Hi Friends! Posting this quickly before Palm Sunday is completely irrelevant. We were, of course, in the Gospel of Mark.
Rehoboth Congregational Church
April 14, 2019
Small-Town Disciples In A Really Big World
When Bruce and I moved to Atlanta, we were 21 and 22 years old. We had both grown up in small towns in the northeast part of the country. I had been to Atlanta a grand total of three times before we moved there – once for a conference, once to visit Emory and once to find an apartment – and Bruce had never been there.
We drove into the city around noon; there was not a cloud in the sky that day, so the sun was beating down on our cars and I think it might have been 112° degrees. We were coming down I85 and as we approached the interchange between that and I285, the traffic was insane; cars were crossing four lines of traffic in one fell swoop, driving 90 mph in the left hand lane and merging without really paying attention to who was already on the road.
It was insane. Now looking back, those was normal Atlanta road conditions that we eventually acclimated to, but, at the time, we were these two small town northerners. Even though we knew what we were getting ourselves into when we had made the decision to move down there, it was almost as if in that moment, we realized just how different life was going to be from what we were accustomed to.
We were in separate cars, so I remember Bruce called me and said, “Oh my gosh, we live in a city now!” and there was this combination of excitement and fear and bewilderment in his voice.
I have to think that the disciples might have had similar emotions as they approached Jerusalem with Jesus. Think about it – these were Galilean fisherman, not big city guys. This was all new to them – the pace of life, the size of the buildings, the sheer number of people.
Because of where we are in the Year of Mark, we are actually jumping back two chapters to this narrative of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem for Palm Sunday; but what this means is that we already have a little bit of a taste of what happens once they get there. Last week when I preached on the mini apocalypse and the destruction of the temple, one of the things that actually made me think about Bruce and me moving to Atlanta was when Jesus came out of the temple and the disciples said, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” They had to have been overwhelmed, at least on some level, by the world they had just entered.
And, even more than that, the Jesus that they have known up until this point is not necessarily the Jesus they are seeing and experiencing once they get to Jerusalem. The Jesus they knew when they were first traveling around to the different villages along the Sea of Galilee was a teacher and a healer. He performed miracles, feeding thousands of people using mere morsels of bread and fish and calmed raging seas during a bad storm. He blessed the vulnerable and often retreated alone to pray.
But now Jesus is in Jerusalem. And once he gets there, curses a fig tree and then he walks into the temple and starts throwing things around.
This is a side of Jesus that the disciples have not seen before.
Can you imagine what they are feeling right now? They are in a big new city, surrounded by sights and sounds they have probably never seen or heard. And their teacher – Jesus, the man who called them away from their fishing boats (their families, their livelihoods, the only lives they had ever known) – is in the temple knocking over tables and driving people out.
I can only imagine that, in this moment, the disciples realized just how big Jesus was; that this ministry that he had called them into was so much greater than they could ever comprehend.
The stakes were high.
And yet, he still needed them. He still needed them to be faithful; to follow him and to learn as much as they could from him. He still needed them to bear witness to the Gospel; to heal others and to preach and teach in his name. He still needed them to gather around a table and break bread together. He still needed them to study scripture, but also to remember that, out of everything, the greatest commandment is to love God and love people. He still needed them to proclaim this message of grace and redemption that he knew was going to change the world.
And I have to believe that the same is true today.
I had a different point that I was going to make today, but while I was working on my sermon yesterday, I got an alert from CNN. The headline read: “There are now as many Americans who claim no religion as there are evangelicals and Catholics, a survey finds.”
The article – which cites an analysis by a man who is a pollical scientist out of Eastern Illinois University and a Baptist pastor and says that 23.1% of Americans now claim no religion – reminded me that the stakes are just as high today as they were when Jesus entered a Jerusalem 2,000 years ago.
People are turning away from religion because they find it irrelevant, unnecessary and contradictory and, in some cases, judgmental and hate-filled. They do not see the value in it; they do not understand the capacity it has to transform their lives or change the world for the better. They find community in other places and try to do good by supporting secular organizations that align with their principles.
And I am not judging people who choose to live their lives differently than me, because I do understand people’s reasoning for either turning away from religion or not making church a priority in their lives.
But it does make me sad to think that this all could be slipping away.
We have to tell this story. It is our responsibility to make sure the Gospel of Jesus Christ is passed on to the next generation.
The task at hand is not a small one. Just like the disciples, the ministry that we have been called into is so much greater than we may ever comprehend.
And yet, just like the disciples, Jesus still needs us today. He needs us to be faithful; to follow him and to learn as much as we can, no matter where we are on our journey through life. He needs us to bear witness to the Gospel; to heal others and to preach and teach in his name. He needs us to gather around a table and break bread together. He needs us to study scripture, but also to remember that, out of everything, the greatest commandment is to love God and love people. He needs us to proclaim this message of grace and redemption that we know changed the world still has the capacity to change it even more.
On this Palm Sunday, I invite you to feel that excitement and fear and bewilderment of small-town disciples in a really big world. Do not be overwhelmed by what we have to do, but also take the call seriously.
Holy Week is upon us; and the really cool part about Holy Week and Easter is that it is the only time during the Christian year that we get to live out the story in real time. On Thursday evening, at our Maundy Thursday Worship & Service of Tenebrae, we will hear the story of Jesus’ crucifixion.
And then, just like they did 2,000 years ago, we will wait.
We will wait for the women to discover that the tomb is empty. We will wait for the sun to rise and for light to shine on Easter morning. We will wait for resurrection. We will wait for the reminder that love always, always, ALWAYS wins.
I think sometimes we gather for worship or as a community and think we are just some small, country church. But we are not. We are part of something so much bigger. And God is using us – and will continue to use us – to spread the Gospel, even if it is overwhelming at times.
The task is great, friends, But God is greater.
Thanks be to God!