This blog is mostly sermons of a pastor serving Riverside Community Church, Mattawa/Desert Aire, Washington. An eremite is someone who lives in a wilderness or desert of some kind. I have often lived in remote places. Early Christian eremites lived under the discipline of solitude within the discipline of community. I try to be involved in worshiping, studying, and praying with others; and serving others wherever I find myself. I try to keep up with my correspondence in the electronic desert.
Tuesday, March 22, 2016
A Firm Foundation - Jesus' Campaign Strategy
Preached on Palm Sunday, March 20, 2016
readings: Zechariah 9:9-13; Luke 19:28-44
You know that scientists are studying
the various species of animals that live north of the Arctic Circle. Well, they’ve
noticed a particular set of big white bears that act very odd. One day these
bears show a whole lot of energy and playfulness. The next day they just mope
around, and snarl and growl when another bear gets too close.
A walk along Priest Rapids Lake, Columbia River
Desert Aire/Mattawa, WA
These bears are either really up or
really down. So the scientists have decided to name these strange animals
Palm Sunday really was a bi-polar day. 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 will gladly pay a price for
Jesus, just as gladly 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 was his very purpose for coming to
Jerusalem on that happy parade day. He came to be greeted by a cheering crowd
in order for them to kill him. The cheering crowd didn’t realize that they were
preparing Jesus for his sacrifice to die for their sins and ours.
Jesus is the extreme sacrifice for our
sins. In that sacrifice, the same power that created us carries us through a
death to ourselves into a resurrection that transforms us. Jesus, dying on the
cross and rising from the dead, 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, and so does the
God we learn to know through Jesus.
Some religious people are afraid of a
God with strong feelings and emotions. As an escape from this, they say that
part of what it means for God to be God means that God is far beyond our intense thoughts and feelings. They believe that God is beyond all human emotional
connections and attachments.
But that is not the religion of the
Bible. In the Bible, God is what he is, all the time, perfectly and completely;
and this God is very intense in what he is.
God is full of feelings and emotions.
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 deeply
outraged by sin, and evil, and suffering, wherever he finds it. God is outraged
by injustice and hypocrisy, wherever he finds it.
God even hates death. God hates death
perfectly, and completely, and all the time. It’s right for us to feel awkward,
and afraid, and empty, and completely at a loss in the presence of death because
God wept in the presence of death when Jesus stood by the tomb of his friend
Jesus wept. Jesus is God weeping.
But Jesus was glad to do more than weep
in the presence of death. That is why God was glad to die for all of the death
that infects this world.
Out of the abundance of what God is, and
out of his wealth of feeling, he comes to us with the specifics of what we
really need most, and what our world requires most, in our time and place.
Sometimes we don’t know what to expect
from God, because we don’t see clearly what we need, or what the world around
us needs. 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 their head. A good parent can be
trusted to be all that they need to be, at any moment, all the time.
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 on the golf course, 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. Knowing a bit about ourselves, can
we trust the Lord to be what he is perfectly, and completely, at any given
moment, 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 that comes from being in control. He shared his calmness with his
disciples by giving them something to plan. He gave them 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, the disciples and the crowd burst into song, and that song put heart
and backbone into them.
Jesus surely sang along with them. He
sang for joy with them. Jesus is always ready to sing for joy.
But there were frowning people in the
crowd. They were dressed like leaders of the synagogues and of the Temple, 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 was 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. He comes to conquer
Far too many of the people in Jerusalem
did not want Jesus to give them what he thought they needed. But: what about
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. Jesus is always that, and that is his success. The fact
that he is what he is (king, and Lord, and God) is our success too.
But, his enemies didn’t believe that
Jesus was any of these things. They only believed that Jesus was on a campaign
to make himself king and rule against their will. They thought it was all a
plot, and a scheme, and a trick.
They thought that his campaign included
that parade with the palm branches, and the cleansing of the temple, in order
to create an excited fan base that would follow him anywhere. 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. They
didn’t understand why Jesus didn’t consistently campaign in ways that would
grow his fan base and turn them into an army that would fight for him.
They hoped, with all their might, that
this Palm Sunday parade was Jesus’ campaign for an army. 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
The enemies of Jesus couldn’t stop him.
The very methods they used to defeat Jesus were the actions that gave Jesus
They crucified Jesus, never dreaming
that crucifixion was part of the campaign, all along. Their success made
possible the sacrifice that Jesus came to give, for the life of the world, and
Even if we are the friends of Jesus we
may be tempted by this world’s standards and rules for success. Christians
often place a lot of their hopes and fears on the outcomes of elections and
presidential campaigns. They see a lot riding on who succeeds and who fails the
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 often 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 don’t see this. It always surprises
us. But this way of the Lord (his strange way of working through crosses) is
typical of Jesus. Maybe he’s right 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
I used to have a favorite walking place
around the Palouse River. I often watched fighter jets swooping through the canyons.
They came right down between the cliffs. I could see the pilots in their
cockpits. I am tempted to say that they would fly between one and two hundred
feet above the bottom of the canyon.
Not a "fighter jet"
Maybe they were flying higher, but they
looked awfully close. I think they were 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
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.