Sunday’s sermon: Celebrate and Wait

celebrate and wait

Texts used – Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 and Matthew 21:1-11

  • “Hurry up! Hurry up! Hurry up!” … Aaaaaaand … Wait. This is a phenomenon with which we are all familiar in our lives, right?
    • Sometimes feels like our days are filled with “hurry up and wait” scenarios
      • Doctor’s office → hurry up and get there, hurry up and fill out the forms, hurry up and get back to the exam room … and wait (and wait and wait) for the doctor.
      • Application of any kind (job, college, mortgage, etc.) → hurry up and fill out the form, hurry up and submit the application … and wait (and wait and wait) to hear whether you’ve been accepted or not.
      • Buying a house! → hurry up and check the market, hurry up and see the house(s), hurry up and put in an offer … and wait (and wait and wait) through the rest of the process (home inspections, appraisals, underwriting, negotiation of terms, etc.).
      • Lifecycle of a farmer
        • Hurry up and plant the crop … wait (and wait and wait) for it to grow
        • Hurry up and harvest the crop … wait (and wait and wait) throughout the winter until the ground thaws and the weather warms up enough in the spring
        • Just to do it all over again.
      • Sometime, if you haven’t heard the story already, you’ll have to ask Peter about his “hurry up and wait” deployment story. Suffice it to say it involved him and a group of other National Guard members pointlessly cooling their heels in an Army camp in Mississippi which ended up extending his deployment by a few months while the higher-ups tried to figure out exactly which unit he and the rest of these guys were supposed to be deploying with. “Hurry up and wait” at its grandest.
    • It feels like so much of our lives nowadays gets caught up in cycles of “hurry up and wait” – cycles of frantic and sometimes chaotic activity followed by a period of stillness or passivity. → somewhat similar to cycles of boot camp experiences
      • Frantic, sometimes chaotic energy of the boot camp experience itself – throw your whole self into the changes
        • New activities
        • New routines
        • New information
        • New mindset
      • And suddenly, before you know it, you find the boot camp experience over. And you’re celebrating and rejoicing because you’ve made it through this mind-bogglingly difficult thing! You’ve finished the task! You’ve conquered the seemingly-impossible! You are awesome! … Now what???
        • Instead of “hurry up and wait” → “celebrate … and wait” scenario
  • “Celebrate and wait” = pretty apt scenario for Holy Week as it lies before us
    • Whirlwind of activity and emotion all jam-packed into one week
    • Theological rollercoaster → from the highs of Jesus’ triumphal entry today to the loop that Jesus’ throws the disciples during the Last Supper (“this is my body broken for you”? “this is my blood shed for you?”) to the screaming low of the crucifixion on Good Friday, back up to the high of the resurrection on Easter morning
    • Today, with the crowds that welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem, we celebrate. We rejoice. We shout our “hosannas” and our “blesseds” and our “praise Gods.” And yet we know that this celebration is not the end of the story. We celebrate … and yet, we also wait in mournful anticipation of what is to come.
  • Certainly hit that “celebration” mark with OT text this morning
    • CELEBRATION!: Give thanks to the LORD because he is good, because his faithful love lasts forever. Let Israel say it: “God’s faithful love lasts forever!” … Open the gates of righteousness for me so I can come in and give thanks to the LORD![1]
    • CELEBRATION!: I thank you because you answered me, because you were my saving help. … This has happened because of the LORD; it is astounding in our sight! This is the day the LORD acted; we will rejoice and celebrate in it![2]
    • CELEBRATION!: You are my God—I will give thanks to you! You are my God—I will lift you up high! Give thanks to the LORD because he is good, because his faithful love lasts forever.[3]
    • You can hear the exuberance. You can hear the rejoicing. You can hear the adoration and worship exuding from every syllable and phrase. This is a passage of light and glory and triumph. This is a passage of celebration!
      • Feels a lot like the triumph at the end of a boot camp experience
        • BOOT CAMP: “Yes, we’ve slogged through the insanely hard stuff. Yes, we’ve fought hard to keep from giving up. Yes, we’ve been broken down. But we’ve come back better, stronger, more confident in ourselves and our abilities. We have been built back up, and we are better for it!”
        • SCRIPTURE: I thank you because you answered me, because you were my saving help. … LORD, please save us! LORD, please let us succeed! … This is the day the LORD acted; we will rejoice and celebrate in it![4] → Even in the midst of the rejoicing and the celebrating, our psalm for this morning recognizes struggle. It recognizes the hard parts of life. It recognizes that we are in no way capable of doing this “being a human” thing on our own, and it cries out to God for help. “Lord, please save us! Lord, please let us succeed!”
          • Now, I don’t know about you, but I have a little bit of trouble with the word “succeed” here. It feels uncomfortable to me. It feels exclusive to me – a little too “prosperity gospel,” a little too “Doctrine of Discovery,” a little too separationist. So I had to look that word up. → “succeed” = powerful, effective, strong
            • “Lord, please let us thrive!”
            • “Lord, please let us be effective!” → Isn’t this our prayer during and after a boot camp experience? Isn’t that why we go through it in the first place – to be our most powerful, strong, effective selves?
  • So there’s all that celebration in our psalm for this morning, but there’s also a hint that the work is far from complete – a hint at the “wait” part of the equation, too. – text: The stone rejected by the builders is now the main foundation stone.[5]
    • Implies “more to come” → something to wait for
      • Saw that stone passed over
      • Saw that stone rejected
      • Saw that stone tossed aside in haste to find the “right one”
      • BUT that stone will be set in a place of such prominence, such significance, such importance
    • Also implies staying power → The foundation stone is not a stone that gets moved … you know … ever. So the idea of being a foundation stone requires deep, dedicated, long-term commitment, not just a fleeting, half-hearted investment – some short-term, “hurry up” sort of quick fix.
      • Commitment that God made to humanity over and over again
        • Creation
        • Covenants with Abraham, Noah, Moses, Jacob
        • Birth of God’s own son, the Messiah
      • Commitment that Jesus made – commitment that we get to walk through this week as we make our way through Holy Week
        • Commitment to the celebration of today
        • Commitment to the intimacy of the Last Supper
        • Commitment to the horror of Good Friday
        • Commitment to the desolation of those three days of waiting
        • Commitment to what is to come
          • Empty tomb
          • Discarded graveclothes
          • Resurrection
  • I have to tell you all that Holy Week is my favorite time of the church calendar year exactly because of this tension that we live into all week long – exactly because of the “hurry up, celebrate, and wait” of it all. We talk about how Jesus was both God and human, and this is a week in which we get to experience both aspects of the Messiah in such close and stark contrast.
    • The week begins with the celebrate – with songs that are joyful-sounding and triumphant! It begins with the story of a parade and a jubilant crowd clamoring to get closer to their beloved Jesus.
      • Think about both sides of this celebration
        • Crowd side:
          • Excited
          • Emboldened
          • Upbeat
          • Maybe even a little star-struck
          • Hear this in text: Now a large crowd spread their clothes on the road. Others cut palm branches off the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds in front of him and behind him shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up. “Who is this?” they asked.[6] → crowd is jubilant because they expect this Jesus – this Son of David – to lead them in armed rebellion against Roman oppression
            • Expecting a physical salvation – swift, immediate, literal → expecting a “hurry up” sort of Messiah
        • Jesus’ side: full of knowledge and understanding
          • Understanding the situation
          • Understanding the human condition – our fickleness and the ease with which we are sometimes swayed to support something/someone one day and doubt it, beleaguer it, forsake it, (dare I say crucify it?) the next
          • Knowledge – knowing what is to come
    • Perfect illustration from movie version of Jesus Christ Superstar: filming the triumphal entry and the exuberance and celebration of the crowd, jarring moment of suspension
      • Screen freezes like someone’s pressed pause
      • Song continues in a suddenly ominous-sounding minor key
      • Voices of the crowdspeople singing become momentarily menacing → from “Hey JC, JC, won’t you smile at me?” to “Hey JC, JC would you die for me?”
      • It’s a moment that basically plays on a continual loop in my brain during Holy Week because it so perfectly illustrates the tension that we all hold in our minds and in our hearts during the services this week. Because we have the luxury of knowing the whole story. Like Jesus that day, we know what is coming, and it does indeed make us pause and reflect and contemplate and question.
  • But even with that knowledge, we raise our celebratory “hosannas” with the crowd this morning.
    • Celebrate what this Lenten journey has been – a journey of challenge and change, a journey of discernment and discovery, a journey of brokenness and blessing
    • Celebrate the hard work that has gone into this Lenten journey
    • Celebrate that this journey is almost complete
    • But the thing about boot camp is that, once you’ve finished celebrating that you’ve survived such an arduous experience, you need to start living changed. Falling back into old habits and patterns of behavior will lead you right back to where you were before you started boot camp, and it will all have been in vain. The hard work of not just acknowledging the changes that need to be made but implementing them lies ahead. And so we celebrate knowing that the true work – the work of redemption; the work of grace; the work of God’s Kingdom; the work of the cross; the holy and intentional work that Jesus started; that long-term, foundational, deep and dedicated, cornerstone kind of work – that work is still out there waiting to be done. So we celebrate knowing that this is not actually the end of anything … just the beginning of something wholly different. Amen.

[1] Ps 118:1-2, 19.

[2] Ps 118: 21, 23-24.

[3] Ps 118: 28-29.

[4] Ps 118:21, 25, 24.

[5] Ps 118:22.

[6] Mt 21:8-10.

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