Thursday, April 10, 2014

Hold the Pickle, Hold the Lettuce

Matthew 21:1-11

21 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.[a] 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[b] 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!”
10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Do you remember the words, "hold the pickle, hold the lettuce?"

What’s the next line?

“Special orders don’t upset us – all we ask is that you let us have it your way.”

About 25 years ago Burger King came out with their "Have it Your Way" campaign where if you wanted fast food you didn't have to get it anyway they made it, you could have a hamburger made especially for you.

And we liked that.

We wanted that hamburger made especially for us, our way. That's the kind of people we are, we love customization. We like things being tailor made, fit just for us.

The problem is that we don't stop with material customization, we also want it in our spiritual lives.

We like our church customized to fit our needs.

We like our worship service customized just to our exact taste.

Unfortunately, we also want a God who is customized to conform to our preferences. We want a God who does it our way and that's a problem.   Because God has a habit of doing things his way.

Two different secular publications have written recently about today's view of God and the church.
The first comes from Los Angeles Magazine, it is an article called God For Sale. The author says, "It is no surprise that when today's affluent young professionals return to church they want to do it only on their own terms. But what is amazing is how far the churches are going to oblige them."

And a recent article in Newsweek described today's Christians with these words: "They've developed a pick and choose Christianity in which individuals take what they want and pass over what does not fit their spiritual goals, and what many have left behind is a sense of their own sin."

You see we want spirituality.

We want God.

We just want him on our own terms.

We want a God that does it our way.

But that's not just true of us, that's been true of every age. Even on the first Palm Sunday, 2000 years ago, they had that same problem.

In our New Testament lesson for today, we read Matthew’s description of the first Palm Sunday, what we often call the Triumphal Entry.

It happened during the time of Passover, actually right before Passover. Passover was the greatest celebration of the Jewish people.

Jews would often make it their goal in life to go to Jerusalem at least once for the Passover. So on this Palm Sunday just a few days before Passover began, the pilgrims were already flooding into Jerusalem. They made their way along the dusty roads to Jerusalem, the capital city, the place where God himself dwelt in his temple.   It was also a time of expectation – when the people would get excited about the possibility that someday – someday – maybe today -- the Messiah would come. 

The Messiah!  The one sent by God to free the people.

The Messiah!  The one who would overthrow Rome and give freedom to the Jews.

The Messiah!  So expectant were the people that families would gather to celebrate Passover meals in homes and they would leave a place at the table for the Messiah.

It was into that mix of expectation and enthusiasm and emotion that we see Jesus getting a donkey and riding it from the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem (which by the way was in fulfillment of a prophecy from our Old Testament lesson from Zechariah: “Behold Jerusalem, your King comes to you riding on a donkey." So here is Jesus, fulfilling this messianic prophecy as he rides into Jerusalem amidst the fanfare of the pilgrims all around him. And the pilgrims, they see this and they think, "could this be the Messiah?" And their hopes get the better of them and they begin to wave their palm branches, and they sing songs, and they shout their praises to Jesus as he enters into Jerusalem.

Remember their words, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord." Those are quotes from Psalm 118, verses 25 and 26, one of the psalms that the pilgrims would sing as they made their way up to Jerusalem. But they go on to shout, "Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David."

You see the Messiah was to be the son of David, an ancestor of King David, the greatest of all kings of Israel. And the messiah was to restore his great kingdom. The people give away their thoughts and intentions by the praise they give. Their expectation for Jesus was that he was coming as a conquering general-king to free them from oppression.

But it is only a few pages later in the Gospel of Matthew that the people change their tune.
Within less than a week, Jesus who enters Jerusalem with all the fanfare and praise, is betrayed by Judas.  Jesus is arrested.  At one point, he is taken to one of the Roman authorities, a man named Pilate.  And Matthew’s Gospel tells us this is what took place (Matthew 27:15-23):

Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted.  At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas.  So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 

... The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.”  

Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 

All of them said, “Let him be crucified!” 

 Then he asked, “Why, what evil has he done?” 

But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”

But perhaps we should not be amazed by that at all.

The people who greeted Jesus were disappointed in him. 

He was not the warrior they expected, but the Prince of Peace.

He did not come to take away their suffering, but he came to tell us that we must also take up our cross and suffer for Christ.

I suspect that we are often disappointed when we discover the true Christ.

We look for a God who will make life easy and comfortable, but Jesus calls us to serve a God who is often difficult.  He tells us to take up our own cross if we are to follow him.  He tells us to love those who are difficult to love.  He demands that we forgive when we would rather strike back.

We look for a Lord who will take away the pain of living, but Jesus warns us, “don’t think I bring peace, but a sword.” 

We look for a deity who will answer our prayers like some cosmic bell hop.  But even Christ would pray to God, “take this cup of suffering away from me,” but then he yielded to whatever might be God’s will. 

On the first Palm Sunday, people saw Jesus ride in on a donkey rather than a horse -- a horse is a symbol of power and war. A donkey was a symbol of peace. But they didn't really get that.

They were so consumed with what they wanted the messiah to look like, what they wanted God to do for them, that it didn't matter who Jesus really was.

You know, it doesn’t take much to sing happy little songs that make us feel good.  We go home and think we have worshiped Christ – but it is so shallow.

On the other hand, it takes a lot to continue to worship a Lord who will not do it our way – but His divine way.  It takes a lot to worship a Lord who suffers on a cross, and expects us to suffer for His sake. 

It is easy to worship a Lord and pray that He will give you a new Humvee, or SUV, or flat screen TV – but can you still worship that Lord when He says “no” to those things, and then calls you to serve food to homeless folks?  Or to help work with children in one of our summer programs?  Or to volunteer to work with the youth? 

For too long, Christians have treated Christ like a fast food restaurant – just give us faith our way.  Our way.

What we need to do is to follow Christ HIS way.

It’s only when we follow Christ HIS way rather than insisting on God doing things our way, that we can at last praise God with a sincere, “Hallelujah.”

Copyright 2014, The Rev. Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved.
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