Monday, March 29, 2010

Public Pomp. Holy Circumstance.

This is a sermon I wrote and preached while I was at seminary in Kansas City.  I preached this on Palm Sunday...about 10 years ago.  Oh my! Ten years?????  WOW!  Seems like maybe 5 at the most!  Hope you enjoy....

Public Pomp. Holy Circumstance.
Throughout this Lenten journey of self-reflection and repentance, we have traveled with Jesus through many events since Ash Wednesday.  We have eavesdropped in on a conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus late at night wondering what it means to be “born from above” and “born of the Spirit;” we’ve learned about the faith of the Samaritan woman at the well; and we’ve experienced Jesus resurrecting Lazarus from the dead. And now here on this Palm/Passion Sunday, we continue the Lenten journey as we hear from the Gospel according to Matthew how Jesus entered Jerusalem:
            “When they came near Jerusalem and had reached Bethpage at the Mount of Olives………….”
            Those crowds, those disciples………….they look suspiciously like you and me; and that road looks suspiciously like Interstate 70.

Now,  I’ve never been to Jerusalem but I would expect, that in Jesus’ time, the road would have been crowded with holy people…….clerics and saints….people like Mother Theresa who would have kindness wrinkled in their faces and comfort lingering in their voices…….

But this!  This is more like rush hour….horns blowing, people rushing, arms waving, voices shouting…….this is not what I envisioned!    O God, we’ve only begun the way to Jerusalem and I fear we’ve already lost our way.  Surely this is not the road…….This Lenten journey calls for holy retreat, for reflection and repentance…….

But instead…..the highway is crammed with the cacophony of chaos; the parades, the shouting, the palms……Is there no back road to Jerusalem?  No quiet path where angels tend to weary travelers?  No sanctuary from the public pomp of the world?  Just this?!  Can this hectic highway full of public pomp be the highway to Jerusalem?  The highway to heaven?!  

Parades are usually about accomplishments and honor; about power and victory; all of which demands public recognition.   It sounds not unlike our own parades for heroes and for ceremonies of pomp and circumstance.  All types of ceremonies are of great wonder and great accomplishment.  But for Jesus…it’s different.

It’s different because Jesus conceives of human greatness in terms of service (20:25-28).  For Jesus, the parade is about service to one another; it’s about taking action in whatever way you can and by whatever means Jesus directs us to do.   His entry into Jerusalem, which is the center of power, is a prophetic sign of action and service.  The Roman Empire’s goal is to dominate……. but Jesus’ goal is to serve.
            And serve is exactly what those two disciples did.   Jesus sent them into the village to collect the donkey and the colt.    And they did just that!  They just went…..and went without the questioning!  And you know what I think is the best part of that?!   That Jesus prepared them!  Jesus provided for them!  Jesus told them exactly what to do “in case of an emergency.”   He said, “If anyone says anything to you, just say this…..  “The Lord needs them.”   Jesus anticipated that someone might think the disciples are odd or were out of sorts for taking the donkey and the colt………but Jesus gave them everything they needed in order to do the mission he asked them to do.  Jesus prepared them and provided for them.   Are we as faithful as they were to fully and to completely trust Jesus?  Would we be as willing as those two disciples to just go and collect the donkey and colt?  I would most likely stand there on the way to the village and question Jesus.    “Well, what donkeys?  Are you sure they are there?  How will I find them?  Are they just right there in plain sight or do I need to ask directions?”    I would definitely be one to question him.  Are we faithful enough to go where Jesus sends us and do what Jesus directs us to do?  I wonder, did what the disciples do make a difference?  On the surface, perhaps not.  All they did was bring a donkey and a colt to Jesus.  I wonder…………if Jesus knew where these animals were located why didn’t he go get them himself?   What does it mean that the disciples went to collect them for him?
*it meant that Jesus was able to enter Jerusalem with meekness and humbleness;
*it meant that he was not going to give in to the ways of the dominant culture;
But most of all, simply because the disciples did what Jesus asked them to do and did it with willing hearts, it meant that the disciples were serving the Lord; it meant that the disciples fulfilled what they were called to do.  Because the disciples had fulfilled what they were asked to do, Jesus was able to completely re-frame the whole meaning and purpose for his grand entry into Jerusalem.  Jerusalem is the place that is the center of all political, religious and social power. There you have Herod the king; the temple, the palace of the high priest, and the governor’s headquarters.  It’s a place filled with parades that are for kings who have great human achievements of power and victory.  So, for Jesus to be coming in on a royal animal in the form of a parade, Jesus is reframing the ways of the Roman Empire into the way of God’s empire. 
Could this have been possible had the disciples not fulfilled their mission?  Could Jesus have completely reframed a parade that is so important to the dominant oppressive and political powers without the help of the disciples?  I don’t think it would have worked if Jesus had to get the donkey’s himself and it wouldn’t have worked if Jesus simply walked into Jerusalem; for that is not reframing the dominant culture and turning it into a meaning which brings about God’s empire.  How is Jesus asking you to reframe your life in order to help bring about God’s empire?

Can it be as simple as bringing two donkeys to Jesus?......perhaps that exact opportunity won’t arise here in urban Kansas City, but we can learn a lesson from the disciples.....we can respond without questioning (though hard sometimes); we can simply follow through, with willing hearts, to fulfill what Jesus calls us to do and to be who Jesus calls us to be.  Those disciples look suspiciously like you and me.

Those  disciples quickly became a part of the larger crowd. The crowds on the way to Jerusalem are participating with Jesus in order to make fun of the elite in Jerusalem. They weren’t making fun of them because of their power or because they were the elite… was a “parody of parades” because those who normally participated in parades were opponents of God’s will and God’s empire.  Jerusalem, though a holy city, is a powerful and dangerous place.   “To be holy” means that something or someone is set apart for service to God.  The city, unfortunately, needs help from the disciples for the city is not living up to its name.   The crowd is poking fun at the empire and their royalty by cheering Jesus on as he comes in on a donkey and a colt. The public crowd has gathered around and is participating with Jesus in the triumphal entry and by doing this they are proclaiming that they are taking sides with Jesus.  They are willing to stand against the things that are opposed to God’s empire.  They are willing to shout out Hosanna’s and call Jesus the King.  This surely tells us at least one thing about Jesus!

 Jesus was a radical!  This is a very radical thing to do, to come riding into the holy city and to proclaim yourself as LORD, to come riding in on a donkey that represents royalty.  It’s an amazing scene as this parade that takes place from the rural countryside to the urban core of the city.  The crowd is with Jesus, they are siding with him, and they are willing to be radical with Jesus and for Jesus!  Who wouldn’t?!  We ourselves are with Jesus, we, though sometimes it’s challenging, we can be radical disciples as we follow Jesus.  It’s not easy being a disciple but they, and we, need to be willing to serve the Lord regardless of fears, questions or doubts.           This crowd is not a passive crowd; they are active and involved.  Pastor Lynn said a couple of weeks ago, “If you’re going to follow Jesus, you gotta be moving.”  Some of the crowds were walking ahead of Jesus.  Some were following from behind.  But they were all moving…. but what about those that aren’t mentioned in the scripture?……… remember….it’s a parade, a procession, there are those who were ahead of Jesus……those who followed Jesus…..who is not mentioned here?   What are they doing?  What are those people doing that aren’t in front of Jesus and aren’t behind Jesus?   Those people are just watching Jesus pass them right by……they are a part of the crowd…..but they are the ones who are just sitting back and watching Jesus walk right past them.  If you are going to follow Jesus, you gotta be moving.   They are pilgrims on the way to the holy city; look suspiciously like you and me.  Once the parade arrives into Jerusalem, the city is in turmoil asking,  "who is this?"   Who is this man that thinks he can come riding into town creating a parade of sorts?  Who is this man that causes people to shout hosannas?   Who is this man that causes people to say he is blessed and is to be praised?  The crowd that is moving with Jesus gives the right answer!  They are correct!  They claim that he is the prophet Jesus!  They know that he is from Nazareth in Galilee! They publicly proclaim the right answer!  In the midst of turmoil, they know Jesus and claim Jesus to be the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

So, what went wrong?  What went so terribly wrong between the parade of Hosannas of the day like today and the parade of resurrection on Easter?   What went wrong?   The crowd turned on him.  They were no longer shouting joyful Hosannas, but come Friday, they were yelling and screaming, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”  Are these the same disciples?  Are we still on the right road?    What went wrong?  Why did the very disciples that followed Jesus’ directions one day turn and join in with the crowd that was against him?   What about those disciples now?  Do they still look suspiciously like you and me?

We can’t just get from “Hosanna’s” this week to “Alleluia’s” next week without the horror of Friday.  We must know how to live between parades.  I by no means have the answers of how to live between parades.  That is between you and God.  We know what the disciples did on the day like today, and we know where they stood and what they yelled on Friday.  But for us, we don’t have to be the ones yelling on Friday.  Don’t get me wrong, we’ve done it before and we’ll do it again…we’ll deny Jesus, we’ll side with the wrong crowd, we’ll get caught up in the turmoil of a crisis and we’ll forget who we are and whose we are.   But it doesn’t have to be that way………….We can live each day with public pomp or we can live each day with holy circumstance.

With our hosannas sung and our palms branches waved, let us go with passion into this week, for on the darkest of days, each of us must stand beneath that tree and watch the dying if we are to be there when the stone is rolled away.

Only then will public pomp become true alleluias sung;
Only then will the true dancing of the parades be exalted.

Then, and only then, begins the holy circumstance; holy, consecrated, and belonging to God. There is no back road to Jerusalem for the only road to Easter morning is through the unrelenting shadows of that Friday. The public pomp is over now and holy is the week.  So I ask, how will you live between parades?

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