Thursday, March 17, 2016

God's Way or Our Way - Luke 19:28-40 - Palm Sunday

Luke 19:28-40  New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

28 After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
29 When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32 So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35 Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road.37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38 saying,
“Blessed is the king
    who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
    and glory in the highest heaven!”
39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

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 Luke’s description of the Triumphal Entry, which although Luke does not mention anything in his Gospel about the use of palm branches being spread out on the ground and waved in the air – that comes from John’s Gospel – it is traditional for us to call this day Palm Sunday.

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.

“Blessed is the king
    who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
    and glory in the highest heaven!”

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 Luke 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 Luke’s Gospel tells us this is what took place (Luke 23):

13 Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him.15 Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16 I will therefore have him flogged and release him.”[d]
18 Then they all shouted out together, “Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!” 19 (This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.) 20 Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; 21 but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” 22 A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.” 23 But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed. 24 So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. 25 He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished.

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?  Or to love your enemy?  Or to set aside your pride for humility?

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.”

And now unto God the Father,
God the Son,
And God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all might, power, dominion and glory, today and forever, Amen.
Copyright 2016. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.