Who do we identify with on Palm Sunday? Is it the disciples who flanked him into Jerusalem and later scattered? Is it the crowd that shouted “Hosanna!” and later shouted “Crucify him!”? Or is it someone else?
We giggle, we wink, we lower our voice and say, “I know I’m not supposed to say this . . . but . . . “ We fully acknowledge that gossip is wrong, but that doesn’t stop us from doing it. In that moment we feel rewarded for both telling and being told. We have revealed that we are part of an exclusive club that knows secret, hidden information and we have granted you access because you are willing to listen.
But how does God see gossip?
To say that this sermon struck a nerve would be an understatement. Within hours I was receiving text messages thanking me for the message. The next day there were visits to my office, phone calls, emails. People who weren’t at church had heard about it and were listening to the sermon online.
And we probably were still gossiping too.
As I mentioned in the message, I had started this sermon some years ago. I had little more than a rough outline–Three Reasons God Hates Gossip and You Should Too. Honestly, that was about it. To be completely honest with you . . . and I hate to admit this . . . I didn’t even have a text yet.
God help me . . . I prooftexted this sermon!
No, I don’t feel good about that. I don’t know whether to cling to the grace of God and say, “Isn’t it amazing that he worked this out?” or hang my head in shame and confess.
Maybe I should do a little bit of both . . . maybe I am.
Two things amazed me about this sermon. One, the outline came together with the Scripture in what seems like a very fortuitous way to me. I don’t feel like any of the points were a stretch. Even my wife commented about how strong the Scriptures were in this one. That’s high praise!
What amazed me even more after I had preached the sermon was the trinitarian elements I saw in both it and the text. Paul ends 2 Corinthians with a great trinitarian blessing in 13:14, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” As I looked at my points I saw a definite focus on the work of the trinity:
Again, I feel like I just stumbled into this and I promise I’ll never intentionally do it again, but I continue to be amazed at how it worked out.
There are times when I am very aware of what I lack in faith, faithfulness and devotion. There are times when I struggle to imagine that’s God’s grace is big enough to make up for all that I lack. In those times I find my peace in those three final words from the cross, “It is finished.”
There was a lot more I wanted to do with this sermon. I had some specific issues I wanted to address. In reality I probably had a hobby horse or two I wanted to ride.
A few month ago I was listening to a radio program where a woman was explaining the doctrine of Purgatory. She explained that while Jesus’ death on the cross paid the penalty for our sin, sin had left something like a “ring around the collar” on our souls. Therefore, Purgatory is necessary to remove the final stain of sin.
I was angry. I really was.
I wanted to yell at the radio, “IT.IS.FINISHED!!!” Either Jesus died for all our sin or he died for NONE of it!
I tend to get a little excitable about this stuff.
In the end, though, I realized I wasn’t addressing a crowd of people who had concerns about Purgatory. Not many of them, at least.
I also realized I wasn’t addressing my usual crowd. Our attending was the typical Easter crowd; family, friends and a few extras who show up to do the Easter thing. I also realized many there weren’t accustomed to my usual delivery, so I changed things up a bit. The sermon was much more story driven than usual. In my average sermon I’m lucky if I have one illustration. This one built on two major stories, one personal and one from Jon Acuff.
All-in-all, we had a great Easter service and a very nice build up to Easter with this series. For me, though, the series (a retread of an earlier series) was supposed to provide me with some much-needed time to prepare for the next few months. Unfortunately that didn’t really happen. It’s been a busy and stressful season and there’s been no time for planning ahead.
Thankfully I am blessed with wonderful and caring leaders who insisted I take some time out of the pulpit after Easter. So, I’m spending two weeks plotting out the next six months. I’m really looking forward to where we’re going next!
When I began this series I considered titling it “7 Last Words.” However, winters in Illinois are unpredictable and I knew there was a chance we’d have at least one week where we were snowed out. Sure enough, the first weekend in March was bad enough that our attendance was less than half of our usual crowd. I preached a short devotional message that week rather than continuing with the series. That left me one week shy of being able to do all seven.
Then I began to notice the connection between Maundy Thursday and this saying on the cross, “I thirst.” While I would never get dogmatic about it, from the Biblical record it appears that Jesus didn’t have anything to drink from the Last Supper until he requested a drink on the cross. Whether that’s actually the case or not, the deep thirst he felt on the cross made for an interesting connection to our remembrance of the upper room on Maundy Thursday.
I’ve always loved the way our community approaches Holy Week. I think you can tell that from the first minute or two of my message. I love the opportunity we have to meet with the other churches in town and share the services. Maundy Thursday has always meant a lot to me. While Easter Sunrise has its pageantry and excitement, I love the mood of Maundy Thursday.
The service went well. We did our best to leave in silence. That’s difficult for our community. We certainly do enjoy our time together.
Jesus’ last words reveal much about his heart and his character. The fact that in the moment of his greatest pain he was able to forgive those who had crucified him says volumes about who he is. His concern for his mother and best friend speaks to his desire for our relationships. Even his cry of dereliction, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” points to a depth of connection with his Father that was so intense that the separation was unbearable.
So when we come to those words, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit,” they are more than just a prayer, they’re his very heart. They are the words he has known and lived by his whole life. They are now the words he will die by.
Of all my sermons on the last words from the cross this one might be my favorite. The reason is because of the connection to the audience.
On Tuesday before I preached I sent out an email asking for those favorite promises. The response was overwhelming. I hadn’t actually planned on providing them in print, but once I that I wouldn’t be able to use them all it seemed like a great way to keep the connection going.
I feel like the sermon not only provided a point of connection back to Jesus on the cross but also a connection to the community through the scriptures offered by others. It also offers a connection for the future, when those promises others trust in can be used in their own time of need.
I’ve spoken with others about using questions like this through emails and social media posts. I really thinks it’s a great way to connect your people to what you’re doing. They become part of the message and take ownership of it. If you get a chance, definitely do it.