Sunday, March 29, 2015

Follow Into The City

Cry like nobody is watching. 

Luke 19:39-44

New International Version (NIV)
39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

My dad always used to tell me that I had my priorities screwed up.  

My dad was a master of reverse psychology. And, as much as I resent some of the things he said and did to me while growing up under his rule and reign, there is still some truth I hang on to till this day. The one thing he said to me that I still wrestle with is his talk about priorities. I was a teenager. All I wanted was the freedom to do as I pleased the way I wanted to do things. I felt I didn't need his watchful eye guarding my ever move. I didn't need him telling me what to do every step of the way. If I made mistakes, then I made mistakes. I longed to get my hands dirty; to do something on my own. Maybe I wasn't ready yet. Maybe I didn't understand all I needed to understand before I took that big step. Didn't matter to me. You learn by doing. Or, so I thought. Now I'm at a place in life where I'm less anxious about asking for things. I take a lot more time brooding over things I pray about or ask for. There was a time some 30 years ago when I would have jumped on the chance to do my own thing. There was also a time when I had all the important stuff turned around and focused in the wrong direction. 

Dad's words were clear, cutting to heart and soul. 
"You got your priorities mixed up" he said. "When you should be thinking about others, you're thinking about yourself. And, when you should be thinking about yourself, your thinking about others." Of all the things that Dad ever said to me those words cut like a knife. Now, you might be thinking, "Geez, my dad said way worse things than that!" Yea, so did mine. I could recall countless times where he made me cry and made me angry. I'm a melancholy kind of guy. Introspection is central to my own personal theology and well as our belief system as Wesleyan-Methodists. I have taken those words from my Dad and gritted me teeth over them for three decades now. I seek to use them today as we cover this scripture and focus upon the people Jesus was speaking with and then turn the spotlight upon ourselves for a little introspection. Because, we all get our priorities mixed up.

It's Palm Sunday.
We've read scripture from Mark concerning the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. 
There is such a mix of emotions surrounding this moment, both from Jesus and the people. 
We have watched throughout this Lenten season the varied responses to Jesus' claims that he would go toward Jerusalem and to his death. Peter and his brutal rejection of that claim and, in turn, Jesus' brutal rejection of Satan's presence in the midst of Peter's words. We've seen the Pharisees and the religious leaders trying to make sense of Jesus' teachings and promises in light what they have set up as their prominent and pious system. There seems to be a bit of a misunderstanding as to what comes first - the chicken or the egg. How many have debated the origins of such things? If the egg came first, then the chicken isn't a creation as much as a larva, a pile of goop. If the chicken came first, then life as we know it sprung forth from inspiration. A pile of goop doesn't seem very inspired. Human beings can make a pile of goop and turn it into something. The something may or may not look very good. Only God can take something from nothing and create life. 

So, what comes first for us in our measly human existence?
Does God come first? Does meeting the needs of others come before ourselves? Or, do we have to come first with our trappings and misgivings? What's more important, the need or the cause? What's more important, the song or the sermon? Do we put the cart before the horse or do we just jump on the horse and ride it all the way to town? Our lives as human beings can leave us with an undetermined amount of uneasiness as we seek to try and straighten out the crooked path of priorities. 

If the Apostle Paul's word are true and Jesus has taken upon himself our human frailties so as to understand out temptations and trials, then he must know something about our struggle with the dreaded list of priorities. Where there times where he was unsure about what to say to a person for fear of being to injected into their life and possibly offend them? Was there a moment when he was too absorbed with himself and didn't meet the needs of enough people? Well, the Apostle's words say that he handled all of it with grace as to live without sin. So, he must have handled to issue of priorities very well then. And, because he did, he has the right to walk into Jerusalem and give them the big ol slap in the face they so righteously deserve. 

Has Jerusalem listened to God over the years? Has Israel? No, they haven't. 
How many times have they forsaken their God? How many times have they given in to lust and greed and vengeance? How many times have they turned their back on the God who rescued them and turned them into the great nation they became? Even now, they aren't living as a nation so much as a sub-state of the Roman empire. They are not in place God intended them to be and it is because of their sin that they are in the spot they are in. How many prophets came before Jesus and begged and pleaded/ The most recent one had his head delivered on a silver platter. And, now Jesus knows that his time will come soon. In the midst of all the cheering and raucous praise, he feels in his heart that the end is near. 

Yet, even though he feels the pain, he accepts the tribute. He is their king. Just not the king they are looking for. They want a king that will set them free from the oppressive Roman rule they are under. Jesus seeks to rule their hearts and set them free from the sin that so easily besets. It is a battle over priorities again that seems to get in the way of understanding the reason Jesus is there. There are people who seem to be troubled by whether or not to focus on themselves or to focus what Jesus is teaching. Those people again would be the Pharisees. "Teacher, rebuke your people." Rebuke them? For what? You're telling me you've never had a moment where you felt really good about something so as to want to stand up and shout about it? It tears me up when I hear people saying that they don't come to church for the music. "I just come to hear the sermon." Well, then, you misgiving soul, did not come for church today. You just came for yourself. And, if you don't like music in church, then you aren't going to like heaven either. Because my bible says in Revelation chapter 4 that there is going to be lots of singing and praising. There's going to be people waving palm branches and shouting "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God Almighty" It's not going to be a funeral service. It's not going to be drab or dull, and quiet. It's going to be good.

"If I tell them to be quiet, them even the stones will cry out."

All of creation, even the stones just lying there on the ground, are ready to praise God. 
And, these guys, who want everything their way or else, who are ready and willing to kill Jesus at a moments notice to ensure that they get their way, want everybody to just be quiet. Oh, if I was in Jesus shoes I would get ready and give them a big ol blast of hellfire just like my dad would have given me after an "F" on a report card. Whoa man, I can feel the blood boiling and the anger swelling at very thought of having to go up against some nay-sayer who thinks it has to be their way on everything. You probably know someone like that. Some one who think they have all the answers. Someone who thinks everything has to be their way or else. Someone who thinks they are just so cute every time they demand their own way. It ain't gonna look so cute when I blast in and give them a holy slap up side the head. Give it to them Jesus. They got their priorities all messed up. They're focusing on themselves instead of focusing on the needs of others. 

But, he doesn't do that. At least not in this moment.
Oh, there will be a time for the turning over of tables of money changers in the near future. 

But, in this moment, there is nothing but tears.
"As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it..."
 It was the week before Spring Break in 1990 when my father came into the living room and sat down across from me. I was in the rocker where my dad usually sat. It was "his chair" but I stole it whenever he wasn't in it. I sat there looking at the newspaper like he would have been doing. Recently my dad and I had been having a argument about the car I drove. You see, I worked my rear off the save up the money to buy said car. It didn't matter to me that my mother's name was on the deed. It was my car and I wanted the freedom to do what I wanted with the car. I was a senior in high school at the time. Curfew was a topic for discussion between us. I thought I should be able to come and go as I pleased. I don't recall all the parameters of our conversation, but my dad did something that completely surprised me in that moment. I'm sitting in "his" rocker. He comes in and sits down in the rocker across from me. Tells me he has done a lot of thinking about the matter. Says he has thought it over and decides I can now stay out until 11 during the week. Friday and Saturday nights I can stay out till 1 AM, if I want. Spring Break was just around the corner and I was allowed to stay out till 1 AM every night, if I wanted, since there would not be school to focus on the next day, all week.

If I'm recalling the moment correctly, I sat there with my mouth open. I couldn't believe it. I had gotten my way. I was going to be allowed to stay out as late as I wanted to. I was going to be allowed to do what I wanted to. My dad asked me if I thought this arrangement was fair. I recall simply saying "Yes". "Ok then" he said, and got up and left the room. I really couldn't believe it. But, it wasn't long before I twisted up a perfectly good situation and made it bad for myself. You see, I couldn't keep the 11 PM status. I pushed my time away from home till 1 AM real quick. And, every night of Spring Break where I should have been home by 1... Well, lets just say 4:30 comes pretty quick when you're not paying attention to the time.

Why is it we human beings are so stubborn headed?
Even when we do get our way, we mess it all up and make things worse. By the end of the week, the religious leaders would get their way. They would get Jesus on a cross. The nemesis to their ill fated quest for personal preservation would be out of their way and in Roman hands. They would have to convince some Roman authorities that he truly was a threat to their rule. But, when lying is what you do.... Yes, hell fire and brimstone would eventually come. But, in this moment, Jesus does what you might not expect.

He cries.

Scripture here says he wept over Jerusalem. As he gives them the decree that their city will be destroyed and all will be lost, he does so with tears. He doesn't crush them with forceful threats or hateful gestures. He uses the saddest of human emotions to speak to them. He cries while telling them that not one stone will be left on another. He cries while telling them that their children will die along with them. He cries, because he came to those who were his own. And, his own did not recognize the time of God's coming to them. How many times have they been given the chance to repent and turn away from their stubbornness? How many people have spoken the truth to them about what was to come? How many chances does a person get before we seen the walls caving in around us?

It's hard for me to come to terms with, but my undoing was my own fault.
After I graduated high school, I left home. But, not in the way one usually does.
All the ingratitude I showed, all the problematic behavior I shoved off at my parents only manifested itself in one unexpected afternoon as I came home from work. I'm still not sure what I did that day that set him off. Maybe it was all the curfew I had missed. Maybe there was a shirt left on the floor that didn't make it into the clothes hamper. Not sure exactly. But, what I saw made me choose to go. I came home to a bedroom that had been torn apart. My bed had been taken apart. The box springs were standing on end, leaning against the wall. So was the mattress. All the clothes had been pulled out of my closet. All the clothes had been pulled out of my drawers. I stood there in the doorway of my bedroom and just stared. My mom came down the hall and stood there with me. I didn't say anything. I just stood there. Then, maybe I did the unexpected. I got back in my car, went back to work, got two big boxes. went back home, packed up everything I could carry, and I left. My Dad was mowing the lawn that day. He never looked at me while he was mowing. I shoved the two boxes in my car and off I drove. I never came back home to live again.

It's taken me a long time to come grips with the meatiness of that moment.
I was mad at my Dad for the silent rage of that day for a long time. For some reason it has taken all these years to now be a father myself to finally realize why I left home that day as an 18 year old know-it-all.

I didn't want to follow.

I didn't want anybody telling me what to do or how to do it. I didn't want to follow the rules.
The rules my father was giving to me. Even in the moment when I got what i wanted. I finally got my way and it still wasn't enough. I just didn't want to follow. I wanted to do my own thing.

How many chances does God give a person? I don't know.
I'm thankful for the ones I've been given. I know I'm willing to follow now.
I know the Father I'm focused on now needs my willingness to focus on the rules at hand.
I know he has helped me to figure out the priorities. To focus on myself when I need to. To focus on other when I need to. And, to know when I'm stepping over the bounds of respectfulness.

Where He leads me I will follow. And, I'll go with him all the way.

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