Pastor Sherry’s Message for March 28, 2021

Scriptures: Isa 50:4-9a; Ps 31:9-16;Phil 2:5-11; Mk 14:1-15:50

          Recently I learned of a historian named Charles John Summerville.  The 82 year old is currently retired from teaching yet held the honorary position of professor emeritus of history at the University of Florida.  It is said that he used to challenge his students in the following way: He would have them imagine an elderly lady carrying a large pocketbook walking down the street.  He would describe her as small, frail, perhaps with a Dowager’s hump, moving slowly with a cane.  He would then submit to his students that it would be remarkably easy to knock her over and steal her purse.  He would even admit that most students could use the money. Then he would ask his students how many of them would actually consider stealing the lady’s purse. The majority would deny it.

         He would go on to suggest that most of us would not grab her purse for either of two possible reasons:

         (1) We come from a “Shame and Honor Culture.”  If we acted this way, such behavior would mark us as contemptible persons, an embarrassment to ourselves and to our families.  Some people would condemn us as bullies and others would despise us for ripping off someone weaker than ourselves.  The professor called this approach “Self-Regarding.” He would clarify that we do what we do (or don’t do what we don’t do) because of how it reflects upon us and our clan.  The highest values of a shame and honor culture are personal honor and good reputation among others.  We wouldn’t mug the woman because we are concerned about how this would appear to others.  (If you recall the horrid incident– replayed repeatedly by the news this summer–of the elderly lady hit in the head by a young man as he passed her by, you can see where we are not living in a shame and honor culture.)

         (2) Or, we might imagine how mugging her would affect her or those she loves.  We would not want to deprive her of money for rent, groceries, or prescription medication.  We would not want her to risk being injured or to fear in the future for her personal safety.  In short, we would empathize with her and have compassion on her.  Prof. Summerville referred to this as an “Other-Regarding Culture.”

         He would summarize the challenge by pointing out that the ethic or value of putting another person’s needs ahead of our own derives from Christianity.  Even though a significant number of his students might have been hostile to the Christian faith, he would contend that their moral behavior (not to steal the woman’s money) had been largely shaped by Christian values.

         As Christ-followers, we are called to major on mercy/grace.   The values espoused by the power elites in our culture todayinclude the drive to achieve power, influence, and control; they also seek money because it provides power, influence, and control.  Others are driven to attain success, fame, and recognition (“developing their brand”).  But Jesus Christ lived, taught, and modeled a life based on humility. He put a lot of effort into dodging the lime-light and living out obedience to the Father.  He is the gold standard for putting the needs of others before His own.  His example was not just counter-cultural, it’s revolutionary!

         Our Scriptures today all demonstrate how very different Jesus was and is from the culture then (Ancient Near East) and our American culture now.

         Paul tells us in our Epistle, Philippians 2:5-11, that Jesus willingly left all of his divine prerogatives to come to earth to pay the penalty for our sins.  Can you think of any politician, rock or movie-star, or professional athlete who would willingly divest themselves of all of their extraordinary privileges for the sake of others?

         St. Paul celebrates Jesus’ humble obedience to the Father.  He asserts that the King of the Universe came to earth as a servant to all.

Jesus Christ agreed to deliver the Father’s rescue plan to die for our sins.

               But St. Paul also rejoices in how Jesus’ obedience led to His very great reward (2:10-11) Therefore God also highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth [all of creation] and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

         We Christ-followers know that the way to the Father’s heart is through humble submission to God’s will.  Our God is most pleased when we counter-culturally put the needs of others before our own.  The story is told of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist denomination, who encountered a hostile, rival pastor at a narrow footbridge:  Wesley allowed the man to pass before taking his own turn.  As the guy walked toward Wesley, he snootily commented, “I never give way to a fool.”  Rather than get angry, Wesley calmly replied, “I always do!”

        The psalm appointed for today, Psalm 31, was written by King David as a prayer for deliverance from trouble.  However, it also describes how Jesus probably felt during his arrest, His ridiculous excuses for trials, and His crucifixion:  He is drained, physically and emotionally; He feels abandoned by His friends; and He knows He has been slandered, that angry and evil men have deliberately misperceived and misconstrued Him.  Nevertheless, and actually quite amazingly, both King David and Jesus eschew an angry response and place their trust in the Father saying, (v.14) But I put my trust in You, Oh Lord; I say, ”You are my God.”

         This is such a good reminder for each of us when we encounter pain or difficulty:  Don’t get mad.  Don’t get even or seek revenge.  Instead, Do take the matter to God and trust in Him to redeem it!

         Our Old Testament reading, Isaiah 50:4-9a, is the 3rd of 4 “Suffering Servant Songs” in Isaiah.  Written 700-750 years before Jesus journeyed from Palm Sunday to Easter, they each foretell how the Messiah would behave.   Jesus fulfilled each of these descriptions to the letter.  He was totally obedient to the Father’s will and plan. He faced His Passion–His extreme travail–with courage, and humility—v6 I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.

         Isaiah accurately predicted that Jesus would face His death with determination—v7 Because the Sovereign Lord helps Me, I will not be disgraced.  Therefore have I set My face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.  Again we read that Jesus trusted in His Father, despite His pain and suffering.  In a way that is counter to our current American cultural beliefs, He accepted that He must suffer in order to save us.

         Our Gospel passage from Mark 14:1-15:50 details only the essentials of Jesus’ experiences from the Thursday night Passover Meal until His death at 3:00 p.m. on Friday.  We commemorate His triumphal entry into Jerusalem today, Palm Sunday.  Crowds of common folk and Christ-followers provided Him a hero’s welcome.  Meanwhile, the unbelievers and those in the religious and political hierarchy most threatened by His counter-cultural ministry, plotted to take His life.

         In his practical and no-nonsense way, Mark minimizes the transitory rousing Palm Sunday welcome and gets right to the tragic miscarriage of human justice to come.  Mark leads us through Jesus’ Last Supper, a Passover Meal stripped of lamb, because Jesus Himself would be the Sacrificial Lamb of God.  Then Judas slips off to betray Him.  His three closest buddies sleep through His agony in the Garden.  He endures several kangaroo trials before the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate, His best buddy publically denies he knows Him, and He barely survives vicious beatings by Roman soldiers.  He is crucified, taunted, humiliated, and scorned, only to die after 6 agonizing hours on the Cross.  The Temple curtain, made of thick goat hair, is torn from top to bottom at the moment of His death.  (This signifies that God Himself made a way for sinful men and women to approach Him and live).  A tough, battle-hardened Roman Centurion—so impressed with the way in which Jesus died—prophetically proclaims He must have been the Son of God.  His female followers, and the Apostle John, stand vigil at the foot of the Cross.  Finally, Joseph of Arimathea, a rich member of the Sanhedrin (and heretofore closet believer), removes Jesus’ body and buries Him before sundown, the start of the Sabbath.

         Who can meditate on these two chapters without being overwhelmed by Jesus’ sacrifice for us?  Or by His great love for us!  He lived in a Shame-Honor culture, but thoroughly transcended those self-regarding values. 

         Jesus transcended the cultural values of that day and of this.   Additionally, He calls us to as well.  Acclaimed on Sunday, the perfect Son of God takes on Himself the penalty for our sins on Good Friday.As we journey through Holy Week this week, let’s praise Jesus for satisfying the Father’s justice in our place.  Let’s worship Him with gratitude.  Let’s meditate upon His love for us by responding with love for Him.  Let’s commit ourselves to follow His culture-transcending example of humble obedience to God and loving concern for others.

©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

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