Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Palm Sunday: The Gift of God's Feelings

Scripture readings: Zechariah 9:9-13; Luke 19:28-44 or 48

You know that scientists are studying the various species of animals that live north of the Arctic Circle. Well, they have noticed a particular set of big white bears that act very odd. One day these bears will show a whole lot of energy and playfulness. The next day they will all be moping around, and snarling when another bear gets too close. These bears are either really up or really down. So the scientists have decided to name these strange bears “bi-polar bears.”
There is a lot to learn from Jesus’ coming to Jerusalem for that last Passover. He comes unarmed into a city full of powerful enemies, who have essentially placed a price on his head. And he says, “Here I am. What are you going to do with me?” And, of course, Jesus knows that the answer is that they will crucify him and kill him.
This is his very purpose for coming to Jerusalem. He came to die. Jesus is the sacrifice for our sins that transforms us, and restores us to harmony with God, with others, with our world, and with ourselves. The drama of Palm Sunday leads to this sacrifice and this transformation.
Let’s look at a couple parts of this drama of Jesus coming to Jerusalem, and how they apply to our lives. How does Jesus come to us and to our world? What does he bring to us?
This leads us back to the bi-polar bears. They represent a huge range of feelings and emotions. Some religious people are afraid of a God with strong feelings and emotions. As an escape from this, they will say that part of what it means for God to be God, and for God to be far beyond our thought, is that God is beyond all human emotional connections.
But that is not the religion of the Bible. In the Bible, God is what he is, all the time, perfectly and completely. And God is full of feeling and emotion. God is love and compassion; perfectly, and completely, and all the time. God is full of peace and joy; perfectly and all the time.
But God is also passionate about goodness, or the lack thereof. God in his love and passion for goodness is outraged by sin, and evil, and suffering, wherever he finds it. God is outraged by injustice, and hypocrisy, wherever he finds it. And God even hates death: perfectly, and completely, and all the time.
Out of the abundance of what God is, and his wealth of feeling, he comes to us with the specifics of what we really need, and what our world requires, in our time and place.
Sometimes we don’t know what to expect from God, because we do not see clearly what we need, or what the world around us needs. And this can be confusing.
Actually this is not much different from what we are. It is a perfectly simple thing to tenderly hug a little child and then, ten seconds later, scream at the same child because that beloved child is about to pull down a pot of boiling water on his head.
What confuses us about God comes from our temptation to be one kind of person in the presence of certain people, and another kind of person with others: one kind of person in business, another kind of person at home, another kind of person with friends, and another kind of person at church.
The person we show ourselves to be, in any given situation may be a deception. There is, often, something untrue about us that makes having faith in God confusing. Can we trust the Lord to be what he is perfectly, and completely, all the time?
Jesus is God in the flesh. When God became human in Jesus, we see this amazing ability to suddenly change, before our eyes, from one depth of emotion to another, according to what is needed. But Jesus is really what he is all the time.
Everyone with Jesus was excited, and joyful, and afraid, as they came up over the last hill (the Mount of Olives) that would bring them into sight of the Holy City. But, Jesus was calm, with the calm of being in control. He gave them something to plan, and a mission to carry out. “Go into that village and fetch me the donkey colt, for my mount.” His calm and control calmed them.
As they approached the walls and gates of the city, and the temple, so full of powerful enemies with their troops and guards, they took up a song, and that song put heart and backbone into them. Jesus surely sang along with them. He sang for joy with them.
But there were frowning people in the crowd who were dressed like leaders of the synagogues, and they looked like men who didn’t hear the word “no” gladly. “Jesus, stop these people from singing about you as their king!” “No! If these were silent, the stones would sing.”
In Jesus’ voice I hear two emotions at the same time: joy and indignation. This comes from being in the midst of happy people, and being faced with others who try to bring everyone down. Jesus stood in the defense of joy. And he stood against the killjoys.
And, then, the next thing you know, Jesus is weeping.
Jesus comes to Jerusalem to confront. Jesus comes to invite people to faith. Jesus comes to celebrate. Jesus comes to weep. Jesus comes to die; to offer himself on the cross.
Far too many of the people in Jerusalem did not want Jesus to give them what he thought they needed. But: what about you? Is there something the Lord needs to confront you about? You probably know that there is. Do you need him to invite you to faith, and openness? Do you need to be given a job to help Jesus do something (like the donkey mission)? Do you need to have joy, and sing with Jesus? Do you need Jesus to weep over you, or with you? Do you need to know that Jesus came to die for you?
Jesus designed his coming to Jerusalem, and he brought with him everything that he was. Jesus is abundantly full of every range of feeling and emotion for you, for this moment, for this time in your life. There is something he can communicate to you, as you need it, if you will stop and listen.
There is one more thing about the way Jesus comes to you; and that is Jesus’ way to success. Jesus is the King, he is the Lord, he is God. That is his success. The fact that he is what he is… is our success too.
But, his enemies did not believe that Jesus was any of these things. They only believed that Jesus was on a campaign to make himself king, and to make others believe mind-boggling things about him. They thought that his campaign included that parade with the palm branches, and the cleansing of the temple. They thought that these were part of his strategy to take over the country. They thought that, if they let him continue this strategy, he just might succeed. They thought they could only defeat Jesus by killing him.
Jesus friends sort of thought the same way. They believed (with fear and trembling) that Jesus was the right man to be king and Messiah. They didn’t understand a lot of what Jesus claimed to be, and they didn’t understand why Jesus didn’t take up arms. Still they were willing to hope that the parade into Jerusalem, and the cleansing of the Temple, would be an effective strategy to claim the kingship. They thought that it was possible for this strategy to rouse the people; so that the people would stand up for Jesus, and give Jesus their successful support in his campaign to be King. The worst thing they could imagine was for Jesus to be arrested, and killed.
That would bring their hopes to an end. The friends and enemies of Jesus tended to think along the same lines; and so do we.
The enemies of Jesus could not stop him. The very methods they used to defeat Jesus gave Jesus success. They crucified Jesus, never dreaming that crucifixion was part of the plan, all along. Their success made possible the sacrifice that Jesus came to give, for the life of the world, and for us.
Even if we are the friends of Jesus we may be tempted by this world’s standards and rules for success. Success is good, and comfortable, and desirable. I like success; but sometimes success is superficial.
The work of God (the work that changes our hearts and minds the most) is found in the experiences that look like setbacks, and frustrations, and defeats. This is simply the truth.
Our salvation is in the death of Jesus on the cross, and his resurrection from the dead. Our own transformation of life is basically found in our own crosses, in the times when we must die to ourselves and live by faith in Christ. That is where the real power of the Lord is to be found.
We do not see this. But this way of the Lord, of working through crosses, is typical, and maybe it is right for it to take us completely by surprise.
Perhaps God cannot take us any way but by surprise. It is as if the Lord came to us, most of the time, under our radar.
When I go walking around the Palouse River, I often see fighter jets swooping through the canyons. They come right down between the cliffs. I can see the pilots in their cockpits. I am tempted to say that they fly between one and two hundred feet above the bottom of the canyon. Maybe it is more, but it looks awfully close. And I think they are training to fly under the enemy’s radar; and under their own radar too.
This is God’s way, as well. God comes to us, in Jesus; through a human being on a dusty road long ago, through a man on a cross. He comes to us in his own humility, and sacrifice, and pain, and human feeling. He comes to us in our own humility, and sacrifice, and pain, and human feeling.
But Jesus will do more. Jesus will succeed. He will overcome. He will live forever and ever. And so Jesus comes to us with hope; because he has taken everything he shares with us in common, and Jesus rises from the dead, and promises to share his victory with us.

1 comment: