“One of the great themes throughout the Bible is the struggle between life and death: “The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy but I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly,” (Jn. 10:10). This struggle culminates in life of Jesus as death reaches out to claim him (Good Friday) and in the process dies itself (Easter). This is the message of Easter – “the last enemy to be defeated is death” (1 Cor. 15:26) – and it is played out every day in this world through our lives.”
In Jesus’ day, as in ours, there were lots of expectations, social and political, swirling around the coming of Israel’s King. But what rode into Jerusalem that day was something else – something uninvited and underwhelming – such that everyone missed it. We still do. Now as then, even those shouting “Hosanna” seem oblivious to the subtle correction of Jesus to our expectations: “Our king comes to us righteous and having salvation . . . (but) riding on a donkey,” (Zech. 9:9; Jn. 12:15). The message is clear, and maybe we’ll see it “only after Jesus is glorified,” (Jn 12:16). Jesus is the savior of the world and he is able to do this from a minority position. Even today God enters the imperial city . . . riding on a donkey.
It is common, today, to hear religious people say that God is love. Isn’t that what the Bible says? But has anyone wondered what His love is capable of? Have they wondered if there are not, perhaps, sides to it that we have not seen and will not accept? These two stories, told on the way to Jerusalem, reveal how loyal and furious is the love of God, such that we do not want to be on the wrong side of it. Apparently this can happen even to those safe inside the “temple” system. Can it happen to us? If so, how should this inform the God we worship? What God have we worshiped that, perhaps, should die on the road to Jerusalem?
John the Baptist’s whole life—his prophecies, his baptism, his confidence—pointed toward Jesus being the Messiah. Yet when he is in prison, he says, “Are you the one we’ve been waiting for, or should we expect someone else?” We (along with John’s disciples) are left wondering why his faith took a downward turn. What about Jesus’ actions made John question if He was the one? Probably the same ones that make us wonder whether God will come through, and leave us asking the same question: “Should we expect someone else?” This sermon will explore that tension and help us name God’s presence in our lives—even when it doesn’t seem like enough to live by.
Most of us want a God that can do miracles because there is always something too big or too hard for us that we need God to do. So if God should calm a storm or raise the dead, it is no surprise to anyone. This is what gods do or they are no god at all. The real surprise comes when God, instead of calming the storm, should walk out into it and, instead of raising the dead, should grieve at the funeral even more than the family. Most of us don’t even want a God like that but sometimes that’s the only God there is.
How and where God is to be worshiped, who and what was acceptable to him was the argument of her day. To both Samaritans and Jews God was the product of years of indoctrination, protocol and prejudice. All of this worked for a while, until God asked a woman of ill repute for a drink. In this encounter, the God of her youth began to die and a new one – an other who was seeking her, who belonged to no one and so he belonged to everyone – was rising in front of her. Suddenly, her worship as no longer about precedence, protocol and prejudice. It was all about spirit and truth, for those are the qualities that the real God seeks.
What is it about Jesus that most surprises you about God? The images that we have of God come early in life and, over time, become fixed and then fragile. When something goes wrong, or when God is silent for a period of time, it rattles these images and we let go of them a little. Something about God “dies” and in this death, something new, something stronger, more personal and closer to the Truth rises in its place. This cycle, known as “conversion,” is a predictable, normal and even healthy process. By holding on to things we know for sure, we can emerge from this “death of God” experience with a stronger grip on Him who was dead and is alive forevermore.