April 14, 2019: "Were You There On The Roadside?"

April 14, 2019                                                                                       Rev. Rhonda Blevins, DMIN 

Were You There on the Roadside?

Luke 19:28-40 Palm Sunday 

[Jesus] went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

______ 

 “Into the city I’d follow the children’s band,

Waving a branch of the palm tree high in my hand;

One of His heralds, yes, I would sing

Loudest hosannas, “Jesus is King!”

This is the last stanza of the hymn we sang a moment ago. We sang to one another, claiming that we would have been there on the roadside, waving a palm branch as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, shouting “Jesus is King!” But would we have done that? Let’s think about the implications of that for a moment.

“Jesus is King!” is something only a rabble-rouser would say, because who was the actual king? Caesar was King. To declare Jesus as King was dangerous. That’s why the Pharisees tried to get Jesus to tell his followers to hush. They didn’t want any trouble with their Roman overlords. Scholars point out that this “triumphal” entry into Jerusalem was a staged prophetic demonstration. We can see hints of the undercover operation leading up to it as Luke describes the preparations in Jesus’ instructions to his guys: “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” I love that there’s a secret code, “The Lord needs it.” John Dominic Crossan calls Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem a lampoon—Jesus and friends were making fun of the grand entrance by Pontius Pilate on the other side of town with chariots and soldiers and stallions. Here’s Jesus, riding on a donkey. The joke was lost on me until Crossan and others helped me see it. Jesus is making fun of Pilate. That’s not something you do if you want to stay alive.

So let’s ask ourselves the question once again, would we have been there, along the roadside, waving palm branches, shouting, “Jesus is King!” as the Pharisees sneered and as the Roman soldiers kept one hand on their swords?

I have to confess, I don’t know if I would have been there. If I place myself in the situation of trying to decide whether or not I’m going to participate in this protest, I’m pretty sure my thoughts would have gone something like this: “How exciting! A protest against Rome! But wait a minute . . . I’ve got a couple of kids at home who need me. I’ve got bills to pay. I’ve got a good job (best job I’ve ever had!) I’ve got a nice home with a comfortable king-sized bed and air conditioning. I might miss American Idol! I really don’t want to go to jail. And what if it turns violent? I’m certainly not ready to die. Participate in a protest which may end in imprisonment or even death? I really like this Jesus fellow, but I’m just not sure I’m ready to give up my life for him.”

How about you? How eager would you have been to participate in the protest? How eager would you have been to risk imprisonment or even death?

Over the centuries we’ve sanitized this scene. We place palm branches in the hands of our children, for crying out loud! We ritualize the procession of the palms without considering the cost those Jesus-followers were willing to pay. We’re all about faith when it’s comfortable and cozy—what about when it is costly?

I did some Facebook sermon sourcing this week—I was interested to learn some ways this kind of risky, costly faith manifests in today’s world. So, I posed the question to my Facebook friends, “In what ways has your faith taken you out of your comfort zone?” I had no idea what kind of responses I’d receive, but here are a few—some of them will resonate with you, others not so much—just what I would have expected given the rich diversity within the Christian family:

·         One person named her mission work in rural Appalachia in which she lived over a flea market for a summer.

·         Another mentioned that his faith led him to leave the military as a conscientious objector.

·         One said that faith prompted her and her husband to take in foster children before ever having kids of their own.

·         Similarly, another said that adopting three special needs children was her great faith response.

·         Two individuals named political activism as their response of faith, particularly in standing up for the marginalized.

·         One retired pastor said that occasionally his hospital visitations would include parishioners he didn’t particularly like, but that those visits always helped him remember that he loved them.

·         Another friend named his difficult work with prisoners re-entering society.

The courage required for each of these leaps of faith inspires me and makes me wonder if I could muster the courage to do what the Lord asks of me if it fell outside my comfort zone. I don’t know the answer. So, my honest answer to the question of would I be able to stand on the roadside and wave a palm is, “I don’t know. I hope so.” How about you?

When Jesus’ disciples proclaimed, “Jesus is King!” it was a costly declaration. It was also a cosmic declaration.

I’m currently reading The Universal Christ by Father Richard Rohr, and it’s blowing my mind (I’m nerdy like that). Here’s one of the many rich nuggets of truth: “Most Catholics and Protestants still think of the incarnation as a one-time and one-person event having to do only with the person of Jesus of Nazareth, instead of a cosmic event that has soaked all of history in the Divine Presence from the very beginning.”[1] In other words, we’ve been so small-minded—the incarnation is SO MUCH BIGGER than we’ve been led to believe.

In Western Christianity, perhaps American Christianity particularly, we’ve made faith small and squeezed it into what the 80’s band Depeche Mode sang, “our own, personal Jesus.” When I limit faith like that, I become the epicenter of faith, and Jesus came for me. While that idea can be a comfort to many, the shadow side of that personalization is that we neglect the cosmic nature of the Christ.

 “The Christ is always way too much for us,” writes Rohr, “larger than any one era, culture, empire, or religion. Its radical inclusivity is a threat to any power structure and any form of arrogant thinking.”[2]

The most beloved verse of scripture to many evangelicals is John 3:16—Tim Tebow sometimes wrote it on his face when he played for Florida—“For God so loved” what? The world! Not “God so loved Christians.” Not “God so loved People.” Not even “God so loved Creatures.” God so loved the WORLD. Every material thing was the reason that God became incarnate.

When those early followers shouted, “Jesus is King!” the Pharisees told Jesus to shut them up. What was Jesus’ response? “If these were silent, the stones would shout out.” The Christ is a cosmic Christ! How dare we limit the Christ to me and mine. Even the rocks know better.

In a moment we’ll sing one of the traditional Palm Sunday hymns, “All Glory, Laud and Honor.” The lyrics point us toward the cosmic nature of Christ:

The company of angels are praising Thee on high,

And mortal men and all things created make reply:

The people of the Hebrews with palms before Thee went;

Our praise and prayer and anthems before Thee we present.

The invitation today: as we sing the final hymn, and as we enter into this Holy week, reflect upon these two questions:

First, are you willing to exercise a costly faith? Faith can become dull unless there’s an element of risk and adventure. God may be calling you to do something that doesn’t make sense—that falls far outside your comfort zone. Are you willing to exercise a costly faith?

Second, are you able to recognize the Cosmic Christ? “A mature Christian,” according to Rohr, “sees Christ in everything and everyone.”[3] True confession—I’m still working on this. How about you? Are you able to recognize the Cosmic Christ?

May our hearts and minds open ever more fully to the Christ as we walk with Jesus through the events of this Holy Week, and as we give all glory, laud and honor to the redeemer King!

[1] Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe, Convergent: New York, 2019, p. 28.

[2] Ibid., p. 35.

[3] Ibid., p. 33.

Debbie Wilson