Lent’s Welcome to Jerusalem

given on March 13, 2011, the first Sunday of Lent

This is the first sermon in a series “Walk a Mile in His Shoes:  A Lenten faith journey through Jesus’ 3.5 year ministry.

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Welcome to Jerusalem


Sunshine, warmer temperatures, basketball tournaments and a looming St. Patrick’s Day all add up to Spring Break.  Our journey to the Holy Land to walk where Jesus walks begins today.  We spent a week getting ready, but now it is time to start experiencing what Jesus’ life was like during the years of his ministry.

The view from the ridge above Jerusalem lets us see what the temple looks like today, but look a little closer.  The archeological sites of the first and the second temple of Jerusalem are right there between the road the wall around the Temple Mount.  The first one seems so small buried down there right up against the wall just to the right of center.  The second temple is to the left, up against the wall.  The perimeters of all three temples are evident, the basic structure is very similar, but the years have certainly changed the look of the region.  This is no longer a rural area, it is a modern metropolitan area.

Yet, Jerusalem is where Jesus began his ministry in a very public manner.  He lost his temper.  On Ash Wednesday, we discussed how Jesus went to a wedding and his mother asked him to fix a problem:  the host had run out of wine for the festivities.  Even though he did not want to reveal his powers yet, he did turn the huge vats of water into wine, fine wine, protecting the family from shame within the community.

Today, we have heard that Jesus walked into the temple when he arrived for Passover in Jerusalem.  He was so angry that he turned over the tables and scattered the coins all of there place.  He started a stampede of the animals there to be sold for sacrifice.  He started raging at the loan sharks.  Remember the verses in John 2?

He told the dove merchants, “Get your things out of here!  Stop turning my Father’s house into a shopping mall!” (v. 16)

Looking at the temple’s ruins, I can picture the scene so clearly.  I certainly am not surprised that the Jews were upset.  The Jewish people were proud of the temple, they lived the traditions of their faith for thousands of years, and Passover was a time of festivities.

One can imagine how Jesus felt as he left the temple.  Probably he was angry, but he was also exhausted.  You know how it is when you lose your temper and you walk away.  You are physically drained.  You certainly do not feel elated about the outcome.  You may even begin second-guessing what you did.  Jesus did know what he did.  He also knew he could not trust those at the temple.  The scripture John 2:24-25 states:

“He (Jesus) knew them inside and out, knew how untrustworthy they were.  He didn’t need any help in seeing right through them.”

Leaving the temple, Jesus walked the unpaved path, which is now paved.  He resumed his ministry but before he left Jerusalem a Pharisee, a prominent leader among the Jews, visited him late one night.  He came to understand who Jesus was and what he was preaching.

As I read through the timeline and saw the name Nicodemus, I could not remember his story and I was surprised to learn that this was one of the earliest conversations that Jesus had with one of the Pharisees.  I began reading, and as I read the Message version of the visit I found some answers.  My faith journey took a side trip that has provided me with almost a video image of that visit.

Nicodemus knew what was going on in the community, he had an idea who Jesus was, and he knew the prophecies which had long promised of a Messiah.  The first question listed in John 3 shows the curiosity Nicodemus had, his eagerness to understand:

“Rabbi, we all know you’re a teacher straight from God.  No one could do all the God-pointing, God-revealing acts you do if God weren’t in on it.”

Notice that Nicodemus addresses Jesus as Rabbi.  He also confirms that he knows Jesus has actively begun his ministry.  He just needed some clarity, he had questions for Jesus, and he knew it was dangerous to meet Jesus publically.

In the darkness, Nicodemus sought understanding.  Nicodemus was intentionally growing his own faith just as we are trying to do with this Lenten season, walking a mile in Jesus’ shoes.  And Nicodemus was given answers which caused him to stay close to Jesus’, even helping Joseph take him off the cross and place him in the tomb.

Reading through the conversation is not necessarily easy.  I can envision the midnight conversation.  The drive to understand kept Nicodemus engaged, but Jesus’ answers were like riddles.  The answers, though, are clearer to us today thanks to the hundreds of years that language authorities had worked to translate them, for the many theologians who have explained the significance of the answers.

Yet, as I stopped to read through the verses in the Message I found answers, too.  My faith journey definitely is building understanding.  The problem, though, is that we are on Spring Break.  We have only a few days, so to speak, to cover the three and a half years of Jesus’ ministry.  Our return date is only four weeks or so away.  We have to be home by Palm Sunday.

Still, stop and look at that one question that is asked over and over, generation after generation.  Nicodemus said, “What are you saying with this ‘born-from-above’ talk?  Jesus’ answer no longer seems a riddle:

“You’re not listening.  Let me say it again.  Unless a person submits to this original creation—the ‘wind-hovering-over-the-water’ creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life—it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom.  When you look at a baby, it’s just that:  a body you can look at and touch.  But the person who takes shape within is formed by something you can’t see and touch—the Spirit—and becomes a living spirit.

“So don’t be so surprised when I tell you that you have to be ‘born from above’—out of this world, so to speak.   You know well enough how the wind blows this way and that.  You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next.  That’s the way it is with everyone ‘born from above’ by the wind of God, the Spirit of God.”

Oh my, I can see that we are running out of time at this stop.  The journey must continue, but I know we are going to return to study Nicodemus’s late night visit with Jesus.  Looking at the scripture, I can see that this was one of the earliest encounters that Jesus had with a member of the Pharisees, but the after leaving Jerusalem Jesus walked out of town and into the countryside.  He and his disciples were along the Jordan River and baptizing new disciples.

Interestingly the Jewish leaders started noticing that John the Baptist was still baptizing new believers and now Jesus and his disciples were, too.  I can imagine these guys, standing right there up a bit from the crowd, counting the new converts.  The news spread like wildfire, and this caused some competition between the two sets of disciples.  I expect the Jewish leaders were glad to see a problem developing because they were trying to discount the effect of Jesus’ ministry.  But Jesus was able to explain that there should be no discord between the two camps by telling how the best man can . . .

“.  . . genuinely (be) happy.  How could he be jealous (of the bridegroom) when he knows that the wedding is finished and the marriage is off to a good start?  (v. 28-29)

And with that, Jesus continues his journey.  They pass through Samaria and get to a Samaritan village called Sychar.  Worn out, they stop beside a well built by Jacob many years before—remember how Joseph was thrown into a well, the well.  This time Jesus meets a woman there and starts talking to her while waiting for the disciples to get back.

The well, in my mind based on the archeological ruins I see, is a huge hole dug out of the clay-colored ground.  The hand-made bricks of the same dirt form a small frame above the hole.  Getting a drink from this was no easy task and tired as he was, he still visited with the Samaritan woman—a major faux paw in the Jewish community.

This conversation, though, becomes one of the most told stories of how to love one another despite historical, cultural, social, or physical boundaries.  This stop on the journey is one that provides us clear insight into the depth of love God expects.  Jesus concluded his chat with her saying:

“. . . But the time is coming—it has, in fact, come—when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter.

“It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God.  Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth.  That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for:  those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. . . . “ (v. 22-24)

The more I travel through these verses and experience the conversations, the more I feel the excitement of the journey.  I love to travel.  The pictures and the words may be more modern, but the sense of understanding develops.

The journey through Christ’s world and his ministry seems so full of promise.  I can’t wait to see where we will go on the next stop.  I did look ahead a little bit, and I am wondering how we are going to see everything.

Still, traveling is fun.  There is so much to see and so much to learn.  This may be our first journey, but we certainly will return.  This week, go back over the travel notes—the scriptures.  Read them.  Reflect on them.  Look at it all carefully and talk about it with others.

Dear All-knowing God,

Just as the Samaritan woman said, “(You) know us inside and out.”  We are taking this journey so we, too, can know you better.  We may not ever know you as well as you know us, but we want to learn.  Keep us safe during these days of our journey.  Guide us along the paths.  Open our hearts and minds to the lessons Jesus taught us.  Let us accept the challenges in this journey, and let us have a little fun along the way.  Help us to recognize the wind of God, the Spirit of God, so we can guide others along their journeys, too.            –Amen

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