Tag Archives: Palm Sunday

The Cross as the Tree of Jesus

Palm Sunday sermon, March 25, 2018.  This reflection is based on the middle panel of the Church f Resurrection’s stained glass window, Leawood, KS.  The scripture connections are found within the text of the reflection.

No doubt you have noticed that the trees around us are budding out and getting ready to leaf out. Not only did the rain this week knock off those buds onto our driveways, cars, and windows (thanks to the blowing wind), now just looking at the bare branches shows evidence of the green as in the willows and in the nodules of the blooms on the Bradford Pears. Add to the visual images, the allergies that hit whenever the leaves bud out.

The symbolism of the tree in its life cycle cannot be ignored as we enter spring and Holy Week. Trees become central in our lives as we move through the seasons.   Admittedly I could spend a great deal of time using trees as metaphors for life, for religion, for education. . . well the list grows.

As we began the year with the images of the Church of Resurrection’s stained glass window, we looked at the trees—the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the tree of the cross, and the tree of life. Today, let us return to the central tree in the window, The Cross.

The cross now universally symbolizes the story of Jesus. The images that surround the window’s cross have their own messages for us this Palm Sunday. These images summarize the entire purpose of Jesus’ ministry as listed in Matthew 4:23-25:

                  23 Jesus traveled throughout the region of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and announcing (other translations use preaching) the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. 24 News about him spread as far as Syria, and people soon began bringing to him all who were sick. And whatever their sickness or disease, or if they were demon possessed or epileptic or paralyzed—he healed them all. 25 Large crowds followed him wherever he went—people from Galilee, the Ten Towns, Jerusalem, from all over Judea, and from east of the Jordan River.


Three verbs share the purpose of Jesus’ three years in ministry:

  1. Teaching listeners how to understand God’s message of loving one another regardless of age or gender, of education or profession, of sins or not.
  2. Announcing/Preaching God’s message Jesus asked for commitment to follow him actively living God’s message.
  3. Healing those whose physical, mental and spiritual health was separating them from God so that they may be whole.

The Old Testament is filled with stories of how the Israelites struggled to remain faithful. They made mistakes, and God forgave them. They struggled to understand. They struggled to remain committed. They became separated from God in so many different ways, yet God never gave up on them as we learned in the story of Noah. And in Joseph, we learned how to live faithfully even when life hands you a lemon.

All those early stories were in the one book of Genesis. The Old Testament contains so much more to read and to understand. Throughout it all, though, God continues to believe in us. Those faithful to him prayed for understanding, for commitment, and for wholeness. And God heard the prayers deciding to step into human form and model the life he asked from us.

Born as the human son of Mary and Joseph, God as Jesus was raised in a Jewish home, nourished and taught to be all that he was to be. Not until Jesus was almost 30 years old, did he begin his ministry. The ministry is visually summarized in the stained glass window beginning with his birth, then his baptism and the calling of his disciples.

The message in the window is a summary God delivered as Jesus Christ. Let’s review the message:

  1. Jesus welcomes the children: Mark 9:33-37

         33 After they arrived at Capernaum and settled in a house, Jesus asked his disciples, “What were you discussing out on the road?” 34 But they didn’t answer, because they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve disciples over to him, and said, “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.”

         36 Then he put a little child among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me.”


The story of welcoming the children is found in three of the gospels, but not in John.   Including the story or the lesson shows the importance of what Jesus was teaching—God’s love is for everybody and no one is more important than anyone else.

The all-inclusive ministry applied to everybody. The ancient culture created all types of divisions among people such as separation of men and women even in the temple, the social system had freed men and slaves, and the divisions even included geographical labels as the story of the Woman at the Well, a Samaritan.

  1. Woman at the Well: John 4:1-14

Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food.

         9 The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?”

         10 Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.” . . .

         13 Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. 14 But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” . . .

Jesus was alone and the cultural standards are clear in the exchange at the well. When the disciples return and find Jesus talking with the Samaritan woman, a new lesson was given. God’s love and how we are to live with one another does not have any cultural boundary, no geographical boundary.

Maintaining a trusting, faithful relationship with God is possible for anyone, no exclusions. Such inclusion creates a society that supersedes any that humans might create that excludes others in any way.

The window includes another image that shows the enormity of God’s inclusive family. Forgiveness was a large part of the Old Testament stories and the story of the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet echoes that tenant of God’s message, also.

  1. Woman who anointed Jesus’ feet: Luke 7:47-50

         47 “I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” 48 Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.”

         49 The men at the table said among themselves, “Who is this man, that he goes around forgiving sins?”

         50 And Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Jesus modeled forgiveness. Are we able to do the same? Jesus used the different experiences in his life to teach the disciples how to live a God-centered life. He forgave this woman and then explained to the Pharisees and the disciples in the room that forgiveness is another way to love one another.

Certainly the stories captured in the stained glass have more to share about Jesus’ story. The images show how God loves us through the actions of Jesus. The stories explain how faithfulness and forgiveness work to heal those struggling to manage in a sinful world.        The final image before Jesus’ Last Supper is that of Zacchaeus in the tree. Zacchaeus was a tax collector and despised by the Jewish people because he collected taxes for the Roman government. Even though he was Jewish, he was shunned because of his job. The job was equated to corruption as the tax collectors often pocketed money for themselves.

But Zacchaeus was curious and wanted to know more about Jesus and his message. Jesus acknowledged Zacchaeus against the wishes of those around him, but Jesus’ compassion healed Zacchaeus. Jesus looked past the wrongs and saw the man who wanted God’s love:

  1. Zacchaues: Luke 19:9-10

         9 Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”

Regardless of our past, God loves us. He waits on us to ask for forgiveness. He waits on us to acknowledge his love for us.   Are we able to accept God’s grace? Are we able to follow in Jesus’ footsteps?

Today we remember how Jesus’ spent three years teaching, preaching and healing all those who came to hear God’s story. Jesus chose to enter into the city with all the pomp and circumstance of a long-awaited king. He knew the trials ahead that his human body would have to endure; but for just a little while, the celebration helped spread the message.

This week, as the rain falls, as the flowers pop open, as the trees continue to leaf out, and the world shakes off the winter, spend some time in prayer and reflection. Are you like one of the images in the window? Have you accepted God’s grace? Have you asked for forgiveness? Have you shared The Story so others, too, may experience God’s love?

Closing prayer

Dear loving, gracious Father,

What a joy it is to see Spring arrive!

What a story you have given us to share.

Let us see The Story in the window

And find ways to share it with others.

May we use this Holy Week

To hear Jesus’ story anew.

Guide us in checking our own faith.

As we look at the images of The Cross

Fill us with unconditional love

So we, too, may know the joy

Of living in full relationship with you,

Now and forever. –Amen

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Who is this?

given on Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017–6th Sunday in Lent 2017:  A season of mindfulness


Scripture connection:

Zechariah 9:9-10, NLT

Rejoice, O people of Zion!

Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem!

Look, your king is coming to you.

He is righteous and victorious,

yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—

riding on a donkey’s colt.

I will remove the battle chariots from Israel

and the warhorses from Jerusalem.

I will destroy all the weapons used in battle,

and your king will bring peace to the nations.

His realm will stretch from sea to sea

and from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth.


Matthew 21:1-11, NLT

As Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the town of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. “Go into the village over there,” he said. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a donkey tied there, with its colt beside it. Untie them and bring them to me.

If anyone asks what you are doing, just say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will immediately let you take them.”

   This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said,

“Tell the people of Jerusalem,

‘Look, your King is coming to you.

He is humble, riding on a donkey—

riding on a donkey’s colt.’”

The two disciples did as Jesus commanded. They brought the donkey and the colt to him and threw their garments over the colt, and he sat on it.

     Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting,

“Praise God for the Son of David!

Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Praise God in highest heaven!”

The entire city of Jerusalem was in an uproar as he entered. “Who is this?” they asked.

     And the crowds replied, “It’s Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”


Mark 11:1-11, NLT

     As Jesus and his disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. “Go into that village over there,” he told them. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a young donkey tied there that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks, ‘What are you doing?’ just say, ‘The Lord needs it and will return it soon.’”

     The two disciples left and found the colt standing in the street, tied outside the front door.  As they were untying it, some bystanders demanded, “What are you doing, untying that colt?”  They said what Jesus had told them to say, and they were permitted to take it.  Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their garments over it, and he sat on it.

     Many in the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others spread leafy branches they had cut in the fields. Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting,

“Praise God!

Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Blessings on the coming Kingdom of our ancestor David!

Praise God in highest heaven!”

     So Jesus came to Jerusalem and went into the Temple. After looking around carefully at everything, he left because it was late in the afternoon. Then he returned to Bethany with the twelve disciples.


Luke 19:28-40, NLT

     After telling this story, Jesus went on toward Jerusalem, walking ahead of his disciples. As he came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives, he sent two disciples ahead. “Go into that village over there,” he told them. “As you enter it, you will see a young donkey tied there that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks, ‘Why are you untying that colt?’ just say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

     So they went and found the colt, just as Jesus had said. And sure enough, as they were untying it, the owners asked them, “Why are you untying that colt?”

     And the disciples simply replied, “The Lord needs it.” So they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their garments over it for him to ride on.

     As he rode along, the crowds spread out their garments on the road ahead of him. When he reached the place where the road started down the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen.

“Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord!

Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!”

     But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!”

     He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”


John 12:12-19, NLT

     The next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city. A large crowd of Passover visitors took palm branches and went down the road to meet him. They shouted,

“Praise God!

Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Hail to the King of Israel!”

     Jesus found a young donkey and rode on it, fulfilling the prophecy that said:

“Don’t be afraid, people of Jerusalem.

Look, your King is coming,

riding on a donkey’s colt.”

     His disciples didn’t understand at the time that this was a fulfillment of prophecy. But after Jesus entered into his glory, they remembered what had happened and realized that these things had been written about him.

     Many in the crowd had seen Jesus call Lazarus from the tomb, raising him from the dead, and they were telling others about it.

     That was the reason so many went out to meet him—because they had heard about this miraculous sign. Then the Pharisees said to each other, “There’s nothing we can do. Look, everyone has gone after him!”


Weekly memory verse: Who is this? (Matthew 21:10, NLT)


Weekly challenge: Step outside and study a flower. Look at the buds and see the promise of the bloom. Look back at your life. See the promise and know how much God loves you.


Reflection: Who is this? How do you know?


Has not the rain and the sunshine transformed our world these past couple of weeks? Looking out the windows this morning is very different than just a week ago as the trees are leafing out, the lilacs are budding, and the spring flowers are opening up. The earth is celebrating new life.

Today is Palm Sunday, the last Sunday of Lent and the beginning of Holy Week. The celebration starting today darkens as the week relives the final days of Jesus. Thursday is the day for Jesus’ final supper with his disciples. Friday is the darkest day as Jesus is nailed on the cross and dies. Saturday was the Jewish Sabbath, so the day is simply empty as no work could be done after sunset on Friday through sunset on Saturday.

The Passion Story unfolds as Christians review the Christ story from the joyful entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey through the events of his arrest, trial, crucifixion, and burial. The week connects the generations of Christians throughout time and the world. The Passion Story connects us to our own belief and we should know the answer to the question: Who is this?

Can you answer that question with confidence? Can you walk into the sanctuary this morning and quickly identify the purpose of the palms and the procession of the kids around the room? Can you share the story with others who may not even know what Palm Sunday, Passion Week, or Easter is? Learning this one small verse, Matthew 21:10, becomes the key to mystery of faith which we share during communion: Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again. (198914)

The answer for the question “Who is this?” begins with the scripture from Zechariah. The prophet had said that the Messiah or the King of the Jews would arrive on a donkey. And that is what Jesus did by riding into Jerusalem for Passover on the back of the donkey. The procession was a message to all the people, including the Pharisees, that Jesus was indeed who people were saying he was. The public display was out of character for Jesus, but the method was a way to affirm the answer to the Jews that he was indeed the promised Messiah, the Savior, the king they had long anticipated.

Each of the gospels includes a version of the procession of Jesus into Jerusalem. Each one includes the palms and the donkey, but only Matthew includes the question, “Who is this?” Why?

The key is remembering to whom the different gospels are written. Matthew with the question, was written specifically for the Jewish people. The question is asked to make a point that the readers would know how Jesus fulfilled the prophecy in Zachariah. Mark was written for Roman Christians, Luke was written to Theophilus and the Gentiles, while John was written to new Christians and those seeking to know more.

All the gospels describe the procession in basically the same manner. Palms were waved to show respect for high-ranking officials even throwing the palms and coats on the ground on which to walk. Even the donkey was chosen because of its significance. The donkey represents one coming in peace. If a horse had been chosen, that would have symbolized war or a military leader.

The gospel of Matthew included the description of the palm procession to make sure that the Jewish people could identify who Jesus was and that he fulfilled the prophecy that was almost 500 years old. The non-Jewish people in the Greco-Roman culture, though, also recognized the same symbolism. Mark, Luke and John all include a description of the procession with palms and the donkey. Everybody in the crowd would know the meaning, and the ensuing generations would also know that the man riding the donkey was Jesus, the man who was dramatically changing the belief system of so many in the area whether Jew or Gentile.

Why is this important today? Why are we waving palms here in our community 2,000 years later? Why do we need to answer the question “Who is this?”

God wants a personal relationship with us; and if we cannot answer who Jesus was, then we risk having no relationship with God. We can attend church every Sunday. We can read all we want about Jesus. Yet, to experience God in our life, we must be able to answer that we know Jesus. We must wave our palms and honor him, respect him, revere him, and yes, fear him. Experiencing God on a personal level comes by listening to God and obeying Him, said O.S. Hawkins (Hawkins 2015, 441).

Palm Sunday gives us the opportunity to openly express our knowledge of who Jesus is. We have the palm branches, we can sing out our praises, and we can answer the question that Jesus is the son of Man and the son of God.

Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Jesus’ final Passover (remember he was Jewish) as the human incarnation of God. Jesus announced to the ancient world that he was the Son of God by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey with all his followers/disciples waving palms and shouts of acclamation. Palm Sunday is much like a flower popping up in the garden getting ready to bloom.

We anticipate the joy of Easter this morning, but first we must relive the full experience of Passover with the final days of Jesus and his disciples. We may be excited to extol (Hawkins word) or proclaim Jesus today, but we know the story continues through the horrors of a betrayal, a trial, and a crucifixion.

As we wait for the full bloom of the flower, we wait for Easter morning when Christ was resurrected. We know that God’s desire to be in a relationship with us was so important that he could no longer wait for us to figure it out on our own. Instead, he was born as a man in order to bring us into a real life experience with him.

We can answer the question “Who is this?” because we have the relationship with God. We see our lives unfold into a thing of beauty just like the spring flowers bursting forth around us. We have learned that God’s way of living in a loving relationship with one another is the very purpose God sent Jesus to walk with us in this life.

As Holy Week moves forward, keep the image of the flower opening from the bud to a full bloom present in your mind. You are a flower in God’s garden, and because you know God’s love and you have chosen to live according to his commandments, you will continue to bloom.

[Share the video of tulip opening.]

Closing prayer

Dear Gracious Father,


We lift up our palms to you

Showing that we know you personally,

Because we experience your love

And believe in your promise.


We lift up our palms to you

Thanking you for sending Jesus

To teach us,

To heal us,

To forgive us

And to grant us eternal life.


We lift up our voices

Answering others who ask,

“Who is this?”

So we can share the story

Of our relationship with you,

God, the father,

the Son,

and the Holy Spirit. –Amen



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Man the Mission: The Passion of Jesus Christ

given on Palm Sunday, March 20, 2016

Reflection: Man the Mission: The Passion of Jesus Christ


The Story continues today, Palm Sunday. Typically images of Palm Sunday is one of kids running up and down the aisles with palm fronds waving as though there were a parade. History has created images of a parade route lined with palms honoring Jesus as the Messiah, the Savior, God promised written in the books of the prophets.

Yet the story continues and reading the scripture from Luke, we know Luke’s record of the last week of Jesus’ human life is the basis for celebrating Palm Sunday, but it also shares God’s passion for his mission that lead to the crucifixion of Jesus on the day before the Jewish feast of Passover.

God’s mission continues even through the birth, life, and death of his only son Jesus. Jesus was the incarnation of God’s passion for his creation. Jesus is God, and that means he is the man for the mission—and Jesus had chosen 12 men for his mission team. These were the men who joined him in the Upper Room for the Last Supper:

The Last Supper

. . . 14 When the time came, Jesus and the apostles sat down together at the table.[a] 15 Jesus said, “I have been very eager to eat this Passover meal with you before my suffering begins. 16 For I tell you now that I won’t eat this meal again until its meaning is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.”

. . . 21 “But here at this table, sitting among us as a friend, is the man who will betray me. 22 For it has been determined that the Son of Man[c] must die. But what sorrow awaits the one who betrays him.” 23 The disciples began to ask each other which of them would ever do such a thing.

24 Then they began to argue among themselves about who would be the greatest among them. 25 Jesus told them, “In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ 26 But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. 27 Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves.

28 “You have stayed with me in my time of trial. 29 And just as my Father has granted me a Kingdom, I now grant you the right 30 to eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom. And you will sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.


Imagine sitting at the table with your teacher. You have come to love him like a brother and have literally picked up and walked after him without even tying up loose ends at home. You have completely turned your life’s direction to pursue God’s mission. You were literally a handpicked member of the Jesus Team!

Consider what Jesus required of his team members. He had to have commitment, even if they had a business or a family. He asked them to come–no clothes, no material possessions. The request must have challenged these individuals, but they did choose to follow him.

Sitting in that upper room after only three years together, the words Jesus shares are filled with references to what is going to happen. At least the words seem subtle to us, yet this team knew how Jesus talked. He was teaching them in the same way the scriptures teach us—through metaphors, analogies, and parables.

Reading on through the chapters, more of the story shows the seriousness of Jesus’ final weeks for his earthly life. Even Simon Peter cannot figure out why Jesus would question his loyalty:

Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial

31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. 32 But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.”

33 Peter said, “Lord, I am ready to go to prison with you, and even to die with you.”

34 But Jesus said, “Peter, let me tell you something. Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.”

35 Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you out to preach the Good News and you did not have money, a traveler’s bag, or an extra pair of sandals, did you need anything?”

“No,” they replied.

36 “But now,” he said, “take your money and a traveler’s bag. And if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one! 37 For the time has come for this prophecy about me to be fulfilled: ‘He was counted among the rebels.’[d] Yes, everything written about me by the prophets will come true.”

38 “Look, Lord,” they replied, “we have two swords among us.”

“That’s enough,” he said.


Be loyal. Be prepared. Jesus’ handpicked mission team did not seem very prepared to take God’s mission forward without him. Simon Peter is believed to be the favored of the twelve apostles, but even Jesus knew Peter would deny him three times under the pressure from the coming days.

Loyalty. Simon Peter certainly did not think anything could shake his loyalty to Jesus, but Jesus makes one more attempt to prepare the apostles for the persecution that would be inflicted upon the earliest Christians. The reference to having swords was such a hint as to the type of problems that would be following after he was gone.

In the brief years of teaching Jesus’ followers, the emphasis had been on the peaceful methods. Heal the sick. Love one another. Care for the poor. No mention was made of planning and carrying out a military battle plan; weapons were no match for love. Still in these last few moments of preparation, Jesus tells the apostles to prepare. For Jesus to man the mission he needed commitment, loyalty, and preparedness as well as content knowledge of God’s story, the Word, and the mission.

Only a few hours remained and all the enormity of the impending arrest tired Jesus. He turned, asking his apostles to go with him, to the Mount of Olives, for a time of prayer. For the mission team, he told them, “Pray that you will not give in to temptation.” And then . . .

41 He walked away, about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” 43 Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. 44 He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood.[e]

45 At last he stood up again and returned to the disciples, only to find them asleep, exhausted from grief. 46 “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation.”


The next few days challenged each Apostle’s commitment and loyalty. Judas, of course, could not remain faithful taking a bribe to turn Jesus in to the authorities.

. . . 47 But even as Jesus said this, a crowd approached, led by Judas, one of the twelve disciples. Judas walked over to Jesus to greet him with a kiss. 48 But Jesus said, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?”

49 When the other disciples saw what was about to happen, they exclaimed, “Lord, should we fight? We brought the swords!” 50 And one of them struck at the high priest’s slave, slashing off his right ear.

51 But Jesus said, “No more of this.” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.


The mission team selected and lead by Jesus was down one Apostle, but the final days were racing ahead. Three short years of teaching, healing, and serving were almost completed. Were the Apostles ready to take up the mission of God and transform the word?

Luke continues the story. Peter had not believed he could deny Jesus three times and he was one of the most trusted of the Apostles.

54 So they arrested [Jesus] and led him to the high priest’s home. And Peter followed at a distance. 55 The guards lit a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat around it, and Peter joined them there. 56 A servant girl noticed him in the firelight and began staring at him. Finally she said, “This man was one of Jesus’ followers!”

57 But Peter denied it. “Woman,” he said, “I don’t even know him!”


Peter’s first denial, yet the night was not over:


58 After a while someone else looked at him and said, “You must be one of them!”

“No, man, I’m not!” Peter retorted.


Luke’s story records a second denial.


59 About an hour later someone else insisted, “This must be one of them, because he is a Galilean, too.”

60 But Peter said, “Man, I don’t know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.


And Peter denied knowing Jesus the third time!


61 At that moment the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Suddenly, the Lord’s words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.” 62 And Peter left the courtyard, weeping bitterly.

63 The guards in charge of Jesus began mocking and beating him. . . .


The mission of God depended on Jesus’ ministry to secure success in combatting evil.  The events of the three days after Judas betrayed Jesus frightened the Apostles. The stress caused them to run and hide. They knew the passion of Christ first hand. They knew their commitment, their loyalty and their preparation—or not.

The very system that taught the young Apostles was challenged. The crowds had stopped Jesus along the side of the road to learn more about living God’s story. Are we honestly ready to join in God’s mission with passion like Jesus or go on to the next community prepared to share the story of God’s love and forgiveness?

Reflect and pray about your own world. Do not put off preparing for God’s mission. Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, even Saturday are the darkest of days. The story continues showing the ridicule, the physical beating, the taunting, and even the stripping that Jesus endured before being hung on a cross, left to die slowly on the hill between two thieves.

Can you join the mission team? Can you honestly say you are committed? Are you loyal attending church regularly, joining in Bible studies, and volunteering to serve? Finally, are you prepared? Jesus will come again and we are redeemed by our faith in God. Be committed. Be loyal. Be prepared to share the story in any manner that you can and God’s mission will be successful.

Closing prayer: (UMH 281)

Almighty God,

you sent your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ,

to suffer death o the cross.

Grant that we may share in his obedience to your will

and in the glorious victory of his resurrection;

through Jesus Christ our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

One God, now and ever. Amen

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Why Celebrate Faith Holidays?

given on Sunday, March 29, 2015: Palm or Passion Sunday

While reading the lectionary this week and considering the question of why do we call the Sunday before Easter “Palm Sunday,” I ran across this statement: “Holidays can be important today, too, as annual reminders of what God has done for us.” (Life Application Bible, NIV, p. 121) Just ponder that for a moment . . . That statement was connected to the reading from Exodus, in the Old not the New Testament.

In today’s American culture, we get so wrapped up in the stores’ various holiday displays. We groan when the seasons are hurried along by the retailers putting out the next holiday’s unique trappings weeks even months ahead of time. Yet we also are wooed by the appealing displays that trigger our impulse buying the moment we see it. Buying decisions become whimsical rather than planned.

What does this have to do with today? Today is Palm Sunday. Why is it important? Palm Sunday begins Holy Week. This was the beginning day of the Jewish Passover and the tradition was for families to make a journey to Jerusalem for a huge festival. The city was bubbling over with people, the vendors were out, especially around the temple, palm branches were waving much like Americans wave flags during parades, competitions, and so on.

Passover was the Jewish people’s Fourth of July. God had protected them and they had been freed from the Egyptian captivity. They had been slaves and now they were free. There was a reason to celebrate and the events during Passover were as traditional to the Jewish people as the fireworks, apple pie, hot dogs, hamburgers, parades, and festivals are to Americans over the Fourth of July weekend.

The study note states holidays are important in the remembrance of what God has done for us and the note continues with a directive:

“. . . Develop traditions in your family to highlight the religious significance of certain holidays. These serve as reminders to the older people and learning experiences for the younger ones.” (Ibid)

As a church family, the emphasis we place on the various Christian holidays serve as teaching tools. We remember, yes, but more importantly we teach.

All of us have family traditions that we maintain. The tradition might be a daily one like sitting down for a family meal that we begin with a table blessing. Some traditions may not be centered on Christian living, but the tradition probably has a major significance for the family. Maybe the tradition is centered on a child’s birth or an engagement or possibly a traditional bridal shower. The tradition adds significance and value to life transitions—and family tales told later on.

The story of Passover begins in the Old Testament, Exodus 12:1-10 in the lectionary. Reading through the scripture reconnects us to an ancient, pre-Christian event that was so important it has been preserved even today in the Jewish tradition but also connected to the Christian tradition.

The Exodus scripture carefully explains how the Jewish people were to prepare for their escape. It begins with very detailed instructions on preparing a meal, even how to dress and how to eat the meal. God wanted them prepared with their tummies full for an immediate escape. They had to be ready to run. By reading a few more verses past the preparation, the Passover event is explained:

11 “These are your instructions for eating this meal: Be fully dressed,[a] wear your sandals, and carry your walking stick in your hand. Eat the meal with urgency, for this is the Lord’s Passover. 12 On that night I will pass through the land of Egypt and strike down every firstborn son and firstborn male animal in the land of Egypt. I will execute judgment against all the gods of Egypt, for I am the Lord! 13 But the blood on your doorposts will serve as a sign, marking the houses where you are staying. When I see the blood, I will pass over you. This plague of death will not touch you when I strike the land of Egypt.” (NLT)

The Jewish people who followed God’s instructions escaped Egyptian slavery. These are the ancestors of the Christians today who celebrate Easter and the connection is the Passover tradition.

Why do we celebrate Passover, then? The Christian tradition celebrates Passover with a twist because it provided the setting for Christ’s final week and crucifixion in Jerusalem. Remember, Jesus was raised Jewish. The Jewish people following Jesus anticipated him to become a political leader, not the peaceful, quiet image of God today’s Christians now honor as the Messiah, the Savior, the Triune God.

Palm Sunday is the most common word for this particular day, but a second descriptor is Passion Sunday. The connotative meaning of Passion Sunday is a more accurate label in the Christian tradition as we know it. Passion refers to intense emotions, but also is defined as “the suffering and death of Jesus.” (OxfordDictionary.com)

Palm or Passion Sunday is the first day that Jesus’ narrative begins the final week of his life. Palm Sunday clearly connects with the Jewish Passover tradition, and the week continues through Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and ending with Easter Sunday. Christians celebrate the horrible events just as the Jewish followed God’s advice about Passover:

14 “This is a day to remember. Each year, from generation to generation, you must celebrate it as a special festival to the Lord. This is a law for all time. 15 For seven days the bread you eat must be made without yeast. On the first day of the festival, remove every trace of yeast from your homes. Anyone who eats bread made with yeast during the seven days of the festival will be cut off from the community of Israel. 16 On the first day of the festival and again on the seventh day, all the people must observe an official day for holy assembly. No work of any kind may be done on these days except in the preparation of food.

17 “Celebrate this Festival of Unleavened Bread, for it will remind you that I brought your forces out of the land of Egypt on this very day. This festival will be a permanent law for you; celebrate this day from generation to generation. (Exodus 12:14-17)

The structure for Passion Week is based on this directive, but the events of Holy Week for Christians no longer depends of the significance of the Jewish tradition, but on the events that lead to Jesus’ capture, trial, torture, and crucifixion.

God’s plan followed God’s concept of time. Passover occurred around 1410 BC. His words in Exodus began the series of events that indicate a constant monitoring of how his children were living. Throughout the Old Testament, there are warnings, advice, stories, hymns and prayers that included references to future possibilities. The people were to celebrate the Jewish holiday in order to keep the memory alive but also to teach the new generations. For instance, the lectionary included Psalm 31:9-16:

Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am in distress.
Tears blur my eyes.
My body and soul are withering away.
10 I am dying from grief;
my years are shortened by sadness.
Sin has drained my strength;
I am wasting away from within.
11 I am scorned by all my enemies
and despised by my neighbors—
even my friends are afraid to come near me.
When they see me on the street,
they run the other way.
12 I am ignored as if I were dead,
as if I were a broken pot.
13 I have heard the many rumors about me,
and I am surrounded by terror.
My enemies conspire against me,
plotting to take my life.

Our understanding of the events we now celebrate echo those lifted up to God by the Jewish people sometime after Passover and maybe even as recently as a thousand years later around 586 BC. Again God’s time is not our perception of time.

Today, we are over 2,000 years past that Jewish Passover that lead to Jesus’ death, so why celebrate a Jewish holiday? We celebrate the Christian Passion or Holy Week beginning today with Palm Sunday. The reason we celebrate the passion, the life and death of Jesus, is to remember God’s gift of his only son so that we might have life eternal. We celebrate this particular Christian holiday to teach the future generations of the passion God has for each of us.

Closing Prayer

Dear Loving God,

You never fail to remember us even at our worst.

You never hand us more than we can handle.

The generations of the faithful have kept the story alive.

The generations celebrate the story to teach the story.

Guide us to celebrate with grace and love.

Guide us to grow in faith so passion lives.

Each day of this holy week, we will pray passionately

Each day of this holiday, we will share the story

With all that we can,

In as many ways that we can,

So others may experience your grace. –Amen


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Palm Sunday: Telling the story

The Word & Thoughts:Palm Sunday Chronologically: a parallel review of scripture   NIRV

  • Explain the use of the Chronological Bible
  • Pivotal shift—moving from ministry to the people to the final instructions to the Apostles
  • Palm Sunday is the visible fulfillment of the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9 given 600 years earlier


John 12:9-11(audience—New Christians and searching non-Christians)

Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there, so they came. But they did not come only because of Jesus. They also came to see Lazarus. After all, Jesus had raised him from the dead.

10 So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus too. 11 Because of Lazarus, many of the Jews were starting to follow Jesus. They were putting their faith in him.


Matthew 21:8-11(audience—the Jews)

A very large crowd spread their coats on the road. Others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Some of the people went ahead of him, and some followed. They all shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!” (definition of Hosanna: Save now!)

“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up. The people asked, “Who is this?”

11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus. He is the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”


Mark 11:11(audience—the Christians in Rome, where this gospel was written)

11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everything. But it was already late. So he went out to Bethany with the Twelve. (Bethany is about 3 miles from Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives is between the two areas.)


Luke 19:36-37, 39-40(audience—Theophilius, which means one who loves God, the Gentiles, and people everywhere)

36 As he went along, people spread their coats on the road.

37 Jesus came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives. There the whole crowd of disciples began to praise God with joy. In loud voices they praised him for all the miracles they had seen. . . .

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd spoke to Jesus. “Teacher,” they said, “tell your disciples to stop!”

40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”


John 12:16-19

16 At first, Jesus’ disciples did not understand all this. They realized it only after he had received glory (the Resurrection). Then they realized that these things had been written about him. They realized that the people had done these things to him.

17 A crowd had been with Jesus when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead. So they continued to tell everyone about what had happened. 18 Many people went out to meet him. They had heard that he had done this miraculous sign.

19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “This isn’t getting us anywhere. Look how the whole world is following him!”


Closing Prayer: (from the Book of Worship, no. 514))


            Let us remember Jesus:

            Who was mighty in deed, healing the sick, and the disordered,

            using for others the powers he would not invoke for himself.

            Who refused to force people’s allegiance.

            Who was Master and Lord to his disciples,

                        yet was among them as their companion and as one who served.

            Whose desire was to do the will of God who sent him.

            Response: O Christ, our only Savior, so come to dwell in us that we may go

            forth with the light of your hope in our eyes, and with your faith and love

            in our hearts. — Amen


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Everybody Loves a Parade, Don’t They

given on Palm Sunday, April 1, 2012–no fooling!

Who doesn’t love a parade?  All the major holidays are connected to parades.  The list includes the Rose Bowl Parade on New Years Day, St. Patrick Day parades, Easter (Bonnet or Hat) Parades, Memorial Day parades, Fourth of July parades, Thanksgiving Day parade, and of course Christmas parades with Santa as the feature.  And these parades are just the most recognizable, but around our area there is the annual college homecoming parade and even the Chilhowee’s fair parade.

During Passover celebrations, communities filled with visitors.  There was a carnival style atmosphere.  People were everywhere, and the temple was busy with extra venders and spectators.  The Jewish festival was a major event.

So why did Jesus, who has traveled the region by foot for three years, suddenly decide to ride into the middle of all the festivities on a donkey?  Why did he decide to have a parade?  Who was going to be watching the parade?  What purpose would the parade serve?  How will the people react?

In literature studies, readers become sensitive to imagery in the story.  What could names, locations, colors, or items really be representing?  Is the author trying to express a more significant message than the literal words are stating on the page?  Reading literary analysis often adds another dimension to the theme; and reading the Bible that was written in such an entirely different cultural and historical context than what we live in today takes additional analysis.

Jesus’ ride is referred to as a “triumphal ride” into Jerusalem.  For three years he has been walking the dirt roads of the region making an impression on those who joined him, who heard him speak, or who experienced his healing.  Why would he decide to change his style and ride in on a donkey in a parade?

The answer lies in the prophetic words of Zechariah 9.  The answer is found by studying the Word and the analysis.  As we read through the scripture Zechariah 9:9-13, did you realize the significance of the parade?  Maybe your understanding is connected to your acceptance of Christ’s role as our Savior, our spiritual king.  Maybe you have already studied it and it is clear to you that the parade was simply part of the Big Picture.  Maybe you had never connected the two and this is new information.

The Palm Sunday celebration of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem is one more method to keep us centered on the good news.  The study notes from the New Interpreters Bible carefully outlines the prophetic verse nine:

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your King is coming to you;
He is just and having salvation,
Lowly and riding on a donkey,
A colt, the foal of a donkey.

To the Jewish onlookers, who have been thoroughly schooled in the Old Testament prophecies, seeing Jesus ride in on a donkey would have immediately told them that yes, indeed, Jesus was the Messianic King they expected to arrive and deliver them from their lowly state.

In the next verse, Zechariah 9:10, the image of the Messianic King is defined:

10 I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
And the horse from Jerusalem;
The battle bow shall be cut off.
He shall speak peace to the nations;
His dominion shall be ‘from sea to sea,
And from the River to the ends of the earth.’

Jesus is arriving on a donkey, not a horse.  He is not using a chariot that was considered an image of warfare.  Jesus, as the NIB states, “. . . knows that salvation comes to earth only through deflating the self, not through horse power.”  Therefore Jesus rides in on a donkey, a symbol of peace, not of military might.

This kingly image was not what the Jewish people were expecting.  Yet, the parade was placing the truth right there in front of them.  There was cheering, praises, palm branches waving, and the crowds following him.  For the Jewish still uncertain of whom Jesus was, the answer was being demonstrated to them.   Surely they now would believe.

Now remember, everybody loves a parade.  What if you were not Jewish and you heard the noise that was coming from the street?  Wouldn’t you hurry to see what was going on?  A parade can draw huge crowds.  People who would not ordinarily attend a forum, a convention, a lecture, or any other formal setting may very likely be drawn to a parade.  Put yourself in that position for a few minutes.

Never before have you considered following a religion.  All your life you have been a Roman citizen and followed those customs.  If you have a religious belief, you probably considered yourself a pagan.  Of course that word sounds so negative, you simply have grown up with the Roman gods.  You know them because their stories have explained the life circumstances around you:

  • Apollo was the God of the Sun, poetry, music and oracles,
  • Bacchus was the God of Wine,
  • Ceres was the Goddess of Agriculture,
  • Cupid was the God of Love,
  • Diana was the Goddess of Hunting,
  • Fauna was the Goddess of Animals,
  • Flora was the Goddess of Flowers and Spring.
  • Fortuna was the Goddess of Fortune,
  • Janus was the God of Doors and beginnings and endings,
  • Juno was the Goddess of Marriage,
  • Jupiter aka Jove was the King of the Gods and the God of the sky and rain,
  • Mars was the God of War
  • Mercury was the Messenger of the Gods and of Commerce and Finance,
  • Minerva was the Goddess of Wisdom, the City, Education, Science and War,
  • Neptune was the God of the Sea,
  • Pluto was the God of the Underworld,
  • Saturn was the God of Harvest and Agriculture,
  • Venus was the Goddess of Love and Beauty,
  • Vesta was the Goddess of the Hearth and the Roman state, and
  • Vulcan was the God of Fire, the Forge and Blacksmiths.

[Accessed on March 31, 2012 at http://www.roman-colosseum.info/roman-gods/list-of-roman-gods.htm.]


And this is just a list of the major gods and goddesses of the Roman pagan religion.  There was a god or goddess identified for any facet of human life that needed explaining.  I expect it was a very complicated religion.

Yet the gospel of Mark was particularly interested in telling the good news to those Romans who were listening and becoming Christians.  His inclusion of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem is almost word for word of that found in Matthew.  Even the Romans knew the importance of a parade, so they were in the crowd, too.  I am sure they were asking questions of the others trying to figure out what it all meant.  For some, the openness of the event may have served as the final argument for becoming a Christian.

Now Luke presents the triumphal entry as evidence to Theophilus and other non-Christians.  Jesus is portrayed as more authoritative than in the other versions.  Luke states it like this:

. . . and it came to pass, when He drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mountain called Olivet, that He sent two of His disciples, saying, ‘Go into the village opposite you, where as you enter you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat.  Loose it and bring it here.  And if anyone asks you, “Why are you loosing it?’ thus you shall say to him, ‘Because the Lord has need of it.’”  (Luke 19:29-31)

Luke took on the responsibility of carefully and solidly explaining Jesus’ actions to those who did not have a Jewish background, who may or may not have been Romans, or who were Gentiles.  Yet, in the city of Jerusalem the people walking the streets, living there, visiting, or working, the parade of this man on a donkey grabbed everybody’s attention.

The new Christians were there.  They were stepping out of the shadows, so to speak, and raising palms to honor this man.  Here was one man who was so compassionate, who was healing anyone’s affliction, and who was teaching such a simple way of life that sounded so appealing.   Many had only heard of him, and today he was riding a donkey right down the streets, unafraid of the non-believer nor even the Pharisees or the Romans.

In John’s gospel, the report of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem is rather brief and to the point.  John wrote his gospel to the new Christians and to those just now beginning to be interested.  He focused on the parade a bit differently.  He focused on the reactions of the people following Jesus and the disciples:

. . . when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, [they] took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out:  “Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  The King of Israel!”  (John 12:12-13)

And John did not stop with his explanation of how the crowd reacted.  He continues on to tell how the peoples’ reception of Jesus on the donkey triggered an even deeper understanding in his disciples:

. . . His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered what these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him.  (John 12:16)

Yes, everybody does love a parade.  There is excitement, anticipation, and open conviction.  Here was one man who was quietly moving around the area spreading the good news.  He was sharing with everybody—Jew, Gentile, Pagan or other—that life on earth could be life in God’s kingdom.  Life that had for centuries, even millennia, been difficult could be so delightful if we follow one simple rule:  Love one another.

Why not use a parade to spread the word?  If Jesus came through today, riding on a donkey, would you run out to join in?  Would you be a believer who was so excited that you lifted up a palm—or flag– to wave in support of him?  Would you bring as many palms in your hands as you could so you could share them with others, put some down on the ground so the donkey could walk on them, and even have some to wave in triumph yourself?

Today, Palm Sunday, we should have a parade.  Instead, we quietly sit inside, talk about the Palm Sunday’s of our past, of how Easter will be a busy day, or whether or not the family is coming in for the Easter weekend.  Today’s palms are here for you to share.  Take them, wave them, and keep them with you during the week.  The palms had a role in the original Palm Sunday; let it have a role in your life this week.

Dear Almighty, all-knowing God,

Thank you for your son.

Thank you for your grace.

Thank you for all the love shared

by your faithful children.

Guide us in sharing our faith openly.

Speak to us encouragement

so we confidently can demonstrate faith.

See our palms raised in your glory;

See our palms folded in prayer;

and see our palms shading others with your love.  –Amen

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