So, welcome to Holy Week- a busy and sacred time. We ministers refer to it by many names but the one that has resonated with me lately is "finals week". Our church hosts a service each day at noon. A different preacher from the community preaches each day, there is special music and there is the all-important fellowship lunch downstairs after the service. Did I mention that the meal is free? It's good stuff- Christians getting together and all.
I was slated to preach on Thursday this week, but God had other plans. My friend Don (today's preacher) had to take his wife to the emergency room this morning and so the new plan (as of 7:45) was for me to preach at noon. No problem, right? I'll just preach the sermon I had ready for Thursday- but, oh wait- were you ever ready on Monday morning for a test you had on Thursday at noon? No, me neither.
First step- text all my prayer people and tell them to get on it! Next step- get prayed up myself. Then, let the Holy Spirit do it's thing. An idea came to me- and I got in such a sermon writing flow that I was done by about 9:00. What a blessing. God is good. Here's what I came up with:
One of my favorite movies of all time is a movie called, “A League of Their Own.” The movie is about a women’s professional baseball league that starts in the United States when many of the men that play the game are away fighting in World War II. Women leave their homes, their families and their farms to play baseball in this new league.
At one point in the movie, the pitcher and perhaps best player on the team, Dottie Hinson thinks that she will leave the league. Her husband has just gotten home from the war with an injury, and she is thinking about her obligation to him and to their home and life together. Along with the difficulties of playing on the same team as her younger sister and the jealousy that develops, she decides that she is going to leave the league, to quit, to walk away.
For most of the movie the team’s coach has been totally worthless, he is a drunk played by Tom Hanks. Midway through the season though, coach Jimmy Dugan begins to care for these women and to truly coach them. When Dugan sees that Dottie is leaving he goes over to talk with her. She explains that she needs to be with Bob, she doesn’t need baseball, and besides, “it just got too hard.”
In response to this Coach Dugan gives this memorable line, “Of course it’s hard, the hard is what makes it great. If it wasn’t hard, then everyone would do it.”
Sometimes being a Christian is hard. We were not promised when we made that profession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior that things would be easy from that day forward. What we find over the course of a lifetime is that having faith in the midst of a broken and hurting world is hard. However, being able to hold onto our faith when times get hard can bring tremendous blessing.
We are about to face a particularly difficult week in the life of our Christian journey. I don’t know what your service was like yesterday but we had a celebration here at First Christian. Our hand bells rang out, we sang joyous songs, our children marched in waving palm branches, and some of them even sang a special song with our choir. I believe I smiled all morning. We were celebrating Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Dee reminded us that although the crowds were celebrating with Jesus as he entered Jerusalem, at some point during the week- those same crowds would turn on him. The crowd’s cheers would turn to “boos” and calls to, “crucify him.”
I have always wondered what made the crowd turn on him. Did they get caught up in the mob mentality? Would they have gone along with anything the crowd was shouting? Is it possible that didn’t really even know why they were cheering as he entered Jerusalem and so it was easy for them to abandon their adoration for Jesus? Perhaps following him simply got too hard. It was too hard from them to see his righteous anger as the week began and he cursed the fig tree and cleared the temple. It was too hard to see him in the garden praying, knowing his life was drawing short- as his disciples fell asleep one by one and left him alone. Perhaps it was too hard to see him betrayed by a kiss from Judas that led to his arrest. And I know it was too hard to follow him up that hill and watch his execution. Maybe the fact that it was just too hard to see what happened to Jesus that made the crowd abandon and turn on him.
These are difficult days ahead for a Christian to stick with Jesus as we remember the final days of his life. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could skip right from the joy of Palm Sunday to the even greater joy of Resurrection Sunday? To skip from celebration to celebration wouldn’t be honest. Jesus has many stops to make before we get to the empty tomb. If we are committed we will follow him this week. And it will not be easy- in fact it will be hard. But I can almost hear a voice from heaven sent to coach us in through this week. The voice is saying, “Of course it is hard. The hard it what makes it great, if it wasn’t hard- everyone would do it.”
As if God knew that I would personally need encouragement for this week I found some wonderful words of hope in my devotional this morning. The author said, “The good news is this: Every struggle has within it a seed of hope; every calamity carries the possibility of redemption. God speaks through dreamers and messengers to show us the way to new life. A Word goes forth, full of grace and truth, and his name is Love. The night has begun to pass away. Already the True Light that enlightens the world is shining.”*
So even as we stand at the beginning of a difficult week and prepare to walk to together, we have the promise of resurrection ahead. We have the benefit of knowing, “the rest of the story” as Paul Harvey would say, and in that we have our hope. May God bless us during this difficult week as we journey together. May God give us the strength not to abandon or turn on Jesus when the going gets tough. Amen and Amen.
*Upper Room, March-April 2012. April 2nd devotion, page 43, F. Richard Garland.