Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | March 24, 2013

2013.03.24 “The Way: Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus – The Final Week in Jerusalem” “Mighty Be the Power! – Luke 19: 28 – 40

Central United Methodist Church

The Way: Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus

The Final Week in Jerusalem

Mighty Be the Power!

Bishop Sally Dyck

Episcopal Leader of the Northern

Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church

Luke 19: 28 – 40

March 24th, 2013

 

When Jesus had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 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. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’”
So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it.
As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 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, saying,
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” – Luke 19: 28 – 40, The Revised Standard Version

 

In Rockefeller Plaza in New York City, there is a huge statue of the mythological character, Atlas. You may remember that Atlas was the symbol of holding up the world on his shoulders. And so, in front of these buildings in Rockefeller Plaza, Atlas signifies the powers of this world. He’s a mighty man, you can see how strong and muscular he is. You’d have to be, if you’re going to hold the whole world on your shoulders. Maybe sometimes you feel like you’re holding the whole world on your shoulders.

Theoretically, if you stand just so, and look one way you can see Atlas, and if you look the other way and the doors are open at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, you can see all the way down the aisle to the altar. And there you can see in St. Patrick’s, Jesus on the cross. Look one way: the mighty powers of this world. Look the other way: the mighty power of the crucified and risen Christ.

The whole story of Holy Week is about the clash that occurs in each and every one of our lives each and every day; every holy week of our lives. Because in any given minute, we’re distracted and called by Atlas – the mighty powers of this world – or we purposely and intentionally look to the mighty power of the crucified and risen Christ.

It begins in Holy Week, as Jesus comes into Jerusalem. He’s been with the people throughout these years. He’s been talking and preaching and teaching. He’s been the one who’s told about the incredible love of God through his stories. He’s been the one who healed ordinary, even lonely people. He’s been the one who gathered with him the people often pushed to the side by the Empire, the Roman Empire, and also the religious empire.

So people were following, and as he came into Jerusalem the excitement grew. And there’s this wonderful story about how his disciples steal the donkey, with assurances that they will give it back. He takes this donkey and rides into Jerusalem on it and it’s all very symbolic. Because people know from the Hebrew Scriptures, that to ride into the city of Jerusalem on a donkey, is to say that he is the King of peace. He’s a different king, he has a different kind of power, and so people lay down palm branches. They had these branches they waved and threw in front of the donkey as they went into the city of Jerusalem.

How exciting it must have been! With the children and ordinary people around him, along with all the folks entering Jerusalem that day. The population of Jerusalem would increase about a quarter million during the holiday, the Passover. So lots of people were coming in.

Whether it was happening at the same time or not, there was another parade that day, and we don’t always think about this other parade. There is another parade snaking its way in, another procession, the parade led by the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. As he came in he had his entourage, too. He was going to make sure he was in Jerusalem during this week, because with so many people coming into such a small place (Jerusalem is not very big), there might be trouble. And there’s nothing the Roman rulers wanted less than trouble. They didn’t want any trouble because then Rome might come in, and squash them, and they’d lose their power. Who knows what would happen?

So Pontius Pilate’s procession came in, led by horses and chariots. Horses and chariots throughout the Hebrew Scriptures represent power over people; they were the weapons and armaments of the time. This procession is led by foot soldiers rather than children, with the sun glinting off their metal shields and swords, and all of the other things they bring with them as a sign of their power, to suppress any funny business that might go on in the city during the week. Whereas in Jesus parade, the sun shines off children’s hair and his own face. Two parades, with different symbols and understandings and ways of living in power.

Now, as Christians, we don’t always like to talk about power. But that’s what makes Palm Sunday so complicated, because Palm Sunday is about this clash of power that exists in our world, in our own culture, in our own lives. It’s a power that clashes within us. So as Jesus comes into Jerusalem, and as Pontus Pilate comes into Jerusalem, you know there’s going to be a clash of power.

As he comes into Jerusalem, Jesus wants to make sure people understand who he is, so he uses all kinds of symbols. It’s interesting, because even in the symbol of the cross it’s like Christians and Church couldn’t take it for what it was. And so they transformed even the cross, the symbol of what Rome could do to someone. The cross in Roman times was to terrorize people, to suppress any kind of uprising, to make sure people could be humiliated at a moment’s notice if they disobeyed. And yet Jesus took the cross and transformed it; it became a totally different symbol, it became the symbol of how Jesus became vulnerable, and died for us, and gave us forgiveness and eternal life.

But we can’t help ourselves; that’s the story of Palm Sunday; we can’t help ourselves! We keep reverting to the world’s power, we keep looking at Atlas, we keep looking at whom and what is powerful and mighty according to the world.

Do you remember the fourth-century conversion of Constantine, which you may have learned about in history? In the fourth century Constantine, the Emperor of Rome, looked up into the sky and what does he see? He sees a cross, and the cross was made out of a sword. And what does he see around the cross? It says “Conquer by This.” Sure enough, people became Christians but it was a force over and against them. Jesus said right there at the table, when his disciples were gathered around him, “You know the Gentile rulers lord it over you, but not so with you.” He was calling them to a different kind of power.

I was recently reading an author who suggested, “What if Constantine – who then conquered and suppressed people in the name of Christianity – what if he’d seen a different image, one of those images Jesus gave during Holy Week?” What if he’d seen the image of a basin and towel, and said, “Serve like this.” What if he’d seen a table with bread and a cup, and said, “Reconcile like this.” What if he’d seen the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, and said, “Trust like this.” What if he’d seen the mother hen with her chicks, and said, “Love like this,” or the dove descending, and said, “Be kind like this.” Those were the symbols Jesus used during Holy Week to call people to a different way of living. But it’s almost as if we can’t, just can’t do it. And so it’s like Jesus said of Jerusalem: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem how often I would’ve called you, but you would not.”

It’s the same in our lives; we can’t break out of that pattern. The theologian Walter Bruggeman was in Chicago recently, and he was talking about Empire Power, and how we all get caught in the grip of it. And he gave an example I found interesting, because I’ve seen these advertisements. I don’t see too much TV, but there’s this advertisement where there’s this nice friendly man who is sitting at a table with some small children. And he asks them which is better: “Doing more than one thing at a time, or just one thing at a time?” “Which is better: faster or slower?” “Which is better: more or less?” (You’ve seen this ad, haven’t you?) The underlying idea is, it’s always better to do two things at once rather than one. It’s better to be faster rather than slower. It’s better to have more rather than less. It’s a subtle way of calling us to this world’s power, consumption, getting ahead, over and against others.

Now, listen, I have every kind of device; I even have that phone service. So it’s hard to extricate ourselves from this power!

What I want to say on Holy Week is, “Couldn’t there be just one time during this week, when maybe we intentionally take our eyes from Atlas – from the world’s power – and look toward Jesus?

Maybe it’s when a child is talking to you, and maybe instead of giving the child your full attention, you’re checking out March madness scores on your device. Maybe put the device away, and speak to the child.

Or maybe you decide to go back to that old concept of “slow food,” you know, where you actually make the food in your kitchen, and serve the food to your family and friends, and maybe even invite some other people over, even though every dust bunny isn’t killed.

Or maybe you intentionally decide that you’re going to act differently, toward that person at work or your neighbor or someone in your life who is always irritating your last nerve.

You remember when Peter was standing around the fire and he denied Jesus three times? And around the fire there were others, including a servant girl, who recognized him? They recognized him as a Galilean, probably because of the way he spoke, or maybe because of the way he was dressed. But you have to begin to wonder what would make people recognize us as a follower of Jesus? That’s the question we have to ask ourselves.

People will recognize us as a follower of Jesus, not because we can easily extricate ourselves from the powers of this world, but because, from time to time at critical moments, we turn our gaze from Atlas, and look at Jesus. And we intentionally make the decision to lift up the loving, forgiving, redemptive, ways that Jesus taught us, even in that holy week.

Now the other thing about Jesus coming into Jerusalem, is that when he came into Jerusalem he went right to the Temple. Or he went as far into the Temple as any Gentile, or woman, or ordinary person could go. You see, sometimes we don’t think about this: even Jesus couldn’t go all the way to the holy of holies; even he couldn’t go all the way to the place were people understood God to be.

And that was what he was so upset about, that anybody was denied access to God. He was upset that people were buying and selling. It doesn’t mean we can’t have bazaars or church auctions or things like that; it’s harder than that. It means we have to get rid of anything and everything that takes people away from the love and grace of Jesus Christ, even if it’s ourselves and our actions. That’s what Jesus did to make God and God’s grace available to all, he took away whatever would obstruct them. That’s a lesson for us today, even for us good Christians. We may go to services all week, but we also sometimes put obstacles in front of people; we close doors.

There’s this United Methodist minister who works for the denomination, who was on a plane. Next to him was a young college student just about to graduate. As they were taking off, the plane lurched. When it did, the young woman – whose name was Bethany – squealed and grabbed the minister’s arm. When she did that, he said to her, “You must not fly very often?” She said, “No, I fly all the time.” He said, “Well, you seem kind of scared.” She said, “Well, I’m afraid I’m going to die and go to hell.”

You know if you’re a United Methodist minister, really, you have to follow up on that one. No more incognito!

And so he asked her about it. And she said:

“You know, I grew up in a home where I was told I was never worthy enough. I grew up in a church that said you had to be just like this, and you only can believe this, and you’re never good enough. You never good enough even to come to the Lord’s Table; you’re never good enough. Pretty soon I became so filled with anger that I gave up on God and church and now I am afraid of going to go to hell.”

And she proceeded to pour out all her feelings. When she had finished, the minister gave it a moment of silence to recognize and give pause to all this pain and grief.

And then he said:

“Would you like to hear some good news? Do you want to hear some good news? God loves you just as you are. God’s grace is there for you. God loves you!”

He broke down the barriers, he opened the door so she could go through and experience God and God’s grace. That’s the kind of mighty power in Jesus that we have.

In this holy week there will be times when we are tempted to look towards Atlas, toward the mighty powers of the world. But I encourage you at least once, to make a different kind of decision, and to look toward Jesus.

Who knows; maybe somebody will recognize YOU as a follower of Jesus!

 

[Note: In worship, we used the 11-minute excerpt contained on The Way DVD. For the reader, I recommend you use the link below to view Adam Hamilton’s longer version, as originally delivered to his congregation on April 1, 2012, which may be viewed here:

http://www.cor.org/worship/sermon-archives/show/sermons/The-Final-Week-in-Jerusalem/

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