The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s148g15   Advent 1  Year C  29/11/2015

‘all the people would get up early in the morning to listen to him in the temple.’   Luke 21:38

I suppose they had to get up early for, other than on the sabbath, they would have jobs to go to, errands to perform, they needed to keep body as well as soul together.   The gentry and the religious on whom others waited wouldn’t have had to get up early.   Leading lives of leisure, they could come to the Temple and worship whenever they wanted, and perhaps listen to Jesus.

Right in the centre of orthodoxy and devotion at what was arguably the most pivotal moment in all of human history, ordinary people went out of their way to listen to Jesus.   The ‘powers of heaven’ are shaken as people, ordinary people, found a welcome and went out of their way to come, much to the chagrin of those who believed their own personal places were being invaded.

We need to hear these words, lest we be distracted by a supposed fickleness amongst the crowds.   So one (I guess of many) preacher says: ‘How quickly public opinion can change!   When Jesus entered Jerusalem for the Passover feast, He was welcomed by crowds cheering to have Him made king (John 12:13).   But by the end of the week, the crowds were demanding that He be crucified (19:15)’   No, this second group, not called a crowd at all, were the religious and their police - the ‘Jews’ - sadly a pejorative term John used for Jesus’ opposition.   They were the ones who believed their own personal places up at the very front were divinely ordained, and therefore refer to all in times past and equally in times present who see their places in the kingdom as sacrosanct.   They did not want to share their precedence with this rabble! (1) 

In Luke’s narrative the triumphal entry into Jerusalem was in 19:38, but the adoration of the crowd of ordinary people continued for we are told later that: ‘The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard.’ (2)   And even later in chapter 20 we are told: ‘When the scribes and chief priests realised that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to lay hands on him at that very hour, but they feared the people.’ (3)   Now in chapter 21 we are told the ordinary people were staunch in their support for Jesus, coming before work throughout all what we call Holy Week, right before the narrative of the Last Supper. (4)   Of course the Last Supper, the trials before the religious, Herod and Pilate were orchestrated with only select participants.   And even after these kangaroo courts, the support of the people did not waver, for we are told that even on the way to his crucifixion: ‘A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him.’ (5)

This devotion by ordinary people had begun from the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry.   We are told: ’He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. (6)  And  ‘At daybreak he departed and went into a deserted place.   And the crowds were looking for him; and when they reached him, they wanted to prevent him from leaving them.’ (7)

So this gives the lie to the almost universal perception that it is the mission of the church to convert ordinary people to become religious.   It is the religious who have Jesus killed, it is the disciples who deny and dessert Jesus.   As I wrote last week, it is the secular ruler who seeks unsuccessfully to save Jesus and today we find it is the ordinary people who steadfastly support him.   So it is the ordinary theological illiterate who are closest to the heart of Jesus.  

So, no, it was not any hiccup in the devotion of the hoi-polloi that allowed Jesus to be killed, it was their steadfast acceptance of their inclusion that drove the devout to have Jesus killed.   Both Matthew and Mark testify that Pilate realised that it was out of jealousy that the devout handed Jesus over. (8)   And Luke writes: ‘The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to put Jesus to death, for they were afraid of the people.   Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve; he went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers of the temple police about how he might betray him to them.   They were greatly pleased and agreed to give him money.   So he consented and began to look for an opportunity to betray him to them when no crowd was present.’ (9)

For completeness, I should add that the attempt on Jesus’ life at his home town of Nazareth was precipitated by his words that God cared for people other than them. (10)

This presence of the invisible ordinary people lies behind the whole of the gospel account.   So Jesus says to his opposition: ‘if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless.’ (11)   And again: ‘looking at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers!   Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”’ (12)

So the question that all this poses is: Does the proclamation of the church result in a recognition by ordinary, theologically illiterate, people that they are included? .. that they are actually guiltless? .. that it is they who are closest to the heart of Jesus?   I have to say .. hardly ..   And if this is true, then haven’t we as church lost the gospel in its entirety?   Do we as church condemn other ordinary human beings because they are not religious like we are?   That they sleep in or mow their lawns on Sunday mornings.   They haven't made the sacrifices we have made for God!   They have abandoned Jesus and, like the fickle crowds of long ago, caused his death!   Do we not see how self-serving this is and if our religion is self-serving why would any sane person worship such a ‘god’.

I reflect on how often scripture tells us that the orthodox and the devout - the ones to engineered Jesus’ death - were afraid of ordinary people.   And this is replicated, on the corporate level, as the church of today fears secular humanism.  Rather than being execrated and feared, in fact ordinary people are the fruit of the kingdom - they are the ones who are part of the community and therefore work for cohesiveness among people.  Similarly secular humanism is not the antithesis of religion but her crowning achievement as we seek to bring about a more just and equitable society not divided along religious lines!  

1.  Matthew 21:11-14
2.  Luke 19:47-48
3.  Luke 20:19
4.  Luke 22:7-38
5.  Luke 23:27
6.  Luke 4:15
7.  Luke 4:42
8.  Matthew 26:18  Mark 15:10
9.  Luke 22:2-6
10.  Luke 4:16-30
11.  Matthew 12:7
12.  Mark 3:34,35 // Matthew 12:48