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Stop, reflect and pray – The Reverend Canon Michael Smith (Pastor)

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Preacher: The Reverend Canon Michael Smith (Pastor)
Title of sermon: Stop, reflect and pray.

Date/time/service: 5th Sunday after Trinity Evening Prayer 12th July 2020

Passage of scripture: 2 Samuel 7.18-end & Luke 19.41–20.8

I wonder what the disciples thought when they saw Jesus weeping as he entered Jerusalem? Just before Luke tells us of the events of the first Palm Sunday he has been speaking about the coming of the kingdom, teaching about prayer, and wealth, healing a blind man, transforming the life of Zacchaeus, the tax collector and telling the parable of the Talents. All well known to us ….. Jesus is in command and revealing his power and authority in everything he says and does. Then he enters Jerusalem riding on a donkey and the crowds go wild, welcoming him and proclaiming him a king ….. and then …… and then …… he begins to weep! The bible tells us that Jesus wept three times in all. In John 11 he wept when he saw Mary and Martha weeping after the death of their brother, Lazarus. In Hebrews 5, we are told that he wept in the Garden of Gethsemane. Here, in Luke 19, we are told that he wept as he entered Jerusalem.

Grief over the death of a friend and the threat of arrest seem understandable reasons for tears. In Luke 19 his tears seem very strange. It appears that he is being acclaimed by an adoring crowd. In fact the Pharisees order him to calm the crowd down, but Jesus tells them that even if the crowd were silent the stones of the city would cry out. And then, in the midst of all this joyful mayhem, as he actually enters the city, he begins to weep. Through tears he talks to the city and seems to be condemning it, and the people in it, to destruction because they failed to recognize that they had been visited by God. The stones which, a few verses earlier, were going to shout out that the king has come, are now going to be toppled by Jerusalem’s enemies with not one stone remaining on another. So, within a few verses of Luke’s gospel there is a massive mood swing for Jesus from joyous acceptance of the crowd’s acclamation to despairing prophecies of doom and destruction.

And if that were not enough, within three of four more verses Jesus is seized with rage in the temple and rampages around, tipping up the tables of the traders there and saying that the temple was for prayer not for the selfish pursuit of gain.

I wonder how Jesus would have answered if, after all of this, someone asked him, ‘what sort of a day have you had?’

Of course, the important question for us is, what does all this mean and what can we learn from it? I have been thinking about that all week and I am going to highlight two things we learn from all this.

Firstly, it seems that Jesus understands the hypocrisy and inconsistencies that are never far from the surface of all human beings, particularly when they are in crowds. Because we know what happens next in the story of Jesus, we know that the crowd who acclaimed him king one day, were calling for his crucifixion a few days later. Jesus’ tears reveal that he is not taken in by the acclamation of the crowd, he knows it is mainly what we would call today ‘hype’ – not based on any profound commitment. We do not have to look far to see similar behaviour today. Over recent months there have been several media storms, many expressions of public anger and distress, all relating to some important issues and problems, but, rather than thinking carefully, praying faithfully, and acting wisely, many have been hyped up into a frenzy and the general response to the important issues has been a lot of shouting rather than a lot of listening, a lot of gestures rather than a lot of action, a lot of virtue signalling without much real virtue involved. Jesus clearly understood that some of those carpeting his way into the city with palm leaves were genuinely acknowledging their profound faith in him as the Son of God, while others, probably the majority were just joining in the fun, hopping on the latest band-waggon ……

For those of us prone to hypocrisy and inconsistency, in the end, what is important is, what is real? Are our celebrations or protests considered, prayed about and acted on and do they make Jesus smile, or are our celebrations or protests selfish, empty and simply about seeking to be seen to say and do the right thing, and do they make Jesus weep?

The second thing we learn from all this is that, just as we have moods that range from good and happy to bad and sad, and can include anger and distress …… so did Jesus. All of this reveals the humanity of Jesus. Jesus does not only love us when we are in the right mood, feeling good and holy. Jesus also loves us when we are feeling sad, let down and when our only response to a situation or experience is tears. And Jesus loves us when we are angry – he knows all about these moods and feelings because he experienced them too.

Once we know and accept that we can make Jesus weep with our hypocrisy and inconsistencies. Once we know and accept that we experience many different moods, some good and some bad – the only truly Christian response is prayer. We know that Jesus regularly stepped away from the crowds to find peace and quiet, to find space to pray. When issues and problems arise, when media storms are raging, when the latest band-waggon is passing by, we should stop, reflect and pray before speaking, acting or clambering aboard. When our mood is volatile, when we have one of those days in which we experience, joy, despair, anger and exhaustion, we should stop, reflect and pray before speaking or doing anything.

If we don’t stop, reflect and pray often we risk being diverted into working for a world the ‘crowd’ wants, or a world our passing mood wants, all of which are constantly changing, rather than working for the establishment of God’s kingdom ….. the world God wants …… and what God wants never changes.

God of reconciling hope, as you guided your people in the past guide us through the turmoil of the present time and guide us to your kingdom, where our unity can be restored, the common good served and all shall be made well. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

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