Philippians 2:5-11, Matthew 21:1-11
March 24, 2002
Oh how I wish I were a joke teller this morning. It would be wonderful to start with something light and humorous for this is a day of celebration in the life of the church year.
The best I've come up with is an adaption of the resource, Not the Lone Ranger, But the Lone Savior , by Roger Griffith.
[It was Palm Sunday and Jesus was coming into Jerusalem. He was riding on a blazing white stallion and kicking up a cloud of dust as he rode along. He was looking for trouble. The people that he passed on his way were in awe of such a beautiful animal but they were even more awestruck by the man who was riding it. As Jesus passed by, you could hear the people say, "Who was that masked man?"
There were bad guys on the loose and Jesus had a job to do. As he rode into Jerusalem he quickly sized up the situation and formed a plan to capture the ring leader of the trouble makers. His name was Diablo or Satan. There was a short scuffle and Jesus won handily over Diablo. He hog-tied the devil and threw him in jail.
As a large crowd of people gathered to see what the commotion was all about, Jesus mounted his horse and pulled on the reigns. The stallion stood on its hind legs, neighed loudly, and pawed the air with its front legs. When it stood as tall as it could stand, Jesus leaned forward in the saddle. Holding the reigns with one hand while lifting his white hat in the air with the other, He shouted with a loud voice, "My job here is done. Hiegh-Ho Silver, away!" As Jesus road off into the sunset, you could hear the William Tell Overture in the background.
Isn't that how you would have done it if you were Jesus? It's how I would have. ]
Another way to look at today might be -- our team just won the city, state, national and Olympic championship all at once. Surely we ought to be uncontrollably giggling and belly-laughing.
We've been underdogs all along the way. We didn't have the military might of the strongest nation on earth. We didn't have the religious might of the majority faith. And yet, here is our leader riding along getting a heroes welcome.
What could possibly be sweeter than this Palm Sunday? What could possible go wrong?
I'm sure you have had these same moments in your own life. Can you remember how sweet it was to finally get back at someone? Can you remember achieving some high moment like a graduation or a wedding or a job promotion?
In these high times it is very easy for "Hosanna!" to roll from our lips and cloaks to come off our back. Today we would more likely say, "All right!" and give a high-five.
So this is a day of celebration for the church. We can look back on all that Jesus has done through his life of teaching and healing. We can remember special teachings, "Blessed are the peacemakers..." "When you pray, pray like this, 'Our [Father]..." "Love one another, for by this others will know you are my disciples..." "This is my body...this is my blood..." "Forgive them, they don't know what they are doing."
We can remember blind people who can see, people raised from the dead, lepers back in their homes, people out of their minds returned to their lives, and so much more.
No wonder we can be enthusiastic in claiming that our way is the only right way and get caught up in praise music that claims our "God is an awesome God," or "Victory in Jesus," or just repeats "Alleluia" over and over. Scripturally we hear some of this in Paul's vision that all creation will bow in worship before Jesus.
But, we always know there is more to the story.
Championships come and go. Graduations need to be put to use. Marriages need ongoing work to keep away from either quiet or noisy divorces. Promotions separate us from our working community and load on extra time commitments.
This morning we heard Matthew tell us that in the middle of all this joyful celebrating that Jesus is the winner who, once and for all, sets everything right to our benefit -- there are troubles brewing. Matthew says the city was unsettled by this triumphant parade.
Can you imagine the ruling politicians taking kindly to an upstart claiming their position and power? Can you imagine the ruling religious leaders taking kindly to an interloper challenging their rules and power? Can you imagine the regular run-of-the-mill person taking kindly to any upset in the way things are because they have found their niche and and don't want to be caught in the middle of military, political, and religious wars?
And so there is trouble brewing in the city.
The followers of Jesus shout. The military and political leaders shout. The religious leaders shout. The common people trying to stay out of harm's way shout.
Instead of settling anything, Jesus' entry into Jerusalem sharpens the stakes. The sides are about to be drawn in a way that does not easily allow anyone to back down. The inevitability of disaster seems to have drawn close.
The church, like Jesus, is facing some difficult times ahead. There may even be some deaths involved in order that resurrection can take place. I have long been an advocate of every church stopping every ten years in order to start over more attuned to what their ministry is and to be able to better invite new people into participation and leadership. The tendency is for churches is to lose focus and simply perpetuate themselves.
On this day of celebration, there is a key question before us as a congregation that is crucial to our next days. What is the quality of our being joined with Jesus -- real or artificial?
Will we be like stage crowds who stand around and murmur "Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb" in order to make it sound like something is going on? or will we be a real cause of hubbub in our neighborhood?
Will we become a cause of decision-making in people's lives? or will it make very little difference to anyone that we are still here?
Rhubarb or Hubbub? That is the question.
Let us pray:
On this Palm Sunday when it would be so easy to get caught up in celebrating what has been and claim a privileged position, may we, rather, know what we stand for even if it causes a hubbub in La Crosse and be willing to join Jesus in emptying ourselves of privilege in order to follow where the spirit of GOD's kingdom guides our ministries. Amen.
Copyright 2002. Wesley White, Pastor of St. Luke's United Methodist Church. 1022 Caledonia Street, La Crosse, WI 54603.