March 24, 2002
JESUS ASKS OF US: PASSION
Terry L. Brensinger, Ph.D., Pastor
The Grantham Church
Some years ago, a dear, dear friend of mine met with me in the snack shop at the college. We ate lunch together and talked about a wide range of things. Most of the details of that conversation have long since faded awayit was, after all, over ten years agobut Ill never forget the question that he asked me before we left. Perhaps sensing some unsettledness in my soul, he looked me straight in the eye and asked, Terry, what is your passion? That question continues to reverberate in my own heart and mind, and I have since asked it of many, many others. What is your passion? In exploring this very familiar passage in Mark 11:1-11, I found myself thinking again and again about this same issuepassion.
As our story begins, we note that Jesus and his followers are now approaching Jerusalem. In other words, their southernly journey from Galilee, along which Jesus both repeatedly predicted his upcoming death and challenged would-be followers to deny themselves and take up their own crosses, is now coming to an endtheir destination is in sight. In preparation for their arrival, Jesus instructs two of the disciples to go into town and bring back a colt. These disciples immediately carry out their instructions, and return to Jesus as planned.
Within moments of the disciples arrival, Jesus mounts the colt and, accompanied by a band of his supporters, proceeds to Jerusalem. All along the way, Mark informs us, unnamed people spread their cloaks and branches before Jesus and his modest colt, and they increasingly shout the Lords praises: Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven! From all indications, the gathering crowds are excitedenthusedabout Jesus arrival. They have no doubt heard stories of his ministerial activities elsewhere. They are aware, to one degree or another, of the miracles that Jesus reportedly performed. And their own expectations of a coming deliverer, perhaps further aroused by traditions of King Solomon himself entering Jerusalem on the back of a mule (1 Kings 1:38-40), leave the onlookers overwhelmed with anticipation. The crowd, however large or small it might have been, is seemingly passionate.
Its fascinating, of course, that Jesus makes no attempt to quiet them. You might recall that, after healing the leper, Jesus instructed him to say nothing to anyone (1:44). Later, Jesus gives precisely the same orders to the unclean spirits who acknowledged his lordship: ...he sternly ordered them not to make him known, Marks informs us (3:12). By now, however, things have changed. Here we find people lining the street and shouting as Jesus approaches Jerusalemthe very hub of Israelyet he does nothing to silence them. In fact, Luke tells us in his description of the same event that, when ridiculed by some Pharisees standing nearby, Jesus went so far as to say, ...if these were silent, the stones would shout out (19:40).
One gets the impression that the unashamedly excited people here in Mark 11 are feeling rather similar to David in 2 Samuel 6:14-16. The Ark of the Covenant, a formerly significant religious symbol among the Israelites, had since been forgotten by many. David, Israels new king, insists that it be located and brought back to Jerusalem. Upon its arrivalseveral people lug it into the cityDavid leaps and dances. What an undignified and pathetic thing for a king to do, his wife Michal mockingly responds. I danced before the Lord, David answers, and I will do still more.
Excitement. Enthusiasm. Passion. People express it, and God receives it. I dare say that God probably even enjoys it. Dont you? You dribble down the court, the young teenager that you are, take the shot, and low and behold, the ball actually goes in! The fans cheer, including the young girls in your class or youth group. Immediately, you sense that chill running down your spine as you head to the other end of the court. Dont you, as a parent, blush a bit when your son or daughter gets excited about you? Doesnt it warm you all over when your spouse thinks that you are the greatest person in all of the world, and isnt afraid to announce it? Isnt it wonderful to feel appreciated and honored? God thinks so too.
Oh, I have no doubt that he appreciates it when we wrestle with tough theological questions and issues. Im quite certain that he is with us as we write our books and address pressing social concerns and fine-tune our doctrines and core values. But, if you will allow me to be a child again for just a moment, I think the Lord delights when his people get excited about him. I remember how I felt when I walked into my sons 2nd grade classroom several years ago to show slides of Israel and to pass around a few artifacts. His face was worth a million dollars. This is my dad, his face and energy level proclaimed, my dad. Hosanna, the people shouted, and Jesus made no attempt to stop them.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is an instrument for measuring and describing peoples personality types. Four basic scales are used: (1) where a person focuses his or her attentionextraversion/introversion; (2) the way a person gathers informationsensing/intuition; (3) the way a person makes decisionsthinking/feeling; and (4) how a person deals with the outer worldjudging(planned and organized)/perceiving(flexible and spontaneous). People answer a series of questions, their responses are categorized, and descriptive labels indicating their personality types are assigned.
If our entire congregation here at the Grantham Church were to take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, my suspicion is that a considerable majority of us80%??would be labeled INTJIntroverted Intuition with Thinking. Here are a variety of characteristics of INTJs: insightful, conceptual, rational, detached, objectively critical, apt to enjoy complex challenges, values knowledge and competence, apply high standards to themselves and others, independent, usually seen by others as private and reserved. As a group, were not too gushy, are we? Many of us would have felt a bit uncomfortable had we witnessed the actual events recorded here in Mark 11. Emotions were flying high! It would have been a challenge of major proportions for us to step off the curb and throw a cloak before the oncoming colt, let alone shout out, Hosanna, for all to hear.
Interestingly enough, introverts like many in the Grantham Church are in the minorityextroverts far outnumber introverts, both here in America and worldwide. My sense, furthermore, is that more and more extroverts are actually gathering within these very walls. I suspect that, even this morning, our core of introverts is increasingly supplemented by a good number of extroverts, including some of you who are still afraid to come out of the closet. You want to clap sometimes, but you catch yourself just in time. The urge to shout enters your mind, and it nearly startles you, but you regain your composure before acting irresponsibly. Stop trying so hard to resist those urges. While this scene of our Lords entry into Jerusalem hardly mandates that we all literally join the shoutingsometimes we just need silence and space to reflectit does set us free to express some excitement and enthusiasm at the thought of Jesus entering our world. Jesus makes no attempt to stifle the crowds exuberancehe welcomes that type of passion.
Then I pause, catch my breath, and look at the scene again. The Jesus that Mark depicts on the colt is so simple, so humble, so still. I can hardly help but wonder all that might have gone through his mind on an occasion such as this. He has already predicted his impending death three times, and he has recently asked that potential disciples free themselves from their attachments to money and power, take up their crosses and follow him. Jesus also realizes the extremely difficult days that lie just ahead. He is about to be mocked, beaten, abandoned, and killed. One can only begin to imagine the various and conflicting thoughts and feelings that must have plagued him on this seemingly festive occasion. How long will the cheers last? he might very well have wondered. How many of these people will stick with me through just the coming week? Will this exuberant demonstration of passion give way to a lasting and focused passion that stands the tests of time and trials? Passion, in this sense, is more than a temporary outpouring of excitement and exuberance, as wonderful as such an outpouring can be. Passion is, as Soren Kierkegaard describes it, a singleness of heart, the ability to will one thing.
Writing in the 16th century, Saint Ignatius described three types of people. Ignatius described the first type as those who talk a lot, but demonstrate little action
This person keeps saying: I would like to stop being so dependent on all the things which I possess and which seem to get in the way of my giving my life unreservedly to God.
This type of person has all kinds of good intentions, but always remains so busy about all the things that fill up life that death finds such a one still thinking about making a bigger place for God in life.
The second type of person that Ignatius describes is one who does everything except the one thing that is absolutely necessary:
This person says: I certainly would like to be free of all attachments which get in my way of relating to God. I think maybe if I just work harder or I say more prayers or give more money to charity that would do it.
This type of person will just do about anything but face the block that hinders an availability to Gods gracious invitation. It is as if this person is negotiating with God, trying to buy God off. So this type may do a number of good things during life, all the time avoiding the honest way of facing the real issue.
Finally, Ignatius refers to a third type of person, the one whose ultimate desire is to do Gods will:
This person says: I would like to be rid of any attachment which gets in the way of Gods invitation to a more abundant life. I am not sure what God is asking of me, but I want to be at a point of balance so that I can easily move in the direction of Gods call. My whole effort is to be sensitive to the movements of Gods grace in my life and to be ready and willing to follow Gods lead.
This type of person makes efforts neither to want to retain possessions nor to want to give them away unless the service and praise of God our Lord is the God-given motivation for action. As a result, the graced desire to be better able to serve God becomes clearly the motivating factor for accepting or letting go of anything.
When Jesus asks for passion, he welcomes enthusiasm and excitement. But ultimately, what he asks for is that we have the will to go with him through trials, tests, temptations, and times of rejection and ridicule. What he asks of everyone who desires to follow him is a singleness of heart, a commitment to focus on him and him alone, and the courage to abandon whatever stands in the way.
Demonstrations of this type of passion are plentiful in our own history as Anabaptists. For those of you who might not be familiar with that term, we in the Brethren in Christ Church trace at least a portion of our roots back to a group of Christians in Europe in the 16th century who challenged the organized church on a number of points. These Anabaptists, so called because they rebaptized adult followers of Christ who had earlier been baptized before their conversion, sought to live lives of radical Christian discipleship. Many of them died because of it.
One of the early Anabaptists who has left a lasting impression on me is Michael Sattler. Sattler was born in Freiberg, Germany in 1490. At an early age, he entered a Benedictine monastery. During his stay there, Sattler came to a profound evangelical faith while studying Pauls epistles. Eventually, he left the monastery and joined up with others in the Anabaptist movement. Immediately, King Ferdinand of Austria wanted Sattler drowned, but other authorities convinced the king to at least give him a trial. Sattler had his trial, was convicted and sentenced to death. Ill spare you the details of what was done to himsuffice it to say that on May 20, 1527, Michael Sattler was burned at the stake because of his radical faith in Jesus Christ. Sattlers last words were these: Almighty, eternal God, thou art the way and the truth. Because I have not been shown to be in error, I will with thy help to this day testify to the truth and seal it with my blood.
Hopefully, we will never have to go through what Michael Sattler went through, although many Christians around the world todaymost recently in Pakistanare proclaiming Christ at great risk. Perhaps our time will come. But the issue remainsare you passionate about Jesus Christ? Will you follow him through whatever life brings? Will you abandon whatever stands in your way? What does Jesus ask of us? Discipline? This kind can come out only through prayer, he told his befuddled disciples. Our possessions? ...go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, Jesus lovingly responded to the obviously startled and disappointed rich man. Power and position? ...whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all, Jesus announced to people who always need to come out on top. What, in one word, does Jesus ask of us? Passion. An excited and enthusiastic heart that is unalterably focused on him and him alone. Terry, what is your passion, my friend asked me in the snack shop several years ago. Today, as we recall the festivities of his entry into Jerusalem, Jesus asks each of us the same question.