Surprised by Jesus

A sermon by Pastor Michael Pahl on March 25, 2018, Palm Sunday, called “Surprised by Jesus.” The sermon is a reflection on the story of the “triumphal entry” found in John 12:12-16.

Here is a written excerpt from the conclusion:

The Gospels, then, insist that life with Jesus is filled with surprises. If we’re going to hang around with Jesus, we’re going to be surprised by Jesus—simple as that.

But the Gospels also show us that there are different ways we might respond when Jesus does something in our life that leaves us slack-jawed with wonder, or when Jesus leads us in some way, or teaches us something, that runs counter to all our nice and tidy expectations.

We might respond like the religious powers of Jesus’ day. We might insist, “That’s not how God works! That’s not what God is like!” We might stick with our assumptions, our misconceptions, our wrong expectations, and reject Jesus standing right there in front of us: the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the very “least of these.” We might even find ourselves crucifying that Jesus, certain we’re doing the right thing.

No, not the best way to respond to Jesus’ surprises.

Or we might respond like the crowds that surrounded Jesus. We might follow Jesus when he’s popular, when it’s comfortable, when we like what he says and he gives us free bread. So, sure, we’ll sing a few hymns and wave some leaves once a week. But when the tide turns against Jesus, when following Jesus means saying no to our own comfortable self-interest and taking up our own cross, we turn our backs on Jesus. In other words, we accept the good surprises but we refuse the hard surprises.

Not the best way to respond to Jesus’ surprises, either.

But we might instead choose to respond like the disciples—imperfectly, falteringly, yet persistently, sticking close to Jesus through all the surprises he throws our way.

Like the disciples, we might take Jesus’ presence for granted, all those surprising blessings every day, each a miracle in its own way—but every once in a while we wake up to Jesus’ presence, even if it takes a stormy sea to do it, and we once again fall at his feet in amazement.

Like the disciples, we might be a little slow to understand, or even a lot slow to understand, when Jesus teaches us something surprising that doesn’t fit what we’ve always known—but we stick with Jesus, and eventually we get it, our attitudes and perspectives slowly changed to be more like Jesus’.

Like Mary Magdalene, some of us might wonder if this surprise of mercy could really be true, delivered from evil, restored to wholeness—but we stick with Jesus, and in the end Jesus confirms it with a holy task for us, sharing God’s surprising mercy with others.

Like James and John, some of us might get all caught up in power and prestige, missing Jesus’ surprising call to humble service, or we might demand hellfire and brimstone from heaven, missing Jesus’ surprising call to love enemies—but Jesus sticks with us, and in the end it’s us calling people to love one another in the humble way of Jesus.

Like Peter, some of us might even deny Jesus in the crucial, surprising moment—but Jesus sticks with us, and in the end he gently forgives us, and even uses that experience to call us to some new avenue of service.

How will we respond when Jesus surprises us? It’s not an if but a when—if we’re hanging around Jesus at all, surprises are bound to happen. So how will you respond, the next time Jesus does something in your life, or leads you in some way, or teaches you something, that takes you by surprise?

May we be open to the surprising leading of Jesus, even if it’s into a wilderness.
May we be open to his surprising ways, even if they involve a cross.
May we be open to the next thing he brings our way, whatever it may be,
and see in it the blessing of God.

May we be open to the next person he brings into our life, whoever it may be,
and see in them the face of Jesus.

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