Inside St. George’s Church after the deadly explosion on Palm Sunday in Tanta, Egypt. Credit Khaled Elfiqi/European Pressphoto Agency
On Palm Sunday two separate suicide bombings tore through Coptic Christian churches in the Nile Delta city of Tanta, where at least 27 died, and hours later in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, where the death toll reached at least 17.
While we are at ease, they are in exile of pain and isolation. While we are feasting on the good things around us, they are slowing dying. While we claim our best life now, they don’t know if they will be alive tomorrow. While we wear the cross as a piece of jewelry, they carry it daily as an invitation to die with Christ.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10).
In our baptism we are marked with the sign of the cross. We have accepted the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. We oppose the violence done to fellow believers. Today, we are invited to remember and stand with brothers and sisters living under persecution.
Proverbs 31:8 says, “Speak out for those who cannot speak.” If you want to raise the voice of persecution, then raise it up for those who have been killed living out their faith.
God of the suffering, we lift up our brothers and sisters who are living under the weight of persecution. May they experience your presence in their oppression. Give courage to those who stand in danger due to their faith. We remember their pain. May they not be forgotten. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.
On the western side of Jerusalem, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, would enter the city, bringing with him at least 1,000 Roman soldiers on chariots, on horseback, and on foot. The show of force was a reminder for the people that they may talk of liberation from the past but Rome is in charge now.
As Jesus rides down the Mount of Olives toward Jerusalem, the people began to wave palm branches, a sign of victory and celebration among Jews and Romans. They shout, “Hosanna!” (which means “Save us now!”) and “Blesssed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” They are quoting Psalm 118:26. The Psalm was written to welcome kings back to Jerusalem as they returned victorious from war. It became a psalm read at Passover celebrations to refer to the Messiah who would come and deliver the people. The people are recognizing Jesus as their king.
But as the week goes by, the question begins to circulate, “What kind of king is Jesus?”
They wanted a destroyer. They got a redeemer. They wanted a warrior. They got a savior.
We can’t join Jesus in this final week carrying our own expectations of what we think a savior needs to be. If we are going to be able to go with Jesus all the way, we must be willing to let go of what we expect we need in a savior. We must be willing to set aside what we think God should be like and accept God on God’s own terms. Welcome to Holy Week.
It is one thing to count our blessings. It is quite another to make our blessings count.
In the book of Genesis we pick up the story of Abraham. Abraham is the father of the three monotheistic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. He is from the region of the world that is modern day Iraq. The region was pagan and the people who made up the region worshiped a multitude of gods. God comes to Abraham with a blessing. God says, “Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3).
It wasn’t just for Abraham’s sake that God called him to make this move. And it never is. God’s call is never intended to be hoarded. The call of God is always for a greater purpose than for me to simply be blessed. This is the reason a burden is a blessing. The burden is for the sake of the others. We are blessed to be a blessing.
“I will bless you, and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing,” God tells Abraham. A blessing from the Lord is not simply for the sake of being counted but that it may count for something. It is simply selfish to sit around counting our blessings when never asking how we can make our blessings count. We are blessed to be a blessing.
God tells Elijah to go stand on the mountain because the Lord is about to pass by. A wind so great that the mountains and rocks are split in two. But God is not in the wind. After the wind, an earthquake. But God is not in the earthquake. After the earthquake, a fire storm. But God is not in the fire. After the fire, a sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. God was in the silence.
Elijah had witnessed God in the fire from heaven. He had seen God do dramatic things. He knew God as power. But now when all he is left with is his own doubts and fears, Elijah meets God in the still small voice. Here is the thing: Sometimes when we are at our lowest, God speaks the softest. God says to Elijah, “I am here. I will not leave you. I will not forsake you.” When we are in a place of doubt and fear or exhausted and burned out, we don’t need the volume turned up and the power demonstrated. What we need is the quiet reminder that God is with us.
Two types of doubt exist in our world. One is a skeptical doubt. A doubt that refuses to believe the impossible. A doubt that convinces one that nothing supernatural could ever happen. The bible calls this type of doubt hard-heartedness. A hard-hearted person has made up their mind they will not believe. Pharaoh after seeing all the miracles performed by Moses refused to believe. We are told he had a hard-heart.
The other kind of doubt is honest doubt. It is doubt that is open to believe. A doubt that says I don’t have all the evidence, I wish I did, but I don’t but that won’t stop me from believing. This is the type of doubt expressed in some of the Psalms. When the psalms cry out to God for help, question the presence of God or the acts of God and yet, at the end says, I will continually praise you, I will constantly tell of your name. This is an honest doubt.
In Mark 9 a father brings his son to Jesus. We are told that the son is being possessed by an evil spirit. The father says to Jesus, ” If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us” (9:22).
This man confessed to a struggling faith and yet, it was a faith that wanted more. And we discover that Jesus can work with a faith that is willing to struggle.
“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes” (9:23).
It doesn’t take perfect faith. All it takes is a willingness to believe.
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief” (9:24).
Have you heard the story of the little boy who one night during dinner was being ignored and decided to make sure everyone around the kitchen table knew he was present? If you are a parent, you know the story. He let out a loud screeching scream that vibrated the dinner plates. His father sent him to his room.
Life is filled with many voices. The people who seem to manage life well are those who listen carefully for the small voices and who are alert for the small things. I’m still learning. Maybe next time I will listen to my son as we sit around the dinner table and he is trying to tell me something that I have already wrote off as unimportant. I guess I was the one that needed to be sent to his room that evening. I am discovering that it could be the small voices that change your life.
“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” Luke 16:10
The weather was warm. My boys and I decided to go for a hike. We walked along a trail that followed the Etowah River. It didn’t take very long for my boys to discover a sand bar that led down to the river. We walked out on the sand and almost by instinct the shoes came off. The boys ran and put their toes in the water.
After a few minutes on the sand bar, I told my sons to find their shoes. We needed to be going. There was an older lady with her granddaughter at the river. She told me that they had been there for an hour. I felt like a bad dad because we were there only a few minutes and I was telling my kids to pack up. For the past thirty minutes the grandmother had been telling her granddaughter, “You have five more minutes.”
The elderly lady said I know we need to be heading back but I cannot bring myself to leave. “My granddaughter thinks that she only has five minutes left to play in the sand,” the lady says, “The truth is I get five more minutes to watch her play.”
James 4:14 says, “What do you know about tomorrow? How can you be so sure about your life? It is nothing more than mist that appears for only a little while before it disappears.” When was the last time you took five more minutes?