Today you will be with me in Paradise

Updated: Jan 29

(Note: The Lenten restriction of internal pictures at this bus stop is still in effect.)


I want to thank you for showing up today.  Because businesses are open, the buses do run on Palm Sundays.


Obviously, you noticed the handout reading material for today is quite long.  It is so long, there are priests whose sermons are always, “I will let the reading speak for itself.”


Then they sit down.


How cowardly is that?  Do you go to church because you want the Holy Bible read aloud to you, in pieces … without explanation or deep comment?  Or do you go because your attendance is expected and the whole time you are thinking, “Let’s get this over with”?


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Palm Sunday (which – if you pay attention to what John wrote in his Gospel – was actually Palm Monday) has become the biggest day on the Church Calendar, in terms of the death of Jesus being pronounced so loudly that the objective seems to be to make everyone in attendance feel deeply emotional.


The death of Jesus on the cross makes death the biggest selling point the Church promotes: Buy your cross pendants on necklaces, wall crucifixes and painting of the crucifixion here!


The Cross is to Christians as the Holocaust is to Jews – “Lest they forget.”


Unfortunately, the image of Jesus dead on a cross elicits raw emotions, such as sorrow, anger, fear, hatred and resentment, which are not uplifting.  Joy and praise, as a celebration of death, is not the focus intended to be captured today.


Instead of seeing a cross icon as the vertical intersecting with the horizontal, where the vertical symbolizes the material world and the horizontal symbolizes the spiritual world, so that the heart of Jesus, hanging at the point of intersection, represents the Holy Spirit … ETERNAL LIFE! … we celebrate the cross as an instrument of death.  We have difficulty looking beyond that death, to the place where Heaven and earth join.


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Let me ask you a serious question.


By seeing Jesus dead in Scripture, does that mean that Jesus is dead today?


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Think about that before you answer.  Consider the Ascension and how we are taught, “He sits at the right hand of God” before you commit to response.


<pause>


Actually, don’t give me your answer.  It is important for each Christian to answer that question privately.  However, in my mind, Jesus is not dead today.


His death in the Passion Play was just a NECESSARY step towards an ultimate goal.  For that reason alone, today should be when we celebrate that step having been accomplished!  Without that death then, we would not be sitting here today remembering Jesus.


<pause>


Still, when we are asked to mourn, like at a funeral for a dearly departed … one who we will not see again until we die … we lose sight of the ultimate goal.


“Boohoo,” we cry, as tears cloud our foresight.


Jesus is alive and he walks the face of the earth today.  Jesus walks now through every true Christian who is filled with the Holy Spirit and has the Mind of Christ.


Jesus has been here and alive ever since that first Easter Sunday, when he appeared to Mary Magdalene as the gardener, appeared to Cleopas and his wife (relatives of Jesus) as a pilgrim stranger, and when he appeared to the disciples (in a collective dream of themselves as fishermen on the Sea of Galilee) as an unrecognizable old man on the shore.


Jesus is alive today, even if he does not look like Jesus in the pictures we know him by.


The element of death, as the first step towards salvation, is meant for us to realize what his death means to us.  Jesus died literally, so we only have to die figuratively.


While Jesus died for our sins, he died to show us how to keep new sins from coming upon us … forever.  It is our precious egos that need to die, so we will be cleansed and stay clean!


Do you feel brave enough to go out and commit figurative suicide … so Christ can inhabit your mind and God can find a home in your heart … when you read the Passion Play?


Does that not scare the bejesus out of you?


I’m sure it does; but that is not the point.  Death precedes resurrection.  Resurrection precedes ministry.  Ministry precedes salvation.


To understand that today, we read from the unique Gospel of Luke.  Luke alone perfectly presents that message for us to realize.  It is not a new message, as it is one told by Jesus over and over again, as Jesus repeatedly told his disciples that he must die and resurrect, to fulfill prophecy.  But, it is hearing Jesus’ words today, only written in Luke, explaining how the disciples were about to have their futures changed that is worth review.


In all remembrances of only Jesus talking with his disciples, we are reflections of the disciples.  So, any message Jesus gave to them, he gives to us.  Therefore, what Jesus said then tells us now that our futures include the same change.


Until we receive the Holy Spirit, we have figurative cataracts on our eyes.  Thus we have eyes, but we are unable to see the beauty of the meaning that comes from Jesus’ words.  Matthew and Mark were drunk when Jesus had this conversation with them, so the cataracts clouded their memory.  Only a sober Mary (the mother) recalled this conversation.  Still, we too are also drunk (from the  material world coursing through our veins), so we are unable to understand this meaning without divine assistance.


If you run off to wherever you are headed today, do a search of the Internet for the meaning of Jesus telling his disciples, “The one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one.”


I did that and found how people have avoided answering that search question.  The reason is because trained religious minds do not really know the answer.  They have not been told an adequate response to give to people who ask why Luke 22:36 sounds as if Jesus was predicting a need for armed revolution against the status quo (Roman and Jewish).


He wasn’t.  They know that; but they can’t decipher that instruction properly.


To understand Luke 22:35-38 – one small section told only by Luke (the memoir of Mother Mary) – one has to see how it begins with Jesus reminding his disciples of their commission, when they were sent out as ministers of a message.  Jesus told them, “As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’” (Matthew 10:7)


Jesus asked eleven of his disciples who were still with him after the Passover dinner was over, “When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?”


They replied, “No, not a thing.”


But then, as his own death was then four days away, Jesus told them a new instruction.  He said, “But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag.”


Judas Iscariot, the carrier of the purse for the collective – the real world Church of Jesus, as the Messiah sent by God – had left to betray Jesus.  Without Jesus, the eleven disciples who remained to hear this message were being told that Jesus would no longer be present in the material world to bring in funds for his church, in which the disciples were deacons.


By Jesus saying, “The one who has a purse must take it,” he was implying that he would be gone and each disciple would be his own collective, so to speak.  Each individual would be a church in which God and Christ would reside, as Jesus reborn.


The purse they must take with them is a symbolic statement that God will supply their future monetary needs – where money was and still is a worldly necessity – just as Jesus had affected donations from many, which funded his ministry and all his followers’ needs.


When each individual holds his or her own purse, that person will immediately know when any theft of funds has taken place, because the thief will be that person … stealing from God.  Still, when God is the sole source of one’s monetary needs, one has proven an ability to cease being wooed by the lures of money.  Poverty is recognized as a blessing.


After all, money is nothing more than a tool, meant to be used for good purposes and properly stored away when not needed.  If it ever becomes so vast a holding that the purse must be turned over to an accountant, then one’s ministry has gotten to big for one’s britches.  Big invites thievery.  Big makes one like Judas.


As for the bag, this was the equivalent of a knapsack or backpack.  It was what a traveler carried, holing within its canvass or nylon all the necessary possessions for life on the road.  By carrying a bag, one was expected to be a minister to others … for an extended period of time.


While Jesus had told the disciples not to take a bag previously, it was so the devotion of those whom they visited would be tested.  The disciples were only sent out for short stints of time, with little sleeping in the open or starvation required.


When Jesus had commissioned the disciples before, they were sent as messengers, carrying nothing but that message, so the message could more speedily be delivered.


Now, Jesus was telling the disciples to prepare to be holy priests.  In their bags would be Eucharistic altar cloths, bread and cups.  They would each also wear the cloak of a rabbi, just as Jesus wore.  They would be a traveling Church of Christ, as true evangelists.


It is then important to remember that the garment Jesus wore was so valuable that the soldiers who divided his clothes did not want to tear or cut such a finely woven robe.  They drew lots to see who would take home that prized possession.


As such, each of Jesus’ disciples would display equal finery in outerwear.  However, when Jesus said if they did not already have a sword, then they should sell that garment for money, which would then be used to buy a sword, the translation here is greatly lacking.


The Greek word translated as “sword” is “machaira.”  The word can translate as “sword,” but its most common use was as “dagger,” indicating a “short sword” as far as length is concerned.  Strong’s says this is more accurately rooted as “máχaira,” which means, “slaughter knife.”  This is the use intended by Jesus, as told by Mary, through Luke.


When the drunken disciples counted how many daggers they had, they said, “Lord, look, here are two swords,” one of them was under the cloak of Peter.  He would use it to cut the ear off a soldier coming to arrest Jesus.  If Jesus had meant, “Arm yourselves,” he would not have rebuked Peter and healed the soldier’s ear.  Thus, when Jesus then said, “It is enough!,” he was referring to it being time to leave the upstairs room, not to agree that two swords would suffice in the future.


When Jesus told the disciples they had to sell their expensive garments, that also should be understood as how a fancy robe projected loudly, “Look at me!  I am a Pharisee!”  Jesus was telling them to take a more inconspicuous approach to their ministries.  By being poor in possessions, they were freer to be rich in spirit.


To sell a priestly robe and buy a slaughter knife, the intent was for them to become sacrificial lambs.  They were to sell their ties to the material realm by slitting the throats of their egos.


We know this because Jesus then said, “For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, “And he was counted among the lawless”; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.”  That quote, “And he was counted among the lawless,” would be fulfilled when Jesus was crucified between two common criminals.


However, that quote comes from Isaiah 53 … which I ask each of you to look up and read later.  Still, in Isaiah 53:7 the prophet wrote, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”


You see, Jesus was telling his drunk-from-wine disciples, “I will soon be a sacrificial lamb, so that you may follow me and become sacrificial lambs too.  However, while I will die in real life, you only have to die figuratively … in ego … submitting yourselves to me, just as I submitted myself to the Father.”


That IS the message of the Passion of Christ: Jesus suffered a painfully real death, so that our weak selves only had to suffer withdrawal pains, from giving up our addictions to purses full of money, bags full of stuff, and clothes that make us look rich.


Therein lies the other message of Luke’s Gospel today … and every Palm Sunday.  It is the message of betrayal.


It is so easy to see the betrayal of Judas Iscariot, because he is identified as such, with all the Gospel writers spewing venom his way for that betrayal.  Jesus said, “The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!”’ (Luke 22:22)  The condemnations were not because Jesus would be killed, because “the Son of Man will go as it has been decreed.”  Therefore, the condemnations were recognizing betrayals that are self-inflicted … pointless suicides like Judas committed.


Judas was so close to eternal salvation, but he could never really commit or sacrifice his ego to God.  He cheated and thought nobody noticed.  When he realized what a fool he had been, he hung himself.  “Woe to that man who betrays him,” as Jesus said.


We who betray Christ likewise condemn ourselves from salvation.  We not only try to steal from the purse that holds the wealth that God provides his devotees, but we also try to steal eternal life via association.  We please others, to our benefit, by wearing a fine Sunday suit that publicly announces, “I am Christian,” while never possessing our own sacrificial knife.


We love to get chills up our spines when we are reminded of how painful it was for Jesus to suffer and die.  We love it because a shiver is fear, and fear gives us an excuse that keeps us from letting our own egos be slaughtered by our own hand.  To ease our guilt, we love to hear how Jesus died for our sins, so we can think that we have no responsibilities at all.


We betray Jesus when we think like that.


Next up on the betrayal list is Peter.  We often overlook Peter as a betrayer of Jesus.  Peter betrayed Jesus by denying he was Christian.  In the dream John wrote of, where all the disciples were fishing and saw Jesus as an old man on the shore, Jesus asked Peter three times (the same number of times Peter denied knowing Jesus), “Do you love me Peter?”


That is what Jesus asks each of us: “Do you love me?”  Or, “Do you deny me the opportunity to be you?”


Can you see how we are Judas every time we sell our souls for cash?


Can you see how we are Peter every time we deny what it means to be a true Christian, because we are afraid someone might ask us to step over to get measured for a cross of death?


Do we love ourselves more than we love Jesus Christ?


It is less obvious, but all the disciples acted like Peter when they went into hiding, because they were afraid their lives would be taken next.  The other eleven betrayed Jesus, while the family (mostly women) stayed in the open, vigilantly praying for their lost love.


The disciple Thomas even went so far as to say he would not believe Jesus had returned to life, unless he put his hands on the wounds … the wounds he saw on Jesus’ dead body as it hung lifeless on the cross.  Thomas doubted Jesus had risen, even though he witnessed Lazarus being resurrected by Jesus only a week before.


After watching Jesus hang on the cross dead today … just like Thomas did before he ran off and hid … trembling … can you see how you hide your Christianity away from view, so others might not want to stop doing business with you in your normal life?


Do you need Jesus to appear externally to you, as proof he has returned, before you can let your faith rule your life?


We know the Jews betrayed Jesus by not believing he was their Messiah, even though he repeatedly asked them to “Judge me by my deeds, not by my claims.”  They saw righteousness and screamed out, “Away with this fellow!  Release Barabbas for us!”


Barabbas was a rebel, a leader of insurrection.  Barabbas had held high a sword of death, and he was known as a leader of resistance.  Jesus was not counted in the number of the lawless that were deemed capable of leading a revolt against Roman rule.


Do we not daily – especially in this primary season of politics – shout out, “Forget being Christian and bowing only to God!  Release Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump for us!”?


Are we, as a people who generally consider ourselves as a righteous lot, not betraying Jesus by our way of living?  Do we think “Christianity” means our political party affiliation, rather than our moral code for life?


Finally, we know it was the Pharisees and Temple scribes and priests who plotted to have Jesus killed.  It was they who paid Judas, putting thirty pieces of silver in his purse, so Judas would betray Jesus.  The leaders of Judaism then also betrayed Jesus.


Can we not see how the Roman Catholic Church, our version of the Temple leaders, promotes the Passover as a trivial event that led up to the death of Jesus – as an act of betrayal of Jews, as a race, to whom Jesus was exclusively sent?  Does the Roman Church sparing the Roman executioners any blame in Jesus’ death not show their betrayal?  Does the Roman Church not betray God by not promoting the Exodus story as relative to Christians too?


Are Christians not freed from slavery to worldly rulers – like the Israelites were to Pharaoh – by following God’s chosen leader -Jesus?  Are we not expected to make the same remembrances of that date of freedom, as do all Jews who do believe Jesus was their Messiah?


Do we not betray Jesus by liking to believe the Pope is the only one who can be saintly, like Jesus, so none of us can ever aspire to being like Jesus, just as we have no chance of ever being a pope?  Do we not fail God, the same as did the Israelites who went to Samuel and told him, “Tell God we want a king like other nations,” so one person can be the scapegoat for all?


Do we not betray God by pretending to know what God wants, when we do little to change the axiom, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”?


We betray God, Christ and Jesus by not being willing to put ALL of our faith in God, doing whatever Christ would have us do, so we are indeed Jesus reborn … just not looking like Jesus.


We betray Jesus when we try harder to wear fine garments, hang big purses on our hips, and pay slaves to tote our large bags of possessions over their shoulders, than be willing to spend a whole Sunday with him in mind.


It is time to stop fearing death, to stop betraying God’s call, and start sacrificing our delusions of grandeur.


“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”


Amen

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