Palms and GatesCan we see hope on the back of a donkey?
Read the Sermon
Thank you all for joining me this morning at Grace, my name is Nate Nims and it is an honor to join you between two palms. It is great to be able to have this time together. If you are watching with us on Facebook, introduce yourselves to one another in the comments, say hi, to the friends and neighbors near and far that are joining us.
As you do that, there are just a couple of announcements that I want share. Today is Palm Sunday, it’s the start of Holy Week and we’re going to have a couple of extra services together at Grace online. Thursday night we’re going to have a digital potluck. Maundy Thursday is when we celebrate and remember the last supper that Jesus shared with the disciples as well as the command to love one another as Christ has loved us. Thursday at 6 pm I hope you will be able to join us on Facebook in our digital potluck – on Thursday we want everyone to swap recipes, share pictures of what you are eating, and we will come together and share a meal with one another. So that’s will be on Thursday at 6 pm.
On Friday we will have a brief Good Friday service at noon as we remember and commemorate Jesus’ crucifixion and find ourselves at the cross.
I hope you will be able to join us at both of these opportunities, and, as always since we are online, if you can’t be with us live you can always catch up with us later. Speaking of which, if you don’t know what to make for our digital potluck on Thursday and missed my cooking video during the week you can find that here on Facebook and learn how to make Kimchi and Spam Fried Rice.
As we prepare ourselves for this time of worship and study together, let’s take a moment of silence to catch our breath, find our center, by remembering that God is with us…
Let us pray,
We cry out, save us, O God! Protect our children. Give rest to our elders. Watch over our caregivers. Bring peace to all our hearts. In our moments of uncertainty, may we be certain that Christ hears us because Christ is one with and for us. Living among us. Living within us and there is no greater hope than this! Blessed are we and blessed all who come in the name of love, so may our hearts be turned towards this great love now and always. Amen.
We are continuing to study the Sermon on the Mount and this morning our reading is from Matthew, chapter 6, verses 19 to 24. Jesus says:
“Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them. Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. Therefore, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how terrible that darkness will be! No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
If you have been with us throughout this series of teachings from The Sermon on the Mount, you’ve been able to see how this teaching from Christ builds and develops on itself. There is a beautiful internal logic that inspires us to be the people God believes we are.
I don’t know about you all, but for the last few weeks I’ve been shocked, even though I should be, but I’ve been shocked at how relevant the Sermon on the Mount is to our lives today.
The Sermon on the Mount is one of Jesus’ most explicit teachings about what it means to follow his ways, and amazingly it has a lot to tell us about our lives in this very moment.
So just to review where we’ve been so we can have a clear picture of where we’re going, let’s remember that the Sermon on the Mount begins with the Beatitudes. In this teaching, Jesus doesn’t begin with shame or blame or guilt or fear. From the start, from the very beginning, Jesus says blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who are confused, blessed are those who are lost, blessed are those that are trying to keep it all together, blessed are those that can’t keep anything together. This teaching begins with the love of God that is with us and everyone else regardless of what we have done or what has been done to us.
If we are going to be a people that follow the teachings of Jesus, we have to begin at the beginning. If we can’t get step one right, we’ll trip as we try to take step two. The first step with Jesus, the first step with God, is always love and grace and an abiding presence of mercy that is with and for us and everyone else.
Next, Jesus goes on to tell us that we are the salt of the earth, we are the light of the world. It’s not that Jesus tells us we could be, it’s not that Jesus tells us to follow these five steps and then we will be. Jesus doesn’t give advice, he makes an announcement – you are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world, the good that you do, the way you live and move in this life, the mercy and grace and justice that you witness to gives glory to God and only you can light up the world as you do, only you can enhance the flavor of this life like you do.
From there, Jesus begins to shape an ethic that is transformed by love, an ethic that is centered on caring for one another with dignity and respect, seeing and treating everyone as whole persons that are beloved and blessed by God. The way that we live as salt and light is honest, it’s caring, it seeks reconciliation instead of retaliation and always seeks the common good while especially seeking the good of those who are the most vulnerable among us.
Because we are giving ourselves to this life of grace and peace, because we are pouring ourselves out into the hard work of love, Christ knows that we need to be refilled, we need to be renewed.
That’s what we were talking about last week as we looked at the prayer Jesus taught. As Jesus teaches us to pray, Jesus reminds us that God already knows – when we can’t put our feelings into words but we still feel them, God knows and God cares. When we feel lost and aren’t sure what direction to go, God knows and God cares. Jesus teaches us to pray by teaching us to say to God, you already know.
Too often we confuse the depths of our love and mercy with the well that we draw from in God. I don’t know about you, but my mercy, my grace, is limited and if I’m not refilled and renewed, I’m going to run dry.
The good news is that God already knows and is always with us to refresh and renew our spirits.
With this renewal in mind, Jesus now moves towards telling us what it looks like to trust in this movement of God. If we live knowing there is a well that we can draw from, if we remember that our depth of love is only a glimmer of what we can find when we are renewed with in God, how will we live together?
Jesus says, “Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them. Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. Therefore, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how terrible that darkness will be! No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
Essentially Jesus seems to be asking us, if you believe you can be refilled and renewed, why would you ever need to hoard?
It’s almost like Jesus is asking, if you know the toilet paper shelves are going to be restocked, why do you have to buy a years supply on every trip to the store?
Let’s first say what this passage isn’t about, because we can all likely think of wealthy people that are generous and wealthy people that are greedy just like we can think of people that are poor that are generous and we can think of people that are poor that are greedy.
This teaching isn’t about how much or how little we have. Instead, it’s about how we see, use, and share what we have.
It begins with a choice – Jesus tells us that we can store up for ourselves treasures for our own benefit, or we can store for ourselves treasures in heaven.
It’s important to notice that when Jesus is talking about where we find our treasure, Jesus isn’t talking about now or later. When Jesus says heaven, he’s not talking about the future as much as he is speaking to an eternal reality that begins now and lasts forever.
When the Sermon on the Mount begins, Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”Jesus isn’t saying that the poor in spirit get an atta boy because someday God will be with them. When Jesus talks about heaven Jesus is talking about the presence of God that is with us now and will never let us go. Heaven is not an abstract future idea, it is an eternal current that is now and forever.
Are we seeking a treasure that endures, that sustains and renews us, or are we seeking a treasure that can be lost, that fades away?
In the New Testament there’s a letter called 1 Timothy where they expand on this idea of storing up for ourselves treasure on earth. It’s written there, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”
When it’s written, “Command those who are rich” it’s our default to assume that they’re talking about someone else.
I don’t know how you all are doing at the moment, but I, against my better judgement, took a look at my retirement fund recently. When I saw the graph change direction I quickly looked away. I’m not going to check it again for a couple of years and I’m lucky enough to be able to do that.
Just a few sentences before it’s written, “Command those who are rich” they define what it means to be rich. It’s written in 1 Timothy, “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”
If you have food, if you have clothing, you have riches enough for contentment.
At a deep level within us, we all know this is true. Wealth does not come from having more than enough, true wealth comes from having enough and being content with that.
But at the very same time, while we all know that money can’t buy happiness, money can buy a jet ski and I’ve never seen anyone frown on a jet ski.
In the ethic that Jesus teaches us throughout the Sermon on the Mount, there is a clear and consistent call to take care of one another, especially the most vulnerable among us. Jesus teaches us to take care of one another, to look after everyone just as God is looking after us, to see one another as beloved and blessed children of the divine, which is why Jesus has to ask us about the orientation of our hearts and our treasure.
Do we trust in what we can provide ourselves, do we trust in our own strength, our own abilities, our own goodness and grace, do we trust in what we can hoard and cling to, or, do we trust that God will renew us, do we trust that when we have reached the end of ourselves God will still be there to take care of us?
Jesus is asking us, after teaching us to pray, after telling us that whatever we truly need God already knows, Jesus is asking us, do you trust in scarcity or abundance?
If we believe in a life of scarcity, of course we are going to claw our way into hoarding anything and everything we can because at the core of our being we don’t trust that there is enough to go around. If we believe in scarcity, if we trust treasures for our own benefit only, than we will never have enough because we don’t believe this life can provide enough.
But if we trust in abundance, if we believe that God will not only renew but refill us, when we can pray and live knowing that God already knows, when we look at the world we don’t simply see enough to go around, we see more than enough, we see joy, we see hope, we see love, we see abundance that will not only get us through but will provide for everyone else too.
This is why Jesus says next, “The eye is the lamp of the body. Therefore, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how terrible that darkness will be!”
We all know that there is more than enough to go around, we can all be clothed, we can all be fed, we can all live with the contentment that is found in the prayer we say every week as we ask for our daily bread. Maybe we can’t all have a McMansion, maybe we can’t all have a super yacht, but we know, we all know deep down, that there is more than enough to go around. The question isn’t is there enough, the question is do we trust that there is enough, the question is, how do you see things? Full of light full of abundance full of renewal and redemption, or do we see scarcity, do we see lack, do we see emptiness?
Just think of the moment that we find ourselves in right now – are we isolated or are we protecting one another and making sure the most vulnerable among us are taken care of? Are we separated and alone or are we in this together?
Here are a couple of questions that you can ask yourself each day this week to check with yourself and see how you are really seeing things:
What am I grateful for?
What goodness have I contributed to?
What grace came my way?
Ask yourself those question each day this week:
What am I grateful for?
What goodness have I contributed to?
What grace came my way?
Every day there is a something that we are grateful for, every there is a goodness that we can be a part of, every day there is a grace that comes to us.
Today I am grateful for the time that we have together, for this connection, for these moments that remind us we aren’t alone. I’m thankful for the rabbits that are making a nest in my yard. Irene and I know there’s more than one rabbit, but Irene calls every one in our yard by the gender neutral name, Francis, and Francis reminds me that this life is more beautiful, simple, and profound, than I realize.
I hope I have contributed to some goodness with you all. I made Irene coffee this morning so I know I contributed to goodness there. (Partially because in the first draft of the sermon, I said I named Francis and I don’t want to see that look again.)
And I thank God that I woke up today. I thank God for the simple grace of each breath, for each way that you take care of one another, that we continue to be a people worthy of calling ourselves Grace.
Jesus wants to know if the trust that we have in the God who already knows gets translated into how we see the world.
Which brings us to Palm Sunday.
In John 12:12 it’s written, “The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem” When you are reading the Bible, never be afraid to ask the obvious question – in this case – what festival are people celebrating?
In Jerusalem, the Jewish people were getting ready to celebrate Passover and remember the Exodus, the liberation and freedom that God brings. While they were slaves in Egypt, God heard the cry of the oppressed and rescued them. God took the side of the oppressed, the overlooked, the beaten down, and God said I am going to raise you up.
Passover is the festival that brings that freedom to life – it’s remembering that the story of Exodus didn’t just happen, it happens, this isn’t a story from history, it’s our story, it’s our way of life, where we join with God in making things right, in working for liberation and freedom from anything that enslaves us or anyone else.
Jesus is coming to Jerusalem for the Passover and, “They took palm branches and went out to meet him. They shouted, ‘Hosanna!’ Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessings on the king of Israel. Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, ‘Don’t be afraid, daughter Zion. Look! your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt.”
The significance of palm branches is like the significance of fireworks on the 4th of July.
Palm branches are a bit like protest signs – people are holding up the hope, the promise, the justice, the joy that they know God wants for us and for everyone else.
In 141 BCE, Simon Maccabee, aka Simon the Hammer leads a revolt against the Syrians that had tried to occupy and rule over Jerusalem.
Simon Maccabee wins this war and it’s written in 1 Maccabees that, “…the Jews entered [Jerusalem] with praise and palm branches, with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments, and with hymns and songs. A great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel.” (13:51-52)
Around 10 years later there was another war, the Bar Kokhba revolt. It was a war against the Roman empire and to encourage the people to fight against Rome, new coins were minted so wherever people went, whatever they bought or sold, they would see palm branches. The coin was a reminder that while this war may rage on, we’ve been here before, we’ve won, and God is still with us.
When Jesus rides into Jerusalem, what are the people saying, what are people doing, they’re waving palm branches to say it one way, and then they just come out and say it, “Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessings on the king of Israel.”
Jesus, riding into Jerusalem on a young donkey, comes to us as a very different kind of king. If a king came looking for war, they would be on a horse, but what kind of king comes humbly on a donkey? We would expect a king to show pride, to lift themselves up, to make the most of their position and power, but Jesus comes into Jerusalem humbly, riding on the back of a donkey.
Zechariah 9:9, written roughly 500 years before Christ says, “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion. Sing aloud, Daughter Jerusalem. Look, your king will come to you, He is righteous and victorious. He is humble, and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the offspring of a donkey.”
Through humility, through grace, with this patient and persistent love we find God’s righteousness and victory.
Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount and today on Palm Sunday wants to know how we see things. Do we see the God that already knows? Do we see the grace that is all around us? Do we see God riding to victory? Can we see hope on the back of a donkey?
Today we remember that God is with us, so where do we see the God that is always with us?
We’ve got our palm branches ready, what are you crying out for? What do we see, what potential, what possibility, what hope are you looking for, and what do we need to see? Where is love going to be made real? Where is hope going to be made manifest? Where is grace going to be enfleshed and embodied?
If this was a regular, in person Sunday at Grace, today would be a morning we would be sharing communion with one another.
This might not be a regular moment, and yet, we are still here together, invited by Christ, to recognize that everyone is welcome here. Every time we have communion it is my privilege to say this table belongs to Christ and at Christ’s table everyone is welcome because when we see a table we see what Christ sees.
When Jesus shares the his last meal with the disciples, he tells them to do this in remembrance of me, to see the simple and every day elements of bread and the cup as a sign, a witness, a promise of God’s goodness and grace.
For Jesus, every table is an altar.
I don’t know if you have crackers and grace juice at home, but whatever you have is a blessing, a grace, a goodness blessed by God that can be received in remembrance of Christ.
Jesus is no longer physically on earth, yet every time we gather around a table, God is present with us in Spirit.
Not only is God with us, we can also want to call to mind those who need our prayers and God’s comfort.
Those who have lost loved ones
Those who are sick and recovering
Those who are caring for loved ones who are sick at home
Those who are caring for persons in medical care
Those who are separated from loved ones
Those who are feeling alone and isolated
Those who are helping and are so very tired
Those who are struggling to find friends, food, and comfort
Those who are afraid
In addition to all those that we know, may we also take a deep breath on behalf of all those we do not know and cannot call by name. As we do so, we know that God knows that the breath and the Spirit of God, is moving within and around us as compassion and presence.
As we eat, as we make our way through this week, as we take things one day and one moment at a time, may we have eyes full of light, that we can see, and taste, and live into the goodness and grace that is with us in this and every moment.
Your coffee, your tea, your bacon and eggs, are communion with the God that calls us to remember and know that we are blessed and beloved, we are, still, and even more than ever, a community of grace and peace.
Let us pray,
Holy Comforter, we have gathered in your name, welcomed by the invitation of Jesus as we are bound together with your Spirit in union with one another. Today, feed our bodies and our souls with your comforting presence so that we might be your comfort to others. Bless us with eyes full of light so that we might see the fullness of your love that is with and for us and everyone else. All of our tables are an altar, so may our hearts be broken open, may our love be poured out, so that we might be refilled and renewed with your grace and peace. All this we pray through Christ who teaches us to pray saying…
If you are a support of Grace, please continue to financially support Grace online. You can visit our website, gracedesmoines.org and give there. At this time that is the best way that you can financially support our church, but you can also put mail an offering to the church. It’s one thing to give an offering of our finances, but it’s another to be an offering in our lives. May we live this offering as we build up for one another treasures in heaven right here, right now. God is with us, so may we shelter not only in place, but in peace. May the peace and comfort of Christ be present with you now and forevermore. Amen.
Thank you for joining us at Grace this morning, I look forward to seeing you all again soon.
Watch the Live Stream
Holy Week, April 6 -11
Click on the day to expand the guide.
Read – Luke 19:28-20:8
Notice – Most of us see donkeys as nothing special, even a bit comical. In Jesus’ day, a donkey was a royal mount. Kings or generals only rode horses in war; when they came in peace, they rode a donkey. Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem used symbols from Israel’s history (see 1 Kings 1:38-40, Psalm 118:19-29) and from prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures (see Zechariah 9:9-17). Jesus’ followers rejoiced, but Luke wrote that Jesus (seeing further) wept for Jerusalem. He said the city’s people were blind to what would bring them peace. The attitudes driving the leaders to plot his death would in the end lead to Rome’s brutal destruction of the city. Like them, we live in a world of cause and effect. Open your heart to God and ask, “What attitudes do I have that will keep me from having your peace if I don’t change them?”
Pray – Jesus, what joy it must have been to wave palms and dream of a good life with you as king! Give me a heart that sings your praises and prizes your rule in my life. Amen.
Read – Matthew 21:28-46
Notice – Jesus told two “vineyard” stories to challenge his listeners’ thinking about their submission to God. In the first, a father told two sons to work in the vineyard. He got a “no” that became yes, and a “yes” that became no. In the second story, a vineyard owner rented his vineyard to tenants and took a trip. When it was time to pay what they owed, the tenants refused to submit to the owner’s authority. They beat and killed his messengers—and finally the owner’s son. Matthew said the religious leaders “knew Jesus was talking about them.” 2000 years later, it is easy to look down on the religious leaders of Jesus’ time—they refused to submit even in the presence of God in the flesh. What have the authority figures in your life been like? How have your experiences with them affected your ability to trust and submit to Jesus? How are you responding to, or resisting, Jesus’ call on your life?
Pray – Loving God, help me to always believe and trust in you. May I say ”no” to the things I need to, because I have already said “yes” to you. Amen.
Wednesday - Passover
Read – Mark 14:1-9, John 12:1-9
Notice – Though some details in these two stories differ, their essence is the same: in the last week of his life, a grateful woman anointed Jesus with very expensive perfume. Imagine the deep love and gratitude that led Mary to give Jesus this extravagant gift. What does Jesus’ response tell you about how much her fervent love meant to him as he faced death? How can you show your love for Jesus, both in your inner “sacred space” and outwardly, with Mary’s beautiful spontaneity and urgency?
Pray – Jesus, grow in me a heart like Mary’s, pouring out devotion and gratitude to you. Replace any critical, selfish corners in my spirit. I love you. I thank you for the gift of new life in you. Amen.
Read – Mark 14:10-50
Notice – As with his entry into Jerusalem, Jesus arranged in advance for a Passover meal. His hope-filled words changed that annual supper into the Lord’s Supper we still observe. The meal over, Jesus prayed on the Mount of Olives. He had come to this moment by choice—but still he struggled with the awful suffering just ahead. Crucially, he prayed, “Not what I want but what you want.” In the darkness, the rulers and Judas put their dark plot in motion. Sooner or later, we all face a situation in life that seems unbearable. What do Jesus’ prayers as he faced the cross teach you about the value of honestly facing and voicing your feelings in those times of anguish? What is helping you learn to say, “Not what I want but what you want”?
Pray – – Jesus, you held firm hope, and you also pleaded with God for a different way. Help me trust that even in my darkest, most painful moments you are listening, and offering me hope. Amen.
Read – John 19:4-37
Notice – John said that, on the cross, Jesus tenderly gave his mother to the care of “the disciple whom he loved.” He said he was thirsty, and John noted that a hyssop branch (a Passover symbol) carried the red sour wine (or vinegar) drink. Then, perhaps in the loud shout Mark recorded (see Mark 15:37), Jesus said, with spiritual as well as physical significance, “It is completed”—and it was. How does Jesus and Pilate’s dialogue (verses 7-11) contrast external power with inner spiritual strength? How did Jesus nurture and build up the inner strength that upheld him on that awful Friday? When, like Pilate, you have to choose between pleasing a human power (even social or family pressure) and doing what’s right, what gives you the moral strength to do the right thing?
Pray – Jesus, you faced the worst of human betrayal and hypocrisy, yet you didn’t become a victim. You forgave. Change my heart, and grow in me your ability to love and forgive. Amen.
Read – Matthew 27:57-66, John 19:38-42
Notice – Matthew and John both “set the stage” for the Easter story. Matthew listed the futile steps the religious leaders and Pilate took to keep Jesus in his tomb. John linked his story to Genesis in chapter 18 by focusing on the “garden” Jesus prayed in. Here he returned to the image. In the Genesis 2 story, human life began in a garden. John said Jesus’ (and our) resurrection life would also begin in a garden—this was humanity made new, creation set to rights. Luke 23:50-52 named Joseph of Arimathea as one Jerusalem leader who did not agree to killing Jesus. John added a last glimpse of Nicodemus, who met Jesus in John 3. As you see how God used even the timid loyalty of Joseph and Nicodemus, can you trust that God can use whatever you have to offer to God’s service? The men’s fear looks very different to us than it did to them on that Saturday—because we know what came next. How can hope based on Jesus’ resurrection alter your view of even the most heart-breaking situations?
Pray – God, it’s been hard to read the descriptions of Jesus’ last hours. As we move to Easter worship, help me to fully grasp the joy of the resurrection because I have felt the sorrow of the crucifixion. Amen.