APRIL 2. 2023 SERMON: ‘Are We Up for It?!’
Rev. Jane Courtright
Here we are, on Palm Sunday.
This is the Sunday when we Christians remember
Jesus entering Jerusalem & visiting the temple.
It’s an exciting day for Jesus and his followers!
In hindsight, it’s also a bittersweet, poignant day.
Many people: crowds, throngs of people
come there for the Passover celebration,
as Jesus and his disciples did.
It seems that only Jesus had a grasp
of the significance of the day,
the moments, the symbols
which foreshadowed the dark events
to follow during the coming week.
His own followers were confused
-they certainly didn’t see
how this day could further Jesus’ mission.
They could see nothing but danger,
failure in this coming to Jerusalem.
By this time,
there was great tension between Jesus
& the Roman officials
who militarily occupied the country.
There was misunderstanding, even enmity,
between Jesus & many of the leaders
of his own Jewish faith.
Let’s imagine, then,
the scene in Jerusalem on that fateful day.
As you’ll see in few minutes,
Jesus and his followers entered the city
by the East Gate.
Jerusalem at the time, had 8 gates into the city.
Directly across – within sight of the East Gate
was the West Gate
(which was near where
the famous Wailing Wall is today.)
In Jesus’ time, the Roman military
had taken over the West Gate.
It was the location of the
Roman garrison of soldiers,
with all their might & armor & weapons.
The West Gate at that time
had been decorated with a Golden Eagle,
which signified that the Roman army occupied –
had taken over Jerusalem.
Many people who were supporters
as well as enemies of Jesus,
hoped, believed, feared
that he was there to confront,
to defeat the occupying Romans,
using power and might!
And what did Jesus choose to do,
much to their confusion, fear & surprise?
Jesus chose to ride into Jerusalem,
NOT ON a mighty stallion,
which would have been
a symbol of military power;
but on a borrowed, lowly colt
the offspring of a donkey!)
– a symbol of humility.
That Jesus, always turning the normal,
knee jerk human response
of retaliation, vengeance, violence,
tit for tat, an eye for an eye –
THOROUGHLY UPSIDE DOWN!
I have visited Jerusalem
more than once in past years;
and I can tell you,
the scene there bears some similarity
to that first Palm Sunday.
There are no longer Roman garrisons
housed around the city,
no longer guarded gates.
Instead, there are military checkpoints
one must go through to enter Jerusalem.
These checkpoints are guarded by
Israeli soldiers armed with Uzis (ew’-zies.)
Jerusalem is no longer a city
whose inhabitants are Jewish or Roman.
Jerusalem is now a city sacred
to Jews, Christians & Muslims.
It is a city rife with tensions – some religious,
but largely tensions having to do with
land ownership, power,
hoarding of natural resources such as water.
In fact, much of the ‘Middle East’
is rife with tension right now.
And though that area of the world
has often been so
[as has most of the world
(including our own area)
at various times in history;
we are in a new era
with complicated tensions & alliances,
not to mention forms of warfare!
And we continue to confront such threats,
however we label them:
terrorists, dictatorships – with violence.
A response which plays right into the hands
because it continues the cycle of violence.
People throwing stones
have their homes bulldozed.
Terrorist bombings are answered with airstrikes.
People who murder others
are murdered themselves.
A simple, yet profound question
asked today is: WWJD?
What DID Jesus do on the first Palm Sunday
and Holy Week?
Some time ago, at a former church,
I had a simple, yet profound discussion
with one of the ‘Rainbow Kids’
(which was the name of several
of the elementary kid’s groups I started.)
She was excitedly filling me in
on the Easter Egg Hunt
which her Grandmother held that year.
Her Grandma hid an egg
in her yard which holds
a slip of paper which reads, “YOU WIN!”
The child who found that egg won
a giant egg – full of Rice Crispy Treats.
Apparently, the previous Easter,
this girl’s older sister had won this prize
AND shared NOT ONE BIT of it!
So, the Rainbow Kid told me that this year,
she WOULD win the egg with its treats
AND that she would share this much (gesture)
with her older sister.
She looked proud, happy and determined
as she imagined this triumphant scene.
I looked quietly into her beautiful eyes & asked her,
“What do you think Jesus
would want you to do with those treats?”
She looked back at me silently
for several seconds
and her countenance fell.
The delight at getting back at her sister
drained from her face.
Surprise, then sadness, then realization,
then understanding and finally,
determination crossed her face.
She answered, “He would want me
to share them with my sister.”
“Why?” I gently pressed her,
“What good would that do?”
“It would show my sister how to share, too.”
This little girl, I knew,
was part of a Christian family
and had been taught about God
and Jesus all her life.
She did understand finally.
I’ve had the same experience
with other children: (and adults!)
suggesting that instead of doing
the same things back
when someone does them wrong,
that they respond with wisdom & kindness,
as Jesus taught
(without putting themselves in danger.)
Their reaction is often a look of
‘Are you crazy?’
For many of them,
this is an entirely new idea.
They are shocked and surprised
to even try to think of such a thing!
as we made May spring baskets
to deliver around town,
I asked one girl…
on whose porch or doorknob
she would place her basket.
She said she didn’t know
many neighbors on her street,
except for a grumpy old lady
next door to her.
When I suggested that she
gift this lady with a basket,
she replied, “Why would I do that?
She’s always grouchy at me!”
I talked to her about how grumpy people
are usually unhappy people
& probably need God’s kind of love.
She was so surprised
that she was rendered silent.
I don’t know if she left her May basket
on that woman’s porch,
but I do know the she thought about it.
I’ve been describing situations with children
and how they can learn to get along
with each other & with neighbors
& other people.
Granted, these situations seem simpler
than our current complex
national & international situations.
Yet, the principals, the teachings of Jesus
are the same when it comes to reacting
to more complicated scenerios.
I wonder sometimes,
what are we and our children being taught
by our leaders and our culture?
And do we, in our minds,
think that those ARE practical,
smart responses for the real world?
And that Jesus’ teachings are fine
for church & religious thought,
but make no practical sense?
Do we have two sets of rules:
How we respond in the real world
AND how we SHOULD respond
in some religious idealism?
The reality is that Jesus
DID live in the real world.
He lived smack in the middle
of tensions & conflicts, oppression,
injustice, poverty, hatred,
religious and political polarization.
Even his own followers
didn’t agree with him
about how to get his message across,
how to manage his ministry.
But Jesus did not cave,
even as he prayed to God,“take this bitter cup from me!”
Jesus didn’t respond
in an understandably human
knee jerk fashion.
If he had, I don’t think we would know of him at all.
His prayer, at the end was,
they know not what they do.”
It takes a lot of guts to go
beyond our normal reactions.
This way of Jesus is a different way!
It doesn’t mean being weak
or becoming a doormat.
It’s a way that requires a deeper strength,
courage & insight.
Today, we remember how
Jesus rides a borrowed colt
into the center of the city
that will reject him.
He empties himself of all he has.
And God keeps doing this saving work
ARE WE UP FOR IT? Amen.