Monday, March 25, 2013

Temptation to Take Over (Palm Sunday)

First, I want to start out by thanking Greg for giving me an easy topic for my first Sunday preaching here.  I get all the really easy stuff like temptation, evil, deliverance, prayer, - oh and tie it all into Palm Sunday while you’re at it.  Now to be fair, Greg said I could wuss out and take the sermon on forgiveness last week.  He didn’t actually say the words “wuss out,” but I could see it in his eyes.  
But, since I’m not a sissy preacher, here I am, and here you are.  We’ve got a tough text on a tough Sunday, so let’s dig in.

Jesus enters Jerusalem with the crowds shouting, Hosanna!  Now, that’s not a word we use everyday.  
  • How are you today?  Hosanna!   
  • The Hoosiers won again.  Hosanna!  
If this word isn’t from our daily vocabulary, it must come from somewhere else.  It must have a whole other background and history.  
Hosanna is actually a Hebrew word, and it is used several times in the Psalms.  It means literally, “Lord, save us!”  But it also has the connotation of praise, something like Hallelujah! 
But there’s even more background for this word.  Remember Jerusalem was chock-full of Jews because it was the beginning of the Passover Festival.  This was the time when the Israelites remembered how God set them free from slavery in Egypt.  Every year, hundreds of thousands of Jews flocked to Jerusalem to pray for freedom again - freedom from the oppression of the Roman Empire.  And every year at Passover, the Roman armies in Jerusalem went on red alert, with every soldier on duty and every garrison ready for war - just in case the people revolted, again.
So when Jesus enters Jerusalem, and people start shouting “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Blessed is the King of Israel!” this is not normal.  Even more, they are waving palm branches, which was a special kind of cultural celebration to welcome a king. 
So these Jews aren’t just throwing confetti.  They aren’t just having a welcome-to-Jerusalem party for Jesus.  They are welcoming a Messiah to set them free.  
  In the first few centuries after Jesus, various Jewish leaders led revolts claiming to be the Messiah.  Archeologists discovered some coins from one of these periods of revolt.  They were the normal Jewish coins with the face of Caesar, but over the top of Caesar’s face was stamped the image of a palm branch.  
So in our passage today, Palm Sunday and “Hosanna” are not innocent images of joy and praise, these are the actions and words of revolt.  These people were trying to start a revolt.  They were declaring to all the world that Jesus was their new king.

But here’s the real question.  Why did they want Jesus as their king?  

In some respects almost anybody was better than what they had.  The Roman Empire was oppressive and cruel.  The taxes were crippling.  Justice was whimsical.  The Jewish leaders were sellouts, cooperating with the Romans in the abuse of their own people.  The religious system was a sham, advocating extreme holiness via legalism, while at the same time being thoroughly rotten inside and using the details of the law to kick around the poor and disadvantaged.    So, yeah, a new Rabbi who talked about fairness, love, and reform, that sounded like a pretty good idea.
And then there were all the miracles.  Jesus was healing people left and right.  Then, in John chapter 11, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.  Whether you’re Republican or Democrat, Jesus has Obamacare beat.  If it takes too long to see the doctor, don’t worry -- Jesus-care will reach into the grave and pull you out.  Just think of the military implications of a leader who can raise people from the dead.  It’s like an army of zombies, only better!
So why did they want Jesus to be king?  They wanted to be free from taxes.  They wanted justice.  They wanted freedom.  They wanted to be healthy.  They wanted to be rich - or at least comfortably middle class.  They wanted to kick out the Romans.  They wanted to win.  They wanted to rule the world - or at least their little corner of the world.  They wanted Jesus to be king because they wanted to be princes. Their praise for Jesus was all about themselves. 

And really, we’re not all that different.

OK, so that’s really funny, but also kind of scary.
The thing about selfishness is that it is extremely sneaky.  Selfishness can seep into almost everything we do.  
Husbands, why are you kind to your wife?  Yes, that’s making the assumption that you are kind to your wife - at least on occasion.  So when you are kind, why?  Is it because you love her?  Or is it because you want her to be kind to you?  If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.  That’s a pearl of wisdom, right there.  Words to live by.  
But that’s not all bad.  Even if your motives are mixed, being kind and filling up her love tank is still a good call.
Even God is open to offering us some selfish motivations.  I love how The Message translates Psalm 19: 
The revelation of God is whole
    and pulls our lives together.
The signposts of God are clear
    and point out the right road.
The life-maps of God are right,
    showing the way to joy.
 God’s Word warns us of danger
    and directs us to hidden treasure.
Otherwise how will we find our way? (vv 7-8, 11)
Again, and again, in the Bible, God says do life my way for your own sake.  Sin will screw up your life.  God’s way isn’t just best for God; it’s best for us.  So if you really want “Your Best Life Now,” as Joel Osteen says, then learn to live God’s way.  It may be selfish, but it works.
But eventually, if you keep following Jesus, he’s going to lead you to the cross.  And the cross is the place where selfishness dies.  
Right after Jesus’ big party-filled entry into Jerusalem, with everyone ready put a King’s crown on his head, Jesus sits down to burst their selfish Messianic bubble.  Jesus says, “Yes, I deserve glory.  Yes, I’m King.  Yes, I’m the Messiah.  Yes, I’m starting a revolution.  But no, it’s not going to be like you think.”
Listen to the very next verses after Jesus’ triumphal entry in John 12:20-33.

20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.
23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!”
Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.
30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

We need to learn or relearn three lessons here.
  1. Jesus’ triumph was through the cross.  Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” and I’m going to die.  His death was his glory.  He would be “lifted up” on the cross.  His death would be the victory that would draw everyone to him.  And it’s not like this was easy for him.  His soul was “troubled.”  Dying for us was a hard and painful struggle for Jesus.  It cost him.  It hurt - in every possible way.  He had to lay down his own life, so that our lives could be raised up.  He had to give up his life and his glory so that the Father’s glory could flow through him.  So, lesson #1 - Jesus triumph was through the cross.
  2. If we follow Jesus, we’re going to the cross.  Jesus was fine with all these crowds celebrating him and singing to him and about him, but he wanted to clear up one thing right from the beginning.  “Look folks, pay attention to where we’re going.  I’m going to the cross.  If you follow me, you’re going to the cross too.  A seed must ‘die’ and be buried before it multiplies, and you must give up your life as a servant to will have real life.  My path, the path of real life, is the path of surrender and sacrifice and love that gives until it hurts.  Come and follow me, and go to the cross with me.”
  3. The cross drives out “the prince of this world.”  Whatever you think about the devil or evil, I think we can mostly agree on this: the center point of evil is selfishness, careless disregard for others in favor of what feels good for ourselves.  So when Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Deliver us from evil,” or “Deliver us from the Evil One,” he was teaching something that he would live out in his own body.  Jesus’ act of ultimate unselfishness broke the back of Evil in our world.  The power of selfish evil is broken - as long as we live centered in Jesus’ cross.

This week, as I’ve been thinking about these two lines from the Lord’s prayer, I keep coming back to two things.  
One is the Message’s paraphrase of this part of the prayer:  “Save us from ourselves and the devil.”  We need both, right.  We need God to protect us from the darkness that is out there in the world, but we also need God to protect us and to deliver us from the darkness that is in here inside of us.
The other verse that has been rolling around my head, that I just haven’t been able to get away from is also from the Message, in Psalm 19: “Keep me from stupid sins, from thinking I can take over your work” (19:13).  When I think about temptation, this verse nails it.  There are two basic kinds of temptation.  
First, there are the stupid sins.  We all know about those.  They are the extra donut, the gossip, the lie, the retail therapy, the porn.   We know they will mess up our lives.  God, keep us from the stupid sins.
But then, there are the more subtle sins, thinking we can take over, thinking this life is all about us.  These sins are much harder to stop because they are much harder to see.  It’s so easy for us to go through life on our own power for our own good.  We try to be good enough.  We make our choices based on what will make us feel good.  When things go well, when our business succeeds or our team wins, we take the credit.  God, keep us from trying to take over.

Alright, so how does this work out in our lives?  How do we actually live a Jesus-focused life?  How do we resist temptation in the daily grind?  Here are two examples.
The first example is kind of silly.  One of the big reasons we moved to DCC was so that I can enter a doctoral program.  I feel called by God to learn how to develop leaders who will participate in God’s mission in our world.  There are all kinds of different doctorates, with all kinds of different letter combinations: DMin, DDiv, EdD, DOD, DOM, DL.  You can put just about any letters together with a D, and there’s probably a doctorate for that.  But the gold standard for doctorates is a PhD.  A PhD will get you in the door anywhere.  Everyone knows what that is and values it.  A PhD is more work, and it gets more respect.  So, as I was trying to figure out what kind of doctorate I would try for, I had reluctantly decided on a PhD because of it’s universal recognition.  But I just haven’t found a PhD program yet that really fits what I want to study.
But this week, I took a second look at a DMin (Doctorate of Ministry) program in Missional Leadership.  That’s exactly what I want to study.  It’s perfect; it’s just not a PhD.  It doesn’t have the right letters.  
And one morning in my prayer time, God kind of called me out on this.  It was like God said, “Why do you really want a PhD?  Is it for you or for me?  Is it for your fame or for my mission?  If the point is to prepare you to serve in my mission, does it really matter what letters go after your name?”
Now, I don’t know how this will all play out.  I might end up getting a PhD, but now I know that I need to give equal consideration to all the programs, no matter the prestige or the combination of letters that go with it.
And this same kind of question works in almost every area of life.
  • Why do I really want this car?  Is it for me or for God’s mission?
  • Why do I really want this house?  Is this really going to free me for God’s service?
  • Why do I really want this new scarf?
  • Why do I really want this boyfriend?
  • Why do I really want this donut?

Here’s the second example.  I know I’m new around here, but as far as I can tell, Duneland Community Church is about to break out.  Over the past few years, this church has been planting seeds and tilling soil, and it looks like there’s about to be a big harvest here.  
You guys have been kind of like the Fight Club church.  The first rule about DCC is no signs for DCC.  You have to know the secret passcode to get in.  You want the bathroom?  Go past the power tools and turn right and the nuts and bolts.   But now we have a sign, and pretty soon, we’re going not even going to look like a lumberyard anymore.  
God is removing barriers to growth, one sign, one paint brush, and one kitchen display at a time.  And once all of these barriers are gone, I think we’re going to bust out.  I would not be surprised if we have twice as many people here in two years.  That honestly would not surprise me at all.  We’ve got all the makings for a couple of bust out years.  
And that will feel really good, and that will be really exciting.  All of your hard work and cultivation will pay off in a whole bunch more people experiencing God’s wholeness.  We’ll start to feel pretty successful and cool.  
And all of that success could very well start to puff us up.  We’re the cool church.  Worshipping in lumberyards could become the new thing.  We’re hip; we’re creative; we’re so far outside the box, we’re making a new box.  And we can slowly, every so slowly, start to take over God’s work.  It can become about us, through us, by us, for us.  Oh, we would keep talking about God, and singing about God, and working on cultivating God’s wholeness in a broken world.  But it would be so easy for us to just push God out of the way and take over, because - obviously - we know how to do this.  And slowly, we would kill this life that we’re begging God to breathe into us.
The only antidote is a life of steady repentance and prayer.  God, I’m so sorry for making this about me.  I’m sorry for the times I try to take over.  Forgive me, and help us to forgive each other.  Lead us away from this temptation, and deliver us from this evil.  For yours is the Kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever.  Amen.
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