Not What We Expected

Preached on Sunday, April 1, 2012
at Historic First Presbyterian Church, Phoenix, AZ

There are four different versions of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem – one for each of the 4 gospels. Each one with a slightly different perspective:

  • Matthew wants to make sure we see the parallels between Jesus and King David.  He seems very concerned that his reader/listener connect the dots between Jesus and what the ancient prophets foretold.
  • Luke, on the other hand, works pretty hard to make sure we understand Jesus’ great popularity. His healing and teaching have brought thousands to follow him. They joined together with the hundreds of thousands that would have been streaming into Jerusalem for the Passover feast. The conflict Jesus finds is not with the throngs of people following him, but with the Pharisees.
  • John uses Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem almost as a throwaway – simply a necessary literary device which helps move the story from Lazarus’ death and resurrection to Jesus’ own. He starts out on foot and when the crowd gets too big does he get a donkey for himself.
  • Mark’s telling is not really any longer or shorter than any of the others. As you listen, what do you hear? What does Mark want us to know?  Listen for God’s word to us today.

Read Mark 11:1-11

Thousands of details that went into the making of this Palm Sunday service: 7 or 8 emails back and forth between Wendy and me. Kimberly and I had a couple of interchanges as well. At the Session meeting last week, a sign up sheet was passed around for communion service and the elders discussed who would handle what part of the worship service. Bill and the crew have been practicing, somebody ordered, received and organized the palms, printed the bulletin, pressed the linens, set up the PA , bought the bread and juice, made sure somebody vacuumed and dusted and refilled the toilet paper and soap dispensers, fixed the powerpoint, opened the doors, turned on the sound system, greeted us all as we walked in the doors, paid the utility bill on time so we would have electricity, and all that doesn’t even include the things you had to deal with just to get here.

This is a long list of very mundane tasks that had to be completed just to get this worship service off the ground. These are not the kind that evoke Hosanna’s from the average worshipper. The only ones who get those kinds of accolades are the amazing children in our palm parade/dance and maybe your fabulous preacher du jour, your marvelous worship leader and your spectacular musicians! Hosanna!!

As much as we might wish it otherwise, most of the time, the life of a disciple is not one of high glory and excitement. Look at the discipleship lessons we learn when we take a look at what Jesus asks his disciples to do:

  • They get a boat ready for Jesus,
  • They count heads and find out if there’s enough food on hand, then they haul the food around to feed every last one of them AND pick up the trash and leftovers afterwards.
  • They go find a room and get it ready, getting the supplies, the food, the servants to prepare the the Passover table for the Last Supper
  • And, as homiletics professor Tom Long observed: Jesus asks them to get him a donkey. They have to go into town, muck around in a stable, looking suspiciously like horse thieves and then try to wrestle the darn thing back uphill – an untamed and no doubt balky animal toward the olive groves where Jesus waited. (Tom Long, “Donkey Fetchers”, The Christian Century, April 4, 2006, p. 18)

Follow me! Could mean a lot of things, but I doubt if Andrew and Philip and Peter and the rest of them thought it would mean that! Yet a close reading of Mark’s gospel shows that is exactly what Jesus expected.  He called his disciples to get down in the muddy reality and muck about with him. Not exactly the stuff kings are made of. And not particularly controversial, either.  Feeding people, healing them, living with them is hardly the stuff that would cause a crowd who celebrated his arrival one minute, turn so horribly against him the next.  Or would it?

Today we as we ordain and install new Ruling Elders and Deacons. We will ask them to follow this mucking around Lord.  We will remind them of the call to love their neighbors and work for the reconciliation of the world. We will ask them to serve the church with energy, intelligence, imagination and love. These are inspiring words that make all feel something special is happening. Yet I wonder how many of us realize when we take those vows that much of the time we’re going to use our energy to plunge clogged toilets and vacuum the office, our intelligence to calculate square footage of classroom space and write sensible meeting minutes, our love to spend time with somebody we really don’t know and maybe don’t even really like all that much as they pass through a time of crisis.

Our Book of Order says this about Ruling Elders: They are called to the work of helping guide the congregation and guiding its witness to the sovereign activity of God in the world, so that the congregation grows as a community of faith, hope, love, and witness. Not much about manual labor here, there are no potties mentioned at all in the Book of Order. And yet…

And this about Deacons: The ministry of deacon is one of compassion, witness, and service, sharing in the redeeming love of Jesus Christ for the poor, the hungry, the sick, the lost, the friendless, the oppressed, those burdened by unjust policies or structures, or anyone in distress.  As it was about toilet ministry, the Book of Order is also more or less silent in the area of having to hang out with people we just don’t like. But we know better.

Now before the rest of you heave a sigh of relief and give thanks to God that the nominating committee didn’t ask you, just because we have these couple dozen leaders doesn’t mean the rest of us are off the hook. We aren’t going to be able to get away with simply standing at the roadside and cheering on the leaders: Hosanna!! Blessed are the ones who are ordained in the name of the Lord! To be sure, Elders and Deacons do lead the way in the discipleship journey, but they can’t do it alone. They aren’t SUPPOSED to do it alone!

Listen to what we Presbyterians believe are the responsibilities of the ordinary worshipping congregation:

We are called to make a commitment to participate in Christ’s mission, to bear witness to God’s love and grace and to be involved responsibly in the ministry of Christ’s Church. And here are just a few of the things that includes:

  • proclaiming the good news in word and deed,
  • lifting one another up in prayer, mutual concern, and active support,
  • studying Scripture and the issues of Christian faith and life,
  • supporting the ministry of the church through the giving of money, time, and talents,
  • responding to God’s activity in the world through service to others,
  • working in the world for peace, justice, freedom, and human fulfillment

When we start to imagine the amount of work, the numbers of dollars, the ticking off of minutes that being a disciple requires, it might start to feel a little bit heavy.  Our independent, and dare I say, rebellious spirits may begin to resist.  This is not be what we signed up for. Some of us may have arrived at this point in time after years of service, now wishing to lay down the mantle of membership responsibilities and take up the “Membership Privileges” that are owed to us.  Others of us feel the limitations of our own lives as we struggle to make ends meet, try hard not to burn out, seek care for ourselves or our loved ones. Our expectations of what it means to be a disciple may not quite match up with the servant work Jesus expected his followers to do.

Yet as we follow Jesus into this last week of his life, we quickly see how the expectations of God’s people are turned upside down. Expectations and understandings of long-hoped for glory and honor are challenged. We see clearly that things are not happening according to our plans, according to our beliefs about what the future should hold. Our expectations of discipleship glory are uprooted as Jesus teaches us to focus our work on the poorest of the poor, on the weakest of the weak, on the most broken of all the broken. God’s table-turning power is moving to the center of all things, upsetting the status quo, giving new meaning to power – a power made perfect in weakness, a king in the form of a slave, a messianic leader who confronts in unexpected ways, in unexpected places, the chosen one who chooses to rule from a cross.

Maybe it’s not all that surprising that the cries of Hosanna turn to cries of Crucify.

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