Friday, August 26, 2016

PERSPECTIVES ON HOMELESS ASSISTANCE FROM A HOMELESS PERSON



This was posted on Reddit by a former homeless person. This is well worth a read, although it contradicts some of the other advice I have been given about ministry to the homeless (Note: Expletives deleted):

"Okay, so, I don't think it's appropriate to restrict charitable giving to only supporting organised charity or government initiatives. I also think that only giving people "things" (ie food) is a bad idea. Here are a few reasons.

Homeless shelters and services like soup kitchens develop a culture. Everyone needs humans to interact with and a society to be a part of. However, the homeless congregate around these services, especially when they have no other option.

The "scene" that results from this is incredibly toxic. Instead of having an opportunity to be around functional, healthy people in a different environment, we only interact with other homeless people. People who have poor coping skills, who have addictions, mental illnesses, learned helplessness, and all of the other crap that accompanies homelessness. People who all believe that there's essentially no way out, and that to find a way out is in some way disloyal. Getting out and learning how to interact with society is already really, really f*****g hard.

But when you have a ready made peer group of, perhaps, the only people who won't look down on you or treat you differently because of your situation, it's that much harder to collect the internal resources necessary to pry yourself away from that community and learn how to function in another one. The horrible, abusive, and dysfunctional interpersonal dynamics amongst the group seems not only normal, but inevitable. This is, in my opinion, only heightened by the presence of the people running the charity.

These people are usually educated (almost always more educated than the service users), from a relatively stable or "normal" background, and the class differences between users and providers is obvious, and often insurmountable. Not because of ill intentions on the part of those providing charity, but because there are basic, fundamental differences in things like communication and priorities that come with class differences. There is almost always some sense of patronisation, sometimes obvious, sometimes subtle, sometimes only felt by the receivers.

The distinct sense of we the givers are different from you, the lowly receivers, whether intended or not, almost always seems to be there. This makes one thing apparent: that as a lowly receiver, the kind of person I am not is: whatever the giver is. Stable, normal, secure, educated- those are other qualities, and they have nothing to do with me."

To that effect, some of the best charities I've experienced are ones that were primarily run by people who had substantial experience with poverty. Now, don't mistake what I'm saying here, because nowadays most charities that have job postings request that the candidates have "lived experience". This is often essentially b******t, and someone's week going hungry in college doesn't compare in any real way to being poor, where poor is literally an essential component of your identity and culture.

That brings me to another point, which is that organised charity usually requires employees to ensure its running. There is a big problem with this, and anyone who has had to take charity and who has also paid careful attention will already know what it is: these people's jobs depend on there being enough poor people of the correct demographic for them to serve.

Many charities depend at least in part on grants and government funds. I have seen firsthand the ways that organisations manipulate the system to ensure that they continue to receive maximum funding, while providing questionable value to the users.

Of course there are metrics that are used to determine if an organisation is being effective and if they are needed. And of course, the organisations are adept at fudging the numbers and gaming the system. I doubt if I have the room or energy to get into it in detail, but please believe me when I say that there are plenty of homeless shelters, job search organisations, soup kitchens and so on dedicated to keeping people dependant on the system as long as possible, and/or getting credit for those people's successes, whether or not it was actually due to charity. On the other hand, pure donation and volunteer based charities are unpredictable and unreliable.

A related concern to this kind of manipulation is the learned helplessness that is instilled in us. Giving people money is important in two ways. One is that money is an essential component of social function. If you don't have money, you basically don't exist. Exchanging currency for goods and services is such a basic function of modern living that taking it away from people denies them the opportunity of one of the most basic forms of interaction we have. It denies people the opportunity to function in society on a very basic level. it denies them autonomy. This is negative in a number of ways. One is that it is impossible to learn to have a functional relationship with money when you never have an opportunity to use money. Another is that taking away people's opportunity to choose- even if they make bad choices- reduces them to basically helpless infants. We cannot learn to make good decisions if we do not get to make decisions. Doing the homeless shuffle from park bench to soup kitchen where you eat whatever is put in front of you back to park bench to a meeting with a social worker that you're obligated to go to because someone said so, doesn't encourage you to look beyond the park bench. People don't have goals if their life is spent without choices.

The assumption, as well, that homeless people are incapable of making the best choices for themselves given the resources they have available only cements that exhausted learned helplessness even further. Now, I don't know what things are like for people who were doing well and then fell into addiction, but for people like me who were never doing well, who grew up looking forward to welfare day (pizza!) and food bank day (a garbage bag full of stale donuts!),

We make decisions with money that may be foolish or self defeating to a rich person, but there was usually something behind it. Sometimes it was "if I spend ten dollars on twenty five cigarettes I can smoke away my hunger twenty five times" sometimes it was "if I have money in my pocket I can't get arrested for vagrancy", sometimes it was "I want to save this so I can sit at the all night diner tonight instead of going to the shelter because of Reasons", and sometimes it was, yes, "f*** this, I gotta get high/drunk". But denying me those options altogether denies that I'm even capable of making decisions.

That brings me to Why We Don't Always Want You Giving Us Food/Supplies.

Food and supplies are nice and wonderful. But I am not going to eat food that isn't prepackaged that a stranger gives me. I've heard of people spitting on, putting garbage, razor blades, roofies, and God knows what else, in food that gets given to homeless folks. And im not going to go with some stranger to get food either. No. I live on a street corner. If I never come back, nobody is calling the cops. Nobody is looking for me. Have you ever had a guy get mad at you because he bought you dinner and you won't put out? Well, it's a lot worse when you don't have anyone to call or go to for comfort, or if he decides he's really mad and he's allowed to do whatever he wants to you because you're just some homeless girl and you don't matter. And you're afraid to make a scene, because who do you think is going to get in trouble? Nice clean upstanding citizen, or trash?

And im not just talking about rape. I'm talking about being spat on, being pissed on, being beaten up, having them tell the cops you tried to rob them, out of spite. Or for kicks. And I'm not saying this kind of thing only happens to women. And it could be even worse. What if he (or she) is a pimp? Or a murderer? Do you know how often the murders of homeless people are investigated? Not. Nobody f*****g cares about us. So no, i'm not a bad person because I don't want your food and i don't want to go anywhere with you.

There's a less frightening side to having some stranger buy you food: the shame. The shame of being paraded into a diner as someone's good deed. The shame of being afraid to ask for anything because you aren't allowed to ask for things. The shame of being on display as the Poor Person Being Bought A Meal by the Good Person. When you purchase something with money that you pull out of your own pocket, even if you stink and you know you're disgusting, there's some kind of dignity left.

That brings me to what I think is effective. Soup kitchens that charge, even if it's ten cents for a coffee, where the volunteers are at least 50% homeless or ex homeless or on probation or whatever. No condescension. And if Fred, everyone knows Fred, he's not all there, doesn't pay, nobody says too much, but in theory you're still a person, you still have to pay. Or that require everyone to help out and where the volunteers eat the food too.

Resource centres that offer computers, showers and laundry machines, but not a lot of places to sit around. Resources that are available without necessarily being mandatory.

Welfare. As in straight up, flat out, handing people checks. Bigger if you can prove you found an apartment or have a big expense, smaller otherwise.

Charity thrift shops where the prices are actually low. Like, joke low. To give people an opportunity to experience being selective, making- though small- financial decisions.

Organised charities that have a definite scale and limit. Systems that aren't set up in such a way as to impede people when they do become motivated. And patience, virtually endless patience. Heh.

Now, the situation is a bit different with people who aren't really able to function independently because of some condition. I'm only talking about people who probably could."



Sunday, May 08, 2016

SERMON: THE POWER OF A MOTHER



THE POWER OF A MOTHER
8 May 2016

I.  Introduction
            -- turn in Bibles to Ruth 1:1-18

Ruth 1:1-18 (NIV)
1 In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab.
2 The man's name was Elimelech, his wife's name Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.
3 Now Elimelech, Naomi's husband, died, and she was left with her two sons.
4 They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years,
5 both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.
6 When she heard in Moab that the LORD had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, Naomi and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there.
7 With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.
8 Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, "Go back, each of you, to your mother's home. May the LORD show kindness to you, as you have shown to your dead and to me.
9 May the LORD grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband." Then she kissed them and they wept aloud
10 and said to her, "We will go back with you to your people."
11 But Naomi said, "Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands?
12 Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me--even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons--
13 would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD's hand has gone out against me!"
14 At this they wept again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-by, but Ruth clung to her.
15 "Look," said Naomi, "your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her."
16 But Ruth replied, "Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.
17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me."
18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.

            -- in the movie, "Spiderman," there is a great quote that bears repeating -- "with great power comes great responsibility" -- the character in the movie used this quote to shape his life -- to give his new-found superpowers direction so that all his actions were for truth and justice and righteousness -- for good instead of evil
            -- sometimes, I think that we tend to overlook the power that we all have in our lives and the great responsibility that goes with that power -- we look at our jobs -- our positions -- our family -- we look at where we live and who we are and we think to ourselves that we don't have any great power -- any great influence -- over another
            -- but, truth be told, most of us have greater powers than we could ever imagine -- and we have a responsibility to use that power wisely -- in fact, one of the greatest powers in the world is the power that a mother has to shape the life of her children

            -- the first person that any child ever knows is their mother -- and from that point on, their mother becomes a special person -- more than anyone else, it is their mother who begins the process of shaping them and molding them -- from their earliest days, it is their mother who influences them -- who leads them -- who teaches them how to live and how to love
            -- the power of a mother is without measure -- we can tell you from our own lives just how important and how powerful a mother is in the life of her children -- if a mother is not there from the beginning -- if she misses the first few months of her child's life -- there is a great likelihood that child will grow up unable to give or receive love -- unable to know right from wrong -- unable to make wise decisions -- the absence of a mother reflects in that child for the rest of their life
            -- conversely, the presence of a mother is the determining factor in the ultimate success of a person -- you've all heard the statement, "behind every great man, there is a great woman" -- truth be told, that great woman that shapes the life of every great man is always his mother -- and the same holds true for great women as well -- why do you think Mother's Day is the biggest card-giving day in America? -- why do you think pro football players only hold up signs that say, "Hi, Mom!" instead of "Hi, Dad?"
            -- it's because we all know that more than presidents or politicians -- more than actors or singers or American idols -- mothers are the most powerful human force in existence today -- and who we are today is, in large part, a reflection of them

            -- just consider the story of basketball great Richard Jefferson, who has played most of his career with the New York Nets1
            -- when Jefferson was born, his mother, Wanda Johnson, was a single mother with two other kids living in Los Angeles -- a high-school drop-out, she didn't have a job and survived on welfare -- and in that neighborhood, with its high crime rate and rampant joblessness, Wanda knew that she was going to have to do something, or her kids would have no hope or future other than what they had known all their life
            -- so, when Jefferson was six years old, Wanda moved her family from Los Angeles to Phoenix because of its lower cost of living and lower incidence of crime and violence -- already a Christian, Wanda became heavily involved in a charismatic church in the area, and began to turn her life around
            -- rather than accepting her condition and allowing her kids to follow her path into poverty, Wanda started turning her life around -- she began trusting that God would provide -- that God wanted more for her and her kids than what they currently had
            -- she got a job and got off welfare -- she remarried -- and went back to school, earning her GED and then going to college -- eventually completing her PhD in English and serving as a member of the teaching faculty at a community college in Phoenix
            -- but, that's not all she did -- at the same time she was clawing her way out of welfare and poverty, she did all she could to serve God -- going on mission trips to Kenya and other countries and becoming a leader in her Phoenix church along with her husband
            -- today, Wanda Johnson is a changed person -- a far cry from the single mother of three on welfare living in the slums in Los Angeles
            -- but, the most remarkable part of her story is the impact that it had on her children -- the power of a mother's life can result in significant changes in the life of their children -- and as Richard Jefferson watched his mother change her situation -- as he watched her start to believe in herself -- he began to believe in himself, too
            -- he quit making excuses -- he started working hard -- and he became one of the best players in high school and college and eventually began playing professional basketball -- if you ask him today, Richard Jefferson is quick to give the credit to his mother's influence in his life -- if not for her, he would not be who he is today -- if not for the power of his mother, he might be just another statistic
            -- but because of her example -- because of the power she invested into his life -- he is highly successful and well-respected by all who know him, not only for his playing ability, but also for his behavior and his Godly lifestyle -- and he owes it all to Wanda Johnson

            -- that's the thing about a mother's power -- it has the ability to affect lives forever -- even if the mother is doing nothing more than just living her life, her example will influence the next generation
            -- we see a clear example of that power here in this passage reflected in the lives of Naomi and Ruth -- let's look at it again in more detail

II.  Scripture Lesson (Ruth 1:1-18)
            -- verse 1-2

1 In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab.
2 The man's name was Elimelech, his wife's name Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.

            -- here we are introduced to the family of Elimelech and Naomi -- they lived in Bethlehem in Judah during the time of the judges -- this was the time the Bible describes as wicked -- when everyone did as he saw fit -- when obedience to God or living a Godly lifestyle was rare
            -- evidently, God had allowed a famine to come into the midst of the Israelites in this time -- perhaps as a judgment against the people -- perhaps just as a way to bring hard times into their lives so they would turn back to Him -- but the famine was affecting the day-to-day life of the people -- there wasn't enough food to go around -- so Elimelech moved his family east to the land of Moab where the famine hadn't reached
            -- Elimelech's name literally means, "My God is King" -- and Naomi's means, "pleasant" -- these names indicate that both Elimelech and Naomi were true followers of God -- they lived out their faith in their lives -- this might be another reason why it was so easy for them to leave Israel and go to another land -- they might have been wanting to get away from the wickedness and the idol worship that so permeated the Promised Land

            -- verse 3-5

3 Now Elimelech, Naomi's husband, died, and she was left with her two sons.
4 They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years,
5 both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.

            -- shortly after the family arrived in Moab, Elimelech died -- leaving Naomi a widow with two sons to raise -- this was probably harder for Naomi than you might realize -- her son's names indicate that they were sick and weak -- Mahlon means "unhealthy" -- and Kilion means "weak"  or "puny" -- in all likelihood, they were unable to work and to help provide for their family as they should
            -- this is probably one reason why Naomi arranged marriages for them with Orpah and Ruth, both Moabite women -- it would have been a way to secure wealth for the family through the marriage dowry and position in the Moabite society through their union with Moabite families
            -- but, just 10 years later, both Mahlon and Kilion died, leaving Naomi completely alone except for her two widowed daughters-in-law

            -- verse 6-14

6 When she heard in Moab that the LORD had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, Naomi and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there.
7 With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.
8 Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, "Go back, each of you, to your mother's home. May the LORD show kindness to you, as you have shown to your dead and to me.
9 May the LORD grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband." Then she kissed them and they wept aloud
10 and said to her, "We will go back with you to your people."
11 But Naomi said, "Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands?
12 Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me--even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons--
13 would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD's hand has gone out against me!"
14 At this they wept again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-by, but Ruth clung to her.

            -- when Naomi got word that the famine was over and that Israel once again had food, she made plans to go back to the land of her birth -- Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth got everything ready and started on the road to Israel, but before they got very far, Naomi stopped and told Orpah and Ruth to go back
            -- by law and by custom, Orpah and Ruth were bound to Naomi's family, even though their husbands were dead -- in fact, according to the Mosaic law, when a man died, the nearest of his kin was to marry the widow so that any children they produced would be the heirs of her first husband -- it was a way of continuing the family line through what the Bible calls a "kinsman redeemer"
            -- as they headed towards Israel, Naomi realized that she had no kin who could redeem her son's lines -- traditionally, the kinsman redeemer would be a brother to the deceased -- but Naomi knew that she was too old to have any other children and that Orpah and Ruth were too old to wait for children to grow up to be adults
            -- also, because they were Moabites -- because they were foreigners -- no close kin left in Israel would be willing to marry them -- so, their journey to Israel would be the end of the line -- they would be returning as widows without hope for the future
            -- because of this, Naomi urged Orpah and Ruth to go home -- to go back to Moab where they would have a chance to remarry and have a better life
            -- Orpah understood and went back to Moab -- but Ruth refused to go

            -- verse 15-18

15 "Look," said Naomi, "your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her."
16 But Ruth replied, "Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.
17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me."
18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.

            -- here we see, in Ruth's words, one of the great promises in Scripture -- we see Ruth making several statements of faith and promise as a covenant to Naomi -- that she would never leave her but would go with her to the land of Israel, come what may
            -- Why would she do that? -- knowing that she had little to no chance of being married again -- knowing that she probably faced a lifetime of poverty and discrimination in a foreign land -- why would she agree to do this?
            -- it all comes back to what I talked about a few minutes before -- it all comes down to the power of a mother's love -- or, in this case, the power of a mother-in-law’s love -- even though Naomi was not her mother but was her mother-in-law, Naomi's love and power in that relationship with Ruth had affected Ruth's life -- Ruth had seen the faith and attitude of Naomi and had been changed -- her promises reflect repentance -- a change of heart -- they reflect a turning from her people and her ways and her god to Naomi's people, Naomi's ways, Naomi's God
            -- Ruth had been born a pagan -- someone outside the faith of the one true God -- she had been born worshiping the gods of Moab -- living in the culture of that land -- but now, through the example of Naomi, she had changed
            -- Ruth refuses to go back to Moab because her heart is just not there any longer -- and she binds herself to Naomi with these words:

            -- "Where you go, I will go -- Where you stay, I will stay" -- in other words, Ruth was going to identify herself with Naomi -- she was going to live with her no matter what her condition -- in sickness and in health -- in poverty and in wealth -- she wasn't just using Naomi as a passport to the Promised Land, but was pledging to stay with her and support her and live with her forever

            -- "Your people will be my people" -- Ruth was saying that she was forsaking her people, their customs and their ways -- she was going to become an Israelite and live as them -- she was going to follow Naomi's example and live like Naomi -- Ruth wasn't going to be like someone who comes to a place and spends all their time telling you how they used to do it at home -- she's going to be part of the family

            "Your God will be my God" -- with that promise, Ruth rejected her people's false God -- she proclaimed her faith and trust in the one true God of Israel -- where did she hear about Him? -- from Naomi -- Naomi and her family may have left Israel and gone into the far country of Moab, but they didn't leave God behind
            -- Naomi lived out her faith in the land -- even through the death of her husband -- even through the death of her sons -- and her example changed Ruth's life forever -- for Naomi and her family, God was not just something you do for an hour on Sunday -- God was real and part of their lives day in and day out

            -- "Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried -- nothing but death will separate you from me" -- with these words, Ruth promised to stay with Naomi forever -- this wasn't a passing fad -- this wasn't just something Ruth was doing for now -- this was for ever -- Ruth was going to stay with Naomi and be part of her family for eternity -- she would live in the land and die in the land -- she would be buried there and would look for her salvation and resurrection through the God of Israel

III.  Closing
            -- so, what is the lesson of Ruth and Naomi for us today as we celebrate Mother's Day? -- it is simply this -- a mother -- or even a mother-in-law -- has the power to change lives forever through her example of Godliness, faithfulness, and righteousness
            -- Naomi changed Ruth's life without even trying -- just by being herself and by demonstrating what a Godly woman looked like on a daily basis, Ruth turned from her people and their ways and their false gods and became a woman of faith -- a woman who believed in the one true God of Israel -- a woman who was blessed of God and chosen to be a part of Jesus' family tree

            -- I want to leave you with an excerpt from a poem by Mary Rita Schilke Korzan that speaks to the power of a mother in the life of her children -- and I hope it reminds you of your own mother -- and of the power you mothers and mother-in-laws have in the life of those around you

            -- it's called, "When You Thought I Wasn't Looking"

            -- “When you thought I wasn't looking, You hung my first painting on the refrigerator and I wanted to paint another one.

            -- When you thought I wasn't looking, You fed a stray cat, And I thought it was good to be kind to animals.

            -- When you thought I wasn't looking, You baked a birthday cake just for me, And I knew that little things were special things.

            -- When you thought I wasn't looking, You said a prayer, And I believed there is a God I could always talk to.

            -- When you thought I wasn't looking, You kissed me good-night And I felt loved.

            -- When you thought I wasn't looking, I saw tears come from your eyes, And I learned that sometimes things hurt-- But it's all right to cry.

            When you thought I wasn't looking, You smiled And it made me want to look that pretty too.

            -- When you thought I wasn't looking, You cared, And I wanted to be everything I could be.

            -- When you thought I wasn't looking, I looked... And I wanted to say “thanks" for all those things you did When you thought I wasn't looking.”

            -- mothers, who is looking at you today? -- who's lives are you influencing just be being you? -- Naomi changed Ruth's life forever even though she didn't know Ruth was looking -- and you are changing someone else's life even though you might not know they are looking
            -- as we close now, let me remind you of the power you have to change lives for better or worse -- and let me encourage you to always consider what your actions and your words can do to those around you
            -- may God bless you today and keep you in His grace as you seek to live out His example for others
            -- let us pray

1 http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/06/sports/pro-basketball-nets-jefferson-follows-mother-s-example-succeeds-through-positive.html?pagewanted=1

Sunday, April 17, 2016

RUMORS OF REVIVAL




20 March 2016 (Palm Sunday)

I.  Introduction
            -- turn in your Bibles to John 12:12-19

John 12:12-19 (NIV)
12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem.
13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, "Hosanna!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Blessed is the King of Israel!"
14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written,
15 "Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey's colt."
16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him.
17 Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word.
18 Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him.
19 So the Pharisees said to one another, "See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!"

            -- one Palm Sunday, little 5-year-old Johnny had a sore throat and really didn’t feel like going to church -- so his family let him stay home with a  babysitter -- when they got back to the house, they were carrying several palm branches -- just to let you know, on Palm Sunday a lot of the larger churches actually pass out little palm fronds and let the people wave them during the service as a reminder of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem almost 2000 years ago -- and evidently that’s what Johnny’s church had done
            -- well, when Johnny saw his family come walking in with those palm branches, he wasn’t happy -- Johnny said, "Where did you get the palm branches?  What are they for?” -- Johnny's older brother said, "People held them over Jesus' head as He walked by" -- Johnny looked disgusted and said, "That's just great -- The one Sunday I don't go to church and Jesus shows up!"

            -- well, that’s exactly what this passage in John is all about -- it’s about Jesus showing up -- it’s about God coming to town

            -- today is, of course, Palm Sunday -- it marks the start of Holy Week -- the holiest and most important week of worship in the Christian church
      -- the next important event occurs on Thursday, what many call Maundy Thursday -- we get the term “Maundy” from the Latin term "Dies Mandati" meaning the Day of the Commandment, referring to Jesus' command to us to love our neighbors
      -- this is the day of the Last Supper in the Upper Room -- the Betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane -- followed by the trial of Jesus by Annas and Caiaphas, the high priests of Israel, and the rest of the Sanhedrin, the religious and political leaders of Israel
      -- we remember Jesus being turned over to the Romans by the Jews and Pontius Pilate eventually caving in to political pressure and condemning Jesus to death by crucifixion
      -- Friday of this week is known as Good Friday -- the day of the crucifixion -- the day of Jesus’ death and burial in the empty tomb -- a time of darkness and sadness for Jesus’ disciples as they mourned the death of Jesus
      -- but finally we reach Sunday -- Easter -- the day of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and the pronouncement of His victory over sin and death forever

            -- this is such a momentous week, and so much is happening, that it’s sometimes hard to really understand the significance of it all and how it would have been experienced by the people in Jerusalem who lived through those events
            -- to truly understand how they would have received those events -- how they would have interpreted them -- you need to put yourself in their place and understand how the Jews would have viewed themselves during that time
            -- the Israelites recognized themselves as God’s chosen people -- out of all the people in the world, God had chosen the Israelites to be His special people -- and He had established a covenant with their ancestors -- Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob -- and promised to be their God and to bless them and all the world through them
            -- but their lives were anything but easy -- they spent 400 years in captivity in Egypt -- slaves in bondage to Pharaoh and the Egyptians -- but when things were at their darkest and the Israelites were wondering if God had finally forgotten His covenant with them -- when the people were ready to receive Him again as their Lord and Savior, He sent Moses to lead His people out of captivity and across the Red Sea
            -- God’s was present with the Israelites in their journeys through the wilderness -- He appeared as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night to show them the path they should follow -- God’s grace leading the people to salvation -- speaking to them through Moses and Joshua and the prophets -- giving them His word and His law to guide them as they settled in the promised land
            -- but familiarity breeds contempt -- and the people kept turning from God to follow after foreign gods, worshiping idols and graven images -- and although God would speak to them and call out for them to return, they wouldn’t hear His call and would continue on their path until God disciplined them and allowed them to experience the consequences of their sin
            -- and, just like in Egypt, when it seemed as if all hope was lost and the people’s hearts finally turned toward God again, God would deliver His people and restore them to the land and revive worship in Israel again
            -- this went on time and time again -- this wandering away from God -- this refusal to seek His presence -- to hear His voice -- to follow His commands -- and then, when things got bad, the people cried out again and God would save them by sending His word to the people through a prophet and reviving their faith in Him yet again

            -- the people of Israel had enjoyed their special relationship with God for a long time -- but one day, it seemed like God quit talking -- times had gotten bad again and the people were experiencing difficulty and discipline in their lives, but this time, instead of sending another prophet into the world to warn them and lead them back to Him as in the past, God just quit talking
            -- you see, God had warned the people through the prophet Malachi -- the last prophet in the Old Testament -- and told them to return and to worship Him again with all their hearts and souls and minds and strength because the end was coming -- the great Day of the Lord would soon be at hand when they would be judged for their sins -- and when Malachi wrote down all that God had told him to write and he proclaimed it to the nation of Israel, God stopped talking because the people weren’t listening and weren’t responding
            -- so for the last 460 years, the people of Israel had not heard a word from their God -- God had never left them alone so long before -- even in their sins, God would speak to them and would call them home -- but now, no one heard from God -- there had been no prophets since Malachi for almost 500 years -- and the people were lost
            -- but rather than calling on the Lord with their whole heart and opening their ears to hear from God and responding to His message through Malachi, the people of Israel just went through the motions, like so many of us today
            -- they continued to go to church -- they continued to offer sacrifices -- they continued to follow the law of God -- but it was all lip-service -- it wasn’t real -- it was just an act without heart -- and because the people did not respond to God with their hearts, God was silent -- there was no inspiration -- there was no word from God -- there was no indication that He was near
            -- for 500 years God was silent and the people suffered and wondered and hoped -- until one day, a man dressed in camel hair and wearing a leather belt appeared in the wilderness proclaiming the coming of the Lord and calling people to repent
            -- and, as John baptized people in the Jordan River, the people wondered if this could be the messenger that Malachi told them about in the last book of the Old Testament --- the one who was going to be like the prophet Elijah and who would prepare the way for the return of the Lord
            -- the faith of the people began to catch fire again -- they began to seek the Lord -- to respond to His word -- to chase after Him with their whole hearts

            -- and then Jesus appeared as a great light shining in the darkness -- a man who was more than a man -- a man who spoke with power and authority -- a man who touched the blind and the lame and the sick and they were healed -- a man who knew God and who spoke with God and who seemed to be God -- and the people wondered at this sight in their midst
            -- the nation of Israel flocked to Jesus -- they surrounded Him wherever He went -- some came for the healings -- some came for the bread from heaven -- some came to watch the show -- but others came seeking that which they had lost -- they came looking for God and hoping to hear His voice again
            -- the people began to whisper that God was back -- they began to hope and believe that God had returned -- there were rumors of a revival going on in Israel through the ministry of Jesus as the hearts of the people were turned towards God once again
            -- this is the setting of this passage -- just as in the past, the people are beginning to return to God with their hearts -- they are finally getting ready to receive God into their presence again -- and the time has come for God to return to Jerusalem
            -- this time He comes on the back of donkey

            -- look back at verse 12  

12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem.

            -- the city of Jerusalem was crowded that day -- faithful believers from all over Israel and beyond had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread -- we know it better as the Passover Feast
            -- this feast celebrated the protection of Israel by God as the angel of death passed over Egypt and slew the first-born children in the land as the final plague on the Egyptian Pharaoh -- only those people who had sacrificed a lamb and placed its blood on the doorposts of their homes were protected and delivered from death on that night
            -- as commanded in the Jewish law, every year people would come to Jerusalem to remember the Passover and to worship in the temple
            -- but this year was different -- this year it seemed as if the celebration was more than just a party -- more than just a mandated gathering required in the law -- this year it seemed as if the people were truly looking for God -- remembering His deliverance in the past and, hoping beyond hope, that He might return to deliver them again
            -- so on that Sunday before the Passover, Jerusalem was filled with people who had truly come to worship God -- it was literally busting at the seams with people -- and all of them had heard of Jesus and were wondering if He was coming or not

            -- verse 13-15

13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, "Hosanna!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Blessed is the King of Israel!"
14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written,
15 "Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey's colt."

            -- when the people heard that Jesus was coming, they ran out to meet Him -- John says here they took palm branches with them and waved them in the air in anticipation of His coming
            -- palm fronds signified victory -- they were waved when a victorious army came back home after winning a battle -- and they were waved when the king returned back to his palace -- through their actions, the people were saying what they truly believed about Jesus -- although they might not have fully understood that Jesus was God -- they knew that God had returned and that He was speaking through Jesus -- and so the people flocked to the road to welcome the voice of God back to Jerusalem after He had been silent for nearly 500 years
            -- one thing to note here is that our actions proclaim what we believe, too -- more so than our words, what we do and how we live our lives tells others what we truly believe about God and about Jesus -- do we go through our lives proclaiming Him for the world to see -- or do we act like we haven’t heard from Him in a long time?
            -- the other three gospel writers tell us that the people also spread their cloaks on the road in front of Jesus as He passed -- this was symbolic of royalty -- it’s kind of like our red carpets that we put out today for celebrities and dignitaries
            -- this was another way for the people to show that they were offering themselves and their possessions to Jesus -- by placing these cloaks in front of Him, they were saying, “We trust you -- we believe in you -- take our lives and take all that we have -- be our King and restore Israel to its former glory”

            -- as Jesus made His way down from the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem, the people shouted at Him and said, “Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”
            -- “Hosanna” means “Save” -- it carries with it the idea of God delivering the people just as He had done during the Passover -- it is a cry to God for salvation and deliverance and healing
            -- the phrase “Hosanna” was usually only heard during official worship services as an expression of praise -- but here, the people are shouting it in the streets to Jesus, showing that they recognized Him as worthy of their praise -- as someone who was touched by God -- as someone who might be their long-awaited Messiah -- God returning to Israel

            -- verse 16

16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him.

            -- isn’t this verse amazing? -- “the disciples did not understand all of this” -- isn’t that the way it always is?
            -- the people closest to someone can’t always see them for who they really are -- sometimes it takes distance and a new look in order to fully see and understand just how special someone is -- let me give you an example of what I’m talking about
            -- a few years back there was a miniseries on television called, “The Kennedys,” about the Kennedy family and their political dynasty, focused primarily on the life of John F. Kennedy
            -- and during this miniseries, the director recreated a scene that you may have seen pictured before -- John F. Kennedy is at his desk in the oval office working, and peeking out of the modesty panel underneath the president’s desk is JFK, Jr.
            -- and what has always struck me about that picture is that JFK, Jr. really has no idea who his father is or how important he is because he’s so close to him -- he doesn’t understand what it means to be that close to the president of the U.S. -- the leader of the free world -- he could only understand later, when he looked at his father’s political career from a distant viewpoint, at just how privileged he was to have been ushered into the presence of the President in such a close and personal way

            -- well, that is what is going on here in this passage -- the disciples were Jesus’ closest friends -- they had come to know Him in a special way -- they had lived with Him for three years -- they had traveled together -- they had shared meals together -- they had seen Him do miracles
            -- but, because they were so close to Him, they just couldn’t see Him for who He truly was -- it was only later -- after the resurrection -- after Jesus’ ascension -- that they finally started to understand who this Jesus was that they had been with for so long and started to see Him as more than just a prophet but God Himself

            -- verse 17-19

17 Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word.
18 Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him.
19 So the Pharisees said to one another, "See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!"

            -- now here’s what I really want you to see in this passage -- word had spread about Jesus and what He had been doing -- especially after He raised Lazarus from the dead
            -- so, when news that Jesus was coming to town spread, the entire town gathered on the street to praise His name and to wave palm branches and put their cloaks in the road
            -- they had heard the stories of the miracles -- they had heard of the miraculous healings and the bread from heaven -- they had heard of the teachings and all that Jesus did -- and the people came to see for themselves if Jesus was the Messiah
            -- this is always the pattern of God’s work in our world -- when God begins to move, people respond -- when they hear rumors of revival -- the rumors of God showing up in power and presence -- people flock to be with Him and to hear His voice and experience His presence -- let me give you an example

            -- on February 3rd 1970, the students at Asbury College in Wilmore, Kentucky, were having their regular morning chapel service -- instead of preaching, the leader that morning gave his testimony and encouraged the students to come forward and talk about their own Christian experiences
            -- one student came -- and then another and another -- the entire altar filled up -- and students began to confess their sins and offer forgiveness to others for wrongs that had been done and offer their lives back to God
            -- this wasn’t a normal chapel service -- everyone could sense that -- everyone knew that God was truly there
            -- the service was supposed to last 50 minutes -- instead, it went on non-stop for 185 hours -- 24 hours a day -- as students and faculty poured into the chapel and turned back to God with their whole hearts
            -- just like on Palm Sunday, word began to spread about what God was doing -- and the revival grew and grew and grew -- people started flocking to tiny Wilmore, Kentucky -- seeking God and His presence in their lives
            -- they knew God was there -- they knew He was doing something special -- and they wanted to be a part of it
            -- by that summer, the revival had spread to more than 130 other colleges and seminaries and scores of churches -- there were reports of revivals occurring from New York to California and even as far away as South America

            -- that’s what happening here in this passage as John tells us about a nationwide revival that took place about 2000 years ago -- a revival that started a fire that has still not been extinguished
            -- the Pharisees, who had been hoping to capture Jesus in secret, looked at the crowd and listened to their voices of praise and said, “The whole world has gone after Him.”
            -- isn’t that the way it is supposed to be? -- why should Palm Sunday just be one day on the Christian calendar? -- why aren’t we expecting our churches and our streets to be filled with people looking for Jesus every Sunday? -- why should this be something that we just read about and not something that we are experiencing?

            -- I think it comes down to the condition of the heart -- looking at the history of the Jewish people, it was only when their hearts were right and they actively sought the Lord were they able to hear His voice and experience His presence
            -- when the people went their own way and tried to live life in their own power and their own strength -- when they refused to follow God’s word or listen for His voice in their lives -- it was as if God didn’t exist -- and that didn’t turn out so well for them
            -- the true message of Palm Sunday is of a God who loves to save and deliver His people -- when the people turn to Him and cry out for His deliverance, God responds -- when the people begin to seek God with their whole hearts, they begin to hear His voice again
            -- the word revival means to bring one’s faith back to life again -- it means to return -- to repent -- to remember God -- to seek Him and to trust that He is there -- to rely on Him and know that He will save
            -- this is more than just lip-service -- this is more than just going through the motions and showing up to church on Sunday mornings -- revival only comes through a change of heart
            -- in this passage about Palm Sunday, we see a change of heart in the people of Jerusalem, and the nation of Israel experienced the presence of God returning to their land
            -- as we begin this Holy Week together, let our first prayer be that our hearts might be changed through the power and presence of God -- that He would revive our hearts and renew our lives and restore our faith in Him -- that we would truly seek His presence in our lives and in this church and in this land
            -- let us pray