Sermon

To Follow Jesus

Palm Sunday A   March 16, 2008

Isaiah 50:4-9a; Matthew 21:1-11

Do you know
the old song?

I have
decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
No turning back, no turning back.

When I was a
little girl growing up in Virginia, I attended many parades. My dad was first a
State Senator and then in the U.S. Senate, and one of the expectations of his
job was that he attend parades. We got to watch from the Reviewing Stand, at
the end of the Parade Route. I remember ducking down beside a folding chair,
behind the paper "walls" of the stand, to try and close out the furor
of the big bass drums that seemed to be a feature in every band.

Still, I love a parade. I love the marching bands. I rode on or walked beside
the floats my sorority built for Homecoming at William and Mary. It can be
thrilling to be caught up in the excitement, especially when you find yourself
in the midst of it.

But this morning we have heard two passages that remind us that the parade in
our story is not a typical one. It signals the beginning of something, the
escalation of the tensions between Jesus and the ruling authorities, the start
of a week for setting your face like flint, a week that will appear to end in
death.

Though I may wonder, I still will follow;
Though I may wonder, I still will follow;
Though I may wonder, I still will follow;
No turning back, no turning back.

Though I may wonder, indeed. Jesus tells his disciples:

Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey
tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me.   

      

If
anyone says anything to you, just say this, 'The Lord needs them.' And he will
send them immediately."
(Matthew 21:2-3, NRSV)

Off they go,
by this time used to the seeming eccentricities of their master, their teacher,
their friend. You want a colt, rabbi? You need a room for a meal? These were
easier requests to fulfill than the harder work of discipleship, which they
felt themselves inadequate to perform: healing the sick and the seemingly
crazy, sometimes exorcising evil spirits, always on the spot because people
expected them to know what to do, to represent Jesus, to be somehow like him.

Who wouldn't choose being in charge of planning a meal, or even collecting a
donkey, over the possibility of the kind of failure that impacts other people's
lives and perhaps your own life, too?

There are other things to wonder about here, too. Who did people think Jesus
was? And what did it mean to them to see this notorious fellow riding into town
on a donkey?

It doesn't mean as much to us as it did to them, almost certainly. We may think
it's touching that his mother arrived at his birth riding on a donkey, and he
would be delivered to another, very different place by the same sort of humble
steed, no milk white horse, no gold-leafed chariot. But the people who saw him
that day, at least the ones who knew their Bible stories, got the association
immediately. When old King David lay dying, his sons, children of various
wives, jockeyed for power. David had a particular son in mind, but others saw a
chance to make a move, to rise to power.

When they get it sorted out, at least temporarily, the newly anointed King
Solomon rides into town on his father's mule.

I'm not sure if the disciples thought of this when they set out on their
errand, but I'm sure the Scribes and the Pharisees did when they saw Jesus
riding toward them and heard the shouts of the people.

The disciples obeyed, whether or not they understood and they show us the
importance of following through even when we don't understand why we're headed
that way.

The world behind me, the cross before
me;
The world behind me, the cross before me;
The world behind me, the cross before me;
No turning back, no turning back.

There would
come a time, soon, when the world lay behind Jesus, the world he knew as a
human person, the world of meals shared with friends, of long walks on dusty
roads, of people who touched him and took care of him. After the entry into
Jerusalem he will be anointed by an unnamed woman, at least she is unnamed in
Matthew's version of the story. The details differ from one gospel to another,
but the essential act is the same. Jesus is being identified by anointing both
as king and as someone preparing for death.

When we know time is short, whether in our schooling or a job or prior to a
move, when it’s time to launch a young one from the nest, or when someone we
love is turning the corner towards death, how do we respond? How different is
it when we feel our own end drawing near? Jesus did a lot of teaching in that
final week, and he went to the Temple and turned over the tables, too. He used
both words and actions to show his friends and all those around the things that
felt most important to communicate: that he would soon be gone, that how we
worship God matters, that love takes precedence over rules, always.

Though none go with me, still I will
follow;
Though none go with me, still I will follow;
Though none go with me, still I will follow;
No turning back, no turning back.

How are we
asked to take risks for our faith? I think we take them every time we let Jesus
influence our thinking and our actions instead of giving in to what the culture
expects or what our families, friends or co-workers demand. No, we’re not at risk
of jail for our beliefs, but we may sometimes feel those beliefs exclude us from
being “normal,” from “fitting in,” from being successful in this 2008 world.

I’m not sure
I think it’s any of the surface choices we make. I think it’s about an interior
openness to listen for God, to hear the obscure and eccentric instructions, to realize
God needs a donkey and her colt, or a room in which to meet, or a heart with enough
courage to follow all the way to the cross.

This day in the
church calendar is called both Palm and Passion Sunday, in the recognition that
not everyone will attend services during Holy Week. Some will go smiling from the
Palm parade to the Resurrection without a stop in between for betrayal and death,
for shame and grief, before experiencing the mystery we will celebrate on Easter.

21:9 The crowds that
went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of
David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the
highest heaven!"

21:10 When he entered
Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, "Who is this?"

21:11 The crowds were
saying, "This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee."

A city in turmoil—I
think it’s important to remember it was an occupied city in which the Roman invaders
and the Jewish leaders, both the royal family and the Temple authorities, angled
to maintain superiority and advantage. The last thing any of them wanted around
was a man whose reputation caused people to cheer in the streets. He threatened
them all.

And so we gather
nearly 2000 years later to wave our palms, nice people, not the sort of people who
would participate in a riot or a demonstration, but people who care for each other
and our community and who are removed by every kind of distance from the drama long
ago.

It’s a week for
the strong-minded and the full-hearted, a week for seeing and feeling the truth
of the humanity of the man who rode into town on that long ago day to the shouts
of “Hosanna!” knowing full well that within a few days they would turn to cries
of “Crucify him!” It is a week for realizing that Jesus rode and walked and suffered
through days and nights from which we might well choose to flee, just as some of
his closest followers would do, denying him and hiding in the crowd to observe from
a distance.

Will you decide now to follow Jesus?
Will you decide now to follow Jesus?
Will you decide now to follow Jesus?
No turning back, no turning back.

Our faith
journey is not as linear as we might sometimes like. We don't choose once and never again. The choice is before us, again and again, in daily decisions and in major life events. There are days when we
want to crouch and cover our ears, hoping the parade will go by without
noticing our presence. 

Will we decide now, to follow Jesus? No turning back, no turning back. Amen.

 

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