“Empty” Rev. Tony Romaine – Palm Sunday – April 5th, 2020
For whatever reason this week when I was thinking about my sermon, I kept coming back to a time when I was driving literally on fumes and thought for sure I was going to run out of gas, until I finally came to an exit with a sign for a gas station. Well, I had to drive about a mile out of my way to get to the gas station, only to find out that it was closed. I then had to go back to the interstate and continue on to the next possible gas station, which made me even more fearful that I was going to be stranded in the middle of the night all alone. I eventually made it to an open gas station and, by some miracle, did not run out of gas. And yet, I have also had times in my life where I did run out of gas and had to either walk to a gas station, or hitchhike to a gas station, or wait for someone to come and help me.
I can only imagine what Jesus must have felt as he reached the Mount of Olives and stared down into Jerusalem. He had come all this way and now sat there looking at the place of his eventual persecution, crucifixion, and resurrection. Not but days before having yet again told all the disciples that he was going to be beaten and mocked and have to die and would be resurrected. And now here he stands looking at the town where all of this will happen. Jesus the fullness of life, our God incarnate, could have easily gone a different way and our narrative would be different. Jesus could have gone on healing and prophesying and performing miracles out in the desert. But he decided to empty himself, as our passage from Philippians states, he decided to empty himself for our fulfillment; God’s fulfillment, and our eternal life. Jesus, who was God, did not take that as something that should be flaunted or held above anyone else. Rather, being God allowed Jesus to do something so much more important, he could empty himself out for us. And so it makes me wonder, what being empty is truly all about?
We get to hear all the time of our cup over-flowing, of Jesus filling us up, of how we should fill others with the outpourings of the Holy Spirit. But in order to do all of this, at some point we must be emptied. At some point, if we do not pour ourselves out for others, we will not need to be filled again. And this is the emptiness which is so metaphorically appropriate for us today.
Many of us nowadays fill our cups with all sorts of things. We fill our cups with convenience and the gadgets and gismos of our current age. We fill our cups with worry about what others might think or what our neighbors might say. We fill our cups with cars and trucks and boats and hobbies and busy-ness so that we don’t feel empty inside. And we fill our cup with idols of celebrity, fame, other people’s lives, or purported heroes/role models.
Until our cup is so over-filled with all of life’s idols and procurements, that our cup cannot fit in anymore of what is important. Our cup is so filled with the go, go, go of our modern civilization, that our cup has no room for friends, family, or even God. And in being filled with everything else, instead of being satisfied, we actually feel even more empty inside.
Certainly, right now in our lives we feel empty. Our church sits empty, our place of work perhaps sits empty, our favorite restaurants where we used to go sit empty. And we feel the isolation drying our souls and closing in on us; making us not only feel empty, but scared and without hope. In these times of isolation and physical distancing, we feel emptied of all normalcy and having not enough to quench our thirst for social interaction.
But if we look more closely, we can see how our lives are not actually empty at all. Yes, we are isolated, but we now have a chance to take our empty cup and fill it at a different source. Not our source of all of what we think is right and true, but at God’s eternal foundation who emptied Himself out for us; Jesus. And here are three things to fill our emptiness as Jesus would fill us:
You see, Jesus emptied of himself to fill us, so we could empty of ourselves to be refilled again and again and again at the fount of eternal springs, at the feet of our Savior, at the very table and cup of the blessing of our God. And when we come and are filled there; however empty we may feel; however tired and lonely and afraid we may be; when we come to fill ourselves at the cup of the New Covenant, we are never alone, we have nothing to fear, and are filled with life beyond anything we could ever imagine.
I know, normally I would talk about Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, or how he rode a donkey not some brilliant stallion, or how he was still misunderstood among the people as merely a prophet, not the full measure of God whom he was. But this season, today in particular, I think it more important to focus on what Jesus did despite his feelings of emptiness, his loneliness, his despair for Jerusalem and its wayward ways. What Jesus did out of his love for us when he in all his humanity, decided to ride that donkey into Jerusalem and empty himself upon a Cross.
Jesus, God incarnate, could have very easily said, “Nope!” He could have very easily said, “This is too difficult.” He could have very easily maintained God-like distance from us, and not interacted or sacrificed for us. But Jesus did the exact opposite in emptying himself for us. He gave up everything; everything earthly, everything comfortable, everything that comes with fame or fortune, everything that the world values as powerful; and emptied himself by pouring out a portion of God to fill our cups, our tanks.
Trust me when I say I understand your feelings of emptiness. My cup is running quite dry, my tank seemingly on empty, but even an empty cup is filled with air; and even when we think our existence is without hope, our lives without purpose or meaning, all the things we used to love gone or changed; let us remember that we are filled with God’s Holy Spirit.
I wonder what I would have done…sitting there on that hill above Jerusalem. I wonder if I could have emptied myself for complete strangers, for criminals, for sinners, for the lost and weary, for the outcast, for the weak, for the poor, for disciples which do not understand, for the foreign peoples, for the stones that are rejected and the ones who must be freed; if in my empty state, I could empty myself even more…The easy answer is that God is perfection and none of us could do that, the more convicting question is to ask ourselves what Jesus is calling us to do when he rides into Jerusalem to never ride out again!
When my gas tank in my car was running on fumes and I thought I would be stranded alone forever in the wilderness; I prayed and prayed and prayed I would make it to the next gas station. In fact, every time my tank is on empty, I pray and pray and pray that I will make it through this wilderness and not run completely dry. But even when I did run completely empty, help always came. Sometimes through the strength of walking miles to get gas, sometimes through the kindness of a stranger, sometimes through little miracles of making it through beyond scientific explanation; but help always came…and in my emptiness, in our emptiness, we are filled once again.
Perhaps there is a reason for our current emptiness, perhaps we should think about where we are filling ourselves up, perhaps it is time we look at that city so full of people, our lives so full of false idols, our existence so full of everything but God; and realize that we are not truly empty when we fill ourselves with the self-emptying, all-loving, humbled perfection, and eternal grace of Jesus Christ, Amen