Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

The Week Begins

The Week Begins

It was the Saturday evening before Passover. Jesus is at the home of his friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus in the town of Bethany; about a mile from Jerusalem. Lazarus has become a bit of a local hero, seeing as how he had been raised from the dead. People were gathering at his house, not only to hear Jesus teach, but to see this man who had been dead and was now alive. So there is quite the crowd at that house in Bethany. Jesus is just wanting to spend this evening with those he cares about, with his friends, because he knows what the week ahead holds for him but as so often in his ministry, he is surrounded by a great crowd of people who wanted to hear him and perhaps see a miracle or two. The next morning Jesus gets up and he and the disciples, and many of the people who had been visiting the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, all began to walk into Jerusalem for the Passover. Jesus sent a couple of his disciples to find him a donkey to ride, because the prophecy declared that the messiah would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. Custom also said that kings of peace rode into town on the back of the donkey, kings of war would ride in on stallions. Jesus was announcing that he was entering Jerusalem as a King of peace. This was the day of gathering for Passover and pilgrims from all over the Mediterranean basin were traveling into Jerusalem to get ready for the Passover. Hebrew law required that everyone who was able was to come to Jerusalem for the Passover – this was the reason all these crowds were on the road. Everyone traveling is in a festive mood – they looked forward to all coming together during this celebration. You would come to see people you only saw once a year, you would gather for feasts and parties as the week would build up to the Seder meal and the Passover rituals near the end of the week. Not unlike Forest Festival where there is the same type of mood and thousands gather who see people they only see once a year and spend time visiting and partying and enjoying the activities. So that is why there are so many people on that road to Jerusalem on that day. Jesus comes riding a donkey and the people are thinking the Messiah is going to come in and overthrow the Roman government in Jerusalem; they are singing Hosannas because they thought that Jesus was coming to give them back their land – to kick out the Romans and once again there would be a Hebrew king governing the people of Israel. So the celebration heightened as they did what you did for a King, - wave palm branches, lay your cloaks on the road, sang Hosanna. What a great time – the great celebration of Passover and just like the first Passover when they were released from slavery, they would now be released from the oppression of a foreign government! Into the city they go, rejoicing and having a great day! Jesus, the disciples and the crowds continue into Jerusalem under the watchful eye of the religious leaders who are leery of what is going on. All this allegiance to this wandering teacher was disturbing. The leaders were worried their power would be questioned. This teacher had the crowds all worked up looking for change. Change is never good when you are in power and the religious leaders were understandably worried. Even today we are cautious of new ways and new ideas and change;. Jesus was turning everything the Jews thought were absolutes and telling them there were new ways to look at what they thought was truth. New ways to understand their role as God’s people. The leaders thought everything was fine the way it was. They thought they were being obedient to God the way they were. By the afternoon, however, after everyone has entered the city, we see Jesus not joining in on the party, but sitting on top of the hill overlooking Jerusalem and weeping. He knows that this great celebration and this happy mood and these hopes of a new government will be crushed by the end of the week – things will not turn out as these people who are now so full of joy think it will. As the week goes along, the mood will quickly become dark. Jesus knows that everyone is going to turn against him and even his closest disciples would abandon him. On Monday, Jesus gathers his disciples in Jerusalem and begins to talk to them. Not just the 12, but many who had been following him. He begins to tell them parables to try and help them understand what is going to happen during this week. The disciples are still hopeful that Jesus is going to do something miraculous and take over the city, throw out the Romans and Jesus and the disciples will ascend to the throne in the city. But Jesus’ parables aren’t heading that direction at all. He tells them the story of the owner of the vineyard. The story goes like this: A man owns a vineyard. He decides to go on a journey and turns the vineyard over to the workers. Sometime later he sends a servant to collect the receipts and the workers beat the servant and send him back empty handed. Again, the owner sends another servant and the same thing happens. The owner sends one more servant and this one they kill. But the owner is still hopeful and continues to send servants with the same results, some are beaten, some are killed. Finally the landowner sends his son saying, “Surely they will respect my son.” But the workers in the vineyard figure if they kill the son, the owner will abandon the vineyard and it will then belong to the workers. And that is what they did. They killed the son and threw his body out of the vineyard. And Jesus says, and now the landowner will come and throw out all the workers who are there and give the vineyard to others. Jesus told this story not only to his disciples, but there was a crowd standing around listening to this story. The Pharisees heard it as well and became very angry because they knew that Jesus was talking about them. But the religious leaders looked around and saw the crowds and were afraid of what the people might do if they arrested Jesus, so they left to look for another time to get rid of him. The next day Jesus comes again to the temple. Now, remember the temple is huge. About the size of 3 football fields. Around the outside perimeter of the temple were areas where teachers would gather students and teach. On Tuesday of Holy Week, Jesus is at the temple teaching. But his teaching is much more serious than the people have heard before, much more about sacrificing your life, your time, your money for God. His teaching was about how one needed to put God first over everything else. About how choices were going to be difficult and about how no longer was being a descendent of Abraham enough to be part of God’s people. The Religious leaders came and questioned Jesus and they didn’t like his answers about how they had missed the point of what a life as God’s people was all about. The people who had crowded around Jesus and hung on every word he said began to drift away as well. He wasn’t saying what they wanted to hear anymore. He actually told them to pay their taxes to Caesar. He told them, give all they had left to God……. As the week progressed, Jesus continued his difficult teaching, telling the people who were left that if they followed him people were going to hate them. He talked about death. As the crowds left, so did one of his disciples. Like the crowds, Judas is disillusioned because Jesus is not doing what Judas thought he should do. Like the crowds, Judas wanted Jesus to do something radical. Like the crowds, Judas wanted Jesus to do something political and that wasn’t the direction things were going. So Judas thinks he can force Jesus’ hand by turning him in. Surely when they come to arrest Jesus, he will be forced to act in a different way; Jesus would be forced to start the coup against the government. And by Thursday, all the crowds had left. There was no one left willing to listen to Jesus. it was only his disciples who were with him. And not only did one of them betray him, but one would deny him, and all but one of the remaining 10 would desert him. Only John would remain with him to the cross.
What a difference a week makes.
Holy Week begins today. We began the service with the waving of palm branches and we end with the somber music and a somber mood to remember this is the way this week will go. It begins with celebration and ends with death. It began with large crowds and ends with Jesus all by himself as he goes to his death. A death of an innocent man, who dies for us; who spends the week trying to help us understand what being the people of God is all about; a man who still goes to the cross even though everyone has deserted him…. A man who goes to the cross and looks out over those who have beat him and made fun of him and have put a nail through his hands and feet and in his agony cries out for God to forgive them – and to forgive us.
That’s the price that was paid so that you could be here today, worshipping and serving a God who truly gives his all for you.

The Anointing of Jesus


The Anointing of Jesus


I think we all want to do the right thing - the thing that God wants us to do. But we often wonder what that thing might be. It is so confusing - we have ideas from our growing up years about what is right; we have ideas from our experience that tells us what is right; we have ideas from those around us at work, in our families, our friends, about what is right; we have ideas from all sorts of other places - media, books, articles, TV. There are ideas all around us about what is the right thing to do… We just don’t know what is really ‘right’. How do we truly know what the right thing to do might be; how do we sift through all these conflicting voices; and how do we have the strength to do the right thing when, for the most part, not doing the right thing is so much easier!
God tried his best to teach his people how to do what was right. Once he gathered them together after he freed them from Egypt, he took them out into the wilderness where he kept them pretty much isolated. There were absolutely no outside influences on God’s people while they were in the wilderness. This was God’s way of assuring they would hear only him and that they could be immersed in the truth God wanted them to know. There would be no opportunity for them to hear opposing views or different ideas or different interpretations. God’s people could learn straight from the horses mouth what God wanted them to know; they could be trained to always make the right choices and do the right thing by learning from God.
But eventually the wilderness journey ended and God deemed his people ready to enter the promised land. He told them when they went into the promised land, there would be other people there. People who did not belong to God; people who worshipped other gods; people who had the wrong idea about how to live. God instructed his people that when they went to the promised land, they were going to have to fight for the territory and they were to wipe everyone out - everyone.
Now as horrible as that sounds, let’s think about why God wanted them to do this. God knows that the ‘right way to live’ is the way that will best represent God and will be the best way for his people to live in joy and peace. That is the whole reason God gives his followers a ‘right way’ to do things - because it is good for us and good for the world around us. God was trying to prevent these opposing views to distract his people from the truth and the ‘right’ thing.
And that is exactly what happened. God’s people invaded the promised land like God told them, they conquered the land and claimed it for their own - for God - but they did not wipe out all the inhabitants like God had told them to and the result is exactly as God had predicted. Within a very short period of time, God’s people had been pulled away from God because they listened to the people around them more than God. Whether the people around them made more sense; or their way of life was easier; or they just wanted to be ‘liked’ by the neighbors - is pretty immaterial. It is so easy to let popular thought invade the way God wants us to live - to alter the God wants us to think.
Because God’s way is always different from what we are influenced by in the world around us.
We often talk about Jesus and his disciples. Usually when we say disciples we think - the 12. The 12 guys that Jesus called to be the ones who followed him and learned from him. But not only were there more followers than just those 12 - there were many men and women who followed Jesus and helped him and came to learn and follow his message. There were even those other than the 12 whom Jesus looked to in a more of a ‘friend’ type relationship. Three of those friends were sisters Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus. Lazarus, we remember, gained some notoriety because he died and Jesus brought him back to life in a rather dramatic fashion!
Mary and Martha, on the other hand, are the stars of one of the more important lessons Jesus teaches us. Important because it emphasizes for us God’s ways over our ways.
The story of Mary and Martha highlights our feeling that if we are not being productive, then we are not doing the right thing. If we are not working, or cleaning, or just doing then something is wrong. Our value, we believe, is what we can accomplish - a clean house, an immaculate yard, kudos at work for working overtime and putting out the most product or the most billable hours. We call it that ‘puritan work ethic’ which is not so much a biblical concept is as it is just a puritan way of looking at things. this is one of our great reminders that God looks at things a whole lot differently than we do.
In one account of the stories of Jesus, Jesus is at the home of Mary and Martha. Some people have come over to listen to Jesus teach and Mary joins them. Martha, meanwhile, is in the kitchen banging pots and pans and slamming cabinet doors and huffing and puffing because Mary chose to listen to Jesus teach rather than

help her put the food together. Martha actually goes in to where Jesus is teaching, interrupts and says, “Make Mary help me!” And Jesus looks at Martha and says, “Mary has made the right choice.” In other words, he is telling Martha that sometimes it is better to sit down and learn and not worry about the busyness of our life. Sitting down and taking the time to pray, to talk to God, to read scripture is OK; even if it means that one of those chores that doesn’t necessarily have to be done right then doesn’t get done. Even if there is work we could be doing - because there is always work that we could be doing - Jesus says that the right thing is to take some of that time and spend it with him.
See how Jesus is going against the assumptions of our society that we think we know what the right thing is - society says working and being productive is the right thing and even attributes it to the Bible. Jesus really says, rest in me; take time to sit and listen and enjoy and rest - even if there is work we could be doing.…
In our Gospel lesson today, Mary is again the recipient of criticism. It is the night before what we call Palm Sunday and Jesus is in the town of Bethany, the same town Mary, Martha and Lazarus live in but this time he is at the home of Simon. His disciples are there and sometime during the evening Mary stops by. She has with her a jar of nard - a very expensive ointment. In fact nard was so valuable people would collect it and save it almost like a retirement account - sort of like people save gold. She took the ointment and poured it over Jesus which is a great act of humility. It was an act of sacrifice and a way of telling Jesus how much she loved and honored him. The disciples are right there and they get very angry. “Why in the world are you letting her do that?” they exclaimed. “Think about all that money that is being wasted. We could have sold that nard and used that money to help the poor! Think how many hungry people that would have fed!”
Makes sense to us does it not? Aren’t we suppose to be taking care of the poor and the hungry? Jesus told us to do that - surely Jesus would want that expensive nard to do a ‘good work’ rather than just lavishing it on him. Right? If we didn’t know any more about this story what would you expect Jesus to say…….
But, again, Jesus doesn’t say what we expect. Jesus says, “Let Mary alone!” Again, she is being criticized just like her sister Martha criticized her when she wouldn’t help in the kitchen and once again, Jesus came to her defense. “There will always be time to care for the poor, but she is honoring me in a way that you guys never have. She is giving away her future for me. She is taking this opportunity to show her love for me.”
The moral of the story is this - the lawn will always need tended; there will always be dishes to wash and clothes to put away; there will always be work that needs to be accomplished; there will always even be ‘church’ stuff to do - but there will not always be opportunities to spend with God - whether it be a quiet moment in prayer; whether it be coming to a Bible Study or to worship; whether it be taking time, to not just read the Bible, but to study it.
If we are going to learn to make the right choices as the people of God; if we are going to be willing to do the ‘right thing’ as the people of God - the only way to do that is to spend time with God learning and absorbing and letting him teach us and lead us. What we find is ‘the right thing’ is often not what we think it should be.
As we wind up this season of Lent, reflect on the choices you make. Do you choose the busyness the world teaches us as the right thing to do - or do you choose spending time with God, which is what God teaches us to do.

Amen.