOR MEANS! It means that if you are a Democrat, you have to love Republicans! If you are a Republican, you have to love Democrats! There is no choice here, if you are a Christian! If you are an American, you have to love the Russians and the North Koreans! You have to love your enemies as much as your friends as much as your family.

That’s the witness we offer the world because of Christ’s resurrection! Anything less than that and we are turning great good news into: eh, alright news; eh, a religion; eh, just go to church and continue life the way it is—no big deal—and when your heart stops beating, you go off to read some old magazines! God has SO MUCH more for us than that! So much more purpose for our lives; so much more for our church in witness to our community and our world. So much more than just sitting around twiddling our thumbs until God calls us home.

 

Believe in Jesus’ resurrection but—even more importantly—LIVE the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection. Live the witness of what that means in your life, among your family, here in this church, and especially in this community. YOU ARE HIS WITNESSES! Amen.

 
April 1, 2018
 

A New World                                        [Mark 16: 1-8]                                       April 1, 2018

1 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.  2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.  3 They had been saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?"  4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back.  5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.  6 But he said to them, "Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.  7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you."  8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.

 

This particular gospel account in Mark’s gospel is the shortest of the resurrection stories.  It is curious in that there is a missing character in this story:  Jesus never appears in Mark’s account.  I know there are additional verses to Mark 16 but most biblical scholars believe that this is how Mark ended his gospel—with these 8 verses of chapter 16.  It sounds like an incomplete story.  The women got up early, early, early on Sunday morning and they gathered together the spices to finish the burial preparations for Jesus’ body.   Jesus had to be buried quickly on Friday as the sun was setting and the Sabbath, the Passover Sabbath, was about to begin so the women were not about to complete the preparations for Jesus burial.  Of course, they couldn’t do anything on Saturday because that was the Sabbath.  They weren’t allowed to do anything that passed for work on the Sabbath, including preparing a body for burial.  So here they were, bright and early on Sunday morning just as dawn was breaking, making their journey out to the tomb. 

You can imagine the sorrow which was weighing upon them as they made that journey.  As they came near to the tomb, they began to wonder how they would access the tomb as the mouth of the tomb was covered and sealed with a big round stone.  But as they arrived, they saw that the stone had already been rolled away.  The tomb was open—which didn’t exactly give them a whole lot of reassurance!  But when they looked into the tomb, they saw this person in a white robe, sitting where Jesus’ body had been.  This angel gave them a message:  “Do not be afraid!  You are looking for Jesus who was buried here.  He is risen!  God has raised him from the dead!  Go and tell his disciples that Jesus will meet them again in Galilee.”

Now, I don’t know how you might react to a message like that.  Imagine going out to a cemetery to visit the grave of a loved one and instead meet up with an angel who tells you, “Hey, everything is alright!  It’s good!  God is in charge!  God is raising the dead to new and eternal life!  And it begins with Jesus!”

The story ends with these women, leaving the tomb, still terrified, afraid to say anything to anybody—and Mark ends the story there!  An empty tomb, an angelic message, and the witness of the women—who aren’t spreading the word to anybody.  Why would Mark end his story there?  I think there is an answer!

Mark’s gospel was almost certainly the first one of the four to be written.  According to most of the biblical scholars, it was probably written between 65 and 70 AD—about 40 years after the events it describes.  I would like to date it more specifically to 69 AD.  I have no basis for this dating—other than the argument I am about to make here.

Mark was in Rome and writing for the Christians in Rome, many of whom had come out of Judaism and were now Jewish Christians.  And he was writing in very turbulent times!  Mark had been Peter’s co-worker and was probably telling Peter’s story in his gospel.

Back in Palestine, as Mark was writing his gospel account of Jesus, the Jewish people had rebelled against Rome.  They had launched the revolt believing God would intervene; God would bring in his kingdom; and God would finally get rid of the Romans from Palestine.  All of Palestine was in an uproar but the situation was getting worse.  Already, a Roman army under the command of a great general named Vespasian had reconquered Galilee and most of Judea.  They were now besieging Jerusalem itself.  The faithful still believed God would intervene in the midst of all of this turmoil, war, and unrest.  Word had gotten back to the Christians, particularly the Jewish Christians, in Rome about what was happening in Palestine.

If that isn’t enough turbulence for you, let me add something else:  in the mid-60s in Rome there had been a little fire!  Maybe you heard about this in the history books.  Much of Rome had burned to the ground, possibly at the initiation of Nero the emperor who wanted to rebuild the city in his image so he practiced his own form of “urban renewal” using fire instead of bulldozers.  As Nero began rebuilding the city, he blamed the fire on the Christians.  This wasn’t an empire-wide persecution.  It was limited to the Christians in the city of Rome itself.  There are some horrible stories of how Nero dunked Christians in pitch and lit them on fire to light his garden at night.  This was part of the experience Mark had witnessed in Rome!  During that time, also, Peter and Paul were executed by Rome in Rome.  Two of the great leaders of the early church were put to death 4 to 5 years before Mark wrote his gospel.

Is that enough turbulence for you?  I have something else!  In this same time frame, 68 and 69 AD, the Roman aristocrats finally got fed up with Nero and decided they would overthrow him as emperor.  Nero caught wind of their plot and tried to escape.  He got out of the city and toward the coast when the posse from the aristocrats caught up with him.  To keep from being taken alive, he asked one of his servants to kill him.  So Nero died.  One of the aristocrats proclaimed himself emperor—and a short time later was assassinated.  Another aristocrat proclaimed HIMself emperor but the other aristocrats didn’t care for him either.  They sent word to Vespasian besieging Jerusalem, asking him to come back to Rome and take the throne as emperor.  Vespasian left his army under the command of his son, Titus, and returned to Rome to be crowned emperor.  That’s four emperors in ONE year!  It’s called the Year of the Four Emperors in history. 

Can you imagine if our country went through four presidents in one year, what that would do to our confidence and undermine our faith in our government?  That’s what Rome was experiencing and Mark was writing his gospel right in the middle of it all!

The next year Titus would succeed in capturing Jerusalem.  One of the first things he did was to ransack the Temple and take all of the religious items treasured by the Jewish people.  He claimed them as spoils of war and there is an arch in Rome that has a carving of Titus and his troops returning to Rome in triumph carrying these items.  It’s called the Arch of Titus and I’ve seen it!  The Temple would be destroyed completely and it hasn’t been rebuilt since.  Jerusalem was leveled at the same time.

Mark was writing his gospel when the world he knew was coming apart at its seams.  Palestine and Jerusalem were on the verge of complete destruction.  The Jewish people would be dispersed and reduced to slavery.  Rome was in the midst of the Year of the Four Emperors with assassinations and killings.  The church was under some threat of persecution having lost two of its great leaders.  ALL of this was going on while Mark was writing his gospel and if you read his gospel carefully, he’s not talking about turbulence.  He’s writing about the coming of God’s Kingdom into the midst of this unsettled world! 

Mark writes the story of how God’s Kingdom power was at work through Jesus to heal the sick, to cast out demons, to raise the dead, to still the storms, and to feed the multitudes with food only heaven could have provided.  Little by little, step by step, not in one big sudden mass, God’s Kingdom was being infused into the world, slowly and gradually by Jesus.

When we get to his story of the resurrection, Mark leaves it open-ended because, certainly in Mark’s mind, he expected Jesus to return soon to complete the job, to bring in God’s Kingdom in its fullness.  I’m sure he never expected us to be here almost 2,000 years later talking about what he had written, talking with our hopes still fixed on the Jesus who died to bring healing to this broken world, the Jesus who has been raised to restore life in the face of death.  But this is Mark’s story:  to leave it open-ended because in the midst of the turbulence and confusion of our lives, Jesus IS RISEN!  Jesus IS ALIVE!  And Jesus IS WITH US!

In the face of all the deaths we suffer, whether it’s the physical deaths of our loved ones, or the deaths and griefs we experience as our lives take a sudden and unexpected change in course; the deaths we experience when our families may not quite work out the way we had hoped.  JESUS IS RISEN!  Jesus is alive!  Jesus is with us!

When we look at the turbulence in our society and in our world, when people just can’t seem to get along anymore, when we get so locked up in our own opinions and thoughts that we can’t even have a civil conversation with someone else who is so locked up in his or her own opinions and thoughts, when we are divided politically, racially, by class, by division, division, division, JESUS IS RISEN!  Jesus is alive!  Jesus is here with us to raise us up, to heal us, to make us whole!

Yeah, that’s a scary message to share these days—not because the world needs to hear it but because we are afraid that the world WON’T hear it, will reject it, and reject us.  Mark may not record it but we know that those women DID eventually that day go and tell the disciples.  We know that soon after, they all saw Jesus for themselves, risen, alive, and with them.

So, folks, I can stand here with all confidence and tell you that whatever challenges life may be dealing you, whatever fears, whatever concerns, whatever brokenness you may be dealing with in your life.  THIS resurrection is for you!  Jesus is alive for YOU!  Jesus is risen today for YOU!  And Jesus will be with you always.  He will never desert you.

That’s the rest of Mark’s story.  That’s our story.  That is what Resurrection Sunday is all about!  We are welcomed into a whole new world!  The old world is dead and buried.  The new world of God’s Kingdom is even now growing amongst us, throughout our world, slowly, steadily, and surely because Jesus IS here!  Amen.

 

March 25, 2018
 

Nothing                                                 [Mark 11:1-11]                                      March 25, 2018

1 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, "Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it.  3 If anyone says to you, 'Why are you doing this?' just say this, 'The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.'"

4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, "What are you doing, untying the colt?"  6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it.

7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it.  8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields.  9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, "Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!"

11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

 

My message this morning is about expectations that come to nothing.  I want to begin by telling a little story.  It’s a story that happened 39 years ago around this time, give or take a week or two.  I was a junior at the University of Pennsylvania.  That year the University of Pennsylvania’s basketball team made the NCAA tournament.  The campus was a little excited about the upcoming games—but not too much because the Ivy League champion has a guaranteed seed but is usually out in the first round.  Our teams just weren’t that good by comparison.

That year, Penn played Iona University in the first round—and won!  This was the old format where, instead of 64 teams, there were only 48 teams in the tournament.  Each region had 12 teams and the top 4 teams had a first-round bye so there weren’t any big upsets in the first round like there are in today’s tournament.

Penn had won their first-round game so that meant they got to play the top seeded University of North Carolina Tar Heels, with Dean Smith as their legendary coach.  And the game was going to be played in Charlotte, North Carolina!  Talk about home field advantage.  Sunday afternoon rolled around and Penn was playing the first game against North Carolina.  The second game in Charlotte featured another relative small school, St. John’s University, and they got to play Duke.  We all believed that the seedings had been set up in that region to guarantee a final game between Duke and North Carolina to see who got to go to the Final Four.

On this particular Sunday afternoon Penn played North Carolina.  They played their hearts out.  And when the game was over, Penn had DEFEATED the mighty North Carolina Tar Heels.  You can imagine that the campus got a little more focused on the Penn basketball team!  Following that upset, you would think that the Duke players, warming up, would be aware to guard against their own possible upset.  St. John’s beat Duke.  In North Carolina, they still call that day “Black Sunday.”

We had almost a week to prepare for the next round, the Sweet Sixteen.  Penn had another tough challenge to face.  They were playing the Syracuse University Orangemen and they had a 7-foot tall center named Roosevelt Bouie—and Penn did not have anyone that tall!  We kept our excitement under some control because we had already had our big upset so we were hedging our bets against Syracuse.  We would be alright if we lost.

Penn beat Syracuse!  Not only that but St. John’s won their Sweet Sixteen game also.  So to play for the Final Four Penn played St. John’s and WON!  Penn was going to the Final Four!  The mighty Penn QUAKERS?—there’s a name that really intimidated the opposition!  We had a whole week to prepare for that next big game.  There were pep rallies on campus.  Everyone was excited and wearing our red and blue school colors.  B.F. Goodrich tire company even made up red and blue striped ties for the basketball team.  On the blue stripes was written in small white letters, “We’re the other guys.”  People were still mistaking Penn for Penn State.  Penn State has never been to the Final Four.  Penn has!

We were all excited!  The campus was all agog with the idea that Penn could actually WIN this this thing!  And we were all stocking up with chips, dips, and beverages ready to watch 40 minutes of exciting basketball!

Now I need to tell you about the other three teams in the Final Four that year.  One was from DePaul University, from near Chicago, and they had a great player named Mark Aguirre who played in the NBA for several years.  Penn didn’t get to play DePaul.  One of the other teams was a team that rarely got much attention for their basketball program.  They were from Indiana—but not the great Indiana University coached by the legendary Bobby Knight—but Indiana STATE University.  They had this blonde-haired kid from French Lick, Indiana who had caught the media’s attention because he could shoot the lights out.  You might have heard of him:  his name was Larry Bird.  We didn’t get to play Indiana State either.  The last team in the Final Four were the Michigan State Spartans—Big 10!  And they had a guy on their team you might have heard of:  his name was Earvin Johnson.  Even then he had the nickname “Magic” because of what he could do with a basketball! 

The tip off between Penn and Michigan State came—and five minutes later the game was as good as over.  All that happened during that game was:  Magic Johnson tosses the ball to Greg Kelser—another outstanding Michigan State player—who slam-dunks!  Magic Johnson brings the ball down, takes the shot, and SWISH!  Magic Johnson steals the ball from one of the Penn players, goes down the court, and lays it in!  In five minutes the game was over.  The score was running up fast for Michigan State while Penn was hardly scoring anything.  To top it all off, Penn’s best player, Tony Price, had 3 fouls on him before the first-half was half over and spent the rest of the half on the bench.  At the start of the second half, he quickly picked up his fourth foul.  So our best player spent much of the game watching it instead of playing.  When the game was actually over—and some of us stuck it out and watched the whole 40 minutes of the disaster—Penn had lost by 40 points.  Michigan State scored over 100 and Penn just over 60.

If you want to talk about expectations that came to nothing, that’s what happened to us as we watched that game in March of 1979.  We had built up our hopes, our dreams, our expectations SO HIGH that we believed upset could lead to upset all the way to an NCAA championship.  But instead, Penn lost one of the most lop-sided Final Four games in the history of the tournament.  That’s the way life is sometimes.

That’s also why I like this passage from Mark’s gospel describing Palm Sunday.  The other gospels don’t approach the story the same way but I believe Mark has it right.  Imagine you are one of those people in Jerusalem on that day.  For generations, your people have been waiting for Messiah to come, hoping that, on that day, Messiah will call down God’s angels and set your people free from foreign oppressive rule—in this case the Romans.  Here on this great day, leading into one of the holiest weeks in Judaism, Passover, here comes Jesus riding into the city surrounded by his followers.  They are shouting, “Hosanna!  Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna to the kingdom of our father David!  Hosanna to the Son of David!”  Now, Son of David was about as messianic as you could get in terms of titles.

The crowd began to gather from among the people of Jerusalem.  THIS is IT!  The BIG day!  They came out and lined the road leading into the city; they lined the road leading up to the Temple; they started throwing down their outer garments to cushion the ride for Jesus on the donkey; they threw down palm branches and waved palm branches as the excitement continued to build and build and build! 

Surely, when Jesus arrived at the Temple, he would climb the steps and there proclaim, “The Kingdom of God has come!”  And everything would break loose!  The Romans would be run out of the city and run out of Palestine.  God’s people would be restored to their rightful place.  The Temple would be the center of the world as the nations came to worship God there while Messiah Jesus ruled over all!

Imagine what it must have felt like to be among that crowd, watching this all take place, even joining your voice to the cheers of Jesus’ disciples and followers!   Jesus went to the Temple, went up the stairs, and, as Mark puts it, “eh, he looked around and, as it was getting late, turned to his disciples and said, ‘Let’s go, guys, back out to Bethany.’” 

WHAT?!  REALLY!  NOTHING else?  Where is the Kingdom?  Why are we still stuck with the Romans?  What has gone WRONG?  That’s what Palm Sunday is all about!  Those expectations of the people coming to NOTHING because God had a bigger and better plan that the people could not understand!

Folks, it’s no different for us.  It’s so easy for us to get caught up in our expectations.  Sometimes they are expectations we have imported from the world.  We EXPECT to be powerful people in control of our lives.  We EXPECT to be—well, maybe not rich but—comfortable!  We EXPECT to be respected for our piety, our faithfulness.

But God has a different set of expectations.  You see, for God, power is NOT measured by how many votes you can get or by how many missiles or nuclear warheads you have.  Power is not measured by the size of the army, the size of the nation, or the size of the population.  Power is measured by the amount of LOVE we have for God and for each other and for all of our neighbors.  That’s God’s expectation for us.

Success and wealth are not measured by how much we have but by how much we are willing to give away.  To give where we see others in need as a show of our love.  To give as volunteers wherever we can help somebody else out.  To give out of our talents, our abilities, our spiritual gifts to expand the message of Jesus’ Kingdom.

And piety isn’t the measure of our faith.  Our faith is measured by our willingness to seek out, to love, and to win the hearts of the lost.

One of the dangerous expectations that has taken over much of the church in this country is what I like to call the “Field of Dreams” expectation.  If you know the movie, this is the “If you build it, they will come.”  We have built so many church buildings in this country.  We have churches everywhere; churches on almost every street corner; big mega churches out in the fields around our cities.  Churches, churches, churches!  All so the lost can come!  But if they are lost, how will they ever find their way?

God’s expectation is for us to partner with Jesus to FIND the lost.  Not to wait for the lost to come to US but to go out and find the lost where THEY are, in whatever situation they find themselves, so we can show the power of love and the wealth of what God has given us to help them and lead them homeward—to grow God’s Kingdom according to God’s plan and not according to the expectations of the crowd on Palm Sunday.

If your expectations are shaped by the world, I will guarantee you they will come to nothing because “you can’t take it with you.”  If your expectations are shaped by just keeping the church operating as an institution, frankly, the world doesn’t need us.  But if your expectations are focused on growing the Kingdom of God with the love and compassion of Jesus Christ, WELCOME TO HOLY WEEK!  Amen.