Sunday, March 28, 2010

(Palm Sunday) Worship and . . . whoops!

Palm and Passion Sunday: Luke 19:28-40

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The Triumphal Entry story lends itself to great congregational worship.
The praise just flows.
The “Hosannas” come easy.
This morning, as always,
it was great to be part of it,
with the children, the procession, the choirs.
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem
is a delightful story to recall, and to re-enact.
Palm branches waving, people making an impromptu red carpet
out of the colorful clothes on their back,
crowds of children and adults singing songs of praise,
welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem,
the Pharisees trying to shush them,
and a serene Jesus perched on the back of a donkey,
just taking it all in.
It’s a great, uplifting story.

But you don’t have to dig very deep,
to discover there’s a hitch in this story.
A very big hitch.
Jesus turned out to be a huge disappointment.
And much quicker than we think.
No sooner did he enter the city,
than he took a sharp turn that devastated his worshipers.
When the parade stopped
I think Jesus became an embarrassment
to the people trailing him singing and waving palms.
I don’t think I’m overstating the situation at all.
We sometimes miss this sudden and radical turn of events.

We like to think that the crowds were just being fickle.
That later in the week they were seized
by some evil, mob mentality,
urged on by Jesus’ false accusers, the religious hierarchy.
That in the heat of the moment they caved under pressure
and started calling for his crucifixion.

It’s nice for us to think that—
we who identify with these ordinary citizens—
to blame those self-righteous and corrupt religious leaders
in the top echelon,
or just to blame the Roman oppressors.
We’d rather not consider that maybe these ordinary citizens
actually did want Jesus crucified.
We’d rather not have to come to the conclusion,
that had we been there, we would surely . . . have done the same.

It’s nice to think that.
I just don’t think there’s any biblical basis for it.
Everything we know about
the political, and religious, and social situation there,
leads me to conclude that the common people, the citizens,
really meant it when they shouted “Hosanna!”
on the way to Jerusalem,
and really meant it when they shouted “Crucify him!”
only a short while later.
Jesus utterly let them down.
And he did so in such a blatant, and in-your-face kind of way,
that they were cut to the core, they were enraged.
_____________________

You must understand.
This parade into Jerusalem, was not just a happy celebration
for Jesus the great teacher and healer and story-teller.
They weren’t following him with palm branches and song
because they loved him as a person,
because he was kind to children and made the blind see.
That was certainly part of it.
But this march into Jerusalem was a political march.
There is no other way to see it.
They were openly chanting messianic language,
straight from the prophets and the psalms.
“Hosanna . . . save us . . . Son of David!”
They saw Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah to deliver them
from the brutal oppression of the Roman Empire.
They would be following him to Herod’s palace
where he would throw out the Romans,
and take over the throne of David,
and they would be a free and independent people,
once and for all.

Picture, if you can remember it, in 1989,
East Germans marching through the hole in the Berlin Wall,
or Indians marching with Mahatma Gandhi
in the Salt March of 1930,
or Blacks and Whites walking arm-in-arm
on the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965.
If you can picture those scenes in your mind,
then you have an idea of what it felt like to the people,
to be with Jesus on the march into Jerusalem.

The crowds, the common people,
were thrilled with the prospect that they were about to be freed!
True, the religious higher-ups didn’t believe in Jesus,
the scribes and Pharisees and were sternly warning them.
But that didn’t matter.
They saw, with their own eyes,
all the proof they needed that Jesus was Messiah.
They saw the miracles.
If Jesus could feed five-thousand, heal the lame, and raise the dead,
it would be nothing for him to take Herod and Herod’s army
and throw them out of the palace, back to where they came from.
_____________________

But . . . on what was to be the day of triumph for Jesus and the people,
this great parade came to a screeching halt.

In fact, in Luke’s version of the story,
this triumphal entry was neither triumphal . . . nor an entry.
We stopped at v. 40 in Luke 19.
But in v. 41 it says,
as he came near Jerusalem . . . and saw the city, he wept.
Jesus had only come within sight of Jerusalem,
when the tone of story changes abruptly.
The hosanna’s died down,
and now Jesus is weeping,
and pronouncing words of lament
and harsh judgement against Jerusalem.
Not against Rome . . . but Jerusalem!!
Jesus said, referring to Jerusalem,
“Your enemies will crush you to the ground.”
I wonder what the people near him
thought about that pronouncement.

And when they finally did enter the city,
Jesus did not go straight to the palace and retake the throne.
He went to their own place of worship, the temple,
and started cleansing it of corruption, and money-changing,
starting throwing Jewish people out into the streets.
At first, I suppose, the people gave him the benefit of the doubt.
This must be part of the plan.
Luke says, in v. 48, that even while he taught in the temple,
the people were spellbound,
so the chief priests and scribes waited to move in on him.

But I don’t think it took long for it to dawn on
even the most uneducated of the common citizen.
Jesus was not the kind of Savior
they thought they were following into Jerusalem.
It soon became clear.

They had joined a movement,
spending the last days and weeks openly rejoicing,
proclaiming the beginning of the end.
They were following a king,
who peacefully, without weapons, using only divine power,
would unseat the most powerful and brutal king
they had ever known.
But Jesus had no intention of using his power
to cast Herod off his throne,
and bring political liberation.
Instead, his target seemed to be his own people.
If Jesus was a king,
he was not the king they imagined.

Whoops!
Big whoops!
They had Jesus all wrong.
Jesus was the worst kind of messianic pretender.
He led them on.
Only to turn the tables on them, and humiliate them.

I really doubt at this point,
that the religious establishment had much trouble at all
convincing the crowds
of what they, the leaders, had been saying all along:
Jesus was a fraud.
They probably didn’t have to try hard to get the chant going,
“Crucify him, crucify him!”
_____________________

The crowds actually discovered a pretty important truth that week.
Worship is a risky thing.
By its definition, worship is risky.
It’s risky to bow yourself in worship
to One you have no control over.
It’s risky to publicly align yourself
to publicly declare your loyalty and affection and adoration
to One you don’t really know, and can’t predict or manage.
At the end of worship,
there is always the possibility of a
“Whoops! What have we gotten into?”

Every time we walk into this sanctuary
and join our hearts and voices in worship,
we are taking a risk.
Because we are declaring our loyalty and undying devotion
to a God who is beyond our control,
a God who we know only in part.
We are throwing our lot in with God,
even though we don’t know what God’s next move will be.
But that’s the nature of worship.

Our temptation is to only worship the part of God that we know.
But that’s worship that doesn’t move us or change us.
That’s only reciting what we’re already convinced of.
True worship lays down our petty agenda
before the great mystery of God.
True worship declares our loyalty
even to that truth of God that is beyond our grasp.
True worship transforms us.
Because when we lay down self,
then God is free to move us to a new place.
God will change us.

Worship is an act of radical submission.
When we sing songs of praise to God Almighty,
when we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord . . .
are we prepared to face the implications of that worship?
are we ready for the “whoops”?
are we ready if God throws us a curve?
are we ready to sing “Jesus is Lord”
if Jesus leads us down a path we don’t want to go?
are we ready to keep praising God
if God asks us for something difficult if not impossible?

The only worship that has integrity
is worship that not only shouts “Hosanna,”
but also lays down our lives and agenda,
both as individuals and as a community,
worship that says to God, “Here I am. Do with me what you will.
Here we are. Do with us what you will.”

Anyone here who has made a commitment to follow Jesus in life,
and has publicly declared that choice in baptism,
has already said those words, or words like them.

This is the public statement that Jeffrey Smoker
will make here in a moment.
And we are all here to bless and affirm Jeffrey in this statement.
But it is also an opportune time to reexamine our own readiness
to still make that statement today.

All during Lent,
we’ve responded to the sermons with a time of confession,
taking small pieces of paper and writing on them,
and letting go of them,
onto the healing waters,
symbolized by this bowl of water near the cross.
Today, these waters become the water of Jeffrey’s baptism.

So I invite another kind of response from you.
Most of you are still holding your palm branch,
or have it lying close to you.
Make that branch a symbol of the worship
you have publicly offered to God today.
Let it symbolize all that you know about God,
for which you are willing and ready to worship today.
Now, let us ask ourselves,
are we ready to follow Jesus . . . tomorrow,
wherever he leads,
even if he takes a sharp turn from where we expected to go?
Are we ready to truly lay down our agenda,
and submit ourselves to God, for the duration?
all the way to the end,
be it cross, or be it glory . . . or be it both?

If so, I invite us to take our palms with us as we leave the sanctuary.
To carry them from our place of worship,
to the next place Jesus may be leading us.
You are welcome to take them home with you,
and put them in a visible place this Holy Week,
reminding you of your commitment to keep following.
If you prefer not to take them home, that’s fine.
There will be a basket in the foyer where you can place them.

So I invite us to a time of prayer and self-reflection.
Again, we will first listen to, and then sing,
#63 in Sing the Story, “God, fill me now.”
It’s an invitation both to let go and to hold on . . .
to approach God with empty hands . . .
and to cling to the fullness of what God has to offer us.
We will sing verses 1 and 2.

—Phil Kniss, March 28, 2010



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1 comment:

YLMichelle said...

wonderful message..... inspiring