Love, Save Us
This sermon was delivered at Cobleskill United Methodist Church on March 28, 2021
Mark 1:1-11; Psalm 31:9-16; Isaiah 50:4-9a
Mark 11:1-11 11
When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
Psalm 31:9-16 9
Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also. 10 For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away. 11 I am the scorn of all my adversaries, a horror to my neighbors, an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me. 12 I have passed out of mind like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel. 13 For I hear the whispering of many—terror all around!—as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life. 14 But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, “You are my God.” 15 My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors. 16 Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.
Isaiah 50:4-9a 4
The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens—wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. 5 The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. 6 I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. 7 The Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. 9 It is the Lord GOD who helps me; who will declare me guilty?
Palm Sunday is a day that holds tension.
It is the tension of joy and welcome as we wave our palm branches and at the same time feel a feeling of dis-ease with the growing sorrow in our hearts as we anticipate what comes next. Palm Sunday begins Holy Week, seven days of every emotion known to humankind. Hope & joy, anger & awe, embarrassment & humility, betrayal & regret, pain & humiliation, promises made & promises broken, pain & grief, hopelessness & despair, surprise & confusion.
Palm Sunday is a day that holds tension because it begins Holy Week, which is itself full of tension.
We know something about tension this year, too. After a long and dark year of pandemic life, it feels like the end is in sight. There is light at the end of the tunnel. But that end is not here yet, and no matter how many vaccines have been given it’s still not enough to make anything feel normal yet. Far from it, actually.
But there’s also another kind of tension I’m feeling right now and perhaps you, too. What is the normal we want our life to get back to? Is this tunnel we’re in leading to something better, or more of the same? I feel like we’re waiting for something to save us, but aren’t we sure we know what that something is?
People who study the life and times of Jesus have noted something interesting about the day we celebrate today as Palm Sunday. Jesus was coming in to Jerusalem to celebrate the highest Jewish holiday- Passover. But Jesus wasn’t the only one who came into Jerusalem that day. Pilate, the governor of Syria, was known for choosing the days right before Passover to make his own triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Not to celebrate the holiday, but to flaunt his power.
The procession of Jesus and the procession of Pilate couldn’t have been more different or held in tighter tension. Pilate came in on a stallion. He came with an army. Pilate’s motive in coming was to represent Rome, his boss, and instill fear and subordination during the holiday of Passover which was about celebrating liberation from oppression. Pilate, lifted high on his mighty horse, surrounded by the strength of a Roman army, represented power and privilege. A show of force simply because he could.
When Jesus came in, he rode a donkey. And not even a donkey at its prime, a young donkey- a colt- never yet ridden, and borrowed from someone else. Sitting atop this colt you can imagine Jesus’ feet barely off the ground. He came in not with an army but with a motley crew of disciples, ragged from the journey. But still people were waiting for Jesus and they laid down their coats and pulled branches off trees and shouted, “Hosanna” a word that means “save us.”
If Pilate was about salvation through power and show of force, Jesus was about salvation through vulnerability and self- sacrifice. Jesus’ motive for coming into Jerusalem was not to compete with Pilate’s procession, but to create an alternative to it.
But this was probably disappointing for some. Some who had gathered to watch Jesus come had heard he was the Messiah, the one who would save them, perhaps from Pilate and Rome itself. And you can imagine that some of these people ended up putting a question mark at the end of their Hosanna. Hosanna? Save us? This man? On the donkey? There’s a fully armed military parading across town over there and this is the man who thinks he can save us? For those who wanted a revolution to overthrow Pilate, they looked at Jesus and wondered, did he have a secret weapon they just can’t see?
This whole situation reminds me of us waiting now for the end of this awful pandemic period. What kind of savior do we think we’re waiting on? What could possibly save us from this misery? What will end this intense isolation? What will cure the disease that infects us with distrust and resentment? What will break down these walls that are forming and growing and widening between us?
If Jesus were marching into Warnerville (Cobleskill) on the back of a colt this morning we’d wonder, surely he must have vaccines stuffed in his pockets. That must be the secret weapon he’s carrying to solve our problems in 2021 AD, just like the palm wavers of 33 AD expected him to have a game plan for overthrowing Rome in his back pocket.
Jesus is not that kind of savior, though. He doesn’t come in with a secret army to fight our enemies, or a stockpile of vaccines to inoculate us from our viruses. He doesn’t come in with an answered prayer in his back pocket. Jesus doesn’t come riding into our lives offering to save us with a solution to our problems. Jesus comes riding into our lives in order to offer us an alternative path completely. Jesus comes riding into our lives to show us that there is a better way, and that way is love. Love challenges the status quo by presenting a different set of priorities. It meets power with vulnerability; it replaces self-centering with self-sacrifice, and it challenges systems that pit people against each other.
But love is not the savior we expected, because love is not a quick fix to our problems. Love requires something from us. It requires us, in the words of the prophet Micah, to act justly, to work for mercy, and practice humility. This was the reason for Jesus’ entire life and ministry, and in the days that followed Palm Sunday it also became the reason for his death.
You see, when Jesus walked in on the back of that donkey, some people were disappointed and others were angry. Still others were jealous of his confidence and calmness. Emotions were running very high. As Jesus continued to preach and teach in the days that followed, he showed his hand. He offered no military might or powerful revolution of force. He offered only a subversive commandment to love God and love neighbor. And this was insulting to those who wanted the world to revolve around themselves. And so those cries of Hosanna began to turn into demands for a crucifixion. Jesus’ entire message of offering an alternative to self-centered power and mutual destruction through the simple and radical gospel of love was met head on by people who rejected it all as though it was not enough. This was not the savior they thought they needed.
And so it is with us, too. How quickly we are to reject the healing and restoration that love could provide. We turn it down because it requires too much of us. It requires things like repairing relationships that have been broken by politics, forgiving those who have wronged us, caring about strangers we don’t think belong, seeing the brokenness in someone who looks different from us, admitting that we don’t always get it right, and giving up some of our own security for the sake of someone with less.
When presented with two paths, how many times have we chosen the easy way out. The savior that will supposedly fix our problems without any real requirements from us. We turn to so-called saviors like money, alcohol, politicians, and self-help books. And these days most of all, we look to the vaccine itself as a type of savior. There is no doubt that this vaccine will bring a tangible type of protection from a certain virus and you should definitely try to get it. But if we think the coronavirus is the only thing causing our growing isolation and deepening divide, then we will be truly disappointed when a vaccine doesn’t cure it.
We have a lot of ailments in our society today that will need much more than a quick fix. The only way out of this is the way of love. Are we ready for this kind of savior? Are we ready to face the tension head on like Jesus did? Will we be able to give up our pride and understand that way out of this mess will come only through sacrificing some piece of ourselves for the good of someone else. Love takes us right into the shadow of the cross. And this is where our salvation lies.
Let us Pray:
Lord, forgive us. We want to be your people who welcome you on your lowly donkey, but secretly we long for you to come in with an army so that you can fight our battles for us. We want a quick fix to this broken world. We want a cure to the viruses that make us sick. But that’s not who you are. You came on a donkey to teach us that the way to glory is through humility and the way to overcome our brokenness is to practice love.
We often hear the phrase “take up your cross” and we can sometimes construe it to mean suffering through something. But what if taking up our cross was less about suffering, and more about putting on a radical kind of love that asks us to let go of ourselves.