bottom line, God

Luke 19:28-22:62 (excerpts)

Most of you know what it means
to talk about a certain timeframe—a day—a week,
as a roller-coaster ride.
“Boy, for the past month, I feel like I’ve been on a roller-coaster.”
We know what that means.
It means there have been highs during that time and lows.
Plural. Lots of highs. Lots of lows. Interspersed.
Some of us might even have a sense of a roller-coaster kind of life.

Have you thought of holy week as a roller-coaster kind of week for Jesus?
With all the excitement and fun of the triumphal entry—
the parade, the people, the shouting and singing,

Maybe even some double sense of the pure fun of it, on the one hand,
and then, at a completely different level,
another separation into the deep appropriateness,
blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Yes.
And, at the same time, the wrongness
of an acknowledgement the fullness of which no one knew.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

There was the anger in the temple at the temple’s abuse—
had to have been sad too—
something having fallen so far short of its purpose,
the grief looking out over and considering Jerusalem—
and the anger, right? Had to have been.
The conflicting, I’d imagine, feelings at the last supper,
the anguished tears in the garden of Gethsemane,
the pain of betrayal and rejection.
Was he just all over the place that week?

We even separate it all out, right? In our story-telling.
We have the triumphal entry,
and we celebrate Palm Sunday.
Or we acknowledge the betrayal and the grief
in celebrating Passion Sunday.
Or we mix them together to try and honor the truth of …
well, the truth of a roller-coaster of a week.

So one answer to the question,
was holy week kind of a roller coaster ride for Jesus?
Yes, of course it was.
How could it not have been?

Jesus experienced the fullness of life, we believe—
the fullness of excitement, of relationship, of love,
the fullness of anticipation and joy,
and all the fullness of grief and pain.
That’s the very essence of a roller-coaster of a week, isn’t it?

Yet through all the ups and downs—
the wide range of experiences and emotions,
Jesus navigated this week, I would suggest,
and it doesn’t say this—Scripture doesn’t say this,
but it’s my sense of Jesus and of this week—
that Jesus navigated this week
with an evenness, somehow, through it all—
an evenness that came from the discipline
of his commitment to God.

Bottom line for Jesus—
fully acknowledging, here’s what I want,
this is what I would prefer,
here’s what I really wish could happen,
here’s what I’m praying will be,
the bottom line, was nonetheless always—
here’s what I’ve committed to:
I’ve committed to God.
I’ve committed to the way of God.
Bottom line, God.
Not what I want—
not what I feel—
not if it means not being the person I’ve committed to be—
the person I believe God has called me to be.

What a stark contrast to the ethos of our culture
with its you asked for it, have it your way, just do it,
because you’re worth it,
because sometimes you feel like a nut and sometimes you don’t,
and don’t you want to be a pepper too?
Bottom line all about what you want—what you feel like …
as long as that bolsters their bottom line, of course.

So there was this roller coaster of ever-changing emotions—of feelings,
of wishes and fears, of hopes, and anger and doubt,
but the roller-coaster did not dictate the way Jesus lived his life—
did not dictate the choices he made—
how he related to friends, family, disciples, and those who rejected him—
did not dictate what Jesus did and said.
What a stark contrast to so many of our lives.

So it was that even in the Garden of Gethsemane,
within that desperate prayer for another way—
that deep sense of all that was to be lost,
there was still the affirmation of what would not be lost:
“Thy will be done.”

We’ve noted before that the self-identification of God
as “I am that I am”
can indicate the unqualified consistency of God’s being:
“I am always that I am,”
and “I will ever be who I’ve ever been.”

And we’ve also noted that with subordinate adverbial phrases added,
the qualified inconsistency of our own being is indicated:
“I am that I am when I’m with so and so”—“or with so and so.”
“I am that I am when I’m happy”—“when I’m sad”—
“excited”—“sick”—“when I’m in church and when I’m not.”

My Saturday night sermon writing facebook buddies, by the way,
were horrified that after not preaching for several weeks
I was going to return to the pulpit with subordinate adverbial phrases!

But our story tells us that Jesus was more like God in our story—
consistently unqualified,
than like we tend to be with all our qualifications.
there was an insubordinate consistency of being to Jesus—
an unshakeable conviction
that utterly confounded the Pharisees,
that utterly confounded the disciples,
that utterly confounded Judas,
that utterly confounded Peter,
that utterly confounded Pilate,
that utterly confounded Herod,
and that utterly confounds us.

The bifurcation of reality—the division of reality
into the truth of God on the one hand,
and the status quo of culture and society on the other,
is shot through the Scripture stories
and the stories, in particular, of this week.
Jesus enters the city
in the so-called triumphal entry,
not passively receiving the adulation of the masses.
he enters the city a provocation—a confrontation.
For Jesus took the idea of living in the name of God
ever so seriously and demanded to know
who was truly deserving of that blessing:
blessed is the one who comes in the name of God,
and who wasn’t?
Jesus entered Jerusalem, the starkness of his choices
confronting everyone else’s.

That was the thinking behind mashing together
two psalms into our responsive call to worship.
Because we have one psalm designated for Palm Sunday
and another for Passion Sunday.
That’s why our Scripture reading may have felt disjointed.
I put it together with more attention to these conflicting realities
than to story line or chronology—
thinking of the massive conflict between realities
manifest throughout the week
rather than any particular event or experience.

Was Jerusalem the holy city to be honored and respected
the institutions and customs of which were to be protected?
Or a city that missed its opportunity and was now one more place
over which to weep (Luke 19:41-44)?
Was the Temple the holy home of God
to be treasured and venerated,
or a den of thieves to be cleansed (Luke 19:45-48)?

As we read through the stories of this week,
in responding to questions about authority,
Jesus draws a sharp line between human authority
and the authority of God (Luke 20:1-8),
and contrasts temple leadership with the leadership of God (Luke 20:9-19).
In responding to questions about taxes,
he draws a sharp line between what’s owed Caesar
and what’s owed God (Luke 20:20-26).
Jesus denounces those who seek human approval
as opposed to God’s (Luke 20:45-47).
And when the beauty of the temple is admired,
Jesus looks beyond what is temporal
to what is eternal (Luke 21:5-6).

Even the Lord’s supper is divided
into Jesus’ transcendent words of grace and re-membrance
and the disciples arguing about who was the greatest (Luke 22:24-27).
Peter’s denial is predicted, but Jesus goes on to say,
“But I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail,
(because denial is not a failure of faith!)
and you, when once you have turned back,
strengthen your brothers (Luke 22:31-34).”

So could it be, that when we read these stories
and think about Jesus’ life being threatened,
we think about being betrayed and rejected,
being judged and condemned,
being hurt and even put to death,
but that Jesus saw an even bigger threat—
posed by the way things were—
a bigger threat to his living—
to his commitment—
to his bottom line of God.

Might we imagine him thinking,
“I’m not as worried about protecting a reputation,
I’m not as worried about my safety,
even my survival, as I am worried about my soul.
To not confront the status quo,
to not reject what culture has done to God and religion—
well, I’d rather be dead than have my soul thus compromised
thus undermined—weighted down.
I’d rather have my body than my soul
mocked and scourged and crucified and buried.”

What would it be like for us
to have such a conviction about God
that would see us through life
and all of life’s highs and lows?
A bottom line—
an unshakeable bottom line.
Isn’t that what we so long for?
What would it be like
to have such a clear perspective on the ways of the world
and the contrasting way of God?
To see the bifurcation of reality into the authority of earth
and the authority of heaven.
And to see our choices laid out before us just that clearly.
And to have cultivated the discipline
to be able to articulate what we want in each moment,
but not to prioritize it inappropriately—
to ride the roller-coaster
but not have it dictate our living to us.

We’re so comfortable with shades of gray.
And so uncomfortable with absolute divisions.
But maybe what we’ve done
is taken what is an absolute choice
and allowed all the various and different ways of responding to it
to blur the starkness of the initial choice
and the comfort of having made it.

There can be no questioning, I don’t think, God’s prioritizing the poor—
not, as Greg Jarrell reminded us a few weeks ago, as charity cases,
but as God’s beloved children.
How we work out God’s priority in our own priorities may well vary,
but we can’t allow differences of opinion about how to do what we do
to blur the absolute necessity that we do.

There is the way of God and there is any other way.
And there are very important other ways in the world.
There’s family and loved ones.
There’s safety and security.
There’s profession and profession of faith.
And they don’t always diverge, but they can,
and sometimes they do.
And which one do we pick?

Peter Gomes, former Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard University
and minister at Harvard’s Memorial Church—and of the Baptist tradition,
Peter Gomes used to respond to all that WWJD stuff
(Remember what would Jesus do bracelets?
It was always the WWJD money clips that got me!)
Peter Gomes responded
with affirmation of the significance of asking such a question
and assuming there was an answer.
He just thought it was the wrong question:
“What would Jesus have us do?” he suggested
constituted the more appropriate question.

I know roller coaster days and weeks.
I know most of you do too.
Months and lives, some of us.
What would it be like
to claim the evenness Jesus made manifest?
And how would we do that?

I don’t have the full answer to that,
but I’ve suggested before
everything goes back to a fundamental “Yes!”
Call it original blessing.
Call it your conversion experience.
Everything goes back to a fundamental “Yes!”

Based on that “Yes!”, there are then subsequent “No’s!”
If we say “Yes!” to God’s “Yes!”, then we say
“No!” to brute force enforcement of your will,
“No!” to not respecting anyone,
“No!” to discrimination,
“No!” to evil and hate and apathy,
“No!” to the myth of redemptive violence
and the myth of sufficient money and stuff.

Some of those are hard!
And sometimes, in the middle of hard,
it’s so very important not to stay focused
on what you’re saying “No!” to that’s so hard,
but to focus back on that “Yes!”.
to remind yourself, oh yes, this is less about “No!” to this
than about “Yes!” to that—
to look beyond the immediate to what’s ultimate.

So, in the day-to-day choices,
we train ourselves to ask,
“What’s my priority here?”
“What’s my “Yes!”?”
“And to what am I saying a subsequent “No!”?

Because we wouldn’t want to get those mixed up, would we?
We so often do.
We say “Yes!” to God,
which is “No!” to the way things are,
but then we add a bunch of subsequent “No’s!” to God
as we say subsequent “Yeses!” to the way things are.

It sounds all complicated—
what with bifurcations of reality,
and subordinate adverbial phrases,
and initial affirmation and subsequent denial or vice versa.
But it’s really terrifyingly and wonderfully simple.
There is God’s way
that leads through our every day.
And we stay on that way
or we don’t.
And it’s not that it’s not clear.
It’s that we don’t always consider it.
We don’t always look for it.
We don’t always want it.
It’s clearly marked though
by love and justice and transformative grace.
And our Bible stories today
tell us that while it’s not by any stretch of the imagination easy
to stay on that way,
it’s not because the directions we’ve been given
aren’t explicit and straightforward.

So on this day on which we remember Jesus’ “Yes!”,
as we note how he leaned into that “Yes!”
through the events and experiences of that week
how he leaned on that “Yes!”
when there was no one and nothing else to lean on,
here’s our question,
what do we say “Yes!” to?
What do you say “Yes!” to?
Leaning into and leaning on in order to navigate your days?
For I tell you true, when you can answer that,
you can bless yourself for coming in the name of whatever that is.
And I tell you true as well, in the end,
God’s “Yes!” and your “Yes!” to God
are what you want to lean into—
lean on—
and live out.

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God. “Yes!”
May it be so.

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