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Expectations versus Resurrection

Matthew 21:1-17 - Palm Sunday

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “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.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

“Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 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!”

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, “It is written,

‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.”

The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became angry and said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,

‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself’?”

He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.

All throughout this season of Lent I have been encouraging you all to explore the invitation to confession that our faith in Christ provides, because in CONFESSION Christ offers us powerful gifts:

  • The gift of reassurance that we are forgiven;

  • The gift of relationship that transcends intellectual belief;

  • The gift of transformation that gives us a new identity;

  • Most of all the gift of experiencing TRUST as the core of our faith – the trust that whether or not we fail, and whether or not we fully understand what God is doing – Jesus has called us God’s beloved, members of Christ’s body, and that is enough.

In the spirit of this call to confession, however, I need to start this sermon with my own confession:

I have struggled with that trust this week.

I have struggled with fear, and with deep anger, and with the pull of hopelessness.

This struggle has generated from images of choking children, and from the fraught nature of national and international politics, and from witnessing the unfixable pain of people I love, both in this church community and outside it.

The struggle has come from all of the things that, to my eyes, are SO CLEARLY WRONG with the world around me.

And this struggle has called up from the hidden parts of my soul the realization that I am one of the fickle people in the crowd waving my palm branch, and laying down my cloak, and shouting “Hosanna, save us” but really MEANING: “Hosanna… if.” “Save us Jesus, if, saving us means what I think it should mean.”

It’s a humbling realization, to identify with the fair-weather fans… to realize that the characters in the story who provide such an easy mark for the purpose of sermonizing are so much like me. Except that the people in the crowd – the ones who are shouting “Hosanna” today, and on Friday will shout “Crucify him” – these inconsistent followers have perhaps more excuse than I do to tinge their Hosannas with a side of militant, messianic expectations.

After all, Jesus was intentionally fulfilling Zechariah’s prophecy, wasn’t he...riding in “on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey”?[1]

And that prophecy had been about a conquering hero, demolishing all opposing military might and imposing his peace through victory.

What were the people supposed to expect with such an entry?

Not to mention the social, economic, and religious consequences of the Roman occupation under which the people were living.

The oppression and injustice that God’s coming kingdom was supposed to overthrow were their everyday reality.

Wasn’t it reasonable for the people to expect the one who came proclaiming God’s kingdom to set about overthrowing the very opposite kingdom that was essentially enslaving God’s people?

When the world around them looked so different than the vision of God’s kingdom proclaimed by the prophets – and also so different than the vision of the Kingdom of the Heavens proclaimed by Jesus himself throughout Matthew’s gospel – is it not reasonable to have some expectations about what this Messiah is going to do? Is it not reasonable to expect a breaking forth of God’s justice?

I look around at this broken world, and it is painfully clear to me that it is also reasonable for us to me to think that we need the Messiah of Zechariah.

We need a conqueror who will remove from power those who hurt the innocent.

We need a peacemaker who can command those who inflict terror to instead act with peace.

We need a covenant-maker who will set free the prisoners from the waterless pit, and the refugee camp, and the school-to-prison pipeline, and the countless broken systems, and broken bodies, and broken minds.

We need a Savior who will take control and rid the world of all of the evil that holds us in bondage of every imaginable kind.

But instead… instead we get a savior who enters into the bondage, who takes “the form of a slave… (and) being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.”[2]

This week it is hard to trust a savior on a cross.

This week, I’d rather believe in the Savior who overturns the tables of the money changers, and welcomes the excluded to the temple in order to heal them, and affirms the voices of the most despised and vulnerable… and then keeps going.

That kind of savior would topple all of the unjust and immoral leaders in our world, and would break down the barriers erected by elites, and would heal the pains and illnesses and disadvantages that drain human potential and happiness.

That kind of savior would establish the righteous justice of the Kingdom of the Heavens here and now.

That kind of savior would comply with my expectations.

But the problem is that the only way for that kind of Savior to save our world would be to utterly unmake it. Because the powers of this world do not work according to the systems of God’s justice. The kingdom of this world operates by very different rules; rules that elevate power, or at least pragmatism; rules that accept the need for force.

The kingdom of this world can never be truly transformed, by force – it can be conquered, but not ultimately freed.

But even Zechariah’s Messiah – if we read it carefully – is about freedom. It’s not good enough to get rid of the bad – to overthrow, or to conquer. That’s not the path to true peace.

So our Savior doesn’t come as a conquering king. He doesn’t come in a show of power.

He comes humbly, on a donkey. He comes in the form of a slave. He comes to die.

And we are called to TRUST this savior.

To trust him even when he violates our expectations.

To trust him even when we are sure that we know what we need from him.

To trust him, even when he chooses to enter the suffering we would rather he just wipe away.

To trust that God is doing something we cannot even imagine.

Today we wave our palm branches, but as this Holy Week progresses, it will get harder to follow the path that Jesus walks.

It will require us to accept a Leader who serves, and calls us to serve as well.

It will require us to stand in the dark when he hangs on a cross, and not to rush back to the light.

It will require us to trust in a resurrection that changes everything, even when everything looks the same.

In my most honest moments, I admit that I often want victory, not resurrection.

But in my most honest moments, I also know that what my soul longs for – what our broken world longs for – is life, life to spring forth from all the death. And conquering victory doesn’t bring life out of death. Only resurrection does that.

So, as we journey through this Holy Week, come and see the Savior who defies our expectations, and lays down his power, and takes up his cross.

If we can keep our eyes on him, if God’s Holy Spirit gives us the faith to trust this humble Savior, maybe we will start to understand the resurrection God is working in our world… maybe we will be able to trust enough to take up our own cross, and be part of the humble kingdom work that ends in resurrection.

I know our world needs it.


[1] See Zechariah 9:9-10

[2] Philippians 2:7-8

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