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Pedestals-Sermon on John 12:12-16 - Palm Sunday

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We often put leaders on pedestals. But pedestals are only good for statues. And falling over. 

lease listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The delivered sermon is often considerably different than the sermon notes which are included for convenience below.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

March 20, 2016 - Palm Sunday

"Pedestals".  Text is from John 12:12-16

We have been traveling together throughout this Lenten season, carried along the way in our journey experiencing predictions, conflict, parables and miraculous events. Now we have come to a wonderful point along that path, that nearness of Christ, where aw arrive at Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Jesus sits atop a young donkey, and crowds greet him with cries of Hosanna, Hosanna! waving palm fronds, and spreading palms, their cloaks, flowers and what have you along his pathway, in order to celebrate the arrival of this wondrous man. 

And even as Jesus has cautioned the disciples, has warned those healed by his touch and their faith to tell no one what they have seen, the message nevertheless gets spread, first through the region known as Galilee, then all across the Levant. There is a change in the world that is coming, the Messiah that they have foretold is finally here, and the entire city has come out to greet this Jesus of Nazareth, son of Galilee, scion of the House of David. 

Hosanna, they cry! Hosanna in the highest!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! The King of Israel!

For a millennium the Nation of Israel has had oppressors: Egypt, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, Persia, the Greeks, and now the Romans. One right after another empires succeed one another, and no matter which ones win the war, Israel loses. But they long for the independence of the days of King David, and here they finally have the king that they sought, the great leader of this House of David, this Jesus, who will lead the Israelites to victory and independence once more, forever delivering them from the Roman yoke.  As it was written in the prophet Zechariah:

"Rejoice greatly O daughter zion! Shout aloud O daughter Jerusalem!

Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he,

Humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey." 

With a leader like that, how can the people of Israel fail? Even the disciples eventually understood that scripture pointed to this moment, even if they did not fully understand at the time what scripture truly meant. 

But you and I, my sisters and brothers, we read this scripture and we know what's coming. Because it's impossible to see the road into Jerusalem without seeing the cross that lays before it. The triumph of the masses leads to betrayal, suffering and humiliating death for the very savior they are proclaiming. 

Because the leader that the people wanted, the leader that they expected to do their bidding, the leader that would lead them to wealth and riches and material glory, was not the leader they were going to get in their newly christened Lord Jesus. In fact, in most of the gospels, no sooner does Jesus triumphantly enter Jerusalem than he winds up in the temple, angered at the moneychangers and sellers of sacrifices, overturning their tables and chasing them with a whip, shouting that they have made his father's house into a den of thieves.  Can you imagine how those people must have felt? The people on the street calling for him to change their lives, to be the messiah they are looking for and lead them into victory over their overlords, but the first thing he does is call some of them out for their evil deeds and wicked ways. They want him to be the change they seek in the world, but many of them don't want him to change the way they live in their daily lives, because they profit from their way of living. Why is Jesus bothering with the merchants in the temple when there are Romans to expel? 

Blessing of palms Palm Sunday 2016.jpg

People all too often set other people on pedestals, expecting them to meet our often unrealistic expectations, and then toss them down when those people fail.  It's not generally being mean, but often it comes from a sense of self-preservation. We idealize someone, and when they turn on us and tell us that we have to change, we rebel against them. You mean I have to change? That's supposed to be what we have you for! And so we step back. 

I sometimes wonder if this is the reason behind the current political climate today. We have become such a cynical society that we settle for promoting people who are altogether uninspiring. Where are the ideal candidates? At some point, the good people have decided that they have no interest in subjecting themselves to the bitter dispute that our political process has become and have set themselves aside. The archetypical candidates are actually the ones that our media has no interest in. Instead we find ourselves looking for showpeople, extremists, and career politicians. These are the leaders we get and the leaders we keep. These are the high priests, the Tetrarch and the Romans who run things, and they will continue to run things. 

The kingdom that Jesus speaks of is not a kingdom of the world. Despite this strain of American Christianity that depicts an American exceptionalism, as if this kingdom USA represents the glorious kingdom God intends, we are as corrupt and as sinful as any other nation on earth. If you are looking for the kingdom that Christ is saving us for, it is a kingdom not of man. 

John is the only gospel that does not go straight to the temple to clear the courts out. He does that way in the beginning, all the way in chapter 2 at the beginning of his ministry.  No, in John, Jesus follows up his great entry into Jerusalem by meeting with what John refers to as some Greeks...who we know are Jewish because they are in Jerusalem for the festival. And Jesus tells them "Those who love their life will lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life." These are not the words of a man who is interested in helping people maintain their status in the world. Jesus is helping them move forward. 

 But we, the children of God, are fickle. No matter how  horrible we may think of the people in Jerusalem, those who praised Jesus when he came into the city only to either run into hiding or turn on him when he was finally betrayed, tortured and executed, they are not monsters but simply sinful human beings who God loved. People who are very much like ourselves. 

And there is the good news, my sisters and brothers, that Jesus loved those sinners, who he called on God to forgave for they did not know what they did. Jesus loved the people who proclaimed him and then executed him, because frail and sinful humans that we are, God nevertheless loves us. So much that Jesus died on the cross, not because of any crime or because the Romans and the high priests actually had power over him but because God chose to give us life in the midst of our greatest sin.

And on that cross, God meets us in our humanity, and removes the burden of death forever off of our backs. On that cross God gives us his gift of grace, that our sins are taken away in the blood of his sacrifice. On that cross we are sanctified, that we may share our lives with Jesus whole and unblemished in heaven, made faultless and perfect to bask in the glorious light of Abba God, his beloved children. 

His good news.


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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on March 20, 2016 4:54 PM.

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