Where Is God When I Need Him?
CALL TO WORSHIP Psalm 31:9-16 31:9 Be gracious to me, O LORD, 14...I trust in you, O LORD; I say, "You are my God." 15 My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors. 16 Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.
*OPENING HYMN All Glory, Laud, and Honor #234
*INVOCATION AND LORD'S PRAYER Merciful Lord, our hearts are overwhelmed with thanksgiving for enduring the barbs of sinful and foolish humans and for going all the way to the cross in order to save us. May our lives be filled with faith and love and so prove that your suffering sacrifice for us was not in vain. In the name of Christ
SCRIPTURE READING Isaiah 50:4-9a used Matthew 21:1-11 for Palm Sunday
50:4 The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens - wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. 5 The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. 6 I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. 7 The Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; 8 he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. 9 It is the Lord GOD who helps me; who will declare me guilty? READER Paul Bond
OFFERING Romans 8:32Since God did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t God, who gave us Christ, also give us everything else?
*PRAYER OF DEDICATION Our Father, as you have freely given us all that we have and lovingly made us all that we are, we now freely and lovingly give back to you the substance of our lives. Forgive us where we have been selfish. Remind us that it was from the proverty of the cross that we gained the richness of life. Accept these gifts as a token of our sincere worship, for we do love you and earnestly seek the advancement of your kingdom. AMEN.
CHILDREN'S STORY TIME
PRAYER Holy God,
Judas sold your Son for thirty pieces of silver.
We often sell him for even less:
a way to save ourselves embarrassment;
a little incorrect change we decide not to return;
a grudge we hold far too long;
a fling with someone to whom we are not married;
an edge over someone else at work;
a little lie that keeps us out of trouble;
and on and on we go,
selling our Savior day after day.
God have mercy on us.
Forgive us and transform us.
Let Jesus' sacrifice melt our stony hearts,
and turn us into the faithful disciples
that Jesus showed us we could become.
We pray in the name of the One whom we betrayed,
but who has never betrayed us.
(Continue in silent prayer.)
Because of his sin, Judas destroyed himself. Peter sinned no less than Judas, but he went on to become the rock upon which Jesus built the Church.The difference is that Peter stayed the course, and found forgiveness from a risen Savior.Brothers and sisters, our sins cost Jesus his life, but Jesus is not defeated by death. He rises from the grave, and proclaims the forgiveness of all our sins and the beginning of new life for each one of us!Thanks be to God, and thanks be to the Son of God, now and forever more! Amen!
*PREPARATIONAL HYMN Wondrous Love #250
SCRIPTURE TEXT Matthew 26:14-27:66 (long form)26:14 Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, "What will you give me if I betray him to you?" They paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him. 17 On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?" 18 He said, "Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, 'The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.'" 19 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal. 20 When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; 21 and while they were eating, he said, "Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me." 22 And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, "Surely not I, Lord?" 23 He answered, "The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born." 25 Judas, who betrayed him, said, "Surely not I, Rabbi?" He replied, "You have said so." 26 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." 27 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom." 30 When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 31 Then Jesus said to them, "You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.'32 But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee." 33 Peter said to him, "Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you." 34 Jesus said to him, "Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times." 35 Peter said to him, "Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you." And so said all the disciples. 36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." 37 He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. 38 Then he said to them, "I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me." 39 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want." 40 Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, "So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? 41 Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." 42 Again he went away for the second time and prayed, "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done." 43 Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand." 47 While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, "The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him." 49 At once he came up to Jesus and said, "Greetings, Rabbi!" and kissed him. 50 Jesus said to him, "Friend, do what you are here to do." Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. 51 Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. 52 Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53 Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?" 55 At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, "Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. 56 But all this has taken place, so that the scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled." Then all the disciples deserted him and fled. 57 Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, in whose house the scribes and the elders had gathered. 58 But Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest; and going inside, he sat with the guards in order to see how this would end. 59 Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for false testimony against Jesus so that they might put him to death, 60 but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward 61 and said, "This fellow said, 'I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.'" 62 The high priest stood up and said, "Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?" 63 But Jesus was silent. Then the high priest said to him, "I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God." 64 Jesus said to him, "You have said so. But I tell you, From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven." 65 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, "He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy. 66 What is your verdict?" They answered, "He deserves death." 67 Then they spat in his face and struck him; and some slapped him, 68 saying, "Prophesy to us, you Messiah! Who is it that struck you?" 69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant-girl came to him and said, "You also were with Jesus the Galilean." 70 But he denied it before all of them, saying, "I do not know what you are talking about." 71 When he went out to the porch, another servant-girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, "This man was with Jesus of Nazareth." 72 Again he denied it with an oath, "I do not know the man."73 After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, "Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you." 74 Then he began to curse, and he swore an oath, "I do not know the man!" At that moment the cock crowed. 75 Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: "Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times." And he went out and wept bitterly. 27:1 When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus in order to bring about his death. 2 They bound him, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate the governor. 3 When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. 4 He said, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." But they said, "What is that to us? See to it yourself." 5 Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. 6 But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, "It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money." 7 After conferring together, they used them to buy the potter's field as a place to bury foreigners. 8 For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, "And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set, on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price, 10 and they gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord commanded me." 11 Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus said, "You say so." 12 But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. 13 Then Pilate said to him, "Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?" 14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed. 15 Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. 16 At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. 17 So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, "Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?" 18 For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. 19 While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, "Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him." 20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. 21 The governor again said to them, "Which of the two do you want me to release for you?" And they said, "Barabbas." 22 Pilate said to them, "Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?" All of them said, "Let him be crucified!" 23 Then he asked, "Why, what evil has he done?" But they shouted all the more, "Let him be crucified!" 24 So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves." 25 Then the people as a whole answered, "His blood be on us and on our children!" 26 So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified. 27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor's headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!"30 They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. 32 As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. 33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), 34 they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. 35 And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; 36 then they sat down there and kept watch over him. 37 Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, "This is Jesus, the King of the Jews." 38 Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39 Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, "You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross." 41 In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, 42 "He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, 'I am God's Son.'" 44 The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way. 45 From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 46 And about three o'clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" 47 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, "This man is calling for Elijah." 48 At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, "Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him." 50 Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53 After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. 54 Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, "Truly this man was God's Son!" 55 Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. 57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59 So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb. 62 The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63 and said, "Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, 'After three days I will rise again.' 64 Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, 'He has been raised from the dead,' and the last deception would be worse than the first." 65 Pilate said to them, "You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can." 66 So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.
SERMON Where Is God When I Need Him?
"This man really was God's Son!" (Ibid, CEV) said the soldier, at the foot of the cross, as Jesus died. So where in heaven was God while his Son hung there between heaven and hell; between life and death? Between the hosannas and the hallelujahs -- the triumphal entry on Palm Sunday, the not so triumphal exit come Friday -- and Jesus' triumphant return to life on Easter -- where was God?
The simple, straightforward, orthodox answer is this: Right there in front of everyone. Right there; riding on a donkey, receiving the adulation of an expectant crowd. That's where God was.
Standing before the Roman Governor receiving the third degree.
Rejected by rabble-rousers who called for the release of a man called Jesus Barrabas, instead of Jesus called the Messiah.
Scorned by the powers that be, for whom his activities meant a change in the status quo and in the equation of political power.
Beaten barbarically by soldiers who were "just following orders."
Paraded through the streets of the City a second time, this time not on the back of a donkey, but with a big piece of wood on his back.
Put upon, spat upon, and finally hung upon a cross. Not a decorative cross like ours in the sanctuary, but a deadly cross, the only purpose of which was to kill as deliberately and demonically as you or I could imagine.
That's where God was that week. That week we call "holy," because of what happened -- but a week more ghastly than good. That week that begins hopefully today, descends to the depths of hopelessness by Friday, and ends with a new beginning and new hope as the first day of a new week became the eighth day of this "Holy Week," with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. God was there. For everyone to see. Hanging on for dear life on the back of a donkey. Hanging onto life itself in a politically charged situation that finally demanded his death.
Hanging on a cross. That's where God was.
We need to pay attention to that before we get to next Sunday with its emphasis on where Jesus wasn't. He wasn't in his grave. Come next Sunday.
But that's next Sunday. This Sunday, called "Palm Sunday" because they waved palm branches as he came into Jerusalem; and "Passion Sunday," because people waving palms quickly gave way to soldiers wielding whips; this Sunday we need to ask where God was while Jesus was "descending into hell." Where is God when my life is hell? Where is God when I need him? We need to ask that, and pay attention to that, because otherwise we end up with what I call "pogo stick" theology. Boinging down on Palm Sunday long enough to enjoy the parade, and then bouncing over to Easter long enough to enjoy the flowers and the fun; without ever coming down to that other reality in between.
But miss the middle and you miss the point. Miss the mess in which Jesus quickly found himself, and you miss the meaning of Easter.
Just about everyone missed it the first time around. And we still do. The crowd missed it that Palm Sunday. They celebrated the way we celebrate: in anticipation of getting what they wanted -- in their case, a "messiah." One who would take up the role of king and lead them to freedom from the rule of the Roman Empire. Here was someone they would follow into battle, to fight the "evil empire" of the Roman government, to free themselves from tyranny.
If Jesus had gotten off the donkey and yelled, "Charge," many of them would have. They'd have charged the governor's headquarters with its cohort of Roman soldiers, and died for the right to be free of Roman rule. From time to time during the history of the Jewish people, they did just that. And many in the crowd that first "Palm Sunday" were itching to do it again. They were remembering, perhaps, as only the Jews can remember, events of just 150 years before when a revolt had been led by one "Judas Maccabeus." The story is in that part of the Bible we call the "apocrypha," the books that lie between Old Testament and New Testament times. My study Bible describes "... Judas Maccabeus as the ideal Jewish warrior -- one who prays before battles and gives thanks afterward, always careful to observe the Sabbath and other Jewish rituals."1 The crowd was curious. Could Jesus be like him? The crowd was hopeful. Maybe he will be like him. When it became clear that he wasn't like him, the crowd deserted Jesus for someone else, asking, instead of mercy for Jesus who had healed their sick and held out hope of a new way of living with friends and enemies, for the freedom of one called Jesus Barrabas. It is the same name, according to the best manuscripts. Jesus Barrabas, Jesus Messiah. Or just plain, Jesus -- both of them. Our word "Jesus" is really Joshua in anglicized Hebrew. Yeshua. A name that means "Yahweh is salvation." "God saves." The answer to the cries of "hosanna," meaning "save us," is the name of the one on the donkey, "Jesus," which means "God saves." God was there, from donkey to death, but few could see it. What they would soon see clearly was that the Jesus on the donkey would not "save them" the way they wanted to be saved -- would not lead a military revolt, or a mob-based uprising against Rome. So given the choice, they chose one, perhaps, who would; who in God's name, his own name, would give them what they wanted. I've always wondered about the seemingly arbitrary choice of "Jesus Barrabas" as the people's choice. Why a criminal? Perhaps, because to them he wasn't a criminal! The King James Version of the Bible simply calls him a "prisoner." Prisoners are bad people. Right? So why this bad guy, Jesus Barrabas, over the good guy -- Jesus of Nazareth?
Maybe it's a matter of perception. Barrabas was a bad guy in the eyes of Rome, so he was in a Roman prison, but maybe he was a good guy in the eyes of fellow Jews. The translators of the Contemporary English Version of the Bible call Barrabas a "well known terrorist" (Matthew 27:16 CEV). Exactly the kind of guy to do what Jesus wouldn't. If Jesus won't, maybe Barrabas will! Maybe the people got exactly what they wanted, while missing what they already had. Not just someone named "God is salvation," who goes on to do things his way, Jesus Barrabas; but the God who comes to save, Jesus Christ, who goes his way on a donkey doing good. And when that wasn't good enough -- getting crucified for it.
They crucified him! Something most political pundits of the day could no doubt have predicted. Jesus was up in the polls on Palm Sunday, but down in his grave on Friday. That week was like a political primary -- Barrabas won, God lost. They crucified Jesus -- called the Messiah -- the Christ. They crucified him. A word that means death by being nailed to a cross, that has come to mean in our day political or social death by being nailed -- by being persecuted and accused of things unfairly. /// Back to my original question. Where was God in all that? More importantly, where is God in all that? Things are not all that different today. Where is God now? God is where he's always been: with us in all that. In the midst of all our hopes and dreams, even when they turn into despair and nightmares, God is still with us in Jesus Christ. As surely as God was present on that donkey that first Palm Sunday, he is present with you and me on this Palm Sunday, and is ready to go with us into the week to come.
The story of Holy Week is not about God waving a magic wand, but about God walking the walk -- the via dolorosa, the way of sorrow, the way of life, with you and me. This week is about God's presence in your life and mine, assuring us, and when necessary reassuring us, that whether it's hope that dies, or one we love who dies, or even ourselves who must die, death does not defeat life in the end. For in the end, as in the beginning, God is there. God is here, to guarantee it. Most of you know the popular poem called "Footprints." I see it often in memorial folders as people try to make sense out of death -- or at least be reassured it's not the end. It's a little sentimental, but it's become a sort of Psalm for our day, a piece of poetry for those times when prose won't do.
It tells the story of a man looking back over his life and seeing it as a walk along a beach. Looking back along the beach he's walked (the life he's lived), he sees two sets of footprints. His and God's -- side-by-side. God walked with him in his life.
But looking closer, he noted some times in his life where there was only one set of footprints. When the walker was alone. He knew he was there. It was his life. And it was at those times in his life that were hardest that the second set of footprints disappeared.
So he prayed to God -- as Jesus might've prayed -- did pray on the cross, as you or I might pray sometimes: Where were you, when I most needed you? Where are you now? Why have you forsaken me? What's this having to walk alone?
To which God replied, my child, when there was only one set of footprints, they were mine. I was carrying you. The old spiritual says, "Jesus walked this lonesome valley...." This lonesome valley is life as you and I live it. God lived it too, in Jesus Christ. Holy week was a lonesome time, as people turned against him, denied knowing him, and finally abandoned him. So there is only one set of footprints from today to Easter Sunday. The footprints of Jesus Christ, God himself, who in this holy week, begun as he was carried into Jerusalem on a donkey, got off the donkey and walked alone, carrying you and me. 1. The Harper Collins Study Bible, 2 Maccabees "Contents," p. 1691.
*INVITATIONAL HYMN Were You There #266
*BENEDICTION May you be haunted by Jesus' story day and night,
so that you may never forget the depth of his love for you.
Now live lives worthy of the royal blood
that has redeemed them for eternal life,
in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.Amen.
O God, when the noise and the celebration of Jesus' final entrance into Jerusalem were over, You took rejection and turned it into Salvation. Lord, use our lives again today. Lord, so often we have given You loud praise only to turn against You for our own reasons later. Like the crowds who cheered as You entered Jerusalem then called for Your crucification, at times we too are fickle with our praise. Forgive us, Lord, and lead us to be faithful against all pressures, even death, that we might be true. In Christ we pray.
O God, it must have pained You so to watch us reject Your Son. But You took the Cross we meant as an insult, and turned it into a symbol of life. We lift our voices to You in praise. /// Lord, so often, like the crowds of Jerusalem, we come to praise You one day and before a week is past we have, through our personal actions, rejected You and spiritually nailed You to the Cross again. Forgive us, Lord, and help us to bring our living witness and personal actions closer to the faith You came to teach us. In Christ we pray. Amen.