A little boy was sick on Palm Sunday and stayed home from church with his mother. His father returned from church holding a palm branch. The little boy was curious and asked, “Why do you have that palm branch, dad?” “You see, when Jesus came into town, everyone waved palm branches to honor him. So we got palm branches today.” The little boy replied, “Aww, the one Sunday I miss is the Sunday Jesus shows up”
American politician Chauncey Depew once said, “The first step in getting somewhere is to decide you’re not going to stay where you are.”
We all know we want to get “there.” People want the end result. Most want a better job, a cleaner house, bigger bank account, better relationships, happier inside. But some days, getting from here to there looks, well, impossible. It looks impossible mostly because it’s a long way to go, and there’s a lot of work to get from point A to point Z.
We could try to just take the first step. Instead of thinking, “I have to clean the entire house today,” we just start with one load of laundry. After the first load another load doesn’t seem like so much. While the laundry is going, you know what, we could vacuum the family room. That feels so good that putting away things doesn’t feel demanding. Before long, the whole house is cleaned without even meaning to.
Someone said, instead of feeling overwhelmed about getting up for going to the gym, I convince myself, “I’ll just put on my workout clothes. After I have them on, I never go and sit down on the couch.”
Getting that first step done leads to some good things.
That’s because taking that first, simple step is like knocking down the first domino in a series. Sometimes moving even the tiniest bit in a new direction is all you need to keep going in that direction. Trick your mind into taking that first step, it’s usually all you need to stay on track—even when you don’t feel like it.
I want to show you a clip from Evan Almighty, a movie about Evan Baxter, newly elected to Congress, former local television news reporter Evan Baxter leaves his hometown of Buffalo, New York and moves to suburban northern Virginia, where his congressional campaign declares that he will change the world. Evan prays to God to give him this opportunity. God responds in a rather unusual way, asking Evan to build an ark.
Following God’s will often takes a first step we aren’t prepared to take. That first step can be a doozy.
Today’s reading is a story of a first step. Jesus knew if he entered Jerusalem, it was going to have fatal consequences. The first step is often the one where we align ourselves to God’s will or we go our own way.
But this is the way Mark especially writes his Gospel. If you read it, you will notice a couple of things. Many of the first sentences of paragraphs and chapters start with action verbs: “They went,” “A leper came,” “When he returned,” “Again he entered,” “Jesus departed,” “He went up.” These examples occur within the first three chapters alone. That is a lot of action.
Mark’s Jesus has been called the Strong Man, and has the sense of a biblical action hero.
The second thing Mark does is he makes this action flow forward continually. He uses words and phrases such as, “As soon as,” “Then,” “Immediately,” “When,” repetitively. The whole picture you get from Mark is that Jesus is a man of action, on the move, with one step leading immediately, relentlessly to the next step and to the next step.
Why does Mark do this? Because he wants to show Jesus as actively, powerfully, decisively stepping toward his destiny. Jesus doesn’t just lean in to his future. He steps into it body, mind and spirit.
Mark paints this picture of Jesus not just to show us who he believed Jesus was and who Christ is but because Mark wants us to follow quickly along with Christ.
As scripture says, “Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in God, and the Lord shall bring it to pass.” Christians step into God’s will and keep moving along.
But many people have a big problem with this. Too many believe they don’t have to turn their wills over to anyone. They’ve got their life and they get to keep. I am my own person.
I get that. After all, who would I give it to, right? Am I supposed to turn it over to my spouse or partner, my children, my job? Some do, especially the last one. I’ve also seen parents who seem to turn their will over to their children when they just can’t quite face up to their demands.
It’s not like turning our lives over to something or someone else doesn’t happen. The thing is, there are good choices and then there are bad choices around this. Someone who spent too much of his life in active addiction said, “It’s somehow subhuman for me to turn my will and my life
over to the care of addiction….” In AA, and other Anonymous fellowships, they talk about turning your life and your will over to the care of the God of your own understanding.
Again, most people don’t turn it over to anyone. They keep it for themselves. Do you mind me asking how’s that working out for you?
I bet you’ve noticed that at times. It’s a big, lonely, burdensome, heavy, profound job, Atlas, isn’t it? I know it’s possible you don’t need any help in this regard. But I know a lot of you, and I know myself, and I’m not buying it. For all kinds of different reasons, we’re not as up for this job as we think we are.
The thing is, if we aren’t going to turn our will and life over to our loved ones because they’re too young or just as broken and human as we. And if there is a rather wise part of us that knows we really shouldn’t hold something so important in our own hands—because it’s too heavy and we’re not necessarily the right person for the job, since we are only human—then who do you offer the gift of your life to?
You know who I’m talking about: God, the living Lord. Commit your way to the Lord. Trust in God. Give God your life. Let go of your weariness. Let Christ Jesus be your Savior, your Lord, your kindness, your healing. Let this be your next step.
We read that Jesus has prepared himself and his disciples for the day he will step into Jerusalem. As we read, “Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple.” You see, for Mark it’s enough that Jesus simply enters Jerusalem. He doesn’t have to do anything more that day. The first step, the final first step has been taken. Jesus will not turn back from his future, his purpose, his destiny.
But for us, things can be very different. We’re not quite as comfortable with the “Then, then, then,” of Jesus’ life. We’re more comfortable getting somewhere pretty good, and then just staying put. We’re a bit more like, “Let’s just sit a spell here and camp out. It’s a nice right here. Peaceful.” And then we turn from seeing life going forward to seeing life in circular patterns. We become the center of the universe and everyone else is supposed to orbit our little pleasant, peaceful place of rest.
But that circular orbit is in our wishes only. “Then, then, and then” keep up their forward momentum. Life and God move on. The only question is whether you will keep up. There’s a fabulous TedTalk by equality advocate Ash Beckham in which she candidly discusses her experience coming out of the closet as a lesbian and the experience and wisdom she gained through that process. Ash Beckham believes to some degree we all live in closets.
In her words, “all a closet is, is a hard conversation.” A closet is like my circular pattern, the orbit I was just talking about. A closet is a place we stay inside of in order not to face the next step. It’s a place of false security and safety; a place in which spirits grow weak and fragile. Ultimately it’s the place we last felt God’s presence, demanding he stay with us, rather than us traveling on with the Lord.
In Ash Beckham’s words, “Hard is not relative. Hard is hard. We need to stop ranking our hard against everyone else’s hard.” Your next step is hard for you, and therefore it’s hard. Simple as that. But what if when you take that, you end up landing on solid ground, and then you take another step and again land on solid ground? What if the closet isn’t where you’re supposed to be at all?
Come out of the closet. Let go of your false sense of safety. Step out and catch up to the Lord. He’s been slowing down for quite some time hoping you would change your mind.
A woman was driving home one night. Rain was coming down in buckets and visibility was very poor. Seeing taillights ahead of her, she followed the car in front. It seemed to be going in the right direction. All of a sudden it came to a stop. She began to wonder what had happened; perhaps the car in front had hit a deer or something like that. Thinking being stopped in the middle of the road can often lead to accidents, she began to feel uncomfortable. Then the car lights went off.
She was really startled by knocking on her window. She looked up and there was a man standing. She cracked the window open and asked the man what the problem was. The man replied by stating that that was the question he was going to ask her. She retorted she wasn’t the one who had stopped in the middle of the road and turned off the car lights. The man’s reply was that they weren’t in the middle of the road—they were in his driveway!
It’s that first step, the deciding what to follow, that can be quite the doozy. But that’s where the joy of life is. That’s where God stands offering you so much more than what our small will sees as important. That first step is passageway to the rest of your life, and the God who believes in you.
Be bold and of good courage. Step up to your Jerusalem. Enter onto the Lord’s path. Grab hold of the excitement of giving your will to the Lord, and receiving all you dreamed in return.