Primitive religion is not believed, it is danced!

Arthur Darby Nock

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
And only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

Elizabeth Browning

Sunday, April 1, 2012

When it comes to faith, its OK to have questions!

Today was Palm Sunday.  Most of us know the story of this day.  Many of us have heard it every year for a life time.  It’s a familiar story.  About Jesus, and palms.  About a donkey and adoring crowds.

The Bible is full of stories.  And I am going to say something that I happen to believe, and happen to believe is very important.  That we make a mistake if we think these stories are just stories about times long long ago.  They are not

Yes, they are stories that reflect historical realities
But they are also stories about now, today, they are our stories

That is the way the Bible is.  Think about another big story, the story of Adam and Eve.  Is the great truth about Adam and Eve and the fruit that it happened, or that it happens?  This story, one of the first in the Bible is true for us to a great degree because it is our story.  Isn’t it?  We have all taken the fruit.  We have all crossed boundaries.  We have all made choices, and then later looked back and said to ourselves… are you kidding?!!  What was I thinking?

Their story is our story.  We see ourselves in them.  The story is true for us because it happened, and it explains a lot about why the world is the way it is  --but it also explains the way the world is – now.  It is an accurate description of our lives.  And we can put ourselves in that story….

So I started to think about the Palm Sunday story….From my perspective….
I decided to try and make it my story, and see where that kind of dynamic interchange with the living word took me.  Now mind you… this means it is very much my way of thinking.   My perspective….
But that is always how it is when one preaches.  I am just giving you my interpretation….

So here goes…
It is the week before Passover in Jerusalem and the city is crammed with people from all over.
Jerusalem is where all the action takes place.   And this is the week that celebrated what the Romans feared worst, revolt.  Passover fueled the hope of the Jewish people that God was going to do to the Romans exactly what God did to the Egyptians who enslaved their ancestors.  That with huge signs and wonders and with a mighty arm God would send the Romans back to Italy with their tails between their legs…

But who would be God’s new king to do this???

Enter Jesus and his gang.  The disciples are so excited about entering the city, they are telling everyone -
“This guy is it!  This guy is the one you have been waiting for!  He’s coming!  Come on!  He’s coming!”

And the crowd is whipped into a frenzy! I mean, people are cutting of branch from trees and throwing them down on the road like he’s royalty…In essence people are laying out a red carpet for Jesus to walk down.  In fact people are literally taking off their clothes and throwing them down where Jesus will be riding in.  It’s Jesus mania and the crowd is amped up.

Then, he makes his GRAND ENTRANCE!  Here comes the King!
But…. he doesn’t look and act much like “the king”

It a little confusing….. “Look, your king’s on his way, poised and ready, mounted …
On a stallion?   On a war horse?   On a chariot?  Nope!  On a donkey, on a baby donkey

And the whole crowd is saying, “Hooray! Hooray!  … then…
Wait, who is this?  I thought he was that powerful miracle man?  Who is this guy?”
As Eugene Peterson’s version of the Gospel of Matthew says, “All of Jerusalem was UNNERVED.“

And this is where I come in.  Jesus passes, and after the enthusiasm, I am standing there, with the flotsam of the parade lying around me, and I am like totally bummed.  I don’t like being unnerved. I like my nerves exactly where they are.  I like being able to feel like I have it all figured out.  But Jesus has thrown me a curve.  And I find I have no idea what is going on!

So I can just picture myself standing there at the side of the road on Palm Sunday
I’ve gotten into it!  I have bought into Jesus mania
Maybe I’ve tossed my best coat our there for Jesus to ride over
Or maybe I’ve been a crazy fool, scrambled up a tree, cut branches
And laid them out….
But then the moment comes -  and it’s just this guy from Nazareth, riding on a stupid donkey..

So this is how this story is my story.  Me trying to define God and his action.  And God in Christ, being way too big for my attempts.

This is the amazing, annoying, unsettling thing about Jesus:  At every turn Jesus defies my assumptions about God.  and makes me throw out what I think I know about who God is, and how God thinks, and how God acts, and how God feels.  Jesus makes me re-evaluate everything that I ever thought about God. 

It is often like that with Jesus and I.  Jesus, is often unnerving me….. Switching things around
Just when I think I have got Jesus figured out… surprise
Just when I think I have got life figured out, a little, surprise
Just when I think I know where things are headed
When I think I know where I am headed
Just when I think I have made the right decisions… surprise

Jesus it appears, will continually disrupt my assumptions about God
I never know where God is going to take me.  How God is going to work in my life.  Ever work that way for you?

If were standing by the road outside Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, I would have been dazed and confused
I would have felt less certain about who God was, less certain about what God was up to….

Perhaps that is how it should always be.  Remember the story where Moses asks God for his name ?  Moses wants certainty.  He wants to be able to put a label on God.  God replies… “I am”  Or some would say “I am who I am”.  Helpful huh ?!  It is as if God were saying… “If your goal is to figure me out, and get me defined, it is not going to happen!”

Palm Sunday would have left me with more questions than answers.  And frankly that is OK!
Rob Bell suggests that Questioning God is central to the Christian experience.   “Not belligerent, arrogant questions that have not respect for our maker,” he notes, “ but naked, honest, vulnerable, raw questions, arising out of the awe that comes from engaging the living God.” 

“This kind of questioning” he states, “frees us.  Frees us from having to have it all figured out.  Frees us from having answers to everything.  Frees us from always having to be right.  It allows us to have moment when we come to the end of our ability to comprehend.’

With God we will always come to “the end of our ability to comprehend.”  God is huge!  The way God works is rooted in his very INFINITE nature.  They second we think we have God defined, we no longer have God.  And so in our lives with God, we seek answers.  But even though we get answers, we will never run out of questions.  We get answers.  But those answers only plunge us into even more questions.

Bell gives this example!
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only son.  So why did God give his son?
Because God loves the world?  But what does it mean for God to love the world?  Does God love evil people?  Mean people?  People who don’t think that God exists?  People who think that God loves only them?  And why does God love the world? What motivates God to love like this? 
John would say because God is love….But how can God be love?  Is every experience of love an experience of God?”  You get the idea.

Bell concludes.  Its like a pool that you dive into and you start swimming toward the bottom, and soon you discover that no matter how hard and fast you swim downward the pool keeps getting…. Deeper.

The more we learn about God, the more we know God is a mystery we will never figure out.  So as the Palm Sunday story becomes my story… the lesson I learn is that I will never ever figure God out.  God will always surprise me.  God will do things I don’t expect in ways I don’t expect

But… God is God.  God’s strange plan, played out on Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter, worked.
It worked, scandalous and unexpected as it all was. 

And I can trust, that even when I don’t get it.  Even when I don’t understand what God is up to, or why God is using the strategy God is using, that God will get me, and those I love, and this church, and, indeed, all creation, where we need to go….

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