Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | April 9, 2017

2017.04.09 “This Day and Every Day” – Palm/Passion Sunday

Central United Methodist Church
This Day and Every Day
Pastor David L. Haley
Palm/Passion Sunday
April 9th, 2017

Entree a Jerusalem

“Entree a Jerusalem, Bernadette Lopez”

        Pastor’s Haley’s sermon below is preparatory to the reading of the Passion of Jesus according to Matthew, Matthew 26:14 – 27:66

After weeks of journeying toward Jerusalem with Jesus; today, on Palm Sunday, we arrive there. Would it be fair to say that as we head down the Mt. of Olives and see the city gleaming white and gold before us, we feel almost as much emotion as Jesus felt, to see Jerusalem again?

JerusalemIt has now been four years since I was there; I still remember it like yesterday. The holy city, spiritual home to three of the world’s great religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) is a city like no other. Almost every day in the Old City there is a religious procession of one kind or another. When we were there we wound up in several; one we thought was a wedding turned out to be a bar mitzvah instead.

As you might expect, because of the religious and cultural tensions within Jerusalem, security is tight. I often felt under-dressed by not carrying a weapon. Not only are there the three religions as well as the religious factions within each religion, there are the authorities, whose job it is to keep the peace. As it has always been through the centuries, Jerusalem is a tinderbox; you never know when or where violence may erupt.

Now, take everything I just said and go back 1,987 years, when it was worse. Occupied by Rome, the “authorities” of the time, Jerusalem was the spiritual home of Judaism, the site of the Herod’s Temple, God’s presence on earth. Yet resentment seethed in the streets, that Jews should be ruled by this pagan occupation. Regularly, rebellions broke out, and some so-called messiah or another other would wind up being crucified, using broken human bodies as examples not to even THINK about rebellion.

This was even more true during Passover, when the population of some 40,000 people (smaller than Skokie) swelled five times. Security was tighter than usual; the Roman governor Pontius Pilate wanted no bad news reaching the Emperor Tiberius of things getting out of hand. While callous to Jewish sensitivities in the past, causing repeated near-insurrections, in the new political environment since the death of his sponsor Sejanus, Pilate adopted a policy of appeasement.

For example, the Jewish historian Josephus notes that while Pilate’s predecessors had respected Jewish customs by removing images and effigies on their standards when entering Jerusalem, Pilate allowed his soldiers to bring them into the city at night. The next day, when they were discovered by the citizens of Jerusalem, they appealed to Pilate to remove them. After five days of demonstrations, Pilate had his soldiers surround the demonstrators, threatening them with death, which the demonstrators dared by baring their necks, rather than submit to desecration of the Mosaic law. Pilate relented and removed the images. Just as he would appease them to order the crucifixion of Jesus.

Given all this, it does not take a lot of imagination to imagine what you might see in ancient Jerusalem. Imagine the sound of warhorses as Pilate and his guard enters the city. Led by the Roman standard, see and hear chariots and warhorses, armored Roman soldiers carrying their swords and shields. Most of the time Pilate stayed at the fortress of Caesarea, on the coast; but at Passover, when the city was crowded with pilgrims, he stayed at Herod’s Palace in Jerusalem, for closer monitoring of the pilgrims.

Now imagine a Roman sentinel, looking out from Jerusalem over the Kidron Valley, seeing a religious procession forming as they descend the Mount of Olives. Instead of a Roman standard, they carry palm branches. Instead of soldiers in armor, it looks like Galileans peasants, and women, and children. Instead of a warhorse, their leader is . . . riding a donkey? How humiliating is that?

As this procession enters Jerusalem, people ask what they did not have to ask about Pilate’s procession: “What’s going on here? Who is this?” To which people in the procession answer, “This is the prophet Jesus, the one from Nazareth in Galilee.” “You’ve heard of him?”

Who was this? Jesus, a man of humble beginnings, with friends in low places: fishermen, tax collectors, sinners. A ragged rabbi who preached loving God and loving your neighbor, even your enemies. Even though he considered himself the Messiah, he didn’t like to talk about it, and even instructed his disciples to tell no one. He rode a donkey and not a warhorse into Jerusalem, because he didn’t want to give anyone the wrong idea, which were the only ideas about the Messiah they had. At heart Jesus was a country boy, an itinerant preacher on a rural circuit, visiting the bright lights (well, not that bright) of the big city – the holy city – of Jerusalem. Who will have the greater impact? Jesus upon the city, or the city upon Jesus? We know the answer, don’t we?

Was Jesus naïve about what would happen? According to the Gospels, all the way there he had been telling his disciples that he would be killed there. Jesus was, at heart, an apocalyptic prophet who believed he was the Messiah – through not the way everyone expected – and that by his actions he would bring about God’s intervention, throwing out the Romans and ushering in the Kingdom of God, restoring all things to how God had intended from the beginning. As the famous historian and theologian Albert Schweitzer stated it: “Jesus lays hold of the wheel of the world to set it moving on that last revolution which is to bring all ordinary history to a close. It refuses to turn, and he throws himself on it. Then it does turn; and crushes him” (Albert Schweitzer, The Quest for the Historical Jesus, p. 370-71). But as we shall see next Sunday – Easter Sunday – the wheel does indeed, began to turn in the other direction.

Two processions, two kingdoms: Rome, and the ways of Rome as represented by Pilate; God, and the ways of God as represented by Jesus; they are on a collision course. One is an imperial kingdom, that rules by power and violence and death; the other a peaceable Kingdom, that rules by peace and love and life. Which will win?

We may think we know the answer to this, but in truth, the verdict is still out. It is choice we must make every day, an allegiance we must choose, between empire and imperial ways, or the Kingdom of God and kingdom ways. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

May what follows in this story we hear today and what happens in this week – Holy Week – give us the courage to choose God and the ways of God, this day and every day.  Amen.

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