The audio recording didn’t work today, so I’m posting my sermon text for today, Palm Sunday, here. The sermon was based on Mark 11.1-11, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Unfortunately, I do have a tendency to “off manuscript”, so I’m afraid those remarks are lost. But this gives you the gist:
Can you imagine the scene…Jesus is about a mile outside of Jerusalem. For several years he has been wandering the Galilean countryside about 70 miles north of Jerusalem, in gentile territory, teaching and healing. Slowly he makes his way to the power center of his day. And on a day that has become known to us as Palm Sunday, he sits just outside and he is welcomed like a king. But he was no ordinary king. He did not rule with reckless abandon or ruthlessness, like so many throughout history. He was not clad in military armor riding a mighty war horse. He was dressed in a rabbi’s tunic riding on a young animal—some texts say a young horse, others say a donkey. In any case, he was definitely no ordinary king.
I can only imagine what the people who gathered were thinking. As they lay their branches down, what did they believe was going to happen now? He is still a mile or so from Jerusalem, so he hasn’t actually entered Jerusalem yet. Did they believe the revolution was about to begin? For decades the people dreamed of overturning the Roman Empire and re-establishing Israel as a sovereign state. For years they lived under harsh conditions in which they were taxed heavily and bullied around by not only an uncaring empire, but by their own leaders who were under the influence of their occupier. As this relatively young carpenter came into this outskirt city, what were the people thinking was going to happen? It would not have been their first attempt at revolt, each of the previous ending in massacre. Did they believe it would be different this time?
Do we have any idea what it’s like to live under those conditions? Do we have any idea what it’s like to dream of freedom? I’m not saying our country is the best at caring for all its people, but I have to say we have it pretty good. And relative to most of the world we are pretty darn free to do as we choose.
For the people who gathered there in Bethphage [BEHTH-fuh-dzee], shouting their “Hosannas”, “Save us! Save us, son of King David!”, Jesus was the Messiah, the anointed one, the one chosen by God to lead the people out of captivity. We’ve heard this story before, haven’t we? We’ve heard it with Moses. We’ve heard it with the prophets of the Hebrew scriptures as they warned the leaders of the dangers of their expensive lifestyles and power-hungry ways. We’ve heard it since. We’ve heard cries from people around the globe shouting to the rest of the world, “Save us!” We heard it in South Africa under the apartheid regime. We heard it from India as one man, having earned the right to be heard by his Oxford education, his experience of South African apartheid, and then returning to his homeland realizing the dangers of a society that throws people away. We heard the cries of Hosanna come from the southern part of our own country as one man rose above the rest as their anointed one. For decades we have heard these cries from our Cuban neighbors as they risk their lives to travel on makeshift boats to float 90 miles to freedom and what they believe will be a better life. We’ve heard these cries just recently throughout the Arab world in what has become known as the Arab Spring. We’ve heard it as our neighbors to the south come running across the border, risking their very lives in the process, to find a better life and escape the corruption and killings in their home land. We have heard these cries even in through the most recent Occupy movements. We hear these cries every day out on our own streets as families struggle to find food, shelter, and the most basic necessities of life. “Hosanna! Save us!”
Notice where Jesus begins his journey: on the margins, in the back country, even in his “triumphal entry” he is still outside the spheres of influence and power. In so many ways he was not what the people expected or desired. He was not the mighty military hero who would lead the people with swords drawn to overthrow the powers, only to replace them with their own self-righteous and inevitably corrupt power. Jesus led first and foremost from a position of humility. His teachings were not commands so much as invitations. Jesus invited people to follow him; the people who had been rejected by their neighbors were invited to come on a journey of hope, freedom, and legitimacy. He healed people on that journey, not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually. He helped them discover their worth in God’s eyes, and that’s all they needed to withstand the onslaught from the powers that would have them silenced. The people grew to love Jesus for his message of hope, healing and love.
How fickle our love can be and how quickly it can fade. In less than a week the people’s “Hosannas!” become “Crucify him!” And yet, God’s love remains firm and steady. When we choose to follow Jesus, are we choosing to walk with him and, as much as is possible, try to become like him, receiving God’s firm and steady love, and trying to return it in the way we live? Jesus loved God’s children the way God loves them. He didn’t treat them as wasted lives. He paid attention to them. He gave his attention to those in need, and even in the way he rode toward Jerusalem, handing himself over to the powers-that-be to expose their hypocrisy, to expose their fears, expose the chinks in their armor. Jesus was paying attention to God and God’s people.
Simone Weil, an early 20th century French philosopher, social activist and Christian mystic, once wrote: “The capacity to give one’s attention is a very rare and difficult thing; it is almost a miracle; it is a miracle.”1
Mark Battle, former rector of Episcopal Church of Our Savior in San Gabriel, California, shares this reflection on today’s text from the Gospel of Mark:
Jesus’ entering Jerusalem, riding humbly on a donkey, is a miracle of God’s complete attention. In Jesus, the world recognizes how different its kind of love is from God’s kind of love, and in this recognition—in Jesus—we are transformed from fighting God tooth and nail into creatures who actually love God.2
In our following Jesus, in our attempts to become more and more like him, we can grow to love and trust God more and more, being transformed by Jesus’ teachings, his invitations, and, ultimately, by God’s love for us, all of us. And slowly and patiently God exposes to us the reality that we are all God’s beloved children, blessed beyond measure, not with “things” but with “being”, with “purpose”, with hope, with belonging. And then we might take our place as God’s beloved, blessed not for our own empowerment, but so that we might empower others to recognize their belovedness.
You see, Jesus’ going to Jerusalem was indeed the start of a revolution, but not the kind most people might think of as a revolution. It was a revolution of love, to turn over the powers of this world as we all try to live into the power of God. This revolution is still happening today. In fact, I’d even venture to say that it is a constant fight to remember our own belovedness, to remember that God is as close to us as our very own flesh, and that we have something to share with this world, not to convert it, but to transform it in all its diversity, in all its wonder, and in all its beauty.
We are all invited to walk this journey with Jesus this week, this journey toward hope and freedom. We are invited, each day, to take the time to remember our belovedness, to realize our blessings, and realize these blessings are not just for us, but for the whole world. If you are able, come each morning this week to the memorial garden just outside our sanctuary at 7:00 a.m. to share in remembering God’s gifts as we share in the ancient practice of morning prayer, greeting the day by greeting God’s presence, giving us an opportunity to remember each day God’s invitation through Jesus to a new and transformed life. On Thursday this week at 7:00 o’clock, we are invited by God to share in Jesus’ invitation to new community as we celebrate and honor Jesus’ last supper with his friends with a Maundy Thursday service. If you are able, join us. If you are able to change your schedule, do it. Engage this week as an opportunity to engage God through Jesus’ journey toward Jerusalem, celebrating God’s gifts, honoring God’s invitations, and living into the hope given by God. Then come next Sunday as we celebrate the ultimate message of hope we’ve been given.
The invitation is always there for us to discover again and again the transforming ways of God. The opportunity is always there for us to realize the blessings poured out on God’s beloved children. All we have to do is engage those invitations, join the journey to Jerusalem and beyond, and learn to trust God’s blessings. So, come, join the journey and see where it leads. Come, it is Christ himself who invites you.
1 Quoted in Daily Feast: Meditations from Feasting on the Word, Year B, eds. Kathleen Long Bostrom and Elizabeth F. Caldwell (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011) by Michael Battle in the meditation for Tuesday leading up to Palm Sunday, reflecting on Mark 11.1-11, pg. 215.
(c)2012 The Rev. Eric O. Ledermann. All rights reserved.