Sunday, April 01, 2012

What's Behind Door Number 3?

This message is a lead-in to the congregational retreat and pot luck lunch we're having right after the Lord's Supper today.

John 12:12-16 Common English Bible (CEB)
 12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him. They shouted,
Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 
   Blessings on the king of Israel!”
 14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written,
 15 Don’t be afraid, Daughter Zion. 
      Look! Your king is coming, 
         sitting on a donkey’s colt.
 16 His disciples didn’t understand these things at first. After he was glorified, they remembered that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him.

Contestants on Let’s Make a Deal get to make choices - to gamble if you will. They have to decide which of two choices is better and they have NO CLUE what one of those choices is. They know what they have in their hand right that minute, maybe a computer or a beautiful necklace. Do they want to trade it for some unknown item behind one of the three doors on the stage? They might win a fabulous vacation or a New Car! or they might get a bucket of smelly dead fish. There’s no way to be sure. The contestant is dancing from one foot to the other. The audience is yelling out advice. The host is asking for a decision right now. Taking a deep breath, the contestant shouts out her choice. The host says, “Let’s see what’s behind Door Number Three!” and the door slowly opens on the prize. The contestant stands there, hands clasped, eyes wide, heart beating like a wild thing . . .

Jesus’ disciples didn’t know what lay ahead. Jesus had told them, but they really didn’t understand. They were expecting a glorious victory of the kind King David used to deliver! Rome cowed and defeated. Oppressors brought low. Liberation from the oppressors. They saw all the palm branches and they just knew that this is what it’s going to be like from now on. Their rabbi is being lauded as the Messiah! To be completely fair, Jesus had told them about things to come that were so far outside of their realm of understanding that it would have been a huge surprise if they did get it. The Son of Man would leave them for a time, but would return. A new kingdom would be established. The temple would be destroyed and restored in three days. Temple worship would be purified and returned to the way it used to be. They heard these things but they heard them according to the way the world was at that time, the way the world had always been. They had no idea that Jesus was talking about something completely new and different than the way they had always experienced the world. They saw the miracles he performed - driving out evil spirits, restoring sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, health to the leper, providing food for multitudes - and they thought that these God-given powers would be used to transform the social political structure of the land.

Today they celebrate the triumphal entry into Jerusalem that the prophets wrote about. They are planning a meal, a passover meal to celebrate the liberation of the Hebrews from bondage in Egypt, expecting that this meal will also be a celebration of the very bright future they believe is ahead. But we know that in the next seven days their world will be turned upside down. They will find themselves lost and alone and frightened, hanging on to each other for dear life, not quite sure what just happened, asking each other, “How did we get to this place? Everything was going so well . . . .”

We are also looking ahead, with equal parts fear and hope. I’m not sure about the rest of you, but sometimes I look around and I only see who’s missing. I miss the saints and pillars of our congregation who have passed on. And while I know that this is a good thing for them, I’m not so sure about what it means for us. There are these things that we always used to do and now . . . who’s going to do them? Or are we even going to continue doing those things? On those days I wonder, “How did we get to this place? Everything was going so well . . .” Then I look around again and I see new faces, young faces, hope-filled faces, the faces of leaders, the faces of the future. I hear children laughing and crying and running around the sanctuary, and I take delight in all those sounds.

Today we will share a meal and engage in conversation about our dreams and making those dreams become reality. In this week that began with celebration, moved to deep despair and fear and ended with the resurrection, we look toward the future, poised to make choices that will determine who we are going forward, just as the disciples did. It feels almost as if we are standing on that stage, dancing from foot to foot, heart beating like a wild thing, wondering to ourselves, “What’s behind door number three?,” with the audience shouting out suggestions and Wayne Brady asking us to make a decision. Soon we will choose one of those doors, we will determine how we will serve God, how we will employ our tongues and talents going forward into the future. For now, let us sing.

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