Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Sermon for April 1, 2007 -- Palm Sunday

Is This a Joke?
Luke 19:28-44

Since Easter is right around the corner, many of you will be entertaining guests for dinner. I've found there are two ways to prepare dinner: The Martha Stewart Way, and My Way.

Martha’s way: Stuff a miniature marshmallow in the bottom of a sugar cone to prevent ice cream drips.
My way: Just suck the ice cream out of the bottom of the cone, for Pete’s sake, you are probably lying on the couch with your feet up eating it anyway.

Martha’s way: To prevent egg shells from cracking, add a pinch of salt to the water before hard boiling.
My way: Who cares if they crack, aren’t you going to take the shells off anyway?

Martha’s way: To get the most juice out of fresh lemons, bring them to room temperature and roll them under your palm against the kitchen counter before squeezing.
My way: Sleep with the lemons in between the mattress and box springs.

Martha’s way: To easily remove burnt-on food from your skillet, simply add a drop or two of dish soap and enough water to cover bottom of pan, and bring to a boil on the stovetop.
My way: Have your Easter Dinner at Chili’s and let them do the dishes.

Martha’s way: If you accidentally over salt a dish while it’s still cooking, drop in a peeled potato and it will absorb the excess salt for an instant ‘fix me up’.
My way: If you over-salt a dish while you are cooking, that’s too bad. My motto: I made it, and you will eat it, and I don’t care how bad it tastes.

Martha’s way: Wrap celery in aluminum foil when putting in the refrigerator and it will keep for weeks.
My way: Celery? Never heard of the stuff.

Martha’s way: Don’t throw out all that leftover wine. Freeze into ice cubes for future use in casseroles and sauces.
My way: Leftover wine?

Martha’s way: Potatoes will take food stains off your fingers. Just slice and rub raw potato on the stains and rinse with water.
My way: Mashed potatoes will now be replacing the anti-bacterial soap in the handy dispenser next to my sink.

Speaking of Easter, I know in my house my wife and daughter have already been shopping for Easter outfits. A poor widow with three young daughters lived near the UCC church. The pastor went to visit and invited them to Easter services. “We would love to come,” said the woman, “but we don’t have any Sunday clothes.” The pastor went back to the church and talked to some of the deacons in the church who bought and delivered a nice Sunday outfit for the woman and each of her three daughters. On Easter Sunday, the whole congregation watched for the family, but they never showed up. Disappointed, the pastor went to their house after the service and asked why they did not attend church. “Well,” the woman said, “we got all dressed up in our new clothes, and we looked so nice that we went to the Episcopal Church instead!”

One day the Pope got a phone call from God. God told him that he had some good news, and some bad news. “The good news,” said God, “Is that I have decided to convert the whole world to one religion.” “The bad news, is that I am calling long distance from Salt Lake City!”

How many Congregationalists does it take to change a light bulb?
Change! My grandmother donated that light bulb!

How many Congregationalists does it take to change a light bulb?
1 to change it and 3 to stand around talking about how much they’ll miss the old one.

Top 10 signs that you are in the wrong church:
10. The church bus has gun racks.
9. The church staff consists of senior pastor, associate pastor and sociopastor.
8. The Bible they use is the Dr. Seuss version.
7. There is an ATM in the lobby.
6. The choir wears leather robes.
5. The only song the church organist knows is Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida.
4. The Women’s Quartet are all married to the pastor.
3. The pastor regularly attends meetings in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.
2. The ushers ask, “Smoking or non-smoking?”
1. There’s no cover charge but communion is a two-drink minimum.

Struggling to make ends meet on a first-call salary, the pastor was livid when he confronted his wife with the receipt for a $250 dress she had bought. “How could you do this?!”
“I was outside the store looking at the dress in the window, and then I found myself trying it on,” she explained. “It was like Satan was whispering in my ear, ‘You look fabulous in that dress. Buy it!’”
“Well,” the pastor replied, “You know how I deal with that kind of temptation. I say, ‘Get behind me, Satan!’”
“I did,” replied his wife, “but then he said, ‘It looks fabulous from back here, too!’”

How often does it happen that Palm Sunday and April Fool’s Day both fall on a Sunday? It won’t happen again until 2012. By the way, Easter will fall on April Fool’s day in 2029. Today we stop to remember two things. One, there are hard things in life like death, divorce, disease, warfare, feminine, poverty). Two: when life is hard, it’s OK to laugh. I want to reassure visitors that we rarely laugh this much in church on Sundays. We usually try to keep it down. Today is different. Today is our chance to prepare for the divine folly of the Easter surprise. Easter is the morning when the Lord laughs out loud, laughs at all the things that snuff out our joy, all the things that pretend do be all powerful like cruelty and madness and despair and evil, and most especially that great pretender, death. Jesus sweeps them all away with his wonderful resurrection laughter.

On Palm Sunday, we get a little glimpse of the laughter to come. In front of us is a week of reflection on death, torture and suffering. We will spend a few days in morbid thought, trying to come to grips with the awesome love of a Lord who would willingly lay down his life so that we might be saved. But today, Palm Sunday, is the day I remember to let the air out a little -- to take a deep breath, and laugh at myself. Palm Sunday has always been a kind of spiritual check up day. How are you doing? Are you happy? Do you believe you can live your life with joy, even when the future seems dead serious? It is so easy to get caught up in causes, to be scheduled to a frenzy, to have such important things to say, we can forget that what really upset the Pharisees the most about Jesus was that he seemed to enjoy people and life and celebration, and all those things you can’t do when you are serious.

When I think of Palm Sunday, I think of people like Annette. Annette was a stick of a woman. Her skin was shriveled and nearly black from so many hours in the summer sun. Annette single handedly kept an entire town in potted flowers, flowerbeds, and whiskey barrels exploding with annuals. When the paper decided to do a feature story about her, she stunned the photographer who came to take her picture. He told her to look at the camera and she said, “Don’t take a picture of my face, no one will know who you are talking about. Take a picture of my rear end. Then they will know its me.” And so he did.

Annette never stopped. If she wasn’t planting, she was crafting, if she wasn’t crafting she was cleaning. People loved to have Annette decorate the sanctuary of their church for weddings. She was a veritable storehouse of ivy, and ribbons, and birdcages painted to match with twinkle lights. Annette was also fighting cancer. The remission, recovery, and the chemotherapy were always intermingling. In spite of her health, she kept going, kept doing for others, and mostly she kept smiling. You would always leave a better person after visiting with her, even when she was at her lowest. She just had a way of laughing and crying and smiling all at the same time that made people want to go home and hug their families and slow down and be sure to be a good person.

During her cancer, Annette was asked to decorate for a wedding. She agreed, even though her chemotherapy brought her as low as it can take a person. She said, “I’ll just go slow and start early in the week. Do it as I can and hope for the best.” And that’s what she did. Each day something would be different in the sanctuary, some ribbons would appear, the next day the ivy would be trailing off the chancel. However, two days before the wedding, everything was gone. The janitor had come in that morning and assumed the wedding had already taken place since the decoration had been there the last time, so she took them all down and threw them in the garbage. When Annette found out she said, without missing a beat, “Well, what can you do?” And then she smiled, laughed, rolled her eyes and went to the dumpster, took all the decorations home, ironed the ribbons, straightened out the ivy and put them all back the next day. No shouting, no blaming, no need to say serious things to people. No one knew it had happened, no one heard of it. The gift was the beauty not the toil.

There are moments in life that demand we take them serious. Yet, if the truth were told, we try to make too many moments serious so that we can feel in control or in charge. I have met many people who believe it is their responsibility to be serious, when in fact what they are truly being called to be is careful or caring.

Let me put it this way: in the dozens of funerals I have led or attended, I have never heard a eulogist say, “You know what I admired most about this person? His serious side. I’ve never heard someone say, “If my mother was anything she was serious.”

Palm Sunday is for me the day I set aside to check my spiritual wellbeing. Have I convinced myself that I need to worry about something? Can I look at everyone I meet and see them as beloved, or have I let hate find a place? Do I still trust the steadfast love of God working mercy or am I looking for real change right now and somebody better be looking busy? Is life exhilarating or exhausting?

Today, I want to be able to smile and laugh and cry all at the same time. If I grieve, I want it to be deep in the truth that I loved much. If I suffer, I want it to be faced with dignity and assurance. Today I want to remember that, yes . . . Easter laughter is coming. But joy can be found on both sides of the cross.

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