Things Are the Way They Seem

Palm-Sunday-2013

<To listen to the sermon, just click here. Have your palm branches ready!>

1When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” 4This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

5“Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
6The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
10When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Things Are the Way They Seem

Our cry of hosanna today

Will be crucify tomorrow

God of peace.

It always goes this way with us.

We love and we hate in erratic measure.

Help us to be honest in these coming days

About ourselves

And about the lengths you will go in love

To show us a different cry in the world.

Amen.

Sometimes things are not what they seem.

I feel like I’ve been saying that a lot this past week as different people have come into my office, uneasily spying a pair of pantyhose on the floor behind my desk.

I guess a prudent pastor would have hidden them in a desk drawer or something, but I’d rather leave my dirty laundry out to dry for all to see…

It’s not what it seems, though. I’ve been carving the Paschal Candle that we’ll use at the Easter Vigil, filling the design back in with wax, and then you buff it, you smooth it out, with pantyhose.

So, a staff person who shall remain nameless brought me a discarded pair, and there it lay, on the ground in my office, like the scene of some lascivious incident when, in fact, it’s been used for a wholly holy purpose.

“Sure…” the skeptic will say (I’m looking at you Pr. Royall).  Pr. Royall, who commented that he didn’t imagine I’d wear that color…

Sometimes things are not what they seem, and I bet that’s what these people crying out to Jesus in this strange scene were hoping.  They were used to processions like this. Nobility often entered on stallions, the Emperor on a white stallion with full infantry, a parade to show power and might.

And here Jesus is, riding on an ass, with no infantry but some ragtag crowd who are a little nervous about the whole affair.

I bet these people, shouting, “Hosanna!” which literally means, “Save us now!” were hoping that this guy riding an ass wouldn’t be the weakling he appeared to be.

But sometimes things are as they seem, Beloved.

And this donkey-stealing, donkey riding Jesus will turn out to be just as weak as these people fear he might be, which makes it all the easier to shout “crucify” at the man they, just days previous, had put all their chips on.

This is why I’m always confused by self-help Christianity.  Our example of God is not one who wields power, and who has everything under control, but the God who wields love as his weapon of choice and willingly gives up control because that’s what love calls out of us.

Or, as the bald and beautiful Richard Rohr says, “We Christians are such a strange religion! We worship this naked, bleeding loser, crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem, but we always want to be winners, powerful, and on top ourselves . . . ”

If you think Jesus is going to make you wealthy, healthy, happy, and safe, you’re reading a different Bible.  The Jesus who never holds down a job, at least not in his 30’s, and who hangs out with prostitutes, sick people, and dead people, invites his disciples to follow him into what will certainly be his death-parade today.  Nothing safe about that.

That’s the Jesus we get.  And the fact that we continually wish we had a different type of Jesus says much more about us than it does about God.

Because, if we think that God can’t save through self-giving love, then we haven’t really believed this whole story anyway.  The fact that our shouts of “Save us!” so quickly turn to “Crucify” when the saving doesn’t happen exactly as we think it should just shows our propensity to kill off those gods in our lives that don’t deliver like we want them to, always searching for that next thing to do what the previous one didn’t: make us feel better about ourselves, make us skinnier, make us stronger, make us wealthier, make our church more successful, make our business more profitable.

Humans, we, constantly lay our chips on who we think will be the winner, and just as constantly move those chips the minute it doesn’t deliver.

But God does just the opposite.  God puts the chips on the loser, not just on this humble Jesus who makes this very political statement today by refusing to ride in on a horse, choosing instead a donkey, the symbol for stubborn peace, but Beloved, if you don’t get it now I don’t know that you ever will, God puts the chips on you, too.

You, who so easily flits between affinities, who so easily doubts, who so easily pats yourself on your back for all your religious pieties that mean nothing in a reality where you can’t buy your way into the Kingdom of God.  God puts the chips on me, who has a tendency to be full of wanderlust and dreams and eloquent words but is still sometimes afraid to speak conviction because, in my heart, I hate disappointing you.

Only a God who doesn’t choose the route of power will have the will and the gumption to place that kind of bet.  And that, Beloved, is the kind of God we get, and we all get saved because of it.

Because the only way to break the games of power and prestige in this world is to lose at that game and start playing a new one.

And that’s what God in Jesus does: God’s new game is one of self-giving love, of self-giving service, of stubborn peace.

And that’s a game no one can win at, because it’s a game of always putting the other person first.  But, that’s ok, because as this loser Jesus says, “the last shall be first and the first shall be last.”  Oh, and he also said, “those who give up their lives will gain it.”  I mean, it’s almost like Jesus has been preparing us for this scene the whole time!

But we didn’t believe it.  It couldn’t be like that, right?  It couldn’t be that God will lose and that we will win because of it…but that’s the way it seems to have happened.

And sometimes things are exactly as they seem, Beloved.  Show up on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday this week…you’ll see it.

Amen.

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