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April 9, 2017 Sermon Lent 6

To Follow More Nearly

Lent has been a time for us to reflect more deeply on what it means to us to be Christian people. A prayer written by 13th century Bishop Richard of Chichester helps us with this discernment: “Day by day, dear Lord, three things I pray: to see thee more clearly; to love thee more dearly; to follow thee more nearly, day by day.”
Several people from our congregation have shared parts of their faith journey with us. They have let us into their lives and their relationship with God, and it has been a privilege. Today, I invite Ken Wellington.
Thank you so much Ken.
When we talk about our faith, we tell stories. Our faith is not a set of rules or a series of propositions. Faith is about the story of our life. It’s the story of a relationship.
Holy Week marks the central story of our faith. It’s a story of crucifixion and resurrection. We begin with a story which we often call the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. But honestly, it’s not much of a triumph.
Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. The way Matthew tells the story, it’s a nursing donkey, a jenny, with her colt trotting along beside her.
Matthew quotes the prophet Zechariah, for whom the donkey was a humble animal, an animal of peace, a sign of the breaking of the implements of war. This is a different kind of king. Jesus comes in the name of love as one who bears peace within himself. Jesus rides a peace–donkey into Jerusalem.
This is not the kind of triumphal entry we would think of. There’s not much triumph and victory in this story. Jesus rides a peace–donkey, not a magnificent horse. He’s surrounded by a group of peasants making a bit of a racket, not an army coming to impose order. And just a few days later, he is executed as a criminal. Not much triumph here.
But that’s exactly the point. The way of Jesus is deliberately different from the ways of this world. Jesus’ way is the way of non–violent, self–giving love.
It’s a striking coincidence that on a day when much of Canada is commemorating the battle of Vimy Ridge, in the church we don’t. We commemorate a king who comes to bring peace, who comes to make us a people of peace.
The church has had a hard time remembering that we follow someone who rides a peace–donkey. Too often, the church has sought power and influence. Too often the church follows a Theology of Glory. We look for God only in the good, the beautiful, the strong, and the powerful.
But the way of Jesus is a Theology of the Cross, which looks for God in exactly those places where we most feel God’s absence: in pain, in humiliation, in suffering, in weakness and foolishness and death.
A Theology of Glory is concerned with health and happiness and prosperity.
A Theology of Glory centres on what God can do for us; on how our faith can make us more popular or wealthy or successful or influential.
A Theology of Glory is all about us—our power and our control. It’s about winning in life, about living large. A Theology of Glory is about making our life better.
But the Theology of the Cross is harder. It is primarily concerned with God—with who God is, with God’s purposes, with God’s love for the world, and with how God calls us to live as faithful followers of Jesus.
A Theology of the Cross is concerned with what looks like failure, with what appears to be disaster, with what seems to be the utter and complete absence of God in our most desperate and trying moments.
A Theology of the Cross helps us remember that we are mortal, that we are dust, that we are imperfect and that positive thinking cannot change our lives. We need help.
A Theology of the Cross is honest about life and death; it acknowledges the place of suffering and pain in our lives. The stories we have heard here during Lent were honest stories of both joy and sorrow, challenge and healing.
A Theology of the Cross is harder. It calls us to give ourselves away for the sake of the gospel. But it is precisely on the cross where we see God’s love fully and starkly portrayed.
In the gospel, Jesus calls us “if you want to follow, take up your cross and follow”. Paul echoes that in Philippians this morning: “Let the same mind be in you as was in Christ…” Then he goes on to sing about how Jesus emptied himself, even to the point of death. God’s response to Jesus’ faithfulness was to raise him again. Let the same mind be in you … y’all do the same thing Jesus did.
This is hard stuff. We are talking about dying…dying to ourselves…dying to our own desires and our own wants…dying to our own agendas the living the agenda of God’s gospel purposes.
That’s tough stuff. We are talking about giving ourselves away. We are so used to striving for ourselves, to working hard for our own purposes. But the heart of our faith calls us to a life of service and love. The gospel calls us to give ourselves away.
Y’all do the same thing Jesus did.
But we don’t just give ourselves away for its own sake. We give ourselves away for the sake of God and God’s purposes in the world. We give ourselves away in service for the healing of others. We give ourselves away in loyalty to God. We give ourselves away in deep and enduring trust that God honours us as we do so.
And when we take that seriously, then the cross of Christ also becomes the cross of Yme, the cross of Ken, the cross of Joyce, the cross of Dave, the cross of Deb and Anne and Ed and Susan.
And there, on the cross, God finds us and God raises us to new life and God heals our souls. We cease our relentless pursuit of wealth and happiness and success…and as we do so, God can find us and come to us and heal our lives.
We take up our cross and follow. We place ourselves in the hands of God. We continue to walk on our journey of learning to see God more clearly, love God more dearly, and follow more nearly.
Thanks be to God.

Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt
April 9,2017 (Passion/Palm Sunday)
Matthew 21: 1–11
Philippians 2: 5–11
Isaiah 50: 4–9a