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DFLC Sermon - March 17, 2024 - Deacon Sharon Brennen

SERMON – Closer to Holy Week, March 17, 2024

John 12:20-33, Jeremiah 31:31-34, Psalm 51:1-12, Hebrews 5:5-10


Grace and Peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

We are in our fifth Sunday of Lent, and Jesus is drawing nearer to the cross and giving his followers more than a glimpse of what is to come.  Of course, the disciples were not pleased at the thought of Jesus leaving them.  But the future for Jesus is becoming clearer – but hard for them to even imagine yet all that will occur. Next week, the last week in Lent, Jesus will be followed by many waving Palms and celebrations and Happy Hosanna’s floating in the air.  As Jesus is so honored next Sunday, so also will he be dishonored on Good Friday.  Already, the chief priests and the Pharisees have called a meeting of the council and said “What are we going to do?  This man is performing many signs.  If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” (John 11:47-48).  Jesus’ future was now on a collision course with the authorities and church leaders.   


Today, our Gospel reading comes right after Jesus had raised his friend Lazarus from the dead.  This last miracle of his was witnessed by crowds of people.  And the crowd was getting larger as more heard the story of Lazarus.  Knowing he was in some danger because of the crowds, Jesus retreated for a bit to the wilderness with his disciples. 


Then came the time for the Passover festival.  Jesus visited Lazarus one more time and then continued on to Jerusalem for the yearly pilgrimage.  More crowds awaited Jesus as he entered Jerusalem for the Passover.  This entrance must have given much courage and strength to those who thought of Jesus as their Savior.  The joy he brought to the crowd was electric!


But in the background, we know that this day of joy will turn into a time of great sadness.  The authorities are scheming to find a way to get rid of Jesus.  We hear briefly in our gospel about some Greeks that come to Philip and tell him they want to see Jesus.  We are not told why or what happens next.  What we hear is a harsher message given to Jesus’ disciples about his coming death and resurrection.  He tells them that “the hour has come for him to be glorified, he talks about his death to come and how he will “draw all people to himself.” And he proclaims that he was born for this very moment.  And even God himself, from heaven, confirms what Jesus has said.


Our other readings give much background and insight into God’s relationship with   God’s people and Jesus himself.  God’s people have been bound to God by covenants… agreements made between both of them.  But God’s people were not very good at keeping covenants (promises) even to God.  Again and again, covenants were broken and then restored. 


There are 5 major covenants in the Bible that are well known. 

1 -- was with Noah and preserved the world

2 -- was with Abraham that initiated redemption

3 --was with Moses that established the nation of Israel and its bond with God

4 – was with David and established a line of lineage to Jesus

5 – is the New Covenant, which was through Jesus; proclaiming forgiveness of sins  

      and placing the knowledge and love of God in our very hearts.


Though God’s people often forgot these covenants and would turn away from God.  But through God’s compassion for these “lost people,” God continued to restore the relationship and covenant between them.  The New Covenant comes during the darkest time of the destruction of the temple, leaving Israelites without a worship space with all its sacred artifacts.  God found a way, though, to protect and strengthen the relationship by creating a “new” covenant that is “written on their hearts.”  It focuses more on relationships than tangible objects that remind people of their bond with God.  Now, they (and we) carry God’s promises in our hearts and our thoughts; and our very actions should convey to others whose people we are.  Again, like last week, we learn that God is always the same… WE (just like the Israelites) are the ones who keep changing and moving and forgetting.  We are so used to hearing of God’s mercy and forgiveness, that we sometimes take it for granted.  But the covenant “in our hearts” is a powerful one that helps us to remember. 


It shouldn’t surprise us then that our Psalm today begins with such a sorrow- filled prayer.  Jesus’ story is building and we know what is to come. We hear the tones of desperation in this Psalm through the lens of our place in time.  We, also, have  felt such sorrow and desperation.  We have sinned, we have forgotten the promises.  We know what is coming.  But we also know salvation has been won through Jesus.  And we count on that with all our being.


The reading in Hebrews brings us the vision of Jesus as a High Priest… in the order of the great priest Melchizedek.  We are assured that Jesus is accessible to us and is known to us and welcomed into our hearts.  He was human but now sits with God.  He indeed became the savior all were waiting for.  God had a plan all along.


There is much value and respect here for the “priesthood.”  Melchizedek is most remembered for his blessing of Abraham.  He was described in Hebrews 7:3 as “Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.”  He was an obscure but highly respected King and priest.  In Hebrews, though, we hear Jesus is God’s ultimate high priest and indeed, he would be THE priest God would send on our behalf… he suffered, was sacrificed, and obedient to God, his father, even unto his death.  And rising again to give us the ultimate gift from an ultimate high priest.


Our Gospel reading has Jesus knowing his future, his fulfillment of the New Covenant, and his redemptive power that will be revealed very soon.

We will be ready next week to join the crowd and wave our Palms. The story will continue to unfold in its familiar way.  But we need to hear every bit of it once again from Palm Sunday to Maundy Thursday to Good Friday.  Because only then can we hear, see, and feel the true and powerful gift of Easter morning.  Amen.


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