Monday, March 26, 2018

What Are You Doing?

Palm Sunday

On the one hand, the church calendar can get a bit repetitive.  I mean, weren’t we just waving palms?  I know it was about a year ago, but it seems like we just heard this story, doesn’t it?  Sure, I think it was from a different gospel, but how many times can you learn about Jesus riding into Jerusalem?  How much can you learn from him being greeted with “hosannas”?  We already know that the people were expecting the wrong thing from him: that he was supposed to be some conquering king.  We also already know why Jesus was really there: we know the kind of king he would be and where this journey would lead.  As important as this day might be in the story of our salvation, can we say it’s new to us?  Don’t we know this story already? 

But on the other hand: the Holy Spirit is always up for a challenge.  I’ve been reading this story, at least once a year, for as far back as I can remember.  Heck, I’ve been preaching some version of this story for something like twenty years.  I’ve studied each gospel’s version.  I’ve read them in the original Greek.  I’ve read commentaries, talked to friends about it, and listened to other people’s sermons on the Palm Sunday stories.  But I’ve got to tell you: this story has never spoken to me before in the way it does today.  Maybe it’s the season of my life; maybe it’s the season our church is in; certainly it has something to do with the unexpected voice of the Spirit, but today I find this story to be surprisingly important for us. 

This is more than a parade.  This is more than, for once, Jesus getting treated as more than just a carpenter’s son.  I think—as Jesus rides into Holy Week—this is Jesus showing his followers how to follow him past it.  “Go over there and get me a colt,” Jesus says; but it’s more than just about a colt.  “Tell them the Lord needs it,” he says, and somehow that works.  This is a story about the followers of Jesus doing something weird because Jesus said to, and it winds up proclaiming the coming Kingdom of God.  This is a story about us following Jesus into this world in such a way that makes those around us say, “Hey, what are you doing?”  And that’s just the start. 

Sometimes I talk about this story as a “parade.”  I’m being figurative: it is not a parade, of course.  What happens on the Fourth of July out here in front of our church, now that is a parade.  Parades are entertainment; they are fun; ideally, they don’t have much deeper meaning other than just for our enjoyment.  What Jesus does in this story is something other than a parade.  There is symbolism here; there is a deeper meaning than just a guy entering Jerusalem.  One might call it a “march.” 

We’ve been hearing a lot about marches lately, and for a lot of reasons.  You don’t do a march like you go to a parade; you don’t go because it’s fun to march.  As far as I know, people who go to a march are not looking to buy a pie afterwards.  You will see similar things, of course, in both parades and marches: there is the shouting, there is the waving of things like signs, there are people moving from point A to point B, and of course there are the folks lining up to either cheer or to criticize.  But marches don’t fool around: there is a statement to be made to those who are meant to hear it. 

I’m not saying that a march is any better or worse than a parade or vice versa; but I would point out that a march can be more easily misunderstood.  Take, for example, the march of Jesus into Jerusalem that we read about today.  We have a better understanding of what Jesus was doing because we have the benefit of a historical perspective.  We celebrate it today, as we enter into Holy Week, because we can now see how the march and the Cross come together.  We see, centuries later, the point Jesus was making: he is showing the world that his lordship, as our one true King, comes not through power and superiority, but through humility and suffering.  But that is certainly not the message the people heard at the time. 

This week, by the way, we enter into the last week of Women’s History Month.  There is a pun in there somewhere; in that it is the month of “March.”  This month we remember those women who worked so hard to gain basic rights for all women (simple rights like voting); rights often championed through marches.  I don’t want to “mansplain” it too much, but I would simply point out that, during the women’s suffrage movement, for example, there was tremendous opposition and misunderstanding.  We look back on it now and the opposition seemed so absurd, but I would point out that there have been a lot of years and marching between then and now. 

The display that Jesus orchestrates as he enters Jerusalem was easily misunderstood, and for good reason: it was a march.  But even more than that, it was confusing because Jesus himself is sometimes confusing.  We see throughout the gospels, time and time and time again, that people are shocked, puzzled, and even angry at the things that Jesus says or does.  We chuckle sometimes at how dense the disciples seemed to be, but let’s be fair: Jesus was hard to follow sometimes, in more ways than one. 

Can you imagine being one of those two disciples that Jesus sends in our reading today?  Imagine someone you loved and respected, someone you trusted enough to obey (someone like me, for example), said to you: “Okay, here’s what I want you do: see that town up ahead?  I want you to go to that town, but before you really get into it, you’re going to find a colt tied up there that has never been ridden.  I need you to bring me that colt.”

“So, Jesus, let me get this straight: you want us to steal a horse?” 

“Not exactly.  If anyone should ask (and let’s face it, they will), just tell them, ‘The Lord needs it.’”  And off you go, with your fellow disciple, to commit what once was, in our country at least, a capital offence.  And it works!  It goes down almost exactly as Jesus said it would: they find the colt; they start to untie it; someone says, “What are you doing”; they say what Jesus said to say; and then they walk away with someone else’s horse.  It works! 

What we have here in this part of this story—the part I hadn’t really noticed before—is a perfect example of how the Kingdom of God is meant to grow.  What Jesus sends these disciples to do is exactly how church growth gets done!  Not the horse-stealing part; don’t steal horses.  It goes like this: Jesus sends his followers out to do something out of the ordinary, someone notices and says, “Hey what are you doing,” and the next thing you know, the Kingdom is growing.  Is it as simple as that?  Well, it is not simple, but yes it is.  We do it already; we may not have noticed and it probably wasn’t on purpose, but we do it all the time.  The Spirit of our Savior nudges us to do something unusual like call a friend, just because God has put them on our heart.  Or maybe the Spirit shows us that we’ve hurt someone and gives us the courage to do something strange like, say we’re sorry.  Or maybe our Savior’s Spirit gives us something remarkable, like a presence of peace and confidence, even in stressful and difficult times; and someone notices.  There are little ways every day that Jesus, in a way, says, “Hey, go get that horse.”  And when we go, we proclaim the Kingdom. 

Things like that are wonderful.  They ought to be celebrated and we ought to continue to listen to the Spirit for opportunities to “get that horse,” so to speak.  But I think we could do it even more deliberately than we do.  Through some reading I’ve been doing, I’ve been challenged to look for a specific type of person in my life.  These people take some explaining, so hear me out.  These people we are looking for are, first of all, not already members of a worshiping community.  Like I said, we’re not trying to actually steal anything.  Next, comes that little nudge from the Spirit: next the Spirit shows us something about this person that is already serving our Savior’s Kingdom. 

The best way to describe what I’m talking about is by examples: people like Pam, who runs the Pine Valley Shares program.  She has a heart for creating a deeper sense of community in the Pine Valley that sounds like Kingdom work to me.  Like my friend Lech, who runs the orchestra program in our schools.  He has a vision to care for even the least of our community’s children that sounds like the kind of thing that Jesus would approve of.  Like a woman named Misty that I haven’t even met yet; but what I’ve heard of her, she sounds like she’s working within the bounds of Christ’s Kingdom already.  Can think of other people like that in your own life.  These are people who may not be a part of a worshiping community—these people may not even realize they are serving Christ’s Kingdom—but we see it; we see what God is doing through them.  In other words, they have got a horse that Jesus needs. 

Jesus then says, “Hey disciple, go get that horse”; go be a part of what is already happening in and through that person; go and serve our Savior along side someone who may not even realize they are serving our Savior.  Go and join in what God is already doing in them and then just wait; wait for the question, because you know it’s coming.  At some point they are going to ask you, “What are you doing?”  The rest is relatively easy.  There’s no sermon; there is no alter call.  You just tell them what you see in them; what God has shown you; why you have come up along side them.  And if you’re bold enough, invite them to join the Kingdom that they’ve been working in all along. 

May we have ears to hear our Savior’s call, eyes to see what he’s been doing around us already, and hands and feet that will go wherever Jesus sends us to go.  And may we see his Kingdom growing all around us.

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