4/5/98, Palm Sunday, Year C
was five years old when I saw my first motion picture. Back then preachers wives had to watch out for their reputations in going to places of "worldly entertainment," but my mother just had to see the movie, "The Greatest Story Ever Told." She probably took me because she had no baby sitter. But I have loved to go to movies ever since, and eventually I fell in love with the persons story that my first movie was about--- Jesus Christ. His life was indeed, "The Greatest Story Ever Told!"
Why a story? Robert Frost may have explained it most succinctly: "Society can never think things out, it has to see them acted out." We cannot not listen to a story. This is why we reenact the story every year. It has grabbed our hearts and imaginations over and over, over the long years. It is an anchor point in a bewildering world.
Todays text from the story focuses on the sacrificial death of Christ--- the sinless for us sinners: Such clear acting out of pure love. We look for the hidden agenda, the set up, the selfish motive, because we are familiar with the sin that motivates our actions. A politician is accused of a crime and most folks assume that he is guilty: Why? Because we know our own sin. But we see none of that in the four biographical stories of the life of Christ.
Jesus story is more popular today than ever. Folks still respond to what God was trying to say through this drama. Our essential message as followers of Him is to repeat the story as often as we can and then believe that it will never fail to evoke a response. My favorite homiletics professor, Dr. Gordon Thompson, use to evaluate our sermons with this question, "Where was the Gospel, the good news of salvation?" Every sermon, every lesson, must contain something of the story of Good News, or it does not pass the test. A year ago, when I was preparing to come as your pastor, I naturally sought the advise of my friend of 25 years, Dr. Bob Ozment, who served you faithfully for 23 years. He suggested, implored, "Preach nothing but Jesus Christ, not politics or personalities, simply lift high the Cross, and it will draw folks."
Todays Good News is that we can still trust the retelling of the "old, old story" to empower our church, and we can still trust the Father! Jesus trusted Him in life and at death, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." (v. 46, NRSV).
John Wesley bragged on us when he said, "Methodist people know how to die." He knew how to die when with his last words he said, "The best of all, God is with us." The point is that we can trust Him at deaths door because, like Jesus, and John Wesley, we will have lived a day by day life trusting in Him, and being daily rewarded by His companionship.
During the long dark night of Communist rule in Russia a party bureaucrat was summing up his lecture against religion and was about to sit down when an old Orthodox priest stood up and asked if he could say three words. The lecturer reluctantly gave his permission. The priest stood in front of the crowd and said, "Christ is Risen!" And back came the roar of the people, "He is Risen Indeed!" We can trust the Father to hide within our hearts and no repression can stifle it. In fact, it was the power of the story of Christ, and world Christianity, that eventually wore down communism.
Next Sunday we will stand and sing, as will millions, the favorite hymn of resurrection, "He Lives." The last familiar line of the refrain has come to be the witness of millions, "You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart." (310, UM Hymnal). The story lives in and through our living as we know his everyday guidance, and as friends, relatives, associates, and neighbors, see the Father reflected in us.
Years ago I led a religious emphasis week on the campus of Oxford College of Emory University, near Covington. One night after worship there was a question and answer time with students who were getting some kind of extra credit of attending various "cultural events." I think that most of them later wished that they had gone to an art museum. One stern young man stood and asked, "You talk about this business of Christ dying to save us, what proof do you have of it?" My off the cuff answer was, "My wife tells me that she loves me, and I surely know I love her. We have walked and talked and eaten supper together for many years, and Id suppose you could say that its apparent that we have a thing going. Really, its that was with God. His Spirit never leaves me, and when I stood to preach this evening, I knew that he was standing beside me, and I hope something of his presence was felt in it." Maybe that was focused too much on me; but the fact is, the only evidence we have is that which we have personally experienced. Can we not each say that it was the sacrifice that Jesus made on Calvary that grabbed out attention, and our hearts?
Into the Fathers hands Jesus commended his spirit, and into our hearts he has given the assurance of salvation. We can know as assuredly that he lives within our hearts as we can know assuredly any other relationship we might have in life.
If you are a married man and somebody asks, "Are you married?", and especially if your wife is around, you had better say, "Yes I am!" Maybe so, wont cut it.
Its the same with internalizing this story of Christs atoning death, we either have allowed it to remold us, or we have not. Maybe so, wont be much practical value.
I remember my Momma crying in that, my first, movie. I kind of knew already why she was moved to tears. Her tears haunted me for years. Off in a wild college fraternity party about 11:00 p.m., I could almost hear mother crying for me. Im so glad that she took me to that movie, and that she cried. Come to think of it, perhaps she did not just take me along because she did not have a baby sitter.
Jesus trusted His Father, and so can we!
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor