April 10, 2017
“Swept up in the crowd” April 9 sermon
Today’s gospel reading puts us on the streets of Jerusalem at Passover.
The streets are crowded with people who have traveled from all over to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover together.
Passover is the major Jewish spring festival that commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery.
The Jews have come to Jerusalem to celebrate, but Jerusalem is a city occupied by Roman soldiers.
There has been talk among the Israelites that a leader has emerged, a rabbi with the power to heal the sick and give sight to the blind;
A teacher who has raised a man from the dead.
A prophet who will bring peace to this troubled land.
As the city fills with people there is a sense of hope.
Place yourselves on the streets of Jerusalem as you
hear this reading from Matthew’s gospel 21:1-11.
Here ends the reading of God’s holy word.
May He add to our hearing and understanding, his blessings.
Please pray with me.
God of our salvation, we give you thanks for Jesus Christ, our Lord, who came in your name and turned the lonely way of rejection and death into triumph.
Grant us the steadfast faith to enter the gates of righteousness, that we may receive grace to become worthy citizens of your holy realm.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
Have you ever been swept up in a crowd? At a sporting event or a rock concert? Maybe a protest march or a parade?
Something happens that draws you in and you find yourself singing the team song or chanting slogans that someone else made up.
There is a pervasive feeling of being a part of something bigger than yourself.
You are compelled to move with the crowd, trusting that someone is leading.
Scholars Marcus Borg and Dominick Crossen tell us that on this day there were two processions in Jerusalem.
One, from the west, led by Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor coming into the city to “keep the peace,” to keep order, during the Passover, the Jewish high holy day.
“Imagine the imperial procession’s arrival in the city,” Borg and Crossan write: “A visual panoply of imperial power: cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold.
Imagine the sounds: the marching of feet, the creaking of leather, the clinking of bridles, the beating of drums. The swirling of dust. The eyes of the silent onlookers, some curious, some awed, some resentful.”
This was the power of empire on display, but it was also a kind of theology, too, because the Roman emperor claimed to be the son of God, so “the way things were” were that way because their “god” decided it should be so.
From the east, came a very different procession, one we read about in Matthew’s Gospel account today.
This “king” rides in not on a warhorse but on a donkey, surrounded not by cavalry or foot soldiers with helmets and banners but by peasants, the urban poor, and the spiritually hungry, holding palm branches, and exuberantly full of praise and hope that has been kept alive by those prophets who promised a time of peace, and justice, and a leader who would inaugurate that great and glorious day.
These two processions are about one kind of power confronting another.
The powers that be of the temple will hand Jesus over to the powers that be of the empire, and that empire will kill Jesus.
That’s what empires do.
For a while, it will appear that the empire representing violence and suffering, injustice and greed have won.
But on the third day, we know, that God will say no to this kind of power, and yes to the power of love and justice, compassion and peace, yes to the power of new life.
Jerusalem had to make a decision that day, about what to “do with a Messiah who ushers in a reign of peace, not warfare.”
We, too, have choices to make about the leaders we will follow and the strategies we will support.
In the short-run, physical strength and wealth often prevail.
But, we do not live in the short run.
Our lives span many years and our short-term victories may haunt us for a long time.
I have been deeply troubled this week by the photographs coming out of Syria of children being treated for exposure to poison gas.
I shudder to think that any human being would think that it is ok to poison a child for political gain.
I despair when adult egos quest for power tramples on the rights of those less fortunate.
This does not just take place in war torn foreign countries.
These dynamics of power and control play out in our own relationships; in our own communities.
A few weeks ago we heard the words from 1 Samuel “For the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
I heard those words again this week and they resonated with me.
Having presided over two memorial services this week and preparing for Holy Week, the idea of eternal life is foremost in my mind.
The resurrection story, with its promise of overcoming death and offering new life in eternity seems compelling.
What appears as failure and death to human beings, is victory and life in God’s eyes.
What looks like the triumph of power, wealth and human systems, actually exposes the poverty and destruction of human competitiveness and self-protection.
One commentator argued: “It is not Jesus on trial this week, but the desire for accumulation, power, and instant gratification that resides in each of our hearts.
The cross shows what happens when we reject the way of love and justice, when we choose power, pleasure and possessions over the generous and compassionate ways of God’s Reign.”
For most of us, the battle between our worst selves and our best selves is not waged on large public platforms.
It does not impact global issues, or affect millions of people.
But, as we each face our own temptations and demons and overcome them by the grace and love of God, so we make the world a better place for ourselves and those whose lives we do touch – our families, friends, coworkers and neighbors.
I am quite certain that when we stand face to face with God in eternity, God will acknowledge that following Jesus was not an easy route but the assurance of eternal life with God will be a just reward.
I read a children’s book on Peace this week written by Wendy Anderson Halperin. I want to paraphrase some of it for you:
For there to be peace in the world, there must be peace in nations;
For there to be peace in nations, there must be peace in cities;
For there to be peace in cities, there must be peace in neighborhoods;
For there to be peace in neighborhoods, there must be peace in schools;
For there to be peace in schools, there must be peace in homes.
For there to be peace in homes, there must be peace in our hearts.
When there is peace in our hearts, there will be peace in our homes.
There will be peace in our homes when there is peace in our schools.
There will be peace in our schools when there is peace in our neighborhoods.
There will be peace in our neighborhoods when there is peace in our cities.
There will be peace in our cities when there is peace in our nations.
There will be peace in our nations and we will have peace in our world.
May it be so.
Let us pray.
Gracious and holy God hear our prayers this Palm Sunday as we strive to peacemakers. Help us to turn away from the crowds and stand firm in our values and beliefs. Grant us the grace, we pray, to follow our humble Lord into the world spreading love wherever we go.
Guide us on our journey and give us strength for the week ahead.
Let us embark on holy week with a renewed sense of faith and hearts filled with the joy you bring.
Oh God, help us to move beyond our selfish desires to embrace a life that serves you first and foremost.
Hear our prayers this morning for those whom we love.
For those who are sick, we pray for healing.
For those who mourn, we pray for comfort.
For those whose holy week journey is one of violence or despair we pray that your spirit will find them.
Hear now our silent prayers as we turn our hearts to you.