Third Sunday in Lent – March 03, 2024

Posted on March 5, 2024, Pastor: Pastor Lara Forbes

Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service. 

March 3, 2024

Third Sunday in Lent

Mark 11:27–12:17
Psalm 86:8-13

Worship Service Video Sermon Video Sermon  Audio

Sermon Text:

Grace to you and peace from God, our Creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Show of hands, and online folks please put your response in the chat. How many of you felt overwhelmed by the news this past week? There’s a lot going on, isn’t there? There always is – but some weeks, to me anyway, it feels like there’s too much.

And with all of the events and with as fast as the news cycle is, it’s sometimes hard to keep track of things within the bigger picture. But it’s important to pay attention to that bigger picture so that we can understand how one event impacts another.

It’s the same when we read about events in the Bible, it’s important to look at what comes before – and oftentimes after. To help us with that this morning, I added the verses from chapter 11 that Jean just read. Without that context, it sounds like Jesus and the religious leaders are just being snarky with each other.

And what we end up with are three different conversations. Each one is rooted in the events of what we call Palm Sunday. We’ve jumped ahead a little bit in Mark’s gospel. Jesus has already entered into Jerusalem and tossed the moneychangers’ tables in the temple.

The people were happy. But not so much the religious leaders. When they asked him, “By what authority are you doing these things?” it wasn’t a casual question. It was more like, “Who do you think you are?!”

They were angry at Jesus for what he was doing. And they were angry because they were afraid.

They were the most powerful people in Jerusalem. [1]They came from a long line of privileged ancient Jewish families; so they inherited their power and elevated status. And their power would have been further solidified by the Roman Empire, who placed them in charge in Jerusalem to maintain order on behalf of the Empire.

At first, they would have done everything above board to maintain Jewish protection and safety, and they were left alone to practice their faith. It was in their best interest to keep that balance. But as things developed, the temptation of greed came into play, and they created a system that allowed them to reap the benefits of power and oppressed their fellow Jewish people.

So, as far as they were concerned, Jesus was just some guy trying to stir things up and he needed to be contained.

But instead of directly answering their question about his authority, Jesus said, “I’ll answer your question if you answer mine.”

And when they had their side conversation to figure out how to answer, they didn’t focus on Jesus’ question. They focused on what the outcome of their answer would mean for them. And they played it safe and said, “We don’t know.”

And Jesus said, “Okay….” And then he told a parable that exposed the system they helped build and had become part of. And I want to be clear – Jesus wasn’t speaking against Judaism or the Jewish faith. He was speaking against the practice of requiring people to pay taxes in order to worship God in the temple.

And instead of listening to Jesus, the religious leaders sent some Pharisees and Herodians to try and trap him.

[2]In terms of politics, about the only thing those two groups had in common is that they didn’t like Jesus. The Herodians supported King Herod’s agenda, which meant they supported the Roman government.

And the Pharisees were the Jewish leaders – the keepers of the law. And for all their faults, they identified more closely with the plight of the Jewish people. But they and the Herodians came together against Jesus because both groups had a lot to lose if he wasn’t dealt with.

[3]The tax that they’re talking about is one that the Jewish people had to pay annually to support the Roman Empire’s occupation of Israel. Did you catch that? The Jewish people were required to financially support the foreign occupation of their country.

And that tax had to be paid with Roman coins, which had an image of the emperor on them, along with an inscription proclaiming him to be the divine ruler. Each coin broke two of the Ten Commandments. Even the Pharisees should have felt conflicted about using those coins.

But their question about whether it’s lawful to pay taxes to the emperor revealed that they really weren’t conflicted at all. And in his answer, Jesus revealed their allegiance. And he showed that when people’s hearts are bound to the wrong thing, fear and greed and other things like that take over and drive decisions, and loyalty becomes divided.

And when a person’s – or group of people’s – loyalty is divided, it expands and becomes an alliance or even a system that is held up as the authority. And the more entrenched that system gets, the easier it becomes to forget who ultimately has authority in our world.

All three of these conversations are about power and control and people wanting to hold onto it at all costs because their priorities were messed up. The alliances and the systems that they’d helped create were destroying people’s lives.

And when Jesus told them as much, instead of taking a step back and working to change things, they doubled down. They had forgotten where the real power was.

In our country and in our world, there are a lot of battles right now about who is in charge – about who has authority. Fear and greed and things like those are driving decisions. Loyalties are divided. Priorities are messed up. And people’s lives are literally being destroyed because of it.

And it’s easy to point fingers at individual people and blame them for all of it. But within the bigger picture are the systems that human beings have put in place that allow all of these things to happen, like classism, racism, nationalism….

And as the church – both as a congregation and as an institution – it’s our obligation to examine where we work alongside or benefit from those systems. To end those relationships if there are any, and actively work to dismantle the systems themselves.

Because Jesus is our authority. Our loyalty is to him, and our priorities ought to be in line with his. And his priorities are God’s love, grace, mercy, compassion, and peace. That’s where his power is.

But that isn’t what is being proclaimed by many Christian voices today. [4]Even the He Gets Us ad that played during the Superbowl this year was sponsored by a group that’s known for promoting fear and exclusion.

Fear is a very loud voice in our world today. And there are times when it needs to be because lives are at stake. But when fear is used to maintain a vice grip on power, when it’s used to control people in the name of God or Jesus, when it’s used in place of God’s love and compassion, it not only goes against Jesus it takes God’s name in vain.

I said this at the end of November on Reign of Christ Sunday, and I’ll say it again today – we have a voice, too.

As Christians, as people who follow Jesus, we proclaim that Jesus is our authority. Within that, we don’t claim a military hero or a political party. We claim God’s love and grace and mercy and compassion and peace for everyone. They are the priorities that determine how we live our lives.

2000 years ago, the leaders who confronted Jesus himself weren’t afraid of him because he was trying to overthrow them like a military leader would have. They were afraid because his teachings about God’s love and mercy and compassion had taken root and were gaining momentum among the people.

It takes intentional work to live according to Jesus’ teachings because there is so much that pushes back against them. And the reason it pushes back is because there’s power in them. Not any power that can come from humanity, but the power that can only come from God.

It’s the power that Jesus revealed and taught. It’s the power that nurtures life. It’s the power that saves us and our world. Thanks be to God! Amen.