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Sermon for April 1, 2012

Is This a Joke?
Mark 11:1-11

I think someone sent me a passive-aggressive subscription to Martha Stewart Living. It comes addressed to me here at the church – it followed me here from CT. My best guess is someone came to visit our home on one of those utterly chaotic days, decided the Braddocks need some home organization help, and sent Martha into our lives to do some triage. I pretend not to like her magazine, but truth be told, I read it cover to cover. With Easter coming up, I realize, now, there are two ways to entertain: Martha Stewart’s 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. You are probably lying on the couch with your feet up eating it anyway. Just drip it on yourself.

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 Outback Steakhouse and let them do the dishes.

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 daughters have already been thinking about Easter outfits. I once heard about an unemployed single mom with three young daughters who lived near a UCC congregation. 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 Episcopalian Church instead!”

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.

How Many members of CCC does it take to change a light bulb?
Before we answer that, we need to have a series of town hall meetings and informal discussions, in which we will explore a number of light bulb traditions, including incandescent, fluorescent, 3-way, long-life, and LED, all of which are equally valid paths to luminescence. After some careful listening, we will present our ideas in a motion vote on it in a congregational meeting. We will probably write a covenant and celebrate it annually at a Light Bulb Sunday Service.

Struggling to make ends meet, a pastor was livid when she confronted her 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 her wife, “but then Satan 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? Today we stop to remember two things. One, there are hard things in life like death, disease, warfare, and poverty. Two: when life is hard, it’s OK to laugh. I want to reassure visitors that we rarely laugh in church on Sundays. We usually try to look serious. 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 to be all powerful, like cruelty and madness and despair and evil. Jesus sweeps them all away with resurrection laughter.

On Palm Sunday, we get a little glimpse of the laughter to come. Ahead 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 man who would willingly lay down his life so that we would know God’s love. Sometimes The world seems stuck on Good Friday, putting love to death at every opportunity, clinging to the belief that might & money rule the day. But today, Palm Sunday, is the day I remember 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 over-scheduled to distraction, to have such important things to say that we can forget 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 deadly serious.

When I think of Palm Sunday, I think of people like Annette. Annette was a stick of a woman. Her skin was shriveled from too 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 back side. Then they will know it’s 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 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 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 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. 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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