Sunday, March 20, 2016

Therefore, Have Faith: Palm Sunday Sermon

Jesus is Greater, Therefore Have Faith
Today, if you have not figured it out, is Palm Sunday. On Palm Sunday a couple of millennia ago, Jesus marched into Jerusalem on a donkey colt right before Passover. Because of the Scriptures, people came to understand that Jesus was in fact claiming to be the Messiah. The place down palm leaves in front of Jesus and the donkey. They shout, “Hosanna, blessed in his he who comes in the name of the Lord.” The faithful cry out. Yet, the religious leaders are upset at this. They tell Jesus to make his disciples shut up. Jesus’s response is that if he tells his disciples to stop proclaiming his praises that the stones will cry out with the same praises. This of course does not please those in religious authority and they began to put in motion the difficult and painful days that are ahead with Holy Week. Days that culminate with Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross on Friday.

There is a statement often made about the Holy Week experience that says that the crowds acclaimed him on Palm Sunday, and then the shouted “crucify him” on Good Friday. In one sense this is true. The crowds said contradictory things. But, in another way, this truism is misleading. The crowds that sang Jesus’ praises on Sunday were the people who were longing to be delivered. The crowd on Good Friday was a different crowd with a competing agenda.

The crowd on Palm Sunday is a group of people who placed their hopes in Jesus Christ, saw their faith in him disappointed through death, and then revived through the events of Easter Morning.

In the Christian year, Palm Sunday is a welcome joyful respite in Lenten movement toward the cross. Palm Sunday reminds us to have the courage of faith, even when we cannot see the hope that we are longing for and the deliverance we are expecting within our grasp.

This is much the message of Hebrews 11.

For the last several weeks we have heard about the greatness of Christ. He is the one that the prophets had spoken about. He is greater than the angels and the priests. He is greater than the political powers that be and the religious powers that be. He is greater that our traditions and institutions. He is greater than all. And Jesus deserves our honor and worship.

Because Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is at the crux of all history, because Jesus made a way out of no way to offer us salvation, and because he is our intercessor and our advocate with our Heavenly Father, we are called to trust Jesus. Our as Hebrews 11 says, to have faith.

That is what faith means you know…trust.

Hebrews 11 offers us several examples of heroes of faith. These heroes of the faith demonstrated trust in God in the middle of sometimes mysterious and sometimes trying circumstances.

Abel had faith, and to demonstrate his faith he brought an offering.
Enoch had faith as well. He walked with God, and then God took him home to heaven without experiencing a traditional death.

Noah built an ark. He built the ark before he experienced rain. God said there was going to be a flood, so he needed to build the ark. So that is what he did.

Abraham headed out the promised land. He went trusting that God would show him where that promised land was.

Each of these journeys of trusting God seems to have a similar trajectory or pattern. This structure of their faith development has a lot to teach us about how our trust in the savior can grow as we journey through life.

First people with faith each face unique challenges. Noah is asked to build a boat. Abraham is asked to travel to a new land and live in tents. Enoch is challenged to walk closely with God in a wicked generation. Abel is challenged to discern an appropriate sacrifice.

Each of us face unique challenges in our faith journeys as well. We are single parents wondering when we are going to catch a break. We are struggling with our health. We are caregivers to loved ones that sap most of our energy. We are trying to keep our addictions at bay. We are battling against depression. We are lonely. We are broke. We are grieving. Our children are making messes of their lives. Our marriages are struggling, or worse yet crumbling. We are praying, and yet our prayers don’t seem to be answered.

The story of faith often begins in difficult, unique and challenging circumstances. In our lives it often begins when we come to an end of ourselves and discover a deep and abiding need for the presence of God in our lives.

Hebrews 11:1 says that faith is being confident of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see. This means, in part, that when we live out our faith we live beyond our present circumstances. We realize that we face unique difficulties and circumstances, but that our unique difficulties and circumstances do not define us, but rather they are vehicles through which God can work by his grace to change us and to better us, and to deepen our faith and make us whole.

We think we have life figured out. Then circumstances send us for a loop. We wonder what to do, and where to turn next. Somehow, in that moment, great or small, the Spirit wriggles his way into our lives. And we begin to look to one that is greater than us. And we find hope and purpose as we live a new kind of life. A life of truly trusting in Jesus. A life of putting our faith in Jesus Christ.

Second, faith calls us to trust without all the answers. Faith calls us to look at the current difficulties, even if difficult to do, and to trust that God is at work even when we do not understand how he is working. It is not faith when you have the script of your life in front of you, and you have a guarantee of what is coming next in every circumstance. Faith challenges us to trust that God is at work fulfilling his promises even it makes very little sense. When Hebrews 11 says that faith “is being confident of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”, part of what it is saying is that we live in dependence on God as believers, confident that God will keep his Word, but not always knowing when or how he will do that.

This is where, at times, worry can snuff the life out of our ability to trust. When we trust God, we seek to be faithful and put it in his control. When we worry we are like a pit bull that locks on to its prey, jaw locked shut until we shake the life out of whatever circumstance or concern we have grabbed a hold of. Faith does not spell out all our circumstances. It asks us to trust in every circumstance however.

Third, faith calls us to action. Noah builds. Seth harvests and gives. Enoch walks. Abraham goes. Faith is an action word. It is not a sentiment. Faith doesn’t sit still. Faith lives a life that wagers on God’s goodness and God’s trustworthiness by organizing our decisions and behaviors around When we realize that Jesus is greater than all authorities and all circumstances that are in front of us, that we find the courage to trust enough to live in a way that reflects that trust in him. We do so by:
·         Obeying Scripture even when it doesn’t make sense.

·         Loving people who have been our enemies or who have not treated us lovingly

·         Serving people in our community because Jesus said the greatest among us is the one who serves.

·         Having the courage to carry out our mission without immediate fruit or results, believing that as we step out in faith God will meet us there

·         Trusting God to provide for our needs even when provision is slow in coming

·         It has the courage to tithe even when it is difficult to let go of the security and comfort (much less toys) that the money we are giving would provide if we kept a hold of it

Finally, faith takes the long view. The writer of Hebrews says that Abraham was content to live in tents because he knew that he was headed toward an eternal city whose architect and builder was God. Abraham did not get caught up in the tyranny of the urgent. He looked at things from an eternal perspective, knowing that God would bring everything together in his good time. There were some things, in fact, where Abraham lived in a way that he trusted God to work through his life after his days were done.

Hebrews 11:6 says that persons who have faith must believe God exists and believe that God rewards those who seek him.

This means to me that we need to trust that God will bless us, even when our situation does not look like a blessing. Living in faith is living in the assurance that God is faithful, even if his timing is not my timing.

It is powerful how many of the examples of the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 faced daunting circumstances. Trials that would have caused many of us to run away or quit. Yet they remained faithful. Through mocking. Through torture. Through martyrdom. They stood strong. They lived in trust is a God that is good and is working together all things for the good of those that love him and are called according to purpose.
As a church body, as Christian believers, we should do the same. We should not only have faith, we should exercise faith and live by it through trusting Jesus with our whole lives. Amen.

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