We Are A Group Project

The more we are able to be real with each other, the more we can be really, really loved for who we truly are.

[1] Watch on Facebook Live

Luke 19:28-42, Galatians 6:1-5

I don’t know how many times you have celebrated Palm Sunday. Maybe this is your first time. Maybe this is your eightieth time. If it’s your eightieth, then you know the story well and you probably feel like you have heard it all.  You probably know this is palm Sunday (hold up hand), which is nice because most people have two. 

I’ll tell you something you may not have heard before:

 Decathect. This verb means “To withdraw one’s feelings of attachment from a person, idea, or object.”[2] 

But what has that got to do with Palm Sunday?

Be careful. Palm Sunday is a gateway holiday because it leads to more holidays. It’s the gateway to the events of Holy Week, so named because it was Jesus’ last week before he was arrested and crucified.  Next Sunday on Easter we’ll celebrate that he was resurrected from the dead.

We tell this story every year to help us remember what God has done.  And also because as the world changes and as we ourselves change, we hear things differently, and we learn new things about God and what God is doing in us. Sometimes we find out we haven’t learned as much as we thought we’d learned.

For example, years ago talking with people after church, I made a snide comment about a celebrity that was in the news, but the person to whom I was talking didn’t play along. Instead, they said, “We need to pray for that person.  They may not know God or be able to pray for themselves.”  That put me in my place, and as you can tell I’ve never forgotten it.

I thought I had learned that lesson, but it came up again this week in one of the readings in the book Good Enough, in this quote from Madeleine L’Engle:

“We must bless without wanting to manipulate. Without insisting that everything be straightened out right now. Without insisting that our truth be known. This means simply turning whoever it is we need to bless over to God, knowing that God’s powerful love will do what our own feeble love or lack of it won’t. I have suggested that it is a good practice to … bless six people I don’t much like every morning before breakfast.” —Madeleine L’Engle, A Stone for a Pillow[3]

And then the book said to think of six people you don’t like very much and ask God to bless them.

Hmmm. 

It wasn’t hard to think of the first one. Putin.  But it was surprisingly hard to ask God to bless him.

Who would you put on your list?

There’s always going to be someone we don’t really want to ask God to bless.  Sometimes because we don’t like someone, but also sometimes because it’s hard to have compassion, to suffer with another person. Is it hard to have compassion and peace at the same time? We see this is today’s story.

Jesus is coming into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, and his presence and mode of travel is causing a ruckus. It looks like a military victory parade. Jesus has been and will be victorious, but not in a military way. Jesus is victorious over death. Word has spread about Jesus raising Lazarus from death and people are excited to see this miraculous wonder worker.  They have high hopes.

The Jewish leaders are trying to settle things down so the Romans don’t come in and strong hand everyone into silence.  “Tell your disciples to be quiet,” they say.  But Jesus replies, “If they were silent, even the rocks would cry out.”  It’s like the whole earth knows that Jesus is the true king of creation.

Jesus also wants peace, but not in the same way.  As he rides on, Jesus is deeply compassionate and he weeps for the people of Jerusalem. And he laments, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19:42)

What are the things that make for peace?

The crowd in Jerusalem is crying out for salvation and peace.  In Luke’s version, we don’t hear the word hosanna. Instead we hear them crying out for peace.

We can get in the habit of thinking that our salvation and peace is just between us and God.  Something that only affects us individually.  It would certainly be easier if that were true.  But whether we realize it or not, our peace, or lack of it, impacts the people around us.  We are to love God AND one another.

And we’re much better at accomplishing peace with God and with one another when we seek peace together and encourage one another. And that’s why we are a group project.

You may have noticed that the Message version of Galatians 6 begins with a call to “live creatively.”  It’s another way to encourage us to be listening to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  There are 3 aspects of the Spirit’s work we see in today’s scriptures: togetherness, accomplishment, and growth.

Togetherness

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There’s an energy and excitement that happens when people come together.  It’s why a sports team does better with a cheering crowd, and why theater performances and concerts don’t seem to go as well when the attendance is low, and why we like church more when there are more people in the room. It’s encouraging to be with other people.

You know, the bigger the crowd, the more people show up for it.  In Luke’s account of Jesus riding into Jerusalem, he says it’s disciples cheering, but Matthew, Mark and John say it’s a crowd of people. Even if at first it was disciples, their cheering would have drawn other people in.

Accomplishment

[5]

We get more done when we work together to accomplish physical tasks, financial tasks, and to come up with ideas. Case in point: Extreme Makeover home rebuilding show.  In each episode of this show, they would completely remodel a house in one week, even if it involved completely tearing the old one down and rebuilding from the ground up. At the end of the week, when they brought the family back, the home was remodeled and completely decorated and furnished. The way they were able to do such a big job in such a short amount of time was by getting the whole community involved.  The professionals were there to direct the work and do the things that require professionals, but there were also hundreds of volunteers working around the clock.

Many hands make light work. This is true physically and financially. In the Extreme Makeover show, the remodels that had the best long-term outcome were the ones in which community organizations helped to provide a stable financial situation for the family, sometimes paying off their mortgage, sometimes giving them money to help pay for future expenses.

[6]

We see people working together to make the event happen in today’s scripture reading as well. Jesus doesn’t do this all by himself.  The disciples get the donkey, a member of the community contributes the donkey or colt, and many people give up their cloaks to put on the donkey’s back and to “pave” the road for Jesus, willingly throwing down what may have been their most valuable piece of clothing.

Jill Duffield, the writer of the book our Sunday school class has been reading called Lent in Plain Sight, says that when we hold back instead of sharing, we hurt ourselves.  She tells about someone who died suddenly and left behind dresser drawers full of brand new unworn clothing, and a closet full of brand new shoes still in their boxes. Many of the shirts and sweaters and shoes had been gifts from friends and family. He was saving them for a special occasion, but he died before an occasion arose, so he was never able to enjoy them, and never gave those who gave them to him the joy of seeing him wear them.[7]

Galatians 6 encourages us to share one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.  We strive to do this as a church and in many ways we do this well.  We pray for one another. We contribute to the costs of having this building and our staff, and having a daycare for our community. We give food to the food bank and our little free pantry and to those who need a meal brought in now and then.

In the book Lent in Plain Sight, Duffield invites us to consider what we might be holding back from Jesus. What are we saving for a special occasion? What if that occasion never comes?

Trusting God lead to Growth

Working together works better the more we are all engaged and participating in whatever way we can. Sometimes I think the most difficult and maybe the most important form of engagement happens emotionally, and that emotional engagement is an important part of how we grow.

I have to tell you a little secret.  Have you ever heard someone say that Presbyterians are the frozen chosen?  I very much dislike that definition.  I know that in 1 Corinthians 14:40, Paul tells the Corinthians that their worship should be done in a decent and orderly way, but we don’t know exactly what they were doing, only that they were being prideful about their spiritual gifts and getting in each other’s way. 

The problem is that when we put being proper and orderly above being engaged in loving God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, we miss out.  We aren’t being real. I think church should be a place where we can be real.

[8]

When a couple comes to meet with me for premarital counseling, I try to help them talk about all the different areas of putting their lives together, including how they resolve their differences. Sometimes, a couple will boast that they never argue, and as much as that sounds nice, it’s actually a bit of a red flag.  Why haven’t they argued yet?  What are they holding back?  Are they able to be truly honest and real with one another?  If not, this could keep their relationship from growing.

The same is true for any relationship, with God and including those in the church.

Jesus weeps over Jerusalem and says, “If only you had recognized the things that make for peace.”

What are the things that make for peace?  Love and forgiveness.  If we’re being too careful around each other, there won’t be room for love and little need for forgiveness.  But if we can engage our whole selves in seeking God together, and in accomplishing whatever God puts before us, we will grow in our relationships with God and one another.  It’s hard work, actually. But I think it’s worth it.

I love the example of the Velveteen Rabbit in the book by Margery Williams. In the book Good Enough, Kate Bowler and Jessica Richie call it “the gospel of the Velveteen Rabbit.”

This children’s book “tells the story of a stuffed toy rabbit wondering what to do when he is replaced by windup toys or eventually cast away. The bunny was once lovely, but now is ragged. Older. Careworn.

“Perhaps that is a familiar feeling. We see a photograph of our younger selves—maybe living a life that is now gone—and we have a little pang [of regret]. That’s me. And she’s gone. He’s gone. And we wholeheartedly accept the idea that we were better before. There is a shiny version of ourselves that once existed and, whoever we are now, it can never be as good.

“The Velveteen Rabbit has a moment of candor about this fear when talking to the Skin Horse, a toy who is older and wiser than the other toys. And the Skin Horse explains that in the process of being loved, we are not diminished. We are becoming real. Real is not about how you are made, says the horse. It happens to you. It might hurt. And it happens slowly, over time. But when you are really, really loved, you become real.[9]

I think the reverse is also true for humans.  The more we are able to be real with each other, the more we can be really, really loved for who we truly are.

We get there by working together, encouraging one another, and being loving and, maybe most of all, forgiving.

And we have the capacity to do that because of the work Jesus Christ accomplishes on the cross, and the gift of the Holy Spirit working in us.

Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. -Galatians 6:2    

These are the things that make for peace.


[1] Photo by Sharon McCutcheon: https://www.pexels.com/photo/a-kid-with-multicolored-hand-paint-1148998/

[2] https://www.apartmenttherapy.com/21-words-you-dont-know-that-perfectly-describe-things-231848

[3] Bowler, Kate; Richie, Jessica. Good Enough (p. 127). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[4] Photo by Josh Sorenson: https://www.pexels.com/photo/group-of-people-raise-their-hands-on-stadium-976866/

[5] Photo by Rene Asmussen: https://www.pexels.com/photo/house-renovation-3990359/

[6]

[7] Duffield, Jill, Lent in Plain Sight: A Devotion Through Ten Objects (Louisville Westminster John Knox Press: 2020), p.140.

[8] Photo by Yaroslav Shuraev: https://www.pexels.com/photo/people-talking-while-sitting-on-the-living-room-6184494/

[9] Bowler, Kate; Richie, Jessica. Good Enough (pp. 117-118). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

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