Jesus: A Life in Love

Passage: Luke 19:28-40
Date: March 25, 2018
Preacher: Rev. Beth Neel
Guest Preacher:

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This morning we’re going to take a look at Jesus, which seems an appropriate thing to do at the beginning of our Holy Week. It’s a big picture look, a look from far away – the kind the astronauts have when they’re in space and see the earth as the sum of its parts, and notice the large pieces at work, the swirl of clouds and the shape of continents and all the shades of the sea.

I’d like to attempt a look at Jesus in the same sort of way – to see the sum of his life, the large pieces at work, and as we do that, I’d like for us to look at him through the lens of love, understanding that everything he did was an act of love. To help us, we’ll use the apostle Paul’s definition of love from 1 Corinthians 13: “Love is patient; love is kind; it is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

At some point before time began, God made a plan. We don’t know that, but we imagine it so that our ideas about God have a scaffolding to hang on. We call that theology. As a theologian friend of mine once said about things that began at the creation, “Grace, therefore sin.” What he meant was that grace is interwoven in the creation of everything, because perhaps God anticipated that the creation, that we creatures, would wander from God’s good intention for our lives.

Skip ahead to the chosen people, the people of Israel, and all those beautiful stories in the Hebrew scripture about God and the people, about floods and families and pharaohs, about judges and kings and prophets. We read a story about people who were growing more and more distant from the God who loved them and called them to a certain kind of life.

Then the story changes a little, and God tries another tack, of coming to the people in human form, so that God would understand a little of what it meant to be human, and so that the people would understand, and know, and see what God was like. Jesus is born.

Jesus is born to a Jewish family living in the Jewish part of the outskirts of the Roman empire. He was raised in the Jewish tradition, which meant he was taught about God, about the prophets, about religious ritual. He lived in an agrarian society, so metaphors and parables about farming came naturally to him. He lived in an honor-shame culture, so he was well aware of the power of shame and those things that brought it: illness, disfiguration, certain kinds of work, certain kinds of behavior.

In the midst of all of that, Jesus began his ministry. Sometimes his ministry looked like teaching – like beatitudes and parables and warnings to repent while there was still time. Sometimes his ministry looked like lunch or dinner, like loaves of bread and fish and wine. Sometimes his ministry looked like healing, like bent over women who no longer bled, like the blind seeing once again, like children rising from their death beds.

And all of that happened because of love, love that travelled a direct pipeline from God and then back to God. It was a love that was so kind, seeing the sort of misery people were in and wanting to relieve it. It was a love that was patient, knowing that all the sin of the world needed more than three years of ministry to be eradicated, knowing that Rome could not be overthrown in a day. It was a love that was humble, as Jesus always gave God the credit for his power. It was a love that spoke truth about people’s foibles and errors, the truth about the hypocrisy that the powerful hid behind.

And that love was too much for the world. It’s hard when someone shines a klieg light on what you’re doing and everyone can see. It’s hard when someone can peer into the depths of your soul. It’s hard when someone shows up and wants to turn the world upside because if that happens, you may lose out. That’s what happened with the religious authorities and the powers of Rome. Jesus saw them for what they were, and he threatened their very being. So they put an end to him.

It wasn’t just that they killed Jesus. They didn’t want to simply end his life. They needed to mock the love he represented, to make that love small, to make him hurt. So they tried him and accused him of all sorts of things, to which he gave no defense, because love seeks not its own way. They beat him and spat on him, and he endured it, because love bears all things. They crowned him with thorns, trying to make him a clown-king, to diminish the love but they could not, because what they did was full of lies, and love rejoices in the truth.

It is the nature of love to want to heal those who hurt. Maybe that’s the power behind Holy Week. The late Episcopal priest Robert Farrar Capon put it this way. “The Messiah was not going to save the world by miraculous, Band-Aid interventions: a storm calmed here, a crowd fed there, a mother-in-law cured back down the road. Rather, it was going to be saved by means of a deeper, darker, left-handed mystery, at the center of which lay his own death.”

Which brings us to this week.Yesterday we marched, or watched people march, protesting the violence and injustice that has led to the death of so many innocent people. I don’t think there was a sense of triumph or joy, but there was a sense that we were made for something better, that we wanted things to turn upside. Those marches set the stage for our holy week.

Today we heard part of the great story that begins with a bit of joy and triumph as Jesus enters the great city one last time. He enters it to accomplish the culmination of his ministry, but not in the way people expect. Love does that – it upends our small expectations for something greater and better. Jesus enters Jerusalem not to conquer the city, but to die.

You and I are invited to wrestle with that. I’ve had enough of death in these past few months and I’m not sure I want to think about Jesus’ dying, so perhaps if death is too hard for you, too, right now, we can think of the nature of love and sacrifice.

Or maybe we can think about all these Holy Week things in a different way. When my dad was in his last days, my brothers and sister and mother and I were all able to have final conversations with him, while he was awake and alert and understood what we were saying. I was able to thank him for the many gifts he left me, to thank him for being the best dad I ever had. I am so grateful for that.

Maybe as we think on Holy Week, we will consider the gifts that Jesus left us. Grace and forgiveness are such gifts. A reminder that the poor will always be with us and we can never forget them is another. A way to live, speaking the truth in love, or simply the power of storytelling are gifts. The promise that there is more life to come is another gift. You will come up with your own gifts. I invite you to thank Jesus for them. That would be a good way to observe Holy Week.

I’d like to leave you with one last image of Jesus’ life in love. In his book The Jesus I Never Knew, Philip Yancey says this. “Jesus left few traces of himself on earth. He wrote no books or even pamphlets. A wanderer, he left no home or even belongings that could be enshrined in a museum. He did not marry, settle down, and begin a dynasty. We would, in fact, know nothing about him except for the traces he left in human beings. That was his design. The law and the prophets had focused like a beamof light on the One who was to come, and now that light, as if hitting a prism, would fracture and shoot out in a human spectrum of waves and colors.”

Go into this week, knowing that you are loved and made to shine color and light into the world.