Our website is mad at us, so today’s sermon can’t be heard on the Christ Church website, but you can read it here.
There is a bumper sticker on my car that pokes fun at those 26.2 marathon stickers. It reads “0.0, I don’t run.” That sticker used to be true. It is still true that I don’t like running, but because of some behind-the-scenes-finagling by my wife, I now run for thirty minutes a few days a week with my friend Tony Smith. Running is a choice that I have to make. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, when my alarm goes off at 5am, I have to choose to get out of bed. Having an accountability partner helps me make that choice. I don’t want to let Tony down. I don’t want him to have to run in the cold all by himself. So, I choose to get out of bed, get bundled up, and go. On any given day, it would be so much easier just to stay in bed, but in the long term, choosing to run is the better choice.
Running is good for my physical health, and so, by choosing to engage in the practice of jogging, I am making strides toward a better me. The same is true for the life of faith as well. We have to choose to engage in the practices of Christian formation. We choose to get up on Sunday and come to church. We choose to open a two-thousand-year-old book and try to understand it. We choose to take time to pray. We choose to take part in works of service for the betterment of our neighbor. The motivation, more often than not, doesn’t come from within, but depends on accountability partners with whom we commit to take part in these practices that will help us grow in our relationship with God. At any given moment, it might seem easier to skip saying grace or to sleep in on Sunday morning or to not bother with the Bible, but in the long run, choosing an active faith is the better choice.
As we heard in both the Gospel at the Liturgy of the Palms and in the Passion Gospel, during the final week of Jesus’ life, he had several opportunities to choose a different, seemingly easier path. As the week began, the crowd was whipped up into a frenzy. With shouts of “hosanna,” they threw down palm branches as a symbol of their honor and respect for Jesus and they proclaimed their hope that he might be the long-awaited King who would come to overthrow their Roman oppressors and restore the throne of David. In that moment, Jesus had a choice to make. It would have been easy to pull together a rag-tag army that, alongside his ability to perform miracles and raise the dead, could have easily marched into the heart of the city and thrown Pilate and his soldiers out on their tails. With one, short sermon, he could have stirred the crowd into an emotional whirlwind and sent an angry mob to ransack the court of the Pharisees, stripping them of their religious power and authority. At that moment, it might have seemed like using the might of his arm was the easier option, but in the long run, Jesus chose the better course. It wasn’t that Jesus wasn’t tempted. Mark tells us that he entered the Temple and took a good long look at all his options, but thankfully, he chose to return to Bethany and retire for the evening.
Our second Gospel lesson for today opens a few days of intense debate with the religious powers-that-be later. As the final days of Holy Week unfold before our eyes, we see Jesus making almost constant choices to walk toward the cross, toward his death, toward our redemption. Still basking in the royal parade from a few days earlier, Jesus had a choice to make in the house of Simon the leper. Kings were anointed at their coronation. As the crowd grumbled about the woman’s wasteful gift, Jesus could have affirmed his kingship and unleashed the revolution, but instead, he chose to see it as a precursor of his death that would usher in the good news of God’s salvation.
Again and again, Jesus made the choice to walk toward the cross. On the night before he died, Jesus and his disciples made their way to a garden called Gethsemane. There, he prayed that he might be able to choose a different path. “Abba, Father, take this cup from me; yet, not what is my will, but yours.” As Judas and a crowd of thugs approached and the crowds begin to scatter, Jesus didn’t shy away from what was coming. Despite his prayer moments earlier, he chose to walk toward the mob and offer himself for arrest. When the Council couldn’t find two stories that match, Jesus could have chosen to continue to remain silent, but in the end, it was his own confession of “I am,” that sealed his fate. As Pilate peppered him with questions, Jesus could have chosen any number of ways to get out of the situation he was in, but he chose to remain silent, much to Pilate’s amazement. Even on the cross, Jesus had a choice. As the crowds mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe,” Jesus could have come down from the cross and walked away unscathed, but instead he chose to stay there, to suffer, and to die. There were dozens of opportunities for him to choose an easier path, but again and again, Jesus chose to walk the way of the cross.
As Holy Week begins for us, we too have to choose. We can leave this place, having heard the Passion Gospel, comfortable that we’ve experienced all we need to in preparation for Easter. We could, very easily, sit comfortably amidst another busy week and not engage in the work of spiritual disciple and formation. But that is not what we prayed for today. Instead, our prayer for this Palm Sunday is that God might grant us grace to walk the way of the cross with Jesus. Ultimately, it is a choice that each of us will have to make. Each day, about noon, we will have to decide if we want to give up our lunch hour to hear the story of Jesus’ walk toward the cross. On Thursday, each of us will have to decide if we want to engage in the uncomfortable practice of foot washing, our annual reminder that Jesus’ commandment to love one another requires us to get up and do something. Several of you will make the choice to lose a few hours of sleep, keeping watch in the chapel and giving thanks for the choice that Jesus made on our behalf. This is a week all about making choices for an active, engaged faith. It may seem like the easier option is to just stay home, but in the long run, as we choose to walk the way of the cross together, we will be blessed to find it none other than the way of life and of peace. Amen.