Divided on Palm Sunday

Message Manuscript of Palm Sunday 2016
Delivered to Church for the Highlands     John Henson
Palm Sunday, Sunday, March 20, 2016

This past week was full of activity for the Presidential candidates, especially in the Super Tuesday primaries.  What will probably stand out the most years from now is what happened in the crowds who came out to hear Donald Trump.  Normal political hoopla turned quickly into violent clashes as some people in the crowd protested Trump.  The news all week has been about a sucker punch and whether or not Trump was responsible for inciting violence among his supporters.  At the end of the week, most of the talking heads on news networks think it impossible for the nominees not to be Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.  A lot of Americans have concluded that as well and are not very happy about it.  A poll at the end of the week shows that almost the majority in both parties are not very excited about their respective potential nominees: Trump, Hillary Clinton.  For them, neither candidate has the charisma they want in a leader and for the hope of the future of our nation.

There were mixed opinions in the crowd when Jesus was headed to Jerusalem.  Some (especially the disciples) were very excited and hopeful about what Jesus had done and would do.  They found palm branches to wave at Jesus as if he were their king.  They shouted to Jesus words from prophecy from long ago about a Messiah to come, rejoicing that this was happening in their time.  Others, we learn, were not so excited.  Luke points out that some of the Pharisees were not happy with Jesus and said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” We get the idea that this was less out of their concern for crowd control than out of jealousy or indignation at how Jesus was leading people in the wrong direction with his movement.  Whatever the case, we see that the crowd was divided.

Jesus created division in the crowd by what he had been saying and doing, claiming to usher in the kingdom of God in the world.  Most everyone was all for this until Jesus started to get specific about what it would be like.  Did you notice that there were no “Hosanna’s” in this parade, like we find in another Gospel?  Luke reports that the crowd was cheering, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” (v.v.42-43) He was the candidate for peace; sent into the world to bring the peace of heaven.  That’s not what the war hawks in the crowd wanted to hear.  It didn’t jive with their to-do list to overthrow the Romans with violence and revenge.  No wonder the crowd was divided.  God’s entrance for the world is always divisive, isn’t it?  As one commentator puts it,

“When Jesus enters Jerusalem, his disciples pray for peace in heaven (and, presumably on earth, which will bring glory in the highest), but his visitation causes a division.

Tom Mullen (Laughing Out Loud and Other Religious Experiences) makes this statement about his denomination (Society of Friends or Quakers): “They work for peace — and if you really want to cause conflict, work for peace” [p. 50]

So it was for Jesus riding into Jerusalem.

drk325802What we get to see today on Palm Sunday is how Jesus parades our way now. That’s how we begin this Holy Week as Jesus enters Jerusalem with a unique kind of pomp and circumstance. Unique in that it was vastly different from how a king or emperor would enter a city.  Jesus, after all, was riding a donkey and not a high priced stallion, a choice revealing humility and a connection with the poor he identified with so much. He also rides with purpose, courageously heading to his destination and the controversy and challenge that awaited him there.  And yet he proceeds with unshrinking momentum, not allowing naysayers, religious snobs, the division of the crowd, threats of impending violence, or the oppressive rulers ahead of him keep him from moving forward.

Isn’t that the way Jesus parades before us today?  He is a man on mission, setting out to change our world.  As Luke writes, “”Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Peace in heaven.  That would mean peace on earth.  That’s what they really wanted.  That’s what most of our world really wants, doesn’t it?  Isn’t that what you really want, to know that the peace of heaven can intersect with your life on earth?  Peace in our families, our neighborhoods, our city, our state legislature, our national leaders, and between the nations of our world.  And don’t we long most of all for that experience of peace that comes from knowing we are at peace with God. That’s the peace Jesus represented in that parade of long ago; and its the one he presents to us today.  His message is still making a difference; still bringing reactions from those who hear his message or just catch a glimpse of him from a seemingly safe distance.

Our crowd of today is full of different reactions like theirs.  Jesus continues to bring division with his message and his actions. For some people, Jesus is a disappointment. They thought Jesus would make them rich, popular, well, successful, and powerful only to find that this is not what Jesus was about.  For others in the crowd of today, Jesus is their only hope.  They have seen him do amazing things for other people in the past and have great belief it will happen for them too one day. Jesus will make things better, bring peace, and heal the world just like he healed their blind neighbor.  Both sides of the division have certain expectations about what Jesus will or won’t do for them.  And there are plenty of people who are just in the middle somewhere.  What about you?  Where are you in the crowd as we wave our palms today?

Christ's Entry into Jerusalem by Hippolyte Flandrin c. 1842As you reflect on this image (on the screens) this morning and as you continue on into this Holy Week, I invite you to ask yourself that question.

Audio of this sermon is here

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