Peace Presbyterian Church
Matthew 21: Palm Sunday
Elizabeth M. Deibert 9 April 2017
(before call to worship) Breaking news this morning: We here at PNN, Peace News Network, have just heard that this will be an exciting day, that there is evidence of a crowd gathering to celebrate. Our newscasters stationed in the hallways of the church say that it appears a Savior is arriving and a parade is forming around him. Some of the older people who have been interviewed say that if the worship space were not so crowded they would join the parade too. But as it is they will simply have to wave their hands or branches, whatever they have, and call out his name in worship and adoration. Oh, but wait, here he comes…Call to Worship
(sermon) Thanks to the Gospel writers, we have the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem well-recorded. Hear this report from newscaster Matthew, who had done his homework and made sure to connect the dots between this event and the Messianic prophecy in the writings of Zechariah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. The crowds were reciting Psalm 118, a psalm of victory. This is clearly a moment for which the people were waiting, and yet it was so much different than they expected. The breaking news is that this King is not the kind of king they expected. This news continues to break upon the church, as we enter more deeply into his service and recognize the call to humble ourselves and to make sure that God’s house is a place of prayer and a place of welcome and healing for all people.
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” 4 This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
5 “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
12 Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.”
14 The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became angry 16 and said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself’?”
17 He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there. (NRSV)
How would Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem play out in our age of 24 hour cable news, which has breaking news almost every night? Man whom the crowds say is Messiah, a teacher who has been performing many miracles enters the temple and makes a scene. We used to think when we saw “breaking news” run across the screen that something hugely significant was happening, but now this term “breaking news” is used just to capture our attention and keep us from turning off the TV. Because news is available all the time, on our TVs, our computers, and our phones, not to mention the printed papers and new magazines, there is never a moment where we are without the news.
I can remember a time when we had little children when I was always actually afraid that I might get to Sunday morning without knowing of some major news story that had happened in the week. There’s almost no chance of that now – one, because I don’t have four little children dangling from my legs, and the other, because news is coming at me all the time. Ding on my phone – another news push. Pop up on my computer – another news story. This morning as I was leaving for church, sad, terrible news of bombs in two churches in Egypt – killing more than thirty people as they gathered like us for a Palm Sunday celebration. Sad story. News is always breaking into our lives.
So now, more than ever, we are aware, that our perspective on the news is shaped by the ones who cast the news, by the reporters, by the editors, by those who decide how the story will be spun. News and history reports have always been shaped by the ones who are telling the story, but the bias was just not quite so blatantly obvious as now. With that in mind, isn’t it interesting that we have the three synoptic Gospels each telling the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem from their own perspective? Matthew focuses on all the connections with his Jewish scriptures. How would your breaking news Gospel story go? Robin and Peter Miller would say that they had been half-hearted church attenders until one Palm Sunday when they both became aware that Christ has taken hold of their lives in a new and profound way. What about you? What’s your personal Gospel story?
If this Palm Sunday story, was happening in our day, how would the breaking news play out in the media? I was imagining a group of panelists brought in to analyze what happened. A priestly representative of the Sanhedrin. A Roman soldier. The landowner, whose donkey and donkey colt were used. Someone who had sold doves in the temple. There would surely be interviews with people from the crowd. A disciple, whose identity is kept secret, might be willing to give a statement. The blind and lame who were healed would be eager to report their news, if anyone cared to listen. And of course, there would be the scribes and Pharisees who were the ones who might be the ones called upon to interpret what these quotes from the Hebrew scriptures might mean.
But their interpretation would be laced with judgment and fear, for they were threatened by the authority of this man, Jesus, claiming to be the Son of God, whom the crowds think is Messiah.
But we return to the question about this news and how it is breaking into your lives this year? Is this a story that you will turn off – because it is something you’ve heard before? Or will you stay with this breaking good news all week? Will you deepen your commitment this year to the One who humbly went to his death for you and me? Will the breaking news this year be that you are stopping your busy-ness this year to pay more attention in Holy Week to the amazing gift of love. What wondrous love is this! Will this be the first year that you attend both Thursday and Friday services to reflect deeply on Jesus’ love as we move toward the joyful day of resurrection?
On Palm Sunday of 2006, we held a grand opening of worship for Peace Presbyterian Church at the Manatee Community College auditorium in Lakewood Ranch. This little band of Presbyterian-flavored Christians have tried to follow Jesus’ humble, peaceful, healing, grace-filled powerfully loving way of life. For those who remained, it took commitment and sacrifice.
Thanks to grace of God and the devotion of this growing band of followers, we are now able to build a sanctuary, where we may continue to honor God with our worship and our service. This will be a space where we can accommodate comfortably a greater number of companions to take this awesome journey with us in Christian life. But as this great day of celebration comes on Palm Sunday, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem into the week of his death, we have to remember that the Christian life is not one free from suffering and stress. To serve Christ is to be willing to make sacrifices for the sake of love, as he did. We hold together unified in the love of Christ, despite our different. So we hold our tongue sometimes, sacrificing the need to air our political and theological positions, in order to stick together because we know that following Christ and loving one another is the one thing that really matters to all of us.
So we will continue to walk with Jesus not just on the victorious days of celebration, waving our palm branches, the sign of victory, but we must go with him into the temple where he is frustrated about a house of prayer being turned into a den of robbers. When the poor and powerless are being taken advantage of by those who would profit from their distress, Jesus is not happy. We are called to be there with him, and as he heals the sick. We move into Thursday and Friday when the going gets tough, and requires a courageous faith.
We will stand with those who suffer, with those who are unjustly condemned, with those who are misunderstood and underappreciated. We will wash one another’s feet, so to speak, taking lowly positions of service in order to demonstrate how much we care.
We will face those who would accuse us, without rushing to defend ourselves, but listening carefully, as did Jesus in front of the chief priests and Pilate. We will relinquish power that we might heal the world, as he did. We will try not to betray him or deny him, though we know that like Judas and Peter, we will at times fall short of our calling.
On this day of celebration – a parade and a picnic, Jesus’ entry into the city where he would die and our ground-breaking for a new sanctuary to glorify God, we will remember that the breaking news of Jesus Christ is always good news for those who suffer, good news for those who are struggling to make it month by month, good news for those who know they need help, good news for those who will drop everything to follow Christ in loving God and loving neighbor with all that we are. It is always challenging news for those who hold the power, who are trying to maintain control of their lives, who think they are wise, who are quick to judge others. Can we accept both the joyful goodness and the awesome challenge of this breaking news? Will our deeper embrace of Christ’s loving way be breaking news in our homes? In our neighborhoods and in the world? Stay tuned to PNN, the Peace News Network for more breaking news of Christ’s love changing lives.