Sermon 20 March 2016: “Palm Sunday &Our Bloodlust for Greatness”

Text: Mark 1:1-11; 14:3-9

“Hosanna!” means “Save, I pray!”  Sort of an interesting thing to be shouting as Jesus processed into the Jerusalem temple, riding on a colt, don’t you think?  I wonder, what did the people want to be saved from?  What kind of saving did they expect from Jesus?  The imagery of the day is telling: Cloaks being laid down, palm branches being waived, even Jesus riding in on a colt – horses were ridden by kings and military leaders, and were used for war.  These were signs of celebration for a great King, a military ruler.  Yet it’s the final verse in the Palm Sunday scene that I think is haunting: “Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.”  

Jesus looked around at the scene before him – the corruption in the Temple, the shouting crowds, waiving their palms and lying their cloaks on the ground as Jesus rode in on a colt.  Their shouts of “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!” recalling a time when Israel’s greatness was at its peak – King David, their greatest king.  In their frustration, their fear, their poverty, their oppression….it was going to happen again.  This One riding on a colt was going to make Israel great again. I wonder, are we any different today?  What do we want to be saved from?  What kind of saving do we expect these days? In our own frustration, fear, economic struggles, and feeling like we’re being oppressed by the government, we long for the same.  And we’re willing to listen to anything or any one who will come swooping in promising to make America great again.

At this point, you probably know who I’m talking about.

Let me start by saying this: One, I don’t think Donald Trump is the anti-Christ.  I don’t think he’s evil and I don’t think he’s the second coming of Hitler. In fact, if Trump is elected, I have a feeling the country will go on as usual, not any greater, but not any worse.  America has had divisive presidents in the past, and the country has survived.  In fact, if Minnesota can survive electing a professional wrestler to be its governor – which I admit I voted for Jesse Ventura – our country will certainly endure Trump, or whoever gets elected, for that matter.

What frankly scares me is the response to Trump’s message. Riots are breaking out.  People are openly beating the living daylights out of each other at rallies.  Total strangers, and even people who aren’t strangers, are calling each other the most vile and disgusting names possible.  And religious leaders aren’t any better. This past week, Trump spoke at Lenior-Rhyne College, and Bishop of the North Carolina Synod, Tim Smith, defiantly proclaimed he was going to head on down to the rally wearing his clerical collar, and said, “I would be deeply honored to be the one escorted out or even punched out as the heckler that Trump so condescendingly points out at each rally” while peacefully protesting, singing, and worshipping as the crusader for the church “taking a stand” against violence and hate.

All I can hear this morning is the haunting verse, “Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything…”

Jesus looks over this nation and all of us on this Palm Sunday with sadness, just as I think he looked over Jerusalem with sadness, as the maddening crowds shouted their bloodthirsty cries for restored greatness.  Jesus, just like Trump, was nothing more than a symbol to justify people’s thirst for violence, hatred, and the death of others.  And today, Jesus cannot simply be a symbol to justify our own words and actions – no matter who “right” or “just” we think we are.  Whatever you think is the right thing to do – vote for Trump or protest against him – it cannot come at the expense of harboring feelings of fear and hate.  We can’t go looking for a fight – we can’t fight.  We can’t hurl insults at each other until we’ve completely shredded every ounce of their humanity into nothingness. In the end we are called to love our neighbor……and as Luke’s gospel tells us, that is the Samaritan,  the one most different, the one we hate, and the one we fear the most.  That is 100% in our control to do and that is 100% our choice.

If we can’t do that, then not only have we lost ourselves, we’ve lost our true focus and the source of our joy and hope. We’ve lost the good news that Jesus died to save and recover our humanity from suffering and death.  God takes on human form to proclaim it is our humanity that matters, and that it is our fragile, tragic, beautiful humanity in all the forms it takes that God embraces and loves….and it is our humanity that God finds worth saving. The women who anoints Jesus’ feet at Bethany gets this.  She acknowledges the humanity of the One who acknowledges her humanity.  And that is why she should be remembered alongside the good news of Jesus Christ as we enter into Holy Week, this most important time of Christ’s passion.  Because it is this good news of a God who takes on human form, and on a cross bears the whole of our humanity so that we might know that true greatness and salvation comes through One who lives, suffers, dies, and rises FOR US.

If there is ever a time for us to hear that message as gospel, that time is now.  For the sake of our sister, our brother, our enemy….for our very humanity.  Amen.

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