Sermon: Strange

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

“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!”

Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Mark 11:1-11

My sermon from Palm/Passion Sunday (March 24, 2024) on Mark 11:1-11.


So last Tuesday, my family and I visited Congregation B’nai Israel to help our Muslim friends from the Peace Islands Institute break their daily fast during the season of Ramadan. It was, for me, a change in my usual routine since I’ve never been to an iftar dinner before. We gathered in the synagogues’ main fellowship space which had a dozen large round tables set in the middle. Over in one corner was a space filled with books, crafts, toys, and a mini-foosball table my kids couldn’t wait to play with while, near the kitchen, was a long row of buffet tables waiting to be filled. The air was filled with the sweet, savory, and spicy smells from all the rice, bread, soup, and cooked veggies we were about to eat. But before all that deliciousness could be consumed, we needed to wait since there was still one hour until sunset. Our program for the evening was to do more than just eat; we’d also explore how fasting appears in each of our Abrahamic traditions. It was going to be an opportunity to not only learn from each other but, in light of the events of October 7th and its aftermath in Israel, Gaza, Palestine, and the West Bank, we would choose to be the neighbors our communities needed. We weren’t there to ignore what had happened but would choose to be for each other during some of the holiest times of the year. 

Now since the room was filled with several religious leaders, we could have spent the hour in a very theological conversation explaining the role fasting plays within our traditions. Yet we chose, instead, to ponder, wonder, and notice how strange, odd, and different the experience of fasting can actually be. Unlike the fasts promoted as a kind of weight-loss gimmick to reinforce some culturally defined benchmark of who is worthy of love and who isn’t; or the involuntary fasts we experience when going through a crisis – the overall experience of religious fasting is rather disruptive. When we voluntarily give up food, drink, or something that doesn’t endanger our health or well-being – the first day or two are usually just fine. But there usually comes a point when we suddenly realize how the fast has disrupted something we’ve grown extremely used to. We notice, for example, how hitting the snooze button way too many times is actually central to our morning routine. We discover how dependent we are to having coffee and diet coke at a specific time during the day to simply make it through. We see how comical we are when we count the number of times we stand in front of a pantry full of candy and snacks while loudly proclaiming we have nothing to eat. The act of fasting shows how quickly we turn “having enough” into something that will never actually be enough to satisfy our worries, anxieties, and fears. 

I know our Christian tradition, especially during the season of Lent, points out how fasting can deepen our connection to God. It’s an opportunity to identify how, whether intentionally or not, we’ve integrated something too deeply into our way of life. Fasting from a food, activity, or experience might reveal how something other than Jesus has gained too big of an influence over our soul. Yet I wonder if instead of focusing on the good fasting can do, we should first pay attention to how odd it actually is. It is strange and different to take something we have worked hard to have in abundance and decided that today will be different. It is, in an almost counter cultural kind of way, to not assume who we are is all we get to be. Fasting – like all our faith practices – is, when you get down to it, a bit strange. We disrupt the routines we have developed for years to worship, pray, fast, confess, imagine, and trust we are strangely part of something more. And while our life of faith might be filled with routines we assume are typical, normal, and how things should be – it’s often on a familiar Sunday like today when we see how strange life with God actually might be. We choose, together, to start our Holy Week waving branches in the air from a tree not native to our area while remembering Jesus’ own disruptive and strange act of mimicking the parade the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, did at the same time. It’s a day when we end our worship reading a condensed version of Jesus’ death before letting the sound of nails hammering into wood fill this sanctuary with sound. It’s strange to take time out of our daily routine surrounded by expectations of power, strength, and might – and claim that won’t be the limit of who God is. The practice of faith is an opportunity for us to disrupt our habits and routines by reminding ourselves that there is a God and we are not it. We do this not because we are perfect or whole or always get things right. We do this because we know, experience, and trust that we have a God who will always choose to do the very strange thing of not letting us end God’s story. Today begins a celebration in our community that happens every year but reminds us how God’s love will never be routine because God has decided that there will be so much more in store for you and the world.