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Sermon for 1 Apr 2012


1 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.'” 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
“Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

FIRST READING Isaiah 50:4–9a

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?

PSALM Psalm 31:9–16

9 Have mercy on me, O LORD, for I am in trouble; my eye is consumed with sorrow, and also my throat and my belly. 10 For my life is wasted with grief, and my years with sighing; my strength fails me because of affliction, and my bones are consumed. 11 I am the scorn of my enemies, a disgrace to my neighbors, a dismay to my acquaintances; when they see me in the street they avoid me. 12 Like the dead I am forgotten, out of mind; I am as useless as a broken pot. 13 For I have heard the whispering of the crowd; fear is all around; they put their heads together against me; they plot to take my life. 14 But as for me, I have trusted in you, O LORD. I have said, “You are my God. 15 My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies, and from those who persecute me. 16 Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.”

SECOND READING Philippians 2:5–11

5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

GOSPEL Mark 14:1—15:47

Chapter 14 1 It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; 2f or they said, “Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.” 3 While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. 4 But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? 5 For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her. 6 But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. 7 For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. 9 Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.” 10 Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. 11 When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him. 12 On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” 13 So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, 14 and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 15 He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” 16 So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal. 17 When it was evening, he came with the twelve. 18 And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” 19 They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, “Surely, not I?” 20 He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me. 21 For 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.” 22 While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. 24 He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” 26 When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 27 And Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ 28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 29 Peter said to him, “Even though all become deserters, I will not.” 30 Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31 But he said vehemently, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And all of them said the same. 32 They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. 34 And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.” 35 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” 37 He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? 38 Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39 And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40 And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. 41 He came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.” 43 Immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. 44 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” 45 So when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. 46 Then they laid hands on him and arrested him. 47 But one of those who stood near drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. 48 Then Jesus said to them, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? 49 Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled.” 50 All of them deserted him and fled. 51 A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, 52 but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked. 53 They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled. 54 Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the guards, warming himself at the fire. 55 Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. 56 For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree. 57 Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, 58 We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’ 59 But even on this point their testimony did not agree. 60 Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” 61 But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” 62 Jesus said, “I am; and ‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.'” 63 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? 64 You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?” All of them condemned him as deserving death. 65 Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” The guards also took him over and beat him. 66 While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. 67 When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, “You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.” 68 But he denied it, saying, “I do not know or understand what you are talking about.” And he went out into the forecourt. Then the cock crowed. 69 And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” 70 But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.” 71 But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know this man you are talking about.” 72 At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, “Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

Chapter 15 1 As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. 2 Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” He answered him, “You say so.” 3 Then the chief priests accused him of many things. 4 Pilate asked him again, “Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.” 5 But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed. 6 Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. 7 Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. 8 So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. 9 Then he answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 10 For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. 12 Pilate spoke to them again, “Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” 13 They shouted back, “Crucify him!” 14 Pilate asked them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him!” 15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified. 16 Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. 17 And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. 18 And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19 They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. 20 After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him. 21 They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. 22 Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). 23 And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take. 25 It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” 27 And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. 29 Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31 In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him. 33 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” 36 And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” 40 There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem. 42 When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. 45 When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. 46 Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid.

How many of you have been “April Fooled” already today? Did you find salt in the sugar bowl while fixing your coffee or cereal? Did the lids to the pepper and salt shakers fall of completely with the first shake? Was all your shirt sleeves turned inside out?
It’s like the man who went into his bank to cash a check. While standing in line he develops a back case of the hiccups. He tried holding his breath and even got out of line to get a drink of water. It seemed that no matter how hard he tried to get relief, the hiccups only got worse. As he approached the teller, his hiccups were so bad he could barely communicate what he wanted. The teller was patient and listened as he finally got out, “cash check”. He presented his check and ID and then waited as the teller typed the information into the computer. The teller typed and typed then suddenly looked up and said, “I’m sorry but it appears that your account is overdrawn. Someone has not only emptied your account but you owe the bank $5,000.
The man was speechless. As he regained his composure he began to complain that this was not possible. His wife had not mentioned any large purchases nor was there any reason for that much money to be missing. Without even cracking a smile the teller begins to count out the man’s money and simply said, “April Fool!” The man wasn’t amused. Angrily, he asked to speak with her supervisor about her conduct and then asked why she would do something so senseless. As she finished the transaction she simply said, your hiccups are gone aren’t they?
Good April Fool jokes and pranks are supposed to strike out at our routines, shake up our perceptions, make something ordinary odd, extraordinary. Sometimes April Fool is something contrived. Sometimes April Fool just happens. For example, Andy Warhol, who turned out to have been a devout Christian, received a Catholic burial at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan on April Fool’s Day 1987, attended by 2000 people. Whether contrived or natural, to be an “April Fool” is to embrace the surprises and new experiences of Spring. And our celebration of both the triumphal entry and the passion of Jesus this week, is no exception.
When we think about it, observing Palm / Passion Sunday on April 1st or April Fool’s Day just seems appropriate. Last week I highlighted the struggles Jesus had while trying to prepare His disciple for His impending arrest. He was obvious troubled with what was to come, only to find that no one seemed to be listening. As a matter of fact our lesson from last week records the third time our Lord and Savior tells His followers that He was to be handed over to death. Yet all the crowd heard was blah, blah, blah; it’s just thunder or an angel. Paul really had it right when he asked the Corinthians, Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. (I Corinthians 1:20-25) To phrase this message of grace in a more Lutheran term, it’s about the foolishness of the cross.
The foolishness of the cross makes no sense to the average person. To think that God would take such extraordinary steps to reconcile us to Himself is pure nonsense. God’s actions in the Flood story are by far much easier to accept when you consider the human condition than the Christ story. Yet this is what God chose to do, and Jesus agreed. Even our readings for today make little sense. We began the service honoring the coming Messiah and in less than 15 minutes we heard story of Jesus’ passion. But it’s not just the overall picture that seems confusing, all along the way, the events that transpired defy the intellect. Take our processional reading for example.
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is a classic “April Fool” experience. First, the two disciples Jesus chose to go “borrow” that colt in Bethphage must have been waiting for Jesus to say “April Fool.” But He doesn’t. Instead Jesus seriously instructs His disciples to go and commit the first-century equivalent of “grand theft auto.” “Borrowing” a valuable animal, a pristine, unbroken young colt, was frowned upon and punished in first century Palestine as seriously as horse-thieving was in the Old West.
And Jesus’ suggested “get out of jail free” card sounds like yet another “April Fool” — just say, “The Lord needs it.” Really? Yet. . . it works! Jesus and His disciples were observant, pious Jews who knew their scripture. His disciples knew the significance of their master riding a young colt into Jerusalem. This was a statement of kingship, of deliverance, of prophetic fulfillment. It’s then with great anticipation and expectation that Jesus’ disciples decide to disrobe. They bare their arms and back, they lay their cloaks, the garments that most physically identify who they are, down upon the roadway, creating a cushioned path for the skittish young animal bearing their master. Again to the regular bystander this was a foolish act, a joke as it were. The disciples stripped down, looking undignified and under-dressed, in order to honor a scriptural image of the messiah.
The disciples surely envisioned that such a significant, majestic entrance into the holy city could not help but lead to great success. Surely Jesus chose to enter the city in such a significant, royal, messianic manner because He was planning some sort of popular uprising, or some extraordinary display of power. This Passover Week was obviously going to be a scene of great success. April Fool.
Other Passover pilgrims traveling into Jerusalem got into the spirit of Jesus’ procession as well. Some of them also peeled off their cloaks and dared to bare their backs in a state of crowd enthusiasm. Others chanted “hosanna” and lay down branches for their combined procession into the city. For everyone in this crowd — Jesus, His disciples, the mixed multitude of travelers — the destination is the same, the spiritual center of Judaism, the Temple. Obviously something wonderful is about to happen. April Fool.
Instead Jesus reaches the Temple, enters into that sacred space and simply stares it down. Then, without a word, Jesus turns on His heel and departs — not just from the Temple Mount, but from the city of Jerusalem. Yet nothing speaks louder about the transformation Jesus’ presence and sacrifice are about to bring into being than this: Just as Jesus instructed His disciples to shake off the dust of those communities that would not welcome them, so Jesus shakes the dust of the Temple and the entire priestly /sacrificial bureaucracy off His feet as He walks back to Bethany.
The Temple and all it thinks it accomplishes is nothing. Jesus doesn’t linger. There’s nothing of God there. Besides, He has a young colt He promised to return “immediately. “If the Temple, the priestly authorities, the religious power structure, thought Jesus was on His way to pay them honor and homage . . . “April Fool.”
Jesus never flinched from playing “the fool” in order to fulfill God’s will. He directed and rode in a pilgrimage parade to the tune of “Hosanna” into Jerusalem. Then He left it all to plod a dusty path back to Bethany. His disciples were not scholars or star students. They were fishermen and tax collectors, nobodies and ne’er-do-wells. His “foolish” path took him into Jerusalem to the chants of “Blessed be” and had Him driven out of Jerusalem with a cross beam strapped to his back on his way to Golgotha. The disciples simply didn’t get it. The realization didn’t come until Jesus was hauled away by the authorities. And if the palm procession didn’t make them skeptical, the events of Christ’s passion really gave them reason to ask if the whole thing was simply a prank.
It’s two days before the Passover and Jesus is in the house of a leper. A woman enters, seemingly without permission or a word, opens a jar of very expensive ointment, a jar that would cost the average worker a year’s wage to purchase, and accosts Jesus by dumping the contents on His head. You’d expect someone to jump out of the closet and scream April Fool! But this doesn’t happen; instead of scolding her, Jesus commends her and says she’ll be famous for her act. And the seeming upside down nature of the events doesn’t end here.
It’s time for the Passover meal and the disciples come to Jesus to ask where He’d like them to make reservations. Again the mission these two disciples were sent on, was none other than a fool’s mission. They’re to go into Jerusalem and follow the first guy they see carrying a water pot. They’re to follow this guy home and then tell the owner of the house that “the Teacher” wants to know where the guest room is so that He and His disciples can eat the Passover. And what they find at the end of this fool’s mission, is a room ready and prepared. It’s no wonder the disciples couldn’t get a grip on Jesus’ foretelling of the events to come. Seemingly random people are willing to give up their animals and homes to this Rabbi. Who would want to kill Him? But that’s exactly what the religious leaders wanted.
It was greed that drove Judas to betray Jesus, but he never thought they’d crucify Him. The disciples followed Him into the garden and swore they’d stand by their Teacher, even pledging their lives, yet all ran when the soldiers showed up. Peter swore he’d never deny His master yet it was with an oath, that he insisted he never knew the Man. Soldiers and religious leaders stood side by side to mock and beat Him. Enemies by day yet vigilantes in arms by night, none of the events of this week or of the passion scene makes sense. Even the scene before Pilate defies logic.
Pilate understanding the motive of the Jews could have released Jesus, but instead he washes his hands of the matter. The crowd, those who had been fed and healed by His kindness turned their backs on Jesus. To make matters worse, they called for Barabbas, a murder and insurrectionists, to be set free rather than the gentle carpenter from Nazareth. The path to the cross, is a path of contradictions; a set of circumstances that leaves one to ask, does any of this make sense? Did logic and sound judgment take a leave of absence? Why in the world would Jesus, the Son of the most high God, stand silently before His accusers when He could have called the legions of heaven to His aid, choosing instead to suffer and die. And in the end, why was it a Roman centurion who witnessed the death of our Lord the one to declare, “truly this was the Son of God”.
As we enter into this most holy week, as we walk the path from Jerusalem to the tomb, the world and common sense wants us to simply dismiss this as nothing more than an April Fool’s joke. But as Paul reminded us, the wisdom of God seems nothing more than foolishness to humankind. But it’s in the foolishness of the cross that we are reconciled to the Father. It’s in the death of Jesus that our sins are forgiven. And it’s in His resurrection that we have eternal life.
As we travel the road to Jerusalem and to Golgotha this week with Jesus, we need to stop and recognize, as best we can, the price God paid for our salvation. We need to see just how opposite God’s sacrifice was, compared to our need for God’s grace. We need to realize that what we could never do to become righteous before God, God did on our behalf. We need to come to terms with the fact that Jesus not only willingly stripped Himself of His divinity, but suffered horribly; how He was mocked, beaten and flogged and finally crucified like the most violent of criminals. We need to come to terms with the extent of our need and just how high the cost was to God. If we can even begin to come to terms with the price God willingly paid for our salvation, then and only then can we begin to understand the enormity of grace. A grace that says I love you so much that I’m willing to be the focus of the April Fool.
The only question left to ask then is, how willing are we to become an “April Fool” for Christ? Are we willing to admit that we are part of a truly “foolish” family? To be a follower of the One who never flinched when it came to being a fool for God, is to be an April Fool for Christ. Are we willing? Are we willing to accept grace and be an April Fool for Christ?

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