Reverend Philip Stringer
LET US PRAY: Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Feed us with your Word, and speak to our hearts, that we may be filled with your endless life, now and forever. AMEN
Taylor Swift is on tour. If you don’t know who she is, I’m guessing that you don’t watch TV or listen to the radio very much. She is arguably the biggest music sensation on the planet right now.
Her tour of North America began in March and will end in August. Each concert will seat an average of 52,000 fans.
When I checked ticket prices this morning, the cost of a nose-bleed seat was $1,400. My understanding is that she gives a 3-hour performance that is amazing. . . . but still . . . . I can’t imagine paying someone $100 every 10 minutes to watch them sing and dance.
BTW— if you’re still looking for tickets, I saw front row tickets available in Chicago. They are $2,999. . . . each. And if you think no one will buy tickets at that price. . . well, by 8am today, the daily count of visitors to the website was more than 17,000.
Estimates are that Taylor Swift could NET as much as $1.5 BILLION dollars for her 6-month tour. Not a bad haul.
A rock concert isn’t just about the music, though. Taylor Swift, The Grateful Dead, Elvis or Puccini. It isn’t just the music— it is the experience. The same thing is true of sports teams. Being in a stadium is exciting. Being close to someone famous, but also being part of something— a movement. A phenomenon. The energy of a crowd gathered together— regardless of what makes them individuals, they all have this one thing in common: They love this music. They know the lyrics and can sing them together. They know this team and feel a sense of belonging in the struggle— someone sitting on their couch in Wichita, Kansas, can throw their popcorn in the air and scream, “we won! we won!”— as if they somehow contributed to the victory.
In Jesus’ day, people were looking for rock stars, too. And people were rooting for the hometeam.
The center of Jewish cultural and religious life was the Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple stood on the top of a rise called Mt. Zion. From the edge of the temple grounds the earth slopes into a ravine that curves around about half of the temple grounds and then rises up on the other side to a ridge with three modest “peaks.” To the north is Mount Scopus— which means “Lookout.” So, with apologies to Tennessee, it seems the original “Lookout Mountain” is in Israel.
At the southern end is the Mount of Corruption— so-named because this was the place where Solomon erected idols to satisfy his Moabite and Ammonite wives. And in between them— directly across from the Temple Mount, is the Mount of Olives. It was called that because it was covered with olive groves. Standing 80 meters higher than the Temple Mount, it provided a spectacular view of the Temple and the city.
Throughout the Bible, the olive tree is powerfully symbolic. It represents prosperity and peace. Presenting an olive branch was a way of showing an adversary that you desired good things for them— it is a gesture of peace. Kings were anointed with olive oil because it was a symbol of strength and wealth.
Jewish tradition said that when the messiah comes, he would appear on this mountain of olive groves to restore the Jewish state to all of its imagined glory. And not only this— tradition said it would be a never-ending kingdom and that the children of Israel would be resurrected to reign as a mighty nation forever.
For this reason, the richest and most powerful people sought to be buried on the slopes of the Mount of Olives. They wanted to be among the first ones resurrected when the messiah came. It was the ancient Jewish equivalent of buying front-row seats to the Taylor Swift concert.
When Jesus was born, people had already been burying the great and mighty on the Mount of Olives for 1,000 years.
In today’s first reading, the risen Jesus has already been with his followers for some days when he leads them to the Mount of Olives. That is why our reading begins with the apostles asking him a question: “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” They must have been filled with excitement and anticipation— the idea that the graves around them could literally begin to break open and they would be surrounded by the great and mighty.
In true biblical fashion, what God has in mind is beyond the wildest imaginations of the people. Jesus tells the apostles that the timing of God’s work will come in God’s good time. Don’t worry about that.
That is not for you to know. THIS, he tells them, is what you should know: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
The Jewish people were watching and waiting for an earthly empire to emerge. An empire that would be comprised of all of the people of Israel, and they would rule the earth. As wildly grandiose as that may sound, the real plan was even greater!
and to the ends of the earth
Jerusalem— the heart of the Jewish people
Judea— the region of the Jewish people.
but then. . . . also to Samaria.
Do you remember Samaria? it was the region between Judea and Galilee. Before the Babylonian Exile, there had been two Jewish states— the southern kingdom of Judah— and Jerusalem was its capitol.
The northern kingdom of Israel— and its capitol was a city called Samaria— which means “Mountain of Watching.”
You may recall that the Samaritan people were despised by the Jewish people— partly because they didn’t recognize the Temple in Jerusalem as the center of religion— but also because they were not purely Jewish. They were a mix of races of people who moved into the region during the exile.
Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan
Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the Samaritan well.
The Jewish people were looking for the messiah to restore the Jews to greatness. But what Jesus tells the apostles is that the Good News of Jesus will pass from the apostles like ripples in a pond— beginning in Jerusalem and to the Jewish people— but then— and WONDERFULLY— beyond them to all people— people despised and reviled by the Jews and everyone else.
And the resurrection is more than a mere rising from the dead for an earthly reign. The new life that comes through Jesus begins right away! Good news— you don’t have to physically die to have eternal life; Jesus ushers in a new life that begins right now!
You and I are gathered here this morning as the most recent ripples in that pond.
During this Easter season we have begun our worship each day back here at the font. We give thanks to God for the life-giving waters of baptism. The water that splashes over us bathes us in a covenant of God’s love.
It is pretty amazing if you stop to consider that there is an unbroken flowing or splashing of ripples from that day on the Mount of Olives.
You were baptized by someone who was baptized.
Who was also baptized by someone who was baptized.
And so was the one who baptized them.
And so was the one who baptized them.
And before them and so on back to the apostles, themselves.
Ripples in a pond.
“…and you will be my witnesses.” Witnesses are people who watch.
Jerusalem was watching for the messiah.
Across from the Temple, in Judea was “Lookout Mountain.”
In Samaria was the “Mountain of Watching.”
You and I are ripples in the baptismal waters. None of us has come to faith on our own. It is the Holy Spirit— working through the witness of others— that has brought us to faith.
The writers of the Bible
Parents and grandparents
Sunday School teachers
Friends and strangers
All of them, people who have modeled the faith, counseled and mentored and forgiven us. Like ripples in a pond, radiating out from Jesus, the center.
And that’s what we are, too. ripples— witnesses to the power of God’s love to transform the world.
Today, the Lutheran World Federation operates a hospital on the Mount of Olives— Augusta Victoria Hospital. It provides the only source of vital treatments to the Palestinian people in the West Bank (which is Judea, by the way) and Gaza. Cancer treatment, dialysis, and vocational training.
We are witnesses there. And you are witnesses here.
Yesterday, Patty showed me a video clip of Ed Sheeran. He is another wildly popular musician these days. He had just arrived in Tampa for his concert— went to the high school.
Played with the school band.
Donated guitars to the school
Gave free tickets to all the students to his sold out concert.
Good news, people.
You don’t have to buy a ticket to the new life event of Jesus. You are gathered in as a free gift of God’s love.
splash about the good news
You are the ripples who carry the Good News of Jesus today!