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3-28-21 –An Entrance To Remember — John 12:12-19 — The Rev. Joshua D. Gill

Psalm 118:19-29

John 12:12-19

 

“An Entrance to Remember”

Rev. Joshua D. Gill

3.28.21

 

John’s interpretation of the of the triumphal entry is unique and in particular the role of the disciples in this scene. In the other gospels the disciples take a very active role in the triumphant entry. They go ahead of Jesus and find a colt for him preparing the way for his entry. In John’s gospel, the disciples stand back. They don’t even seem to be part of the crowd but instead are in the back wondering what is going on. Obviously, as we read this gospel we have the benefit of knowing the end of the story, but the disciples though are left wondering what is happening.

The crowd that has gathered has just witnessed Lazarus being raised from the dead and there is electricity in the air. This miracle has served as climax in all Jesus’ mighty deeds in John’s gospel. The crowd has sought out Jesus and they move to the city waving palms and testifying to Christ’s entry, shouting “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” In the midst of this, the disciples watch bewildered by the actions. One has to wonder why they the crowd could not hook the disciples with their own enthusiasms?

The crowd is carrying palm branches, a symbol used to welcome kings. Like after the feeding of the 5,000 Jesus is hailed as “the one who is to come,” as the “King who is to come.” At other moments when crowds have wanted to make Jesus  King, Jesus has withdrawn, but this day withdrawal is impossible. He has become the King who “rides on in majesty,” who rides on in “lowly pomp” to die.

There would have been another entrance that day — Pontius Pilate would have come into Jerusalem from his home Caesarea. His procession would have been different than that of this Jesus’ parade.  It would have been fully of Rome’s military might. The latest, strongest, weapons parading through the streets, with Pilate riding a majestic stallion. Pilate would have displayed his superiority and shared a message of his own. To all those who may have witnessed Pilate that day, his message would have been clear, “I have come to keep my peace, and will control you by force.” Both Jesus and Pilate sent a strong message that day. [1]

This message echoes throughout time and we are forced to wrestle with these two messages each and every day of our own lives. Whose parade are we even watching? Who will we place our hope and trust in, the man riding the colt or the man on the stallion who has come to conquer? Those would be conquerors have always tried to use Jesus to their own end.

Our own history is full of moments like this when, people were using Jesus. In the 1600s traditional British Policy forbade enslavement of Christians, if a people converted they would often experience some level of freedom. There was a group of missionaries that wanted to teach Christianity to the enslaved Africans. Our Churches and our country debated, they debated if Christianity should be shared with enslaved Africans, they debated if they could understand it, they debated if they were even human, and then they debated the implications of it. Then in September of 1667 the colony of Virginia declared that enslaved Africans could be baptized and no slave master would lose his property and no one would gain their freedom, another step-in permeant hereditary enslavement. The slave masters sought to use this new law to their advantage; they began teaching the enslaved, teaching the that enslaved about heaven that it would be an end to their suffering, teaching about obedience, teaching about humility, emphasizing portions of scripture that taught these values. In some cases, they allowed the enslaved to attend church sitting or standing in a separate segregated section or outside of the church. As time went on they added new laws, forbidding the enslaved from learning to read or gather without permission. Over time when they did gather for religious services white supervision was required. [2]  The slave masters and too many religious leaders of that day tried to keep the enslaved at Pilate’s parade, but they kept seeing a man on colt ride by; they knew there was an alternative, they knew there was hope.

Or a more contemporary example, leading up to most recent election I would hear people saying things like “You can’t be a Christian and vote for a Republican” or “You can’t be a Christian and vote for a Democrat.”  People have always tried to use Jesus to their own ends.

No one seems to have understood what they were witnessing that day, as they saw Jesus. The crowds attempted to shape their own narrative, Pilate attempted to shape the narrative, but Jesus would ride alone and would shape his own narrative.

One has to ask, if you were in this story where would you be? Would you be cheering wildly waving the palm branches or would you be off standing to the side? Would you be at Pilates parade? If you were in one of the crowds what would you be thinking? Or would you distance like the disciples off to the distance? Would you be thinking that Pilate will keep the peace? Would you witness the Lazarus miracle, and be ready to believe Jesus is the King of Israel, the King of the World? We read these stories not simply to get to an end, but to be invited to the story, to see the details so that story can transform you, whether you are an enthusiast or a skeptic. At Jesus’ parade or Pilates, the goal is always transformation.

What we are witnessing at Jesus parade is the word made flesh in his glory. God came down not as some sort of 33-year experiment, but God came down as fully human entering our suffering, and fully divine, loving the whole world.  Jesus, who in a few days will rise from the dead fully human and fully divine; Jesus who in this moment is riding as a king on a donkey; Jesus who came to free the enslaved and the oppressors from around the world. This is the good news that John insists upon, the good news for both the confused, the good news for the enthusiast, the good news for the disciples, the good news for oppressed and the oppressor that God love this whole crowded world. That God loves us enough, to come down and suffer so that we might all have life.

 

[1] https://thepastorsworkshop.com/sermon-illustrations-on-palm-sunday/

[2] https://calendar.eji.org/racial-injustice/sep/23

3-7-21 — Everything Is Holy — John 2:13-22 — The Rev. Joshua D. Gill

Everything is Holy                                                              

 Rev. Joshua D. Gill

 

Most of us were probably glued to our TV or our computers when Notre Dame was ablaze.  It was shocking to see one of the world’s most recognizable churches on fire. The fire that day started in the attic near the roof. One of the unique things about the fire alarms in France is they do not directly contact the fire department. The fire alarm notified a guard who was supposed to visually confirm the fire then contact the fire department. This obvious delay resulted in the fire consuming more of the building. More than 500 firefighters battled the fire. Firefighters guided by the fire department’s chaplain scrambled to save artwork and relics and move them to City Hall and then the Louvre for safe keeping. [1]

The reaction to the destruction was swift with national sorrow and donations pouring in. Claude Mbowou a political scientist at the Sorbonne described the loss this way, saying, “I’m a Muslim, but I’m still very moved when I see this place. It represents something deep, it transcends us. It’s a loss, not only for France but for the entire world. It’s as if the pyramids in Egypt were destroyed.” “Parisians didn’t realize what they had,” he said. “They walked on by. It was foreigners who came.” More than 13 million regularly visit the cathedral. [2]

Jesus’ actions in John’s gospel are surprising and shocking from the very beginning. He causes a reaction at a wedding in Cana, turning water into wine then traveling south to Jerusalem to cause another disturbance. Where many people would have witnessed a sustainable functioning economy with the buying and selling of cattle, sheep, and doves around the temple, Jesus sees something entirely different. Jesus sees a system in which people are financially taken advantage of, a system in which people are treated unequally, with foreigners and people with disabilities worshipping in one area, and Jews in another.  For Jesus this is a crisis that for him causes a deep reaction, overturning tables, scattering money, screaming that his “Father’s house was turned into a marketplace.”  Making a whip and driving animals and people out of the temple. This must have been a great disturbance. It is easy to read this passage and think Jesus has somehow lost it, but Jesus’ actions are a direct result of what is happening in the temple.  Jesus is calling into question one of the main ways the temple cult and the temple structure would have raised money.

When Notre Dame burned, the world felt the loss and the world put out the money. Billionaires were even competing to give the biggest gift. One French billionaire pledged 100 million euros, not to be outdone his rival an hour later pledged 200 million euros. The outpouring of aid from around the world was amazing. Many of those who donated were not connected to the Catholic Church. They could see the need and the loss to the culture. But one has to wonder why an outpouring of support has been unable to fix the Flint water crisis, or the historically black churches that were burned in Louisiana, or all those that don’t have access to health care or quality education.

For Jesus this was about a righteous zeal, a push against the status quo. A zeal that calls everything into question and said the status quo is wrong.  The question for us is what are we zealous for? What do we allow to consume our bandwidth, our budget, our calendar? What we do with our zeal will consume our lives.

This cost Jesus dearly, these actions along with his teachings lead directly to his death. The author says that the Jews then ask what gives him the right to do these things, to act like this. Jesus’ answer is to destroy the whole thing, whole system, and then he will raise it back in three days. Those three days solidify his concept of the Beloved Community. This zeal consumes the beloved community, a community that works to love self, neighbor, and even enemy. A community that has spread throughout the earth, bearing witness to the world. A beloved community that should influence every corporation, institution, every branch of government in this world. But it begs the question how are we deploying our zeal? How are we allowing it to influence our everyday life?

This reminds of a story I read the other day, A traveler and his companions prepared to set out on a long journey. In preparation, the traveler packed a second coat. His companion asked, “Why are you bringing a second coat?” The traveler responded, “I will need it.” The traveler then packed a second pair of shoes. His companion asked, “Why are you bringing a second pair of shoes?” The traveler responded, “I will need them.”  The traveler then packed extra food into his bag. Two of every kind of food he will bring. His companion asked, “Why are you bringing two of every kind of food?” The traveler responded, “I will need it.” The traveler’s companion finally set his small bag down and said, “Look how heavy your load is. Mine is light. I have but one coat, one pair of shoes, and just enough food for the days we will be walking. Why do you need so much?” The traveler said, “Because your coat is old and thin, and your shoes are old and worn. Having walked with you, I also know that you grow hungry often.” Confounded, the companion said, “But when I asked these things, you told me you would need them, not that I would need them.” “You are my companion,” said the traveler. “So long as we walk together, there is no difference between your needs and mine.” The traveler deployed his zeal to carry a heavy burden in so caring for his companion.[3]

The beloved community, the community that grows zealous about love, and marches alongside Jesus against injustice. May we all follow Jesus’ zealous lead in quiet and risky ways in our everyday saying and doing.[4]

 

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/19/world/europe/notre-dame-cathedral-fire.html

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/16/world/europe/france-notre-dame-religion.html

[3] Erickson, Scott, Prayer.

[4] Dark, David

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