to Jerusalem: Along the Way”
Message by Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
Let’s be honest, shall we. I mean …
this is a safe place, right?
We really do not like Lent, do we?
Lent is not nearly as fun as Advent.
Advent is a time of preparation and anticipation … and there are lots of
parties! There are no parties during Lent. (Unless you count St. Patrick’s Day
festivities. And St. Patty’s Day really does run contrary to our Lenten discipline.)
We do not like Lent. We do not like
the whole giving up something good … or yummy … or comforting … or perhaps even
a little bit unhealthy.
Even more, we do not like the whole
repentance thing. We do not like to think of ourselves as sinners. Even though
we know that we are … even though we know that we do … sin. We do not like to
think about it. We certainly do not like to talk about it.
Some of you may be getting a little
squirmy in your seats right now. “Honey! Turn off the computer! Scott is going
to talk about our sins!”
Sorry … you folks in the sanctuary
cannot turn off your computers. You are stuck with me.
Jesus is on a journey to Jerusalem.
He is determined. He set his face toward Jerusalem, and we are joining him and
the disciples. This journey is not just a casual little stroll. He is not
packing the donkey for a vacation in the Holy City.
Jesus knows that Jerusalem is the
key to his mission and his ministry, and he is on his way. But then we hear
this morning, he was approached by a group of people that essentially asked
him, “Are you sure, Jesus? Do you really think that it is a good idea to go
there? You do realize that it is dangerous there.”
The news that they shared with Jesus
was shocking. Actually, it was horrific. A group of pilgrims from Galilee were
in Jerusalem making their sacrifices, and they were slaughtered by soldiers
sent by Pontius Pilate. Sadly, it is all too easy for us to understand the evil
in such an event.
It will not be a surprise for you to
learn that Pontius Pilate was not a nice man. He was cruel by the standards of
any day or age. He intentionally tried to provoke and antagonize the Jewish
people. He brought the Roman standard … a pagan symbol … into their places of
worship. He took money from the Temple treasury to fund a Roman building
project, and then savagely beat down the protest that arose in response. And
then there was this tragic event that we heard about this morning.
Their report was not a metaphor. No,
it was the actual blood of innocent pilgrims that were slaughtered by Pilate’s
Clearly, the concern of those
individuals who questioned Jesus was well-placed. Jerusalem was not a safe
place for someone like Jesus. Jerusalem was not safe for their Messiah.
And Jesus’ reply does not surprise
us. Or, at least, it should not. He is going to Jerusalem. However, what he
said next may be surprising. He calls upon those traveling with him to repent!
Wait … what?! They had just told him
about a heinous act committed by Pilate and his soldiers, and Jesus wanted them
… his own followers to repent?!
What is going on here?
Let us remember and flash forward at
the same time. In a couple of weeks, we will gather for Palm Sunday, that
triumphant entry into Jerusalem. And we will remember the parade and the shouts
of “Hosanna! Save us!” And then we will remember that the crowd turns against
Because they were waiting for a
warrior messiah. They desired that Jesus would ride into Jerusalem on a
stallion … a war horse … and drive the Romans out of their city, out of their
We may get the sense that Jesus was
agitated, perhaps even irritated. He had been preaching a Gospel of love,
proclaiming the Way of peace, and even after three years there were still some
among his followers that did not get it. And time … his time … was running out.
Even as they walked along toward
Jerusalem, no doubt there was talk … murmuring … about Jesus’ anticipated
victory over the wicked and evil Romans. Jesus preached about freedom and peace
in the Kingdom of God. The people were marching toward a much different freedom.
Jesus was offering them a very urgent
and dire warning. “Repent! Turn away!”
As it turns out, he was not talking
about salvation, or referencing anything that had to do with eternal life in
the heavenly realm. He was talking about real life in this world. He was saying
that their pursuit of a warrior messiah was going to get them killed! Yes …
they are oppressed. Yes .. they desire freedom. But he was not riding into
Jerusalem on that war horse.
Jesus knew that death and destruction
was on the horizon. Jesus knew that the Romans would destroy Jerusalem and the
Temple in the very near future. (The year 70 CE.) And Jesus knew that their desire
for a violent overthrow of Rome would get them killed. Repent or perish!
Admittedly, this is where it gets
difficult for us. It is even more difficult when we consider what is happening in
our world today.
Are we not called to oppose evil?
Are we not called to stand for
peace, justice, and mercy?
We see the atrocities being committed.
We want peace … but a part of us wants punishment. We want to help the victims
of warfare, oppression, persecution, and exploitation … but we also want the
perpetrators to pay for their sinful acts.
Should the children of God NOT object
to horrors committed by evil leaders or empires?
‘Come on, Jesus! Ride into our world
on your gleaming stallion … your war horse … and bring your sword!’
‘Are you sure that you want to go to
Jerusalem, Jesus? They want to kill you there.’
“What are we to do with our
righteous anger, Jesus? Are there not causes that are worth fighting and dying
“Jesus … you meet us in the
wilderness of our hearts and our souls. You test us and trouble us.”
And Jesus answers … “I never said
that my Way was easy. In fact, I told you that it would be difficult. After
all, I did say to ‘pick up your crosses and follow me.’”
“We remember, Jesus. But … does it
have to be this hard?”
The season of Lent is a season of
repentance. It is about Jesus’ call to live penitent and faithful lives
centered upon God and the love of God. Penitent lives … prayerful lives … on our
We do not have to contend with
Pontius Pilate or a Roman legion brandishing swords and spears. We do not have
to worry about wicked King Herod. But their plenty of evils in our world. There
are plenty of desires and distractions that turn our attention away from God.
When the soldiers killed the pilgrims
in Jerusalem, they did not interview them to see who was the worst sinner, or
who was the most faithful. When the stones from the tower at Siloam toppled,
they did not pause in mid-air to determine the contents of the eighteen hearts
Jesus calls us to repent and live
godly lives because it is the right thing to do. Life is not an elevated game
of gaining favors or avoiding losses by bargaining with God. The point of the
Christian life is not to log extra time in worship or prayer in order to add
extra strength to our shield of protection. I do not make a weekly report to
God about your attendance or your faithfulness.
This journey with Jesus allows us
the opportunity to listen to him and to ponder his words. This season affords
us the opportunity to consider what it means to truly live lives of love and
Imagine that you had the opportunity
to stroll beside Jesus. Imagine that you could see his face, hear his words.
Imagine that you could speak directly to him, and that he would answer you.
That is what the season of Lent is
all about. That is why this journey is so special. Walk with him.
Congregational ChurchUCC, SACO MAINE12 BEACH STREET | SACO, ME 04072