Sermon – February 10, 2016 Ash Wednesday

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Luke 22:1-13 Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover. 2 And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people. 3 Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. 4 He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. 5 And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. 6 So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd. 7 Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8 So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” 9 They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?” 10 He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters 11 and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 12 And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.” 13 And they went and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.
Caroline was a woman who had her place. It was right there, on the right-hand side of the church, near the first stained glass window, closest to the side aisle. That was where Caroline worshiped and that, to Caroline, was her place. As Caroline got older it became more and more difficult for her to leave home and get to church. Eventually she became homebound and her pastor started bringing Communion to her at home every month. That’s when the pastor learned about Caroline’s seat in church. One day she finally raised the subject. “Pastor, has anyone begun to sit in my place at church?” He was surprised by the question. What to him was simply a seat in the church, to Caroline was very important. It was her place: her place of worship, her place of prayer, her place among God’s people. And so, she was afraid of his answer. You see, other people had begun to sit in her place, people who didn’t think she would make it back. For Caroline, sitting there in her home, knowing that she would not be coming back to church this year, it was very important to know that she still had a place.
I’m sure you’ve felt Caroline’s fear—the fear of losing your place. It happens to all of us. We are certain about our job, our role in someone’s life, and then suddenly things change and we find that someone else has come and filled our position, done our work, and we’ve lost our place. You used to be the one who could work well with numbers at the office. If there were a financial problem, people would come crawling to you. But then, in comes a new kid with the newest technology and you find that others are seeking her advice about finances. You begin to wonder how long you’ll be needed around here. You start to feel as if you’ve lost your place.
If you’ve ever felt that fear, then you have an inkling of what was going on in our Gospel lesson this evening. Luke tells us that “the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near” (22:1). This was the Passover, and yet it was filled with an unholy fear. Luke says that “the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put [Jesus] to death, for they feared the people” (v. 2). Feared the people? That’s a strange thing to say about these men. After all, they were the ones who confidently took their places among people. They had the most important seats in the synagogue. They were experts in the law. They wore the long tassels. They gave a tenth of their possessions. They fasted twice a week. They could stand in the center of the synagogue and thank God that they were not like other people. They had wisdom and power and the respect of the people . . . until Jesus came. His ministry attracted crowds. His words touched hearts. His hands opened eyes, and His words and hands were everywhere. His very presence brought about a life that they had never known. And with His words and His work among the people, they had begun to lose their place. And so, out of fear, they gather on this day and prepare for His death. While everyone around them is preparing for Passover, they are preparing for Jesus’ death.
Notice the irony here. Luke tells us that the Feast of Passover was approaching, and then the preparation for the feast he talks about is conspiracy and intended murder. When the leaders of God’s people spend their time plotting death before the Passover, one can only wonder what lies in their hearts. It shouldn’t surprise us then that Luke talks about the foe. This is certainly Satan’s realm: religion on the outside but corruption within. Where there is fear, there is likely to be the foe. Satan enters Judas, and Judas discusses how he might betray Jesus. Not only is there the foe, but there is also the use of force. When Judas comes to visit the religious leaders, he finds them with “the chief priests and officers” (v. 4). If you can’t secure your position by your work among the people, you can at least protect your position by force. Not only is there force, but also finances. Upon hearing of Judas’s offer of betrayal, “they were glad, and agreed to give him money” (v. 5). So we have fear, we have force, we have finances, and we have the foe. A deadly combination. It brings about death in the life of faith. It did then, and it does now.
You used to be the pride of your child. After a soccer practice, your child came running to meet you at the car, and the ride home was filled with talk about the game, questions of your opinion, and security in your words. That was only a year ago, but today it has all changed. Now, you’re lucky if he even needs you to pick him up. He usually gets a ride home with friends. And when you do give him a ride his one-word answers and your mutual silence as he looks out the window makes you wonder where things went wrong. When you experience this you realize that you’ve begun to lose your place. His friends and his desire to be free have taken your place as a parent. When this happens it is to turn to force. You begin to demand that you pick your child up from practices. Where there is force, finances are sure to follow. Who pays for his food and clothing? If you pay money for his things, he better realize that you have a right to know what he’s up to at all times. Force and finance and deep down, the enemy. Stirring up your anger. Churning your fear. Working in the lives of you and your child to bring about anger and separation and reasons to rebel. Honor of one’s parent. Love of one’s child. These holy things are torn apart by the work of the foe.
Luke, however, points out that in the face of all of this, in the face of fear, force, finances, and the power of the foe, there is one other factor: God. God, who prepares a place for His people at Passover. God is still at work in this story. “Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, ‘Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.’ . . . They went and found it just as He had told them, and they prepared the Passover” (vv. 8 and 13). Jesus speaks, and a place is prepared. His disciples go and find that it is exactly as Jesus says. In the middle of all of this, God is still at work. What is God doing? He is preparing a place for His people. That is what the Passover is, after all, the place where God comes and rescues His people. The place where God declares that He and He alone is at work to set His people free.
God’s people have gone far away from Him, but Passover still draws near. Love has turned into fear. Fear has turned into action. Service has turned into force and offerings into bribes. And still, Passover draws near. Regardless of what His people are doing, God continues to do His work. It is His work that sets people free. Free from the fear of slavery in Egypt, free from the force of Pharaoh, free from sin, and free from suffering—God alone again and again sets His people free. Through God’s action, His people are brought out of their sin into salvation. And year after year, decade after decade, God’s people gather to celebrate God’s wonderful work.
This evening, we gather at the beginning of another Lenten season. Once again, Passover draws near. And this year, among us, there are those who have lost their places. Relationships have changed, children have grown, jobs have been lost or become less secure, and those who were once close now seem far away. And in the midst of all of this change, we might get that feeling, that fear in the pit of our stomach, wondering how will we survive, how will we manage. For those of you who gather, these weeks of Lent come to point out to you that one thing does not change. Passover draws near and God once again does His work of freeing and forgiving love. God once again prepares a place for you.
This Lent, we will gather for a season to reflect on the places of the Passion. We will read through the entire Passion account as told by Luke, a small portion each week, and you won’t be surprised at the story.
It’s a simple story, and you’ve been to these places before. The Upper Room, the Garden of Gethsemane, the halls of Pontius Pilate, the hill of Golgotha—these are the troubling places we remember when we meditate on our Lord’s Passion. Yet when Jesus enters a place, He never leaves it as He finds it. The most troubling places in our lives become the most amazing places of God’s grace when Jesus visits them.
Peter will still be Peter, denying Jesus in the courtyard. Pilate will still be Pilate, struggling in his judgment hall. And the crowds will still be the crowds calling for Jesus’ death outside the palace. But right in these places of the Passion there is a wonderful, powerful love. We will see tonight and every night that no matter where we are in our lives, God is still coming and claiming us as His children and preparing a place for us in His kingdom.
God is very much like a parent who realizes that his children have left him, strayed far from home, though they live there every day. While he can’t control the fact that his son gets rides home from friends, and his daughter puts on her headphones and listens to music rather than the voice of her father, and his children shut themselves up in their rooms rather than sit with the family, he can control how many places he sets at the table. And as long as he is the father and as long as this is his household, there will always be a place for his children . . . always, there at his table, a place for you.
So, tonight, we begin our Lenten observance with a celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Tonight, God comes and brings with Him a feast that always has a place for you. His suffering, His death, His resurrection had a purpose. There is no reason to fear, for your sins have been forgiven, your life is no longer your own, and tonight there is a place set at God’s table for you. A simple meal, a simple story, and a simple remembrance, but what a wonderful work God has done and is doing for His people this year.]
Yes, Caroline, that pew now has other people sitting there, but you still have a place at God’s table. Jesus has prepared a place for you. No need for fear, not on this day. When Jesus is the Lord of the table there is always a place for you. Amen.

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