Sunday, April 17, 2011

Hebel Happens-Face Your Jerusalem Anyway,

Sermon Topic: In spite of how meaningless life seems, Jesus inspires us to confront our own Jerusalem’s which is where meaning is made; where divine love is revealed.

Palm Sunday, April 17, 2011
Ecclesiastes 1:2-11 
Matthew 21:1-15.
I was running around Frenchy’s park yesterday with Ruby Gene, again trying to get her to sleep.  Around and a round like a hamster on a wheel until she fell asleep.  I noticed an older man there, sitting still, idly on one of the benches. Slumped shoulders, head down looking listlessly at nothing.  His blank expression may have said so many things:
Where has my life gone? What was it all for?  I’ve worked all my life, What do you have to show for it? What was the point?  

Have you asked yourselves these questions before?  Kind of depressing really, when we wake up one day, look back and say...what has happened?

Those are good days to turn to Ecclesiastes. Not necessarily for hope, but at least to know, you’re not alone. The author of Ecclesiastes, whose name is in Hebrew is Qoheleth, translated teacher or preacher.  Qoheleth, was having a bad day when he wrote Ecclesiastes. Qoheleth looks back at his life and at the world around him. He has no rose colored glasses.  He does not see the world with a glass is half-full attitude.  His glass is dry. And it isn’t New Mexico high desert dry, it is Atacama desert dry.    

Vanity of Vanity.
We toil We work,
We live, we die.
We accumulate. We don’t gain a thing.
We are no different from animals.  We are born, we struggle, we die.
There is nothing new under the sun.  
I thought the Byrds wrote and sung: turn turn turn. There is a season, Turn turn turn.
But no, as Suzanne Drieth pointed out to me, it was Pete Seager, who sang it with Judy Collins.  

But Seager borrowed the words from Qoheleth, and you know who wrote the bible...  
There is nothing new. Our lives, our work, our purpose... what.

Go ahead, read Purpose driven life all you want...see if it makes you feel better.  If Qoheleth wrote a Hallmark card to his wife at the end of his life it would probably say:
Looking back over the years that we've been together,
I can't help but wonder..."What the hell was I thinking?"

Qoheleth doesn’t say the world is going to hell in a hand-basket, he says, that eventually just turns dark (Ecc 12:1-2).  Nothing. On this our last Sunday of lent--Palm Sunday, the precipice before lunging into Holy week, we look at another biblical image of Creation.  
There is no careful sculpting of humans as in  Genesis 2; just returning to dust.

There is no declaration of a good Creation.  For Qoheleth Creation is Hebel.  Creation does not assist in healing as in Job, Here it’s just hebel...and a whole lot of hebel at that!
Hebel is the hebrew word translated in various ways: vapor, absurdity, farse, vanity, and you’ve seen the bumper sticker: Blank Happens. You could substitute the word Hebel and you’d be saying the same thing.  

Work, maybe you accumulate; maybe you don’t.  Hebel. Hebel. Hebel!!!
It’s pointless!  On those bad days, Qoheleth may be your best friend.  

I wonder if Jesus was having a bad day that day he stood atop the Mount of Olives, 

just before he descends to suffering and his end.  There from the top he can see all of Jerusalem; he can see for for miles all around.  Maybe before his descent into Jerusalem--he looks back on his own life. Persecuted since the day he was born; Herod killed all those innocents trying to get Jesus. Jesus was a refugee.  The devil took shots at him.He was thrown out of his church after he read scripture. The authorities were always after him down, every word he spoke was scrutinized, every move criticized.
And his friends...a bunch of losers... following him around and nagging:  
Jesus, we don’t have enough food for all these people; what are you going to do?
Jesus, we couldn’t cast out this demon, can you?
Jesus, there’s a big storm do something!   
Jesus, which one of us will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?
Judas betrays him, Peter denies him.  The rest abandon him.
If anyone had a right to think it was all hebel, it would have been Jesus.

Jesus could said. Hebel Hebel Hebel! all day long. But, what does Jesus do? He doesn’t avoid or run from life. He doesn’t fear or curse life.  He takes it head on. There at the top of the Mt of Olives: he sees the Hebel all around him. And he willingly descends into it.  
He faces Jerusalem. the place where he will suffer, and that’s where he goes to show the world...something. 

[I really appreciate Cereso Barredos liturgical art which can be found here. ]

We call Jesus’ descent into Jerusalem on a colt to suffering, mockery, and death a story of triumph, a story of victory.  What is triumphal about his decision to confront pain, rather than avoid it?

Isn’t avoidance of pain one of our primary objectives? How much money do you think we spend in this country on research for and purchasing of pain killers?  Well, we spend about $115 billion in alcohol every year...that’s a start.

And of course parents, what is our deepest desire for our children?  For them to be happy!  And to not experience any pain.  

(What follows is drawn from Cynthia Bourgeault’s “Encountering the Wisdom Jesus”)
But the reality is from the time we are born we run into obstacles, limitations, restrictions in this dense, slow, finite world.  I’m getting old and stiffer. The other night I’m trying to do this “relaxing yoga” video (

And this hippie dude with this breathy voice is trying to encourage me. Awkwardly cross-legged, one knee over the other, I’m supposed to be leaning forward, but I’m just trying not to fall backward. Then this dude says:
“One of the things that inevitably and intentionally occurs in the yoga practice is that we come into contact with the obstacles; so as you feel restrictions in the hips or resistance. First, know that it’s normal and natural,”

I’m dying by this point while, of course, the models have their heads to the ground.  

Dude: “second know that it’s actually an asset for you, because it gives you a moment in time in which to pay deep attention. It gives you an opportunity to work through internal challenge, of which we have plenty.”

Thanks dude!  

There are limits, obstacles, choices; much of our lives we spend struggling to break free from the boundaries.  Ruby Gene is in this two year old testing mode.  Pushing to see how far she can go, and what our reaction will be.  Yesterday, it was stomping on plants. And I hear as they get older it can get worse in terms of testing the limits...Worse than stomping on plants?  

It is because of the limits, boundaries, obstacles, and pain that spiritual traditions all over the world see this life as fragile, unsubstantial, and illusion or a mistake. Ecclesiastes calls it hebel.  This earth is not our home some say, we are in exile, we are to return to some home, something that truer.  We fall into this world - As if we have fallen from a lighter divine state of grace to this hebel of a planet.

Is this what the Truimph of the Triumphial entry is for right?  
To get us a ticket to heaven....if we are good, or believe the right things.

But maybe there is another way to look at the triumph of Jesus entry into Jerusalem.  
Is Jesus inviting us, there from the Mt. of Olives, does Jesus invite us all to face our Jerusalem? As he looks out at the hebel all around is he encouraging us, challenging us, beckoning us to consider our fears, and descend into them because this is doing the very will of God.

What do you fear?  What suffering do you avoid? The reality of an illness in your life?
Avoidance of forgiving someone, or even yourself? Do we ignore the sufferings of others because that’s their problem? And really it hurts to see them. What do we avoid for comfort’s sake?

When Jesus faces Jerusalem and then descends, he is met with the harshness and cruelty. What do we see in this?  What does he demonstrate?  

Love that was costly, and therefore love that was precious -
through tears and a broken heart emerge qualities such as:
Steadfastness, tenderness, commitment, forbearance, Fidelity.
Without limits and harshness these beautiful expressions of love have no meaning....
By facing Jerusalem Jesus shows us what divine love looks like. By facing Jerusalem, Jesus shows that the harshest places, the hardest things we may have to confront in this life, may be the very places the very opportunities to show God’s love for the world.   
When you or I have to come up against the difficulty and suffering and we stand in love anyway, we express the love God has for the world.

That is our business down here, this is what we are up to. This is our purpose.

What does this mean?

Our deepest opportunity this life is not to look at how we can get out.  How we can get home from the exile. How we can escape to a better tomorrow.  Our deepest opportunity is to face our own Jerusalems, our own fears or suffering, and move toward them, then in some mysterious way we are bearing our part in the suffering of God. The costliness of the the divine love. When we can stand having our heart broken and still love - we give meaning and life to the world. The world through us may witness the very heartbeat of God.

What Jerusalem are you facing? What has God put on your heart to confront,
Where must you descend and still love?  How much time will you spend on the Mt. of Olives before you go?

(The following, from an NPR blog, can be found at this link).
A woman named Susan, who has had surgery for two brain tumors, as the cancer had metastasized from her lungs wrote: I know not who I am or why this is happening. There seems to be a space between life and death that takes on a form of its own, but I am just now walking through that gate. I am very, very scared.

A friend wrote back to Susan: Susan, I know that fear. We all know that fear. I wish there was an easy way to make the fear lose its power. A few magic words that would take care of it. But if those words exist, I don't know them. I can say that over time, the fear will lessen a little. But it won't go away. I don't think it ever really goes away.
What is it that we are afraid of? Death? Certainly. But I think what is also scary is the loss of our old lives ... who we were, what we could do. The loss of things that we took for granted. New things take their place, of course. New knowledge, new friends, really a new life. But I don't know that we ever fully come to terms with the loss of who and what we were.
There is a gate, and once you pass through it, you can really never go back. But at the risk of sounding corny, isn't that what life is all about anyway? It is when we pass through the gate, and still love, there we find meaning.
I have found comfort in a saying that I think about a lot. We are not given the burdens we deserve, we are given the burdens we can bear. Susan, we are stronger than we think. We can bear these burdens, [and still love].

There are days when it seems that there is only Hebel all around: But in this Holy week, we remember: God so loved the world.  It is this very difficult and frustrating world which is the precise and perfect and only world in which costly and sacrificial love can be experienced.  What is your Jerusalem? When you are ready, go there, and share God’s love with the world.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

1 comment:

  1. Great sermon Chester! I miss hearing them in person. One of my favorite parts is:

    When we can stand having our heart broken and still love - we give meaning and life to the world. The world through us may witness the very heartbeat of God.