Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Faith for Life - The King of Humility and Peace

Preached on Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017

Scripture readings:
Zechariah 9:9-10 (Mention that the Hebrew word “ani” means humble, not only gentle: "humble and riding on a donkey"); and John 12:12-19

There is a lot to think about here.
One thing to think about is the donkey. Jesus had a specific reason for riding on the donkey in that parade into Jerusalem. The donkey sends a message telling us who Jesus is.
Burkett Lake, North of Mattawa/Desert Aire, WA
March 2017
John, the writer of the gospel, tells us what he wants us to be able to see in his gospel. John says, “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31)
Each new thing we learn and believe about Jesus, as the Christ, the Son of God, changes us. Each new experience of who Jesus is gives us new life from him, in a new way.
We learn about who Jesus is from that donkey. There is just the sheer fact that, five hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Zechariah had predicted that the Messiah would come to Jerusalem riding on a donkey. So, Jesus did it.
When Jesus rode the donkey, he wasn’t doing something new. The Lord has one story to which everyone who ever lived and ever will live belongs to. It’s the story of our creation, our falling away, our new life from God in Christ, and the glory that is to come. It’s one ancient story that isn’t finished yet.
The donkey wasn’t just a donkey. For Zechariah, the donkey had meaning. The donkey meant (among other things) humility and peace, and the horses stood for pride and war. So, there were no horses in the Palm Sunday parade.
From time to time, especially during the Roman occupation, individuals had come forward, with a lot of charisma, claiming to be the Messiah, and coming forward to raise an army. They would come for war, and they would succeed in killing some Romans, and some collaborators. And then they, themselves would get caught and killed. Those were the horse people.
Jesus rode on a donkey to say that he had come forward for humility and peace. The only trouble with this is that I don’t know if there was anyone there who actually believed him. I don’t know if there was anyone there who was truly interested in humility and peace. Even the disciples didn’t understand what Jesus was about or what he was really saying, until after the crucifixion and the resurrection.
Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to say that he was fulfilling God’s plan, as the prophet had predicted over five hundred years before. But Jesus also rode on the donkey in order to tell the people who saw him, what he was really all about, and what God was really like. The donkey was a message about what God wanted to accomplish with the Messiah, because of who he is, as God.
The donkey-riding-incident was one of the deepest messages about who God is, and how God works. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. That is, Jesus is the Messiah, and Jesus is God with us.
The theme of humility and peace go right through the Bible. In the Old Testament book of the prophet Isaiah, in chapter 42, the Lord speaks of his Messiah this way: he says, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness, he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he has established justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope.” (Isaiah 42:1-4) There is something in the heart of God that loves quietness, humility, and peace.
In some strange way, the new world full of God’s justice (full of the work of God’s making things right and good) were (from the beginning) supposed to get done without any show of force, without a lot of noise. God’s great work was predicted, in these words from Isaiah, to come with humility and peace.
In spite of all the violence in the Bible, and in spite of the apparent violence of God in the Old Testament, I believe there is one very simple, basic example of God’s humility and peace. That example is the people of Israel. This is very mysterious (I know).
In fact, it sounds like a complete contradiction of everything the Old Testament is so famous for. But I believe that the simple fact that God called one single, little family (a sterile and infertile couple), that became a little tribe, that became a little nation that, often, betrayed God, and was often defeated, and enslaved, and slaughtered (and did more than its share of slaughtering), and yet this family, and this part of the story, has continued to exist to the present day: and it says something. It’s a miracle that says a lot about the humility of God.
It even says something about the peace of God. We should study that word “peace” sometime. Peace doesn’t mean that you will have no problems, no trouble, and no conflict. What peace does mean, among other things, is that you will be always held in the strength of a faithful, and abundant, and enduring love: the love of God.
God was in Christ, offering his humility and peace to Jerusalem. Jesus was the face of God’s humility and peace looking Jerusalem in the eye, and looking us in the eye. The look in Jesus’ eye offered forgiveness and a new birth, as a way of returning to the God of humility and peace.
The strangest thing is this. The humility and peace of Jesus on the donkey gives you the freedom to do with Jesus absolutely whatever you want. It is as if he asks each one of us, “Here I am. What will you do with me?”
There were many in the crowd who celebrated the coming of Jesus because they thought he would raise an army and lead a revolution. They thought he came to throw out the Romans and the Greeks. If Jesus failed to do this, they would turn against him. And that’s exactly what they did.
They didn’t care so much about forgiveness and grace, or humility and peace. They wanted vindication. They wanted to get even. They wanted the defeat of their enemies and their own superiority. Maybe this is one kind of peace, but it’s not Jesus’ kind of peace.
I often want to be vindicated. But I am basically a man of words. So, what I notice about myself, when I get angry, or when I feel slighted, or misunderstood, or mistreated is that I rehearse words in my mind, after the event. I imagine what I might say to justify myself, or to prove myself; or to produce shame, and guilt, and regret in others. I make very unhumble and unpeaceful speeches to myself.
I do this. And I would rather run through these speeches over and over again, in my head, rather than to step down, and step away, and have peace. For me, this is a test. It’s God’s test. I don’t always meet this test very well.
The Pharisees represent a different group of people; the people who look into the eyes of Jesus and say: “I don’t need forgiveness. I don’t need a new heart and mind. There is nothing wrong with me. The problem is somewhere else. You’re the one who has the problem.”
This is pride. Pride never has peace, and it’s always offended by the humble, and the peaceful, and the peace-makers.
The Pharisees can represent any of us, even when we love to be followers of Jesus, because we want to be right so badly. We want to be good so badly. We don’t want to see our own failures or our own shallowness.
It is the hardest thing in the world for the proud to say: “I’m sorry. I was wrong.” I know this, because it is one of the hardest things for me to do.
This is another test from God. The Pharisees didn’t pass this test, and they couldn’t live with the challenge of having Jesus looking them in the eye.
They had to close those eyes of Jesus. They had to close those eyes to keep themselves from seeing their true reflection in his eyes.
They had to get rid of Jesus, and kill him. They wouldn’t admit that (in thinking this, and doing this) they were actually killing themselves. The truth is that they were dying, spiritually, on the inside.
Then, there was a different group of people in the crowd. They saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead. There were people in the crowd who knew that the blind could see, and the deaf could hear, and the lame could walk, and that people were being made new.
They were finding faith. They were believing, and coming to life in Jesus’ name.
They were the thankful people, and they felt a great freedom stirring in their hearts. It was the freedom of humility and peace, and it was something that they could share with others. It was a new way for them to live in this world.
Jesus came to Jerusalem on a donkey, and people could do with him whatever they wanted. The Pharisees, and the Temple authorities, and the Roman governor couldn’t maintain their authority, and the order of the day, in the presence of a higher power that ruled with humility and peace.
Jesus came the way he did to offer himself as a sacrifice for the sin of the world, at their hands. He simply let them be themselves, and he went on being himself.
In the greatest humility, Jesus actually got his work done by letting them do with him what they most wanted to do. He managed to die for the sins of the world, and our sins, by letting them (and us through them) carry out their sins against him. The sins of our world killed him, and he defeated those sins by rising from the dead as our savior. This is the way he is.
This is the way God is. This is the work of a God who rules and works with humility and peace. This is Jesus, and when we believe in him, we have life in his name.
Because our king is Jesus, we have a different kind of king. Because we have a different king, we have a different life.
Other people boast about their freedom, but their freedom doesn’t change them and it doesn’t make the world a better place. Jesus said, “If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36)
The freedom of Jesus takes us somewhere new. His freedom helps us to grow and change, and yet his freedom also helps us to hold onto the things that it would be a shame for us to lose (a certain childlikeness, for instance). A different king lets us see life differently and truly live.
Our different king shows us how to find our way through this world. He makes our values different; and our morals and ethics. He changes the way we see other people and treat them. He changes the way we understand ourselves and our purpose in life as it is shaped by Jesus.
He makes our view of the world different. Jesus makes us see our society, and our culture, and our laws, and our government, and our world deeper than what television and radio and the internet teach us to see. We learn to see to the roots of the real issues of good and evil, right and wrong, justice and injustice.

But that different lens, through which we see and live, is Jesus. Jesus is about forgiveness and mercy that give us humility and peace. And peace is the strength of the faithful, enduring, abundant love of God. This gives us a different life, and this is good news that we can practice in our lives, and we can share this good news with others.

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