Palm/Passion Sunday

Posted: March 18, 2016 in Sermons Year C - Advent 2015 to 2016

Palm/Passion Sunday

20.3.2016

Reading:  Matthew 21:1-27

On the ass and making a mockery of our hopes for a Messiah!

Like the people of Jerusalem we too long for a saviour.  Like the people of Jerusalem, we too are disappointed with Jesus. The people of Jerusalem longed for a saviour who would drive out or destroy the Romans by any means possible. They wanted a conqueror who would lead them to victory, hand them the power, so that they could live in peace. What they got was a messiah who insisted that victory was not the way to establish peace.

What they got was a messiah who insisted that they love their enemies, forgo the sword and seek justice rather than military victory. Jesus was not the sort of Messiah they were looking for and so the people turned on Jesus. 

Looking back it is so easy for us to point the finger of blame upon the people who were complicit in his death. It’s easy to shake our heads and wonder how Judas could have betrayed him. We’ve grown accustomed to pointing our fingers at the religious authorities and say see they too were in cahoots with the Romans. Historians try to untangle the historical mess created by the writers of the gospel account. Theologians create theories of a sacrifice that was necessary to pay for the sins of people, including you and me and sin the execution into some sort of cosmic bargain struck to placate a vengeful god and so we join our Hosannas to the Hosannas of generations who have heralded the Messiah’s arrival, trusting that somehow Jesus will save us from whatever it is that afflicts us; sin, fear of judgment, even death. Still, after nearly 2,000 years Jesus is still up there on that ass making a mockery of our hopes for a Messiah, a Saviour, who will get us off the hook.

So, we’ll have no choice really, but to join in the chorus of all those who have gone before us, some of us might not even wait until Friday to shout, “Crucify him! Crucify him. Crucify him.” For this Jesus of Nazareth is an inconvenient Messiah. Even though the crowds had their way, even though his insistence that violence is not the answer, was met with violence, even though the powers that be, threw the worst violence they could at him, and caused him to cry out in anguish as he hung their dying, believing that even God had abandoned him, even then, he continued to love his torturers. “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Not even a horrible, lonely, death like his could kill this inconvenient Messiah’s belief that violence is not the answer. Jesus life and death point to a way of life that meats violence with love, that seeks justice in order to find peace, that values the least and the lost, that puts people before treasure, and teaches anyone who will listen that life is to be lived with a spirit of generosity that echo’s the grace of our Creator.

But Jesus way is not our way. Jesus teachings are idealistic, demanding and life changing. So if our ways are to have their day, we have no choice but to demand his crucifixion over and over again, year after year, Holy Week after un-holy week. We like our lives. We like our stuff. As long as we are on top, all we need to do is learn to work the system and all will be well. So, we continue to consume all that we can, including and especially, the myths that hold our world in place.

Some of us have learned that we can have our cake and eat it too. We can have Jesus for our Messiah just as long as we continue twist his teaching into that old bargain that the theologians of old dreamed up. If we deny everything we have learned about creation, and cling to the notion that we humans were once created perfect and because evil somehow came into creation, we fell from grace, and made our creator so angry that we were banished from the perfect garden and they only way back is if someone pays the price for our disobedience, and Jesus, that beautiful, perfect, if somewhat naive rabbi of old, is the perfect sacrifice for our sin; if we can just suspend our intellect long enough to buy into that cosmic bargain, then we can go on ignoring Jesus’ inconvenient teachings, and Jesus will not have died in vain, because God will surely forgive us for Christ’s sake.

So, crucify him, go on crucify him, and don’t worry because we all know how the bargain ends, and we will be singing our Alleluias by next Sunday and all will be right with the world and we can go about our business as usual, and go on pretending that we long to follow Jesus.  Or we can talk a long hard look at Jesus riding into town on that donkey and we can ask ourselves, how it is that after all these generations, we haven’t learned how utterly damning Jesus’ mockery of our ways is. For against the greatest military might that the first century world had ever known, this would be messiah, this Jesus of Nazareth, had the audacity to ride smack dab into the middle of his enemy’s camp, mounted upon the foul of an ass.

The people cried out Hosanna, and yes we’re still crying out for Jesus to save us. And all these generations later, Jesus teachings will not die. Jesus is still teaching us to save ourselves. For we were not born perfect creatures who fell from grace. We were born imperfect creatures still evolving into our full humanity. Our evolution lies before us, we can continue down the pathway of destruction or we can follow Jesus down a more difficult pathway.

We can become leaner, meaner fighting machines who hold onto our power at all costs, or we can surrender, turn around, repent of our ways, and follow the inconvenient messiah. Yeah they might kill us. That’s the truth. So, we can let our fear of death keep us on the pathways of destruction. Or we can move beyond our fear of death and evolve into a fuller humanity. Either way we will die.

But one pathway calls for a kind of living-death; a way of living with our eyes closed to the pain of others, refusing to see the price that is paid for our power. The other pathway, the one that Jesus points us toward, calls us to live fully now, open to the pain of others, conscious of the price that is paid for our power, open to the wonders and possibilities of living fully, loving extravagantly and becoming all that we were created to be.

Like the generations who have gone before us, we may still long for the kind of messiah who rides in on a white horse to save us from ourselves. But in Jesus we have a different kind of messiah; a saviour who rides in on a humble donkey, and points us toward another way of being in the world; a saviour who insists that we follow the wisdom of peace through justice, generosity over greed, selflessness over selfishness, mercy over vengeance, hope over fear, and above all love over hate.

Oh yeah, the inconvenient truth about this messiah is that Jesus’ way is dangerous, it might mean that people will take advantage of you, it might mean sacrifice on your part, it might also get you killed. You see, it is a heresy in Christianity to claim that we know what we are doing and that we can control it all. The inconvenient truth about this messiah is that we are to set out for a shore that we can never reach. We are to expose ourselves to a secret we can never plumb.

There is an old rabbinic tradition that has a messiah who never actually shows up. If he did the whole idea of hope and expectation would disappear. If this messiah turned up there effectively would be no future, history would be over. One consequence of this for early Christianity was that now that the messiah had come all there was left was to wait for the second coming. Again this messiah that never seems to come is an inconvenient truth. An inconvenient truth that is the proper path to God.

Another approach to this is to ask why it is that we can never stop talking about this God we can never say anything about? This foolishness has to be for a reason and that reason seems to be that the pathway to God is to be found in the foolish, in the messiah that rides an ass in some bazaar sort of victory parade.

Another way of thinking about this is to think of a Jesus who is really crucified and who really feels abandoned. Then the icon of God we find on the cross is not an icon of power and might, rather an icon of powerlessness. Paul call this the weakness of God in Corinthians which is perhaps the madness in the kingdom of God. Divinity lies in the emptying of divinity. And here we recall the tradition that Christians are called to be fools for God.

In this approach we see that what rises up from the cross is not a show of might but rather forgiveness, not power but a protest against the unjust execution of a just man. This is not a sacrificial death that buys celestial reward but rather a prophetic death that reveals the unconditional gift of weakness. This is a great prophetic ‘no’ to injustice and persecution as the unconditional gift without the exercise of force. He is tried, convicted, tortured and paraded through the streets in shame on the way to a particularly gruesome execution. Here the weakness of God has nothing to do with a timid and fearful man and everything to do with the courage of prophetic impatience.

In Luke we read; “but I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to anyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods. Do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Here again we see that the essential path toward God is beset by the counter path, not as an undoing of the path but as a making it possible. A triumphant ride towards the travesty of the cross, a life-giving death that saves, a death that banishes death, negates its effectiveness and leaves only a love that never dies. So, to all our hosannas; all our cries of “Save us! Save us.” Jesus the inconvenient messiah says, “Follow me and you will save yourselves!” Amen.

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