Palm Sunday Poverty

If you read the story of Jesus in the Bible, there comes a time when he enters Jerusalem and is greeted with praises and fanfare. His reputation has gone before him. Willingness to heal the sick, encourage the marginalized and annoy the religious hoity-toities has made him the Prophet of the People, and they come out in droves to shout hosanna (literally “save, we pray”, but used as expression of adoration), spreading palm fronds and coats before him. We celebrate that moment – called the Triumphal Entry – on this day of the Christian calendar, Palm Sunday.

Part of my religious upbringing sat upon my shoulder in church this morning, whispering to me the importance of worshipful and praisey emotions while stabbing a pitchfork of guilt into my ear, because I wasn’t feeling the evangelical mojo.

On the other shoulder sat the grace of imagination, and with my Pastor’s help I transported myself back a couple thousand years so that I could partake in the original festivities. There I was, on the road to Jerusalem, the city reflecting my soul in so many ways. Pride and praise, infidel and religious, sacrifice and extortion, foreign armies in charge of way too much.

And Jesus weeping, loving, worthy of more than I have to give. Today I am the poor of Jerusalem, but somehow he comes for me too.

When the Prince of Peace approaches the city of your soul and you have very little with which to offer a decadent welcome, just put before him whatever is in your hands or on your back. Palm branches, coats and burdens pave the road for the coming of Messiah.

Lay yours down…

“…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Hebrews 12:2 English Standard Version (ESV)

Wilderness Worship

“Let my people go,” God said, “so that they can worship me in the wilderness.” (Exodus 7:16)

Worship and wilderness. I’d like to think that there is no connection. Surely the ancient Israelites were not so spiritually thick in the head that God’s presence could be overshadowed by a little milk and honey! If the Ancient One would meet with them, no doubt it would be in the parting of the sea or when fortress walls came crumbling down, yes?

Apparently not. In his great wisdom, it turns out that the Almighty had discerned that they’d be most spiritually pliable when sand was chafing in the nether regions of their undergarments. He chose to get personal somewhere between their Deliverance and the Promised Land. In Egypt they saw his power; in Palestine they saw the fulfillment of his promises. But the magic happened in the middle.

That’s where they meet, and under that desert sun God makes it clear that He is nobody’s mascot. He describes himself to Moses, saying, “…Yahweh! The LORD! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin. But I do not excuse the guilty. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children and grandchildren; the entire family is affected— even children in the third and fourth generations.” (Exodus 34:6-7 NLT) He has standards and expectations, and a ridiculous amount of love.

The desert narrative is God and his people, for better or worse, getting to know each other. What kind of God is it that when you are parched and ask for water, has you stand in front of a rock and says, “There you go…”? When you run out of food, what kind of God says, “Wait until morning, and then scrape up whatever you can find on the ground…”? This is a God who has offered Himself, and sees how easily we get sidetracked by secondary appetites.

Desert experiences aren’t forever, but going on to live a supernatural existence requires a holy communion that I haven’t seen taught anywhere else. God did not keep Daniel from the lion’s den, or Shadrach and his friends from the flames, or Mary from an unplanned pregnancy. Unexpected Company is unveiled in uncomfortable circumstance.

The Apostle Paul penned his heart’s desire this way: “…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings…” (Philippians 3:10 NASB). He wanted to know Jesus, experientially, and understood that this would include both resurrection power and profound suffering.

In many of our churches we give indifferent assent to this, but only provide a voice for stories told from the perspective of victory and resolution. Suffering and brokenness and desert experiences are whispered about in private conversations and prayer chains. In many respects this is understandable. However, I suggest that there is a corporate disconnect when we preach the cross of Jesus but only celebrate the manifestation of his resurrection.

There is a beauty to be found in water from the rock and manna from heaven. More than that, a sense of wonder needs to be rediscovered when, for the first time, we see the Holy of Holies being crafted in a person’s soul. Indeed, one of the lessons of the great exodus is that the purpose of the desert is not to experience the faithful provision of God, but to create a space among his people for His glory.

For many of us, this goes being the realm of theory. Things haven’t turned out they way we thought they might. We assumed the light of God’s goodness would continue to shine ever brighter, and now we find ourselves in the desert, or the lion’s den, or the flames, or the tomb, or a place of anxiety, stress and depression that makes a mockery of metaphor.

It’s called Holy Ground. Let’s worship Him here.

Go on down to the silent place,
You who dare to seek God’s face.
For it may be you’ll find down there
An answer for that load you bear.

Stop not at the convenient spot
You’ve been before, for God is not
A landmark on a religious map,
Or a brew poured from some preacher’s tap.

Continue on with your open sores
To solitary haunted shores
Where human voices utter not
One breath of what a true God aught
To do or say or even be,
Silent before His blood-stained tree.

Sit awhile in the cold dark tomb-
That barren place that became the womb
Of every hope we ever had,
And the death of all that makes men mad,
For that is where our God is found.
Your weary heart is holy ground.

Empty Places

There is a place we do not speak
Of when we’re lost and weary, weak
But angels meet us sometimes there
To walk us back from the cold bleak.

There is a cool and rain soaked shore
Where some of us have been before
And found a tender Father there
Where tides of love bring rest from war.

There is a deep and quiet lake-
Faith born in highlands of heartache-
Fed by springs of the Spirit where
the thirsty drink and sleeping wake.

There is for each of us a tomb
With very little breathing room.
We feel alone though Christ is there
To show us death is glory’s womb.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” – Jesus of Nazareth
John 12: 24-26 (ESV)

 

The Audacious Emmanuel

A Seraphim sits in the heavens, breathes on a drop of water and weaves the resulting crystal into a solitary snowflake. It falls to the ground like a mother kissing her sleeping child; gently, softly, silently.

Road salt turns it from angelic art into a grime that wiper blades smudge away. A work truck drives through the slush, rocks and sand pitting its windshield. A pleasant little “Bing” warns that an important fluid is almost gone. Feeling a bit harried and beat up, the driver listens to the news on the radio. He is running near empty too, tired and burdened.

From a distance the Earth is beautiful. Up close, sometimes not so much. What gives us hope is the fact that this is the same planet with the same issues that it has always been, and that it is into all this that a child was born, and they called him Emmanuel.

God With Us.

The audacity should shock us. The gods that we make in our own image are incapable of this measure of chutzpah. They remain far off, regal, indifferent at best, condescending.

What they never do is see with love, listen with compassion…or come closer.

None of us live in a snow-globe version of life, though at times it appears that the raw ingredients are there: gently falling snow, couples walking hand in hand, carollers bundled up on the front steps of a church. Look a little closer though, and things begin to unravel:

One or two of the carollers think that freezing their buns off is better than being cooped up with family.

That couple walking together down the lane? They’re wondering how to plan a funeral during the Christmas season.

That lovely snow? It’s trying to find shelter down the frayed collar of a homeless man.

And into it all comes Emmanuel, the newborn infant laid in a feeding trough, his virgin mother wrapping him tight against the cold. That’s where the magic happens, friends: the place where everything around us screams that we are unwanted and deserted, and a gentle hand comes in to calm our fears, wrapping us up snug and tight in linens of hope.

If you fall in love with Christmas, let it be because of the story of the Humble God who wasn’t afraid to get His hands dirty. Jesus didn’t come to buy shares in Hallmark- he came to bleed.

When uncertainties come in like a killing frost, when you find yourself whispering, “This Christmas, I just hope I’m not alone…”, look at Jesus again, and hear Heaven whisper…

…“Hope granted.”

“This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:12 NASB