04/13/14 Sermon (April 13, 2014) "Who is This?"

posted Apr 22, 2014, 12:12 PM by David Hawkins

Scripture Reading: Matthew 21:1-11  (Liturgist)

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 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. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

  “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.”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 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!”

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?”

The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Sermon: "Who is This?"    Rev. David Hawkins

Jesus enters Jerusalem, and the whole city is in turmoil, and is asking, “Who is this guy?”

Jesus came into the world two thousand years ago, and we  are still asking the same thing.

It’s a legitimate question, and for who are watching this unfold in Jerusalem, it’s not so easy to answer. At least not definitively. And not in a way that satisfies everyone. Because the answer depends on who you ask, and what they want the answer to be.

The way Jesus has been going around teaching, and healing, and driving the money changers from the temple, and raising people from the dead, has raised some questions. And that’s not all. It’s raised some eyebrows as well. And it’s raised a certain amount of anxiety. Not everyone is a fan, it turns out, of Jesus Christ. He’s hard to understand. He can’t be put into a box. It’s hard to get a fix on who he is.

And worst of all, he can’t be controlled. His cryptic answers to the religious establishment have not satisfied in any way their concern about him.

And now, Jesus has come into Jerusalem, like some kind of royalty. His procession rivals that of King Herod, a Jewish puppet king under the control of Rome. He has attracted the attention of Pilate, the Governor of Judea.He has stirred up the political ambitions of revolutionaries. He has created fear among the religious leadership.

No wonder the city is in turmoil. If it had happened these days, Jesus would certainly be trending on twitter. Can you imagine the hashtags? In fact, the servers wouldn’t be able to handle the load, because everybody it seems wants to know who this Jesus is.

And it turns out Jesus is much more than anyone could imagine.

The first to wonder who Jesus is are the disciples. When they first meet Jesus, he is a wandering teacher. They see him perform miracles, and they hear him speak of the kingdom of God as though he actually knows what he is talking about! But for the most part, they really don’t know for sure who he is. Some think maybe Elijah, some think maybe John the Baptist.

And they’re not entirely wrong. Jesus, like Elijah, is a prophet. He is a healer. And like John the Baptist, his ministry is to call the children of God back home. But he is not Elijah. He is much more than Elijah. He is not John. He is much more than John.

Only Peter among the disciples seemed to get who Jesus was, at least, in a big picture sort of way. Jesus is the Messiah, Peter says. And Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus is the deliverer, the one who saves, the Moses of humanity. But he is not the kind of Messiah Peter thinks he is. He is much more than the kind of earthly conquering hero, a warrior king, that most people of Peter’s day thought a Messiah was supposed to be.

And Peter’s not alone in that. Even in our time, we like to think we can appropriate the power of Jesus to get our way, to force people to do what we want them to do. The idea of a military Jesus is still pretty attractive.

And what about all those he fed  -- four thousand, five thousand people? Even with a caterer, these are huge numbers. The logistics alone are mind-boggling. Where do you find enough banquet tables to serve five thousand people? Who brings the linens and the drinks? What about the tartar sauce and coleslaw? Are we using the nice service, or are we going with paper plates and plastic silverware?

So many things to think about, if you’re planning to feed that many people;  for instance, the actual food. Nobody stopped to think about getting groceries, and nobody spread the word it was supposed to be potluck. And so of course, it’s up to Jesus to make something very big out of something very small. It’s up to Jesus to take what little we have to offer, and turn it into an offering for the whole world.

For those who were fed that day, Jesus was more than just a preacher. At his feet, they are fed. By his words, they are satisfied. In his presence they are given what they need for life. Jesus offers more than just words. For those gathered on that hillside, he was sustenance itself. And we know how they feel. Most of us had had a moment in our lives where we really had nothing else except Jesus. And Jesus was enough.

But Jesus is much more than just the director of a really efficient soup kitchen. Because soup kitchen directors don’t raise people from the dead, at least none that I know of. Although, I have had some chili in a couple places that could have raised someone from the dead. On the other hand, I once had some portuguese spicy chicken that just about killed me.

But when Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb, he became known as something more than just a preacher, more than just a healer, more than just a prophet, more than just a leader, more than a deliverer of Israel. Jesus is all of those things, but he is much much more than that. Jesus is now someone who can raise the dead. The crowds following Jesus are beginning to see who Jesus really is: He is the resurrection and the life.

And when he enters Jerusalem, he enters the center of Judean religious  politics. This is where the action is. He brings a retinue, and they’ve got all kinds of ideas about who Jesus is. For some, Jesus was a radical, and they could hardly be faulted for thinking that. His scourging of the money changers in the temple was hardly benign. It was more like poking a hornets nest with a sharp stick.

His claim to be the son of God makes it even worse. It’s no surprise that the religious leaders wanted go after him. Jesus is a blasphemer. He disregards the rules of his faith. He claims God name for himself. They know very well who Jesus is. And that’s why he has to die.

And Jesus had messed up the political system, too. He’s drafted two of Rome’s tax collectors, Matthew and Levi to join him, and when he went to Jericho, he convinces another, Zacchaeus, to assist him in his ministry. His answers to the Pharisees regarding taxation are less than satisfactory, and his presence in Jeruslame has stirred up a riot. All in all, his actions have been more than just a little suspicious.

To make things worse, there are many in the crowds that day who are sure that this is the guy who is going to lead them in the revolution: that Rome will be kicked out, that Herod will be deposed, that Israel will once more be a free country, no longer under the thumb of Empire, free to rule themselves. The political leaders of Jerusalem think they know who this Jesus is, and make no mistake, they are scared to death.

Now the reality, Jesus is leading his people to revolution, a revolt against the powers and principalities of this world. His words are radical, and even today, those who live them out are rarely thanked for their efforts.

But Jesus is more than just the fomenter of a fifth column, he is more than just a populist pot-stirrer. His words carry deep meaning and inexplicable grace for both the oppressed and the oppressor, for the abused and the abuser. Jesus is a radical, but he is much, much more than just a political rabble rouser.

And the events of this coming week will demonstrate that. On Thursday evening, we will get to know Jesus as a Jew, observing the thousands year old ritual of a seder service, remembering the passover of the Hebrew slaves, before they were able to flee Egypt. Jesus friends and family and disciples knew him very well as a Jewish teacher and Rabbi. But Jesus is more than a Jew.

On Friday night, we will learn the full extent of Jesus’ love for us, as he lays down his life on the cross, in order that we might know God, and be known by God. We learn that Jesus lived a human life, and died a human death. Jesus was one of us, a man with skin and bones, who felt pain and fear and sorrow. The manner of his death is beyond description, beyond imagination. We gather on Friday night, to remember the cost of our freedom.

But even then, we still do not know Jesus. We still can’t quite pin him down. We still can’t say, exactly who he is.

The big question that the events of this week put front and center in our lives is this: who is Jesus, to us?

Is Jesus just a teacher, just a good man who died trying to make people act a little nicer to one another? And if so, how does that change the way we treat each other?

Is Jesus a revolutionary, calling us to speak prophetic words of truth to power, to live lives of discipled resistance to this world’s systems of oppression and injustice? And if so, do our words and actions question the status quo of the world we live in?

Is Jesus a threat to our religious systems, a dangerous reminder that God is still active in this world, that not all questions have been answered, that not all mysterious have been solved? And if so, how does our church show God’s love to the unloved, the publican, the leper, the outcast, the adulterous woman, the sick, the poor, the hungry, the immigrant, the alien?

Or, is Jesus somehow more than this? Is Jesus God for us? Is Jesus our life, and our salvation, the one who has given everything there is to give, in order that we might live with God forever?

These are the questions that go with us as enter the events of this coming week. I can’t tell you how important I think it is that all of us find the time time to participate in the life of the church in the next few days.

On Thursday night, we will explore the joy the Hebrew slaves felt at their release from captivity. We are transported back in time to a table lit by flickering candlelight, where Jesus was the host, and he invited his disciples to dip into a common cup with him, all of them, even the one who would betray him. We remember that we, too, are delivered from our captivity by the life and death of Jesus Christ.

And then on Friday, we observe the most solemn of all Christian worship services, a Tenebrae service of darkness. We remember the story of Jesus’ last hours, a horrifying journey that ends, not with triumph, but with a man on a cross, and the earth broken and crying out in pain. We are reminded that death comes befor Resurrection, and a Christianity without Good friday, is no more meaningful than grace without justice, or freedom without cost.

Our resurrection is made possible by the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, and as hard as it might be to imagine that work, as sorrowful and dark as that work is, without it, our joy at discovering an empty tomb next Sunday is muted and hollow. Our souls need to walk through the valley of the shadow of death along with Jesus in order to truly appreciate the joy of his rising again from the grave.

Please do what you can to attend these two special worship services. They are important to your faith, and the the faith of the Church.

This is a week of questions. They are not easy. And the answers depend a lot on who is being asked, and what they would like Jesus to be. Who is this Jesus Christ? Is he a martyr? A rebel without a cause? A madman? A criminal? A traitor? A heretic? A doomed teacher? Is he a healer, a miracle worker, a Rabbi, a revolutionary, a prophet?

Jesus was all of these things to those who knew him. But these labels fall far short of describing who Jesus really was. The hard thing is, we can never truly know, on this side of heaven, who Jesus is. Jesus will never fit into our box.  

But the good news of the Gospel is this: We don’t need to know exactly who Jesus is, because Jesus knows exactly who we are, and he loves us, and he wants us, regardless of who we think he is to live with him forever. We may never be able to pin down the exact nature of Jesus Christ, but we do know this: In him, we will never be left alone.

Thanks be to God. Amen.