Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! This is a phrase with which we are very familiar! “Hosanna, hosanna, Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” A mere five chapters, following our gospel reading today, we see Jesus triumphantly enter into Jerusalem. We see him greeted with exultation, anticipation, and welcome. But there is a journey before Palm Sunday. There is a journey that has to take place. The Luke 13 passage that we read today begins the journey that Christ will make though out the entire region until he returns back to Jerusalem to hear the crowds chanting “Hosanna, Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” This journey will take him back to his hometown, the area surrounding Nazareth, Then he will journey to Jericho, then to the Mount of Olives, before entering into Jerusalem for the final time.
Life is all about journey’s isn’t it? It was 27 years ago that I began my journey of faith. I was baptized at First United Methodist Church in Greenville, Alabama by Joe Lizenby. That community of faith vowed to raise me in “Christian love and care!” they promised to lead and guide me so that I would be come a person who “walks in the way that leads to life eternal!” That is where my journey began.
Where did your journey begin? Maybe it was in this very place, in this holy sanctuary, surrounded by these wonderful people. Perhaps it began in your hometown, the place where you were born, educated, and given wings that lead you here. Maybe your journey began in college, during your adolescence, or childhood. When did you begin the journey of faith? Today, we as a community of faith joined with Cameron Owens. We promised to be with him on his journey and today he began his journey of faith! We all have a journey. We all have a story. We all have something to share.
Our lectionary reading, from Luke 13 points to the beginning of Jesus journey to the cross. It directs us to Jerusalem. The place to which he will return, the place to which he will give the ultimate sacrifice. But before he returns, there are things to do. People to each, individuals to heal, before he returns he must meet Zacheasus in Jericho, He must tell us that we are called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. He leaves Jerusalem knowing it will be his final journey, knowing that he will begin his walk to the cross.
I have always been a fan of a good road trip. I enjoy driving, especially if accompanied by a good friend. I have always found that travel renews me and gives me a different perspective. This past summer, I loaded up the car with my boyfriend. As a second year seminary student, he had been invited to read scripture in a marriage ceremony for one of his fraternity brothers and his now wife. The marriage was to take place in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Now, neither of us had ever been to this costal area, but were excited about the opportunity to visit a new place, spend time with friends we do not see often, and of course, eat some seafood! We investigated the area and soon noticed there was no airport that was close enough for us to fly into. After a great deal of consideration, we decided to drive. We left from Prattville and began the 12-hour trek across Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. Well, theoretically the 12 hour trek. That is what our GPS told us, it takes a bit longer if you get lost. The journey was fine in the beginning. We went to Atlanta, then over to Columbia. As we approached North Carolina things were going well. We even saw a giant sombrereo welcoming us to North Carolina. We took a picture with the giant sombrero and continued on our way down the interstate. It was not until we got off the well-lit interstate that the journey started to go sour. As night fell we found ourselves on unfamiliar back road that wandered through rural North Carolina. We went through a rain storm, a detour, a sketchy gas station, and eventually found the narrow two lane bridge that was the only way onto the island. It seemed like we were driving out into the Atlantic Ocean. Just before we started to question the GPS system we saw lights! They were small at first a small dimmer. I wondered if by chance they were oil rigs like I was so familiar with on the gulf. The lights got larger, and larger. Finally I was confident that we were not driving out into the ocean but rather we had found civilization. I cannot tell you how excited I was to see civilization. As the lights approached I started to see familiar objects. A CVS! Restaurants, and signs that said “beach this way!”
Journeys can often be challenging. Even for the best of us they can be trying. And as we can see, they were trying for Chirst. Christ knows that when he returns to Jerusalem it will be for his death. He says “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” Christ grieves over Jerusalem, knowing it is the place where he will give the ultimate sacrifice. Christ understand what awaits him, he knows the journey will be trying, dark, and full of challenges. He knows his disciples will doubt him, deny him, and turn him over to his enemies. So he leaves…he leaves Jerusalem to make the final road trip…to make the final journey around the area. He leaves Jerusalem to finish his teaching, to heal a few more infirmed bodies and souls, to eat supper with a tax collector, and to prepare himself for the final week of his life.
During the journey of lent we are also called to prepare our own lives for Holy Week… the week that begins with Palm Sunday, goes through Good Friday and ends with Easter. The act of preparation is part of our journey. It is part of our life’s journey. This time each year we take a break from our busy lives, we spend time in prayer and reflection. We repent, asking God for forgiveness, we look inward at our own hearts. Then, asking those around us for forgiveness, we look outward at our lives. We ask God come into our lives, mend our hearts, redeem us, and restore us. This journey can often be challenging. It may be dark and scary at times, but in the end we see the light. We see the Easter morn that is so far off in the distance today. Before we get to the empty tomb we must journey through the darkness of Lent.
A week and a half ago we started this journey in this very place. We joined together for Ash Wednesday. We remember our own frailty, our own mortality. We recited prayers of confession to the Almighty God. Then each of us received ashes on our forehead as a sign of our humanness, and as a reminder that Lent had in fact come. A few weeks ago I was talking with our Senior Minister Bill Elwell. He told me a story about a time when he went to an early morning Ash Wednesday service at a large catholic church in downtown Mobile. Not expecting it to be crowded he walked into one of the largest crowds he had ever seen at 6:00 in the morning. Men dressed in tuxedoes sat in the pews with their wives beside them in full-length formal gowns. They had come from the previous nights balls. It was Wednesday morning and Lent had begun. Someone looked at Bill and said, “We need lent!” Yes, Mardi Gras was over and the revelers needed Lent. Don’t we all need lent? This time of preparation, repentance, and forgiveness, allows us to center our lives on the one to creates us, redeems us, and sustains us. We all need Lent. We need to be reminded of what is most important. We need to set time aside each day to spend in prayer, mediation, and remembrance. We need to open our Lenten Devotional books and read about others experiences. Lent is a vital part of our spiritual journey each year. Lent takes us away from the busyness of life and reminds us that we have a God to hears our confessions and offers forgiveness. During this time we walk WITH Christ back to his hometown, down through Jericho, then to the Mount of Olives, before entering into Jerusalem for the final time. During lent we walk WITH Christ to the cross. The journey that we walk with our Savior is not easy but it was not for Christ either.
Christ knew this journey would not be easy. He knows that in one week Jerusalem will first praise him, then they will kill him. Today the Pharisees warn him about Herod. Luke writes, “At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you." Life will be different when he returns. He knows that when he returns back to the Holy City Pharisees will not be warning him but rather they will want to kill him. The journey is hard, dark, but it is well worth the trials.
Regardless of the place you find yourself in your journey of faith, your faith has brought you to this community and to this time of Lent. Your journey has brought you to this time of repentance. It has brought you through the challenges, triumphs, sorrows, and joys of life and today you are here. You are here in this community of faith and together we take the journey to the cross with Christ. We walk with Christ back to his hometown, we journey through the desert, and we will walk with him into Jerusalem. But today we leave, we leave Jerusalem with Christ. We leave the place, that according to our scripture reading, “kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” We leave with Chirst, knowing that the return will not be joyous. Knowing that the road will be long, and knowing that the “Hosannah’s will not last.” We leave and walk to the cross.