Toorak Uniting Church

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An inconvenient truth

Philippians 2: 5 – 11   Mark 11: 1 – 11
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
5 April 2009

On this Sunday we remember the story of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem a week before Easter. In the gospel of Mark this last week of Jesus’ life takes up nearly half the gospel. This gives us an important indication of how important this last week, and the suffering and death of Jesus, are for Mark. How he believes we cannot understand the mystery of Jesus’ life or the resurrection, unless we understand the whole of Jesus’ journey leading up to Easter, including his suffering and death.

In the journey the gospel talks about Jesus models a life led by God and shows us what such a life brings about. Think of the stories you know about Jesus and you will see him bring healing, peace, light, life, grace and mercy in the lives of people living around him.
His is a journey of self giving in the service of God. It is a journey of obedience, of trust in the face of extreme adversity, of trust in God’s ability to save and turn things around, even where that seems humanly impossible.

His life confronts the leaders of his day with a lifestyle in direct contrast with what they hold sacred and it undermines the way they see the world. And it makes them feel so uncomfortable they want to be rid of him.

Even his disciples don’t really get it till after Easter. (And even then....). They are also vying for power, part of the old order, not prepared to face the fact that pain and suffering is part of the journey of Jesus. That only death and total trust will free the way to new life. Peter doesn’t want to hear of it when Jesus tries to prepare him for it. When Mary Magdalen comes to anoint Jesus and he again tries to prepare his disciples for what is coming, they don’t want to be told.

Please, no, no unpleasantness!

The happy crowd with the Palm branches and the cheering crowds at the entry into Jerusalem speaks more to their imagination. Ok, there is that donkey there, a sign of humility of the king they are welcoming, of his peaceful nature and his lack of interest in worldly status and glory in battle. But it is all too easy to conveniently ignore that and believe he will take over from the religious and worldly leaders of the day.

Sadly, more often than not, we are like those disciples. We love happy, cheering crowds, glory and victory. And we’d rather avoid unpleasantness. We don’t like to talk about hardship and struggle, let alone confront its pain, for ourselves or in the lives of others. All too often we find ways to work around the difficulties following in Jesus’ footsteps might get us into. And are all too happy to accept the myth that following Christ leads to a safe and well organised life where everything is nice and pleasantly harmless.

Even more sadly we are often like those religious and worldly leaders of Jesus’ day who had so much trouble accepting his lifestyle they felt compelled to do something about it. We don’t like it when someone comes and rattles us about the way we believe the world works. Not many of us find it easy to let go of power, of control, of self importance, of the protection of what we see as our interests, and risk our financial security, personal status or even spiritual interest for the sake of the imitation of Christ.
I heard someone say this week: "In an ideal world I would give much more to charity, but as long as I don’t know what the market is going to do I think I might sit tight, even where I have money to spare...."

Is there something you would do in an ideal world you are not doing right now? Think about it! And ask yourself that question more evangelical Christians put on their fridge doors - and every where else they can see it: "What would Jesus do?"

Did he hesitate to give? Or did he give wholeheartedly and generously of what he had to give? Did he ignore or avoid pain and difficulty, his or that of others, just because it was uncomfortable? Or did he confront whatever it was and work through it trusting that God would guide him and help him? Did he let his fear of the unknown make him hold on to age old religious traditions and practices to the detriment of those he encountered? Did he let being close to God come in between him and the well being of those around him?

What did Jesus do?

I’ll tell you what Jesus did: He did not consider equality with God something to grasp and hold on to, but came to share our life with us, made himself a nothing, a servant, he humbled himself, even to death on a cross.

And now, after Easter, every knee should bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.

Do you truly confess Jesus as Lord of your life? Including the part that asks you to put yourself out, to give of yourself more than you might easily part with, to let go of your self interest, whatever that may be (it could be a million dollars but it could also be your seat in the second pew from the front) and make room for something altogether new? What is it going to be?

Today we thank God for the offerings that will enable this congregation to continue its work in years to come. We celebrate the generous giving of many who have made financial commitments or who have pledged their time and talents. The response has been good, support is up, even where we are in a time of economic uncertainty. And that is great.

It is however not where we finish with great hosannas and hallelujah's galore. It is where we start the next leg of our journey.

A journey where we, in the footsteps of Jesus, continue to ask ourselves "What would Jesus do" and look critically at what and how we can give of what we have received from God’s hands in the service of his Kingdom. Amen.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2009

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