March 20, 2016
“Make America great again!”
“Feel the Burn!”
A political rally was canceled due to threats of violence and physical altercations between protesters and supporters.
At a political rally, a supporter punched a protester in the face. The candidate at least for a time considered paying the legal fees his supporter would face for committing assault.
In words and in the ways people respond to words and to events and to movements, we have a window through which we can gain perspective on our country’s political scene.
In words and in the ways people respond, we have a window through which we see Jesus’ actions on that fateful Sunday prior to his crucifixion. I will not talk directly about the political movements of our day. I certainly won’t endorse a party or a candidate. We will look at the Jesus movement and how Jesus forms us. Who we are in Christ absolutely plays into our approach to politics today and it shapes our response to what happens in politics.
We are called to praise God, even in trying circumstances. That’s the end game of Luke’s depiction of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on the day we now commemorate as Palm Sunday. The actions of Jesus, as told by Luke, are invitation. We are beckoned into love and hope, called to worship and praise God.
How do we get there?
As Luke sets the scene, there are many disciples following Jesus and the group has been growing ever since chapter 9, verse 51, when Jesus set his face to get to this point. Through parables and teaching and actions, Jesus has over and over emphasized how challenging it is to be a disciple, yet people find him so compelling, they follow anyway. They give up their money, they realign their relationships, they adjust their priorities, and they fix their lives upon following Him.
A group, with Jesus in the lead, is nearing the city of God, Jerusalem. He sends disciples ahead to the village on the outskirts of the city, Bethany. They are to get a colt for Jesus to ride. When they go to untie the owners ask what they are doing, just as Jesus anticipated. They answer as he told them to. “The Lord needs it.” Nothing more is said or needs to be said.
This doesn’t appear particularly interesting, but in the Greek language the word translated “owners,” as in owners of this colt, is kurioi. The word translated “Lord” as in the “the Lord needs it” is kurios. It’s the same word.
The people who own the colt are the colt’s lords. We might call them the animal’s masters or owners, but we wouldn’t say they are the beast’s ‘lords.’ We don’t use the word ‘lord’ that way. However, when we see the contrast and also when we see how submissively the animal’s owners give it up when they realize who needs it, a deeper understanding comes into view.
In our world, people are owners and masters, presidents and kings, CEOs and lords, lower case ‘l.’ Jesus is Lord with a capital ‘L.’ Everything in the world is under him. He owns all including everything in my house, every penny in the church’s bank account, this building, everything in your pocket, and everything we can see or imagine and all that is beyond what we can see or imagine. There are lords. He is the Lord.
Words. When we say “Jesus is Lord,” we are saying something significant. We pray to God as Father and God as Savior and God as Lord. What if we prayed to God as owner? It feels weird to me, cold, impersonal. But for us capitalists, it might make a lot of sense. We recognize that however hard we might work to acquire capital so as to have an advantage in our capitalistic society, because we are Christians, we know Jesus is the Owner.
Words. Consider the words of the crowd as they herald the coming of Jesus to Jerusalem. The crowd quotes Psalm 118:26, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” That is how it reads in the Psalm and that is how it is quoted in Matthew and Mark and John. Luke renders the quote differently. In Luke it says, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Did Luke just make that up? For his own purposes did he change the story, making it say “king?” I don’t think so. The wording is different in John, but John also makes the point that the crowd proclaimed Jesus to be king. And I don’t think we’re dealing a contradiction.
The gospel writers quote both Psalm 118:26 and Zechariah 9:9, which heralds the coming of the blessed king. If crowds really line the roads shouting this prophecies like political slogans, they would have shouted over and over. They would have conflated the quotations. Luke selects a quote from many that were shouted as Jesus road into the city. The question is not who was right, Luke or the other gospels. The question what is Luke trying to convey in his decision to include the shout of the disciple who merged the Psalm and the prophet Zechariah as he praised Jesus? What is about that word, “king?”
There can only be one. If Jesus is king, then Archaelus, the son of Herod is not king. More significantly, if Jesus is king, then the Roman Emperor is not. To declare the royalty of Lord Jesus is to declare one’s allegiance to the death. And, after the resurrection, which is when Luke’s gospel was written and read, disciples were sent to the death because they insisted Jesus, not Caesar, is king.
Words. Lord. King.
Enter the Pharisees. They won’t use these words for him. “Teacher,” they say, “order your disciples to stop.” ‘Teacher’ is an honorable title and they show respect in using it. However, with this word, they view Jesus as their peer. As his peers, as they see themselves, they assume the right of communal authority over him. For the good the community, he needs to quiet this furor down immediately and they see it as their place to impose this.
Word. Lord – Jesus is to be worshipped and all belongs to Him. King – Jesus is to be obeyed and given complete allegiance, even to death. Teacher – Jesus is my peer and if he gets out of line it is my job to rein him in.
One more word demands our attention and it is tied to a response, so I will come back to it.
The disciples are the first to respond. Jesus tells them to go ahead to the village, enter a yard of a home they have never visited and take a colt that is not theirs. They respond in obedience. I suspect the owners of the house and the yard and the cold were also his disciples, just unknown to those in his traveling party. They also obeyed without question, giving up the colt.
Obedience is a response.
Praise is too – the response of the crowd. They make noise as Jesus rides into Jerusalem because Jesus is worth the noise. Their praise is not just a predetermined act of worship and political protest. Luke says they raise their voices joyfully. It is a response of the heart.
The Pharisees offer a response of fear. They hear how much noise the disciples are making. They know that if they hear it, others will too: temple police; Roman soldiers in the area. They fully understand the words they have heard, so they know any priests who hear this will fully understand it too. They fear the powers that be – the temple, the puppet King Archelaeus, Roma – more than they fear God. God is the one worshiped in the temple and the one who allows Rome to exist, but the Pharisees cannot see that God is in this man before them, Jesus. So they try to shut the whole thing down.
Jesus’ response to the Pharisees raises the last word, the most important word. We have seen that he is Lord and our response is worship. We have seen that he is King and our response is obedience and loyalty. We have seen an attempt to reduce him back to human size by calling him teacher. He is teacher, but not now, not in this moment.
Jesus tells the Pharisees if all were silent, the stones would praise him. The only way the created order – animals, waters, trees, earth – the only way the natural world offers praise is if the praise is going to God. That’s the only way stones shout out. Jesus is God.
He continues through the praises, through the Pharisees and their fears, and into the city. And God weeps. Jesus weeps and says to Jerusalem “You did not recognize the time of your visitation.” God is here and you cannot see it.
Words: Lord. King. God.
Responses: Obedience. Praise. Worship.
We have confidence today in the truth in these words and responses to Jesus. I don’t know if this past Tuesday’s primary results made you happy or fearful. Maybe you believe Donald Trump can make America great again. It doesn’t matter. Maybe you are horrified at the prospect of a Trump presidency. Doesn’t matter. Maybe you feel burned because voters didn’t feel the burn for Bernie Sanders. Doesn’t matter. Maybe you are super excited at the thought of Hillary as president. It does not matter.
From the standpoint of America’s democracy, our presidential election is of course very important. It always is. But we are in church. We have an eternal perspective. We vote and play our part as law abiding citizens who contribute to society, but what happens in society, who is president, whatever crisis comes up, whatever war is going on – it does not change the fact the Jesus is Lord, King, and God.
As despair mounts, society crumbles, and people are at each other’s throats, we speak a word of hope amid the chaos. The Lord and God and King who rides into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday died for our sins and then defeated death in the resurrection. Our Palm Sunday politics transcend the temporary troubles that worry the world.
Because of Jesus, we have a politics of life. We know his visitation was a visitation of God and he brought salvation with Him – our salvation and the salvation of all who put their trust in him. More than that, he came to save world including the rocks and stones. No wonder they are ready with words of praise. But praise is our job.