The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s103g09 Palm Sunday 5/4/2009
'Blessed is the coming kingdom of .. David' Mark 11.10
The adulation of the crowds on Palm Sunday is often contrasted with the antipathy of the crowds on Good Friday. Unfortunately this can be used to mask the real reasons for Jesus' crucifixion and place the blame on the fickleness of the general populace.
Of course people praise God and Jesus when prayers are answered or when it is hoped that prayers might be heard. Much of what passes for 'christianity' revolves around these things. Last week as I was travelling the long road to Sydney and looking for a radio station with amenable music I chanced upon one playing what I thought was one of my favourite old surfing songs. I was thoroughly enjoying it until I realized that the lyrics had been changed. It was a 'christian' radio station and the song was now all about the crown the 'christian' singer would be given in heaven. I groaned inwardly. Is nothing sacred? Can't decent 70's surfing songs be left alone! I went back to looking for something else to which to listen. Grrr! :-) Some weeks ago I spoke about God hearing the poetry of our souls, and if a decent 70's surfing song is not a genuine poetry of the soul of the surfer - or someone who wished I was :-) - I don't know what is. If we are looking for a reward whether it be in this life or the next - it is no less selfish, no less unchristian.
Let us be quite certain. Jesus disappointed everyone when he preached the love of enemies. We worship a 'god' when we are likely to benefit personally. When God calls us to consider others and not just ourselves then our desire to worship wanes. But it is hardly likely that the masses of ordinary people perceived these subtleties. The ones who listened carefully to what Jesus preached were the theologically literate the ones who in other accounts of the triumphal entry - criticised the adulation of the crowds. It is clear that it was these who lined up to have Jesus killed because Jesus didn't recognise their religiosity. It was they who had something to lose, not the general populace. The thing they had to lose was their exalted status in the eyes of others.
The general populace had nothing much to lose nothing certainly warranting having Jesus killed. What's the old modus operandi of the television detectives? find the person who has the motive and you've probably got the killer. Again the civilian authorities of the day had little motive to have Jesus killed.
The cross shows us that Jesus was not going to affirm anyone at the expense of someone else. Indeed, of course, this was precisely why Jesus was killed, not the excuse of blasphemy claimed by those who had him killed.
And this applies just as much to Christians as to anyone else. Indeed if we haven't got this message we can hardly call ourselves 'Christians'. If our faith is that we will be blessed over people of other faiths or over people of no faith, then we simply haven't got the message of the cross.
I continue to enjoy Hans Küng's book 'On being a Christian'. He makes the important point that it was the ecclesiastical authorities who had Jesus killed not the Jewish populace. 'There should never have been any talk of a collective guilt of the Jewish people at that time, still less .. today.' (p338) I would thoroughly agree, for even today ecclesiastic authorities, masquerading as Christians use 'Jesus' to proclaim blessings only over others who are part of their circle. I should mention that Hans Küng goes on to say that it was really the law that had Jesus killed rather than personalities and in some senses I can agree with this, for those who masquerade as Christians also claim Biblical authority for their special status.
He certainly has a turn of phrase: 'This blasphemer who, in a love that knew no bounds .. degraded the sublime and just God of this law and temple and reduced him to the God of .. godless and hopeless people' (p336). I could certainly think of some 'christians' who would stumble over this assessment of Jesus as well!
St Paul can be quoted in that favourite of verses: 'We know that all things work together for good for those who love God' failing to realize that this was hardly true for our Lord, and that St Paul immediately goes on to say: 'For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son' and this is indubitably a reference to the manner of living his life for others leading to the Cross. (Romans 8.28,29)
Returning to Hans Küng: 'His identification of God's cause with men's, God's will with the general well-being of man, was therefore right. He was right when he questioned the established liturgy and the whole cult .. He was right in surmounting the barriers between one's fellow-countrymen and foreigners, party and non-party members, in his love of men, of neighbours, of enemies .. in identifying himself with the weak, sick, poor, underprivileged, even with moral failures, the irreligious and godless. (p382)
So we can join in with the praise of those crowds of old when we recognise that the real kingdom of David is the kingdom that includes all. If we want to substitute a kingdom that includes only me and those who think like me, worship like me, believe like me and live like me, it'll be a pretty small kingdom anyway, and we won't want anything to do with the real kingdom that includes all. It is we who exclude ourselves.
Palm Sunday begins that most solemn week of the church's year Holy Week culminating in Good Friday and the death of Jesus and Easter Day when we remember with joy our Lord's resurrection. The temptation is to think this is all for us, we devout 'christians', when the reality is that it is actually for others and to lead us to recognise and affirm others. If the events of Holy Week and Easter affirm only the lives of the devout, of what earthly use it that? If the events of Holy Week and Easter lead us to affirm the lives of others, then those events - so costly in terms of blood, sweat and tears - will have some earthly use for all.
Each and every one of us experiences changes in emotions myself as much as anyone else. One minute we are going along well, but the next we are assailed with doubt, anxiety or whatever. Our faith waxes and wanes along with our emotions, or seems to. God isn't up in heaven, tallying up the minutes when our faith seems to us secure - against the hours when we are in emotional turmoil! That would be a demon and no god. We, each and every one of us are in God's secure hands, throughout all the changes and chances of this fleeting world. The supposed fickleness of the crowd or that rod we can beat ourselves with the sin of backsliding are normal for us all. The existence of God is not threatened by these vicissitudes of life they are not in the nature of sin. To pretend otherwise would make a virtue of stoicism of life without emotion, without passion. Such would be a life without energy, creativity, indeed even love.
The grief we so often feel is but the obverse of the love we have previously experienced. If that love was deep, then the grief, and the feeling of being god-forsaken will be correspondingly magnified. God has broad shoulders, and in the end it is far more important that God believes in us, which he (or she) most surely does.
Blessed indeed is that kingdom where all know that God believes in them, in all people and indeed humanity in general. By this realisation let us draw strength as individuals and strength as a community to face the future with courage.
Back to: "A Spark of the Spirit"