Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | March 25, 2018

2018.03.25 “Collision Course” – March 25th, 2018

Central United Methodist Church
Collision Course
Pastor David L. Haley
Palm/Passion Sunday
March 25th, 2018

PalmSunday

Pastor’s Haley’s sermon is preparatory to the central reading of Palm/Passion Sunday, the Passion of Jesus according to Mark 14:1 – 15:47

It was a newspaper headline recently, addressing the tension between Special Investigator Robert Mueller and President Donald Trump, which occurred to me was also the perfect title of what’s happening in the Jesus story on Palm Sunday. The headline was: “Collision Course.”

As Jesus entered Jerusalem on that day we call Palm Sunday, did he know that he was on a collision course with the religious authorities, and ultimately, the Roman Empire, who would execute him as just another rebel left to rot on a cross as a public warning to any who would rebel against Rome?

It’s a mystery, of course, how such things happen in life, and what they mean, especially for those of us who believe in what we call divine providence, the idea that God directs our paths. Consider, for example, what happened here in Chicago just last month, when the paths of two strangers collided.

On February 13th, Chicago Police Commander Paul Bauer was downtown, on duty and in uniform, parking his police cruiser at Lake and Clark streets, when he heard a radio call about a fleeing suspect. That suspect was 44 year-old, four time felon, Shomari Legghette, who, went stopped by police nearby for questioning, fled. Moments later, Bauer saw Legghette running, exited his vehicle and chased him. The two collided at a stairwell outside the Thompson Center, falling down the stairs, followed by the sound of six gunshots. Bauer, a husband and father, a respected officer and leader, lay bleeding in the landing, shot six times, soon to be pronounced dead at Northwestern Hospital. Legghette was arrested moments later, carrying the weapon, later traced to a gun shop in Wisconsin. Was the collision of these two chance, a horrible accident of life? Or was it a predestined destiny for these two to meet that day, by the God who – as we sometimes say – directs our steps?

On that day long ago in Jerusalem, it was not only two different people, but two different processions that entered the city, again either by accident or divine destiny. Entering the city in one procession was Pontius Pilate, the Roman Prefect, who most of the time stayed at the fortress of Caesarea on the coast, but at Passover – when the city was crowded with pilgrims – stayed at Herod’s Palace in Jerusalem, to more closely monitor the situation. Preceded by the Roman standard, you can imagine chariots and warhorses, and armored Roman soldiers carrying swords and shields.

But descending down from the Mount of Olives into the Kidron Valley, came a very different procession. Instead of the Roman standard, they carry palm branches. Instead of soldiers in armor, they are peasants, mostly Galileans, fishermen and farmers, women, and children. Instead of a warhorse, their leader is . . . riding a donkey? Obviously, this is a low-budget procession; 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, from Nazareth in Galilee.” “You’ve heard of him?” Maybe that had; maybe they hadn’t.

It was Jesus bar Joseph, Jesus of Nazareth, a man of humble beginnings, with friends in low places: fishermen, tax collectors, sinners. He was a ragged rabbi who preached loving God and loving your neighbor, even your enemies. Even though he may have thought of himself as the Messiah, he didn’t talk about it, and instructed his disciples not to either. 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 people had. At heart he was a country boy, an itinerant preacher on a rural circuit, visiting the bright lights of the big city, the holy and unholy city of Jerusalem. Who would have the greater impact? Jesus upon the city, upon the authorities, upon the Roman Empire, or would all those – in one hard giant fist – come down upon him? We know the answer, don’t we? If not, we will after today’s reading.

Was Jesus naïve about what would happen? According to the Gospels, all the way there he had been telling his disciples he would be killed there. Jesus was, at heart, an apocalyptic prophet who believed he was the Messiah – through not the way people expected – and that by his actions he would bring about God’s intervention, throwing out the Romans and ushering in the God’s Kingdom, restoring things to how God intended from the beginning. As the famous historian and theologian Albert Schweitzer put 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 continues to turn; except, now – thanks to Jesus – 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. They always were; they still are today. One is an imperial kingdom, which rules by power and violence and death; the other a peaceable Kingdom, that rules by peace and love and life. Even today, these two ways of being in the world remain on a collision course. Perhaps the youth protests we are seeing in yesterday’s March for Our Lives, against the entrenched gun lobby, is another example of it happening again.

What about us; where do we fit in? We may think we know the answer, but today as we cry out, both “Hosanna to the coming King” and “Crucify him” on the same day, we know that on any given day, we do not know which we will choice we will make. It is choice we must make every day, an allegiance we must choose, between empire and imperial ways, power and greed and violence and lies, or God’s Kingdom and kingdom ways, love and peace and justice and truth. Every day we must pray: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Finally, this leaves us wondering: like Jesus and Pilate, like Commander Bauer and Shomari Legghette: who or what in our future, are we on a collision course with?

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