Jesus is Self-Sacrificial
Jesus Is Really Good - Sermon #6: Jesus is Self-Sacrificial
Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • March 20, 2016 • Nigel Berry, Youth Ministry Director
Hi! Good morning!
I’m Nigel, I’m the youth ministry guy here at the church and I also help to oversee our Mission Outpost Internship program and have more “unofficial” titles and responsibilities such the church Hide-And-Go Seek Champion, the Bearer of the Beard, and oversight of a Frozen Burrito Ministry where, if you show up on any given day and you’re super hungry and short on cash, I will share a frozen burrito with you while supplies last. It’s one of our less popular ministries…
But let me tell you a story from the land of frozen burritos -
- Upsetting the equilibrium (Oops)
Less than three years ago, a senior living center in the state of California closed its doors permanently and abruptly. Employees were told not that their jobs would no longer exist by the end of the 1st shift on Friday. During that final week, many residents of the center were picked up by family members and taken home for the short term or were urgently moved to another care site. But not everyone who called the Valley Springs Manor their home had a place to go. By Friday evening, there were 16 abandoned and frail seniors left in the building with the only two staff who remained on site - a cook named Maurice Rowland and the facility’s janitor, Miguel Alvarez.
As the two conversed in the kitchen, they realized that, if they left, the residents would have nobody. And so their roles shifted from support staff to caregivers. Rowland recounted "I just couldn't see myself going home — next thing you know, they're in the kitchen trying to cook their own food and burn the place down. Even though they weren’t our family, they were kind of like our family for this short period of time.” Alvarez recounted his experience of abandonment as a child and asserted that no-one else should have to experience being alone and unwanted as he had felt. And so they stayed. Not just the night.
Not just the next morning. But for 3 DAYS, Maurice and Miguel cooked, cleaned, dressed, bathed, and medicated 16 adults, only going home for an hour each day, at separate intervals, to change clothes and gather necessities. After the three days, the fire department and the sheriff’s office took over to find placement for the remaining adults.
And what is even more, the attention that they both drew to the situation was solely responsible for the passing of 2014’s Residential Care for the Elderly Reform Act in the state which not only made it a felony to abandon seniors in the event of a facility’s closure, but additionally:
- Required each care facility to acquire liability insurance to cover transitional care for residents
- Made it impossible to possess or acquire proper licensure to work in a senior care center if convicted of abandonment.
- Established standard staffing protocols for all facilities ranging from management staffing to CPR trainees
- And established legal gateways for residents to sue administrations that neglect their health and safety
- among many other improvements.
What was, originally a story of two men, spending three days, caring for 16 men and women without pay or any form of compensation ultimately led to the legal protections that you and I might have assumed would be considered basic human rights in the 21st century. It is estimated that California’s population of people age 65 and older will peak above 6 million people by the year 2020.
Now, I think that this story confronts us with two realities - the first being that despite our many advances and improvements in our country, in our time, there is a continuous thread of injustice that is woven throughout our world. And reflection on this story should, initially, break our hearts.
The other reality, which we also encounter in this story, is that injustice is not guaranteed to have the final word. You see, because Maurice and Miguel subverted that injustice. 72 hours of sacrifice not knowing whether help was coming in the next hour or in the next week, of not seeing their families, of learning new skills with no formal training not only impacted the lives for the remaining residents but also for millions of Californians.
2) Analyzing the discrepancy (Ugh)
And these are the stories that we love. They’re stories of underdogs, of Davids defeating Goliaths. They’re the stories of an ideal reigning victorious over a reality. They’re stories of average people like you and I, doing things which we might consider to be extraordinary.
Such stories give us hope. Inspiration. And hopefully the courage to face whatever we are facing in our own lives.
Now, we’ve been moving through our Lenten season, the 40 days leading up to Easter, by exploring different aspects of Jesus and his character. We’ve explored the ideas that Jesus is trustworthy, and that he is generous. Shane Claiborne shared with us that Jesus is really really good because through him another world is possible. And last Sunday Julius talked about how Jesus is faithful. Today, we’ll talk about Jesus being self-sacrificial.
And when I say, that Jesus is self-sacrificial, many of us who have been raised in proximity to the Christian story might automatically think of Jesus’ death - a crucifixion on a Roman cross. But there’s more to the story than that. While Jesus paid what we consider to the “ultimate price” with his very life, other aspects of Jesus’ life were also sacrificed and we may tend to forget about those things. Among the list would be sacrificing a career in carpentry, honing and perfecting Joseph’s craft. Jesus did not pursue, to our knowledge, having a family with a wife and children. For those who have had family on our hearts or at the center of our pride, we could imagine how difficult our relationships and histories would be to surrender - to imagine no relationship with our spouses or with our children…
Jesus also sacrificed what many of us might label as stability - We desire and prioritize our own security, giving precedence to maintaining predictable and adequate levels of income which, in return, stabilizes the provision of our necessities such as housing, clothing, meals, and the like. Jesus was a roaming prophet through the extent of his three year ministry which would put enormous strain on anyone who seeks stability in their life.
But perhaps, just perhaps some of the most surprising sacrifices made by Jesus sit more on the things that we wouldn’t challenge about him now - sacrifices of prestige and honor, sacrifice of his reputation, and sacrifice, of his popularity.
And I found this reflection to be interesting because most people wouldn’t object if told that Jesus was a single, homeless man with a carpentry background.
However to threaten the notions that Jesus was, in his own ways, a scandalous and divisive religious and political figure with a pronounced rise and fall in his popularity [Wording?]
Today, in the Christian calendar is a day commonly referred to as “Palm Sunday”. Palm Sunday remembers Jesus’ entrance into the city of Jerusalem where he would spend his final days prior to his crucifixion, which the Church marks on Friday.
But the story of Jesus’ entrance is a powerful though easily missed story. So let’s examine this story together because, as is good with biblical interpretation, if a story is told in all 4 gospel accounts, it deserves extra attention. Such is this story which we will be reading Mark’s account of:
When we live a life that does not conform to the world’s expectations, we become targets of that system
3) Disclosing the clue to resolution (Aha)
When they were nearing Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany on Mount Olives, he sent off two of the disciples with instructions: “Go to the village across from you. As soon as you enter, you’ll find a colt tethered, one that has never yet been ridden. Untie it and bring it. If anyone asks, ‘What are you doing?’ say, ‘The Master needs him, and will return him right away.’”
4-7 They went and found a colt tied to a door at the street corner and untied it. Some of those standing there said, “What are you doing untying that colt?” The disciples replied exactly as Jesus had instructed them, and the people let them alone. They brought the colt to Jesus, spread their coats on it, and he mounted.
8-10 The people gave him a wonderful welcome, some throwing their coats on the street, others spreading out rushes they had cut in the fields. Running ahead and following after, they were calling out,
Blessed is he who comes in God’s name!
Blessed the coming kingdom of our father David!
Hosanna in highest heaven!
11 He entered Jerusalem, then entered the Temple. He looked around, taking it all in. But by now it was late, so he went back to Bethany with the Twelve.
Now this story has a lot packed into it that we don’t want to miss, starting with Jesus instruction to steal an animal and tell the people that, when they object, that its totally cool. “Just tell them that I need it. Its cool. It will be cool.” Now how Jesus and his disciples got away with this stunt could probably only be explained by the Divine because it is a wild story that, in 99.99% of situations would never play out the way that it did. So why did it play out so?
Jesus was fulfilling a prophetic statement made by the prophet Zechariah a few hundred years prior. And the passage reads like this:
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Now this passage of scripture would have been perplexing for several reasons and the fact that Jesus fulfilled it is in no small way, anything less than amazing because of several considerations:
First - Kings don’t ride on donkeys. They ride on chariots, pulled by horses! Or, when they rode on horses, they would at least do their absolute best to appear majestic and powerful.
That is what would be considered to be kingly. A display of military power and might and confidence in their ability to conquer their enemies with a sword! Riding a donkey? That’s just silly.
And second: let’s take the silliness a step further, the idea that the great King would ride a donkey is ludicrous in an of itself but to suggest that they would ride a colt?! That is laughable. It is wildly silly to imagine a king riding a donkey. It is even sillier to imagine a grown man riding this:
Without context, you might reasonably assume that I have just pitched a scene for an episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
And the casting of palm fronds or “rushes” and coats before the king was also a symbolic tongue-in-cheek display.
Now, Jesus chosen entry into the city had several implications but we’ll focus on two of them this morning. First we recognize that this was highly satirical - poking fun at the militarization of Rome. Secondly we need to recognize that, through this story, Mark is leading us into a greater story about what it truly means to follow the King Jesus.
4) Experiencing the gospel (Whee)
The Cursed Fig Tree
As they left Bethany the next day, he was hungry. Off in the distance he saw a fig tree in full leaf. He came up to it expecting to find something for breakfast, but found nothing but fig leaves. (It wasn’t yet the season for figs.) He addressed the tree: “No one is going to eat fruit from you again—ever!” And his disciples overheard him.
Now, similar to the prior story, I also love this story because A) it is absurd and B) it exists because it points to something much larger than we can appreciate with just a surface reading. Many people like the story because it could serve as a example of Jesus being frustrated for irrational reasons like many of us experience. Others, rather than finding encouragement find fear in this story as it seems to suggest that Jesus will curse all things which make him unhappy and that we are subject to Jesus’ emotions and judgements which could be dependent on something as trivial as whether or not our Lord remembered to eat breakfast or not.
So to better understand this story, we need to learn about taqsh. Taqsh are small knobs that grow on fig trees prior to the figs. They are only marginally nutritious and not as delicious as an actual fig but they would be considered food by commoners much in the way we might enjoy mulberries off a tree alongside our favorite trail. But here’s the thing - the taqsh are predecessors to the figs. If no taqsh are present on a tree once it has grown its leaves, the tree will not bear any fruit in that season. So while it may be nice for shade and decent for aesthetics, it would be worthless to the hungry person.
We recognize that there are things in our life that are fruitless and lifeless and yet we keep holding onto them, certain that with just the right amount of care, or patience, or prayer that they’ll suddenly produce a crop worth waiting for.
5) Anticipating the consequences (Yeah) What Happens when we resist?
Commentators have suggested that Mark’s approach is to set a four-fold understanding of what it would truly mean to follow Jesus and it gets played out like this:
- Following Jesus means following him on the way.
- The way leads to Jerusalem.
- Jerusalem is the place of confrontation with the authorities.
- Jerusalem is the place of death and resurrection.
A “Palm Sunday” isn’t merely celebrated in the Christian church because baby donkeys are cute and we needed a holiday to support tree trimmers but, instead, at its core is an invitation for you and I to identify the “Jerusalems” in our own lives, recognizing that to follow Jesus will bring us into confrontation with those powers and that some form of death is guaranteed. But - resurrection is promised/
How is it that his reputation as a prophet, in a matter of mere days, led him to be executed by the State?
There was a point of conflict between the Roman governor and the religious leaders. Technically, Jesus had not committed any significant crimes against Rome. Yes, he led some demonstrations and was verbally critical of aspects of the Empire but he wasn’t a threat that the Empire recognized. Aspiring kings that desired to oust Roman powers used tools of violence and espionage. Roman soldiers were killed by or in the name of would-be-kings. But Jesus did not pose a violent threat. And in addition to being non-violent, the homeless man riding small donkeys had most of his influence among the poor, the sick, and the reviled. He didn’t have a largely public following of those with power to overthrow Rome in the traditional sense. Hence why Pilate asked the crowd, “Why? What crime has he committed?”
The case against Jesus had been brought forth by the religious leaders because they had found themselves in a really tight spot. They were in a balancing act of sorts. Being the primary financial institution, the religious leaders were responsible for supporting the Empire financially and keeping the people in line. They were in a position where they had to do just enough to keep Rome happy but avoid angering their Jewish subjects. Angering the people could lead to riots which could lead to violence. Angering the Romans could lead to violence. And who doesn’t have an interest in protecting their own skin? Roman crosses weren’t invented for Jesus. The Romans littered the highways and commerce routes with the crucified bodies of their enemies. The common person would have seen them on the horizons as commonly as you and I see cell phone towers. In as much as we’re reminded of AT&T and Verizon’s power, those who lived in Rome’s shadow would be reminded of the Empire’s power over their lives.
And this is how Jesus’ confrontations led to his execution. When the only imaginable path to freedom is devoid of love for our enemies, our limited imagination becomes the noose by which we are hung.
When the only imaginable path to freedom is devoid of love for our enemies, our limited imagination becomes the noose by which we are hung.
Fear tends to have nasty effects on humanity… Some of you may be familiar with Keshia Thomas’ story. It happened right here, in Ann Arbor in 1996. The Klu Klux Klan had staged a rally downtown and, naturally, a group of protesters arrived to counter the narrative of hate. The chants volleyed back and forth from both sides, police were on the scene to protect everyone involved, and signs were raised to the air, each person feeling the tension and the emotion and the urgency of the moment.
Now, in someway, somehow, a man sporting an SS tattoo and Klan paraphernalia was observed in the middle of the protester crowd. What he was doing there, no one knew. How he ended up there, no one was certain. But there he was. And the mere proximity to this man converted the fearful protesters, who were advocating for peace, for kindness, for equality, for
inclusion, ironically, adopted a mob mentality and chased the man several yards down the sidewalk where he was knocked to the ground and kicked and beaten with sticks by the protestors.
A student photographer, Mark Brunner, captured the moments on camera when, quickly and most unexpectedly, Ms Thomas launched herself on top of the fallen man, protecting him from the crowd. She said that, “When I saw him fall to the ground, it was as if two angels had lifted me into the air and laid me down. The stunned mob backed away from the scene, creating enough space for the officers to escort the man to safety. And it is difficult to describe Brunner’s photos so here are are three that you just need to see for yourself:
And the photographer’s quote is one of my favorites from the story, saying, "She put herself at physical risk to protect someone who, in my opinion, would not have done the same for her," he said. "Who does that in this world?”
She was 18 years old. A senior in high school. And she stunned her community with loving actions that defy reason. Now for those who are missing this journey, let me take a moment to map it out.
Following Jesus means following his way. Resisting hate and discrimination is a small part of what that can look like. The way leads to Jerusalem. Jerusalem was a Klan rally. Jerusalem is a place of confrontation with the authorities. She was in a position to confront every person that was there. There are confrontational feelings when your worldview about people who look different from you gets challenged. There are confrontational feelings when someone protects a person that you believe should not be protected.
Jerusalem is the place of death and resurrection. Some things were certainly lost here. Some minds were not changed by her sacrifice. Specifically, there were undoubtably people on both sides who did not repent of their worldview in which one person’s life is more valuable than the other’s. The risk of being beaten herself was not diminished. And up to at least 2013 when I found her most recent interview with MLive, she still has not heard from the man that she saved.
But… she had heard from his son. A few days after the conflict while working at a local coffee shop, a young man approached her and thanked her. She had possibly saved his dad’s life. In her interview, Thomas said, "Imagine what would have happened if they had killed his father out there- that would have just been another person filled with anger, hate and revenge."
Just prior to entering Jerusalem, “[Jesus] summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” Mark 8:34
And our reminder on this Palm Sunday is not that the cross represents every hardship that we’ll encounter in life. Broken cars, slipped spinal discs, burned bacon - all these things are sad and lame. But they are not the cross. Following Jesus will invite us to go to places that we don’t naturally want to go. You can imagine, with the crowd’s familiarity of Roman crosses on the roads, how Jesus’ invitation must have sounded. Most leaders, yesterday, today, and certainly tomorrow, invite the few to follow them to life while death, be it political, spiritual, economic, or physical death is for others. Jesus, however, invites us to follow him to death because life is for everyone.
Most leaders, yesterday, today, and certainly tomorrow, invite the few to follow them to life while death, be it political, spiritual, economic, or physical death, is for others. Jesus, however, invites us to follow him to death because life is for everyone.
There is a great promise of resurrection but I won’t preach the Easter sermon today. That is for next week. This week, our invitation is to join Jesus on the way, into Jerusalem, where we will find conflict, death, and discover resurrection.
So, here is what this can look like for us:
- We’re in a season of political discourse in our country. And central to my proposal this morning is the idea that our allegiance is requested to a King and a Kingdom rather than a President and a Country and that pledging such an allegiance is the way to Jerusalem. While we are in this world, our deaths and resurrections as represented through baptism, meaning that we are no longer of this world. Our political party is a unique party - championing the lamb above the elephant and the donkey. And so our questions are not ARE WE POLITICAL, but rather HOW ARE WE POLITICAL? Not ARE WE RELEVANT but ARE WE PECULIAR? Because all of creation waits and groans for a people of fresh imagination who offer a message of hope. Like the religious leaders of Jesus’ time, we quickly learn how difficult it is to experience the fullness of life living in division between the Empire and the Kingdom.
- Read the Gospel story of Mark.
- Each gospel story in the Bible covers portions of Jesus’ three years of ministry. Mark, has designated a 1/3 of his entire record to just the last week in Jerusalem.
- How is Jesus subverting the Empire during the Holy Week?
- Ask new questions about politics in your homes, your small groups, or in your journals. How are we political? How are we peculiar? And if we’re neither, are we really following Jesus to Jerusalem?
- Read the Gospel story of Mark.
- Baptisms will be available for everyone next Sunday here at our church. We believe that Jesus is inviting all of us to follow him to the places that he leads as we partner with him to reveal heaven in the nursing homes, the streets of Ann Arbor, and in Jerusalem and Washington. Baptism is a public declaration of our commitment to practice dying to ourselves, of dying to the economics and exploitations of the Empire, and carrying our own cross in pursuit of our King. You’re invited into this crazy, exciting, life-changing adventure with us. Consider being baptized - you can can sign up at the green table by our entry doors, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or decide next week at the last minute. We’ll have extra clothes and towels on hand if desired.
- Finally, we want to encourage you to parter or continue to parter with us as we work on our Lenten traditions of
- Choosing 6 people in our lives to pray for
- Spending money on those 6 people
- Asking God for ONE BIG THING no matter how crazy it might be
The Empire tells us that our place is _______________ but God’s Kingdom tells us _____________.
Beware of an “authority” that comes with “more”. More money, more prestige, more privilege - if our pursuit of authority does not elevate others, it risks diminishing them.
The tension in this story will likely be that most people prefer to applaud the sacrifices of other but are unwilling to imitate them.
We don't always imitate those that we admire because we believe that we have found "better ways" which excuse us from following the same path. When it comes to Jesus specifically, it may be that the point of tension then rests on our willingness to lean in and trust God.
And while the Christian Church may possess some truly dirty dirty hippies that could get the job done, they’re loosely organized and a payment system of granola and Birkenstock sandals is not sustainable. But what we do have, however is a homeless, Jewish carpenter who rides donkey’s and flips over money tables and curses at fig trees. And in the Kingdom of God, that is all we need.
The term Pascua Florida, which in Spain originally meant just Palm Sunday, was later also applied to the whole festive season of Easter Week. Thus the State of Florida received its name when, on March 27, 1513 (Easter Sunday), Ponce de Leon first sighted the land and named it in honor of the great feast.