March 24, 2013

posted Mar 29, 2013, 12:39 PM by David Hawkins   [ updated Mar 29, 2013, 12:40 PM ]

03/24/13 Sermon (March 24, 2013)

“What Are We Cheering For”

Scripture Reading: Luke 19:28-40

After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, "Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' just say this, 'The Lord needs it'"
So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, "Why are you untying the colt?"They said, "The Lord needs it." Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it.
As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,
"Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!"
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, order your disciples to stop."
He answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out."

Sermon: “What Are We Cheering For?”

It feels good to cheer, doesn’t it? To be with a group of friends at a superbowl party, or to be in the stands at a play-off game, or to go to a concert of our favorite band. It feels good to just let it all hang it, to enthusiastically yell and shout, give full voice to our feelings. It’s wonderfully liberating to cheer. For just a little while, we aren’t so self-conscious, so inhibited. It’s kind of a primal feeling, to scream our support for our favorite team, or favorite music group.

When I was in Grand Junction, we had a drama team for worship, and we once contemplated doing a skit that began with two guys trying to talk to each other over the shouting and cheering of a crowd. At first, you thought they were at a football game, but as the skit went on, it became apparent that they were at church, and the praise band was winding down, and the preacher was getting ready to start reading from the Bible. And the cheering was deafening!

Now wouldn't that be great?! No, I don’t mean that it would be great if you all chanted my name as I climbed the steps of the podium to get ready to preach. Well, wait a minute. Maybe that would be great. No, what I’m trying to say, is that it would be great if we could somehow find a way to express the same sort of exuberance for the amazing Gospel of Jesus Christ as we do at the success of a running back driving for a foot and a half downfield.

But, we probably won’t ever see that. And there’s probably good reasons for it. I mean, it would be weird to cheer the sermon. It would be weird to cheer for the assurance of pardon. It would be weird to shout our support and encouragement during the Communion Liturgy.

But, I don’t know. There’s still a part of me that thinks that we spent a lot of our time cheering for the less important things in life. We don’t cheer for acts of kindness, or charity. There isn’t a section in the stands set aside for social workers. There isn’t a booster club for the foodbank. Our cheering is reserved for when our team is on top, the champion, the best, the winner. This is what gets our blood stirred up.

You may remember not too long ago, we had an election. In the lead up to the election was a year of candidates speaking to cheering crowds of enthusiastic supporters, followed by the political conventions, week long cheer fests. The crowds are fed the red meat of partisan rhetoric, and they reward the speakers with their whole hearted shouts of approval. I’m not sure what all the shouting was about, but there was a lot of it.

If we were to judge the importance of an event by the amount of cheering it provoked, then it’s pretty obvious what our priorities are: Politics and sports and entertainment.

And this is not a new thing. The great cities of ancient Greece were filled with amphitheaters where political and cultural theater thrilled the masses. The Roman coliseum was the ancient equivalent of our stadiums, only instead of giant football players trying to give each other concussions, gladiators fought against lions and criminals to the cheers of the crowds.

And in the intervening years, to our very great shame, humanity has gathered to cheer at public executions, lynchings, dogfights, bear-baiting, and wars being fought at a safe distance. Wherever there is a group of spectators and the possibility of a winner and loser, there will be cheering.

And you know, it’s not always easy to be sure that we are cheering for the right things. We get caught up in the mob’s blood lust. After all, that is part of the allure of cheering. We lose ourselves, just a little bit, in all the excitement. We are set free from the grind of our daily existence, and are given permission to be just a little bit crazy.

On this day, 2000 years ago, there are two groups of people cheering. Today, we read about Jesus entering Jerusalem, accompanied by a throng of supporters and disciples, all cheering, proclaiming Jesus King, shouting the psalms that speak of a Messiah, the fulfillment of prophecy.

But there was another group of people cheering the entrance of another important person, Pontius Pilate, made a practice of coming to Jerusalem every year during Passover. While Jesus entered Jerusalem from the East, seated on a donkey, Pontius Pilate was entering from the West, riding in a chariot, accompanied by a Roman Army Contingent, carrying the standards of Ceasar Tiberius.

There could not be a more stark difference between these two figures. Jesus, an itinerant rabbit, with no name or stature, humble, riding on a donkey, and Pilate, from the Royal Class, appointed by Caesar, representing the full civil and military authority of Rome.

And the people of Jerusalem cheered for both. For some, Jesus promises revolution, for others, Pilate represents institutional power. All of Jerusalem were going to be challenged in the coming days to choose between these two. Would they choose to be on the side of the iron-fisted Roman control of an occupied city, or the self-giving, sacrificial kingdom of Jesus?

It is the choice between the power that comes from imposed will, and the power that comes from liberation. A choice between power that is taken, and power that is given. A choice between power that comes from the sacrifice of others, and power that comes from the sacrifice of self.  

And as that week of Passover so long ago continued, we can see the balance of that power shifting, as popular opinion turns against Jesus. He alienates the temple Priests by overturning the tables of the money changers. He makes the Romans anxious with all the talk of revolution. And when he is arrested, it is clear that not only is the crowd against Jesus, cheering for the release of Barabbas, a common thief, his own disciples, who were so wildly cheering for him at the beginning of the week have disowned him, and crawled into the woodwork.

Because it’s hard to cheer for someone who has so completely lost as much as Jesus has lost. From a church of thousands on the mountainside, to a church of none, alone, beaten, disavowed, and booed. Because that is what we do with losers.

We are attracted to winners. And sometimes, we don’t care how we win, we just care that we win.

I remember a video I saw of a pee-wee football championship game. The coach called a trick play, a play called the wrong ball, in which the offensive line never actually gets down into a three point stance, and the center casually hands the ball to the quarterback instead of hiking it. The quarterback walks toward the sideline indicating to the coach that there is something wrong with the ball. The defense doesn’t even know that the play has started, and before they realized what’s happening, the quarterback sprints down the sideline for an uncontested touchdown.

You should see the comments on YouTube. Folks are passionately in favor of using this play to win games. But, it’s the fourth grade, when most of the kids are still trying to figure out the basics of the game. Yet, people cheer as the coach takes advantage of their ignorance of the most arcane rules of the game to win at all costs.

But that’s what we do. We cheer winners, and we boo losers. It’s the way the world works.

But, not always.

A few weeks ago, I ran across a story that reminded me that occasionally, we still do cheer for the right things.

In El Paso, Texas, there is an intense rivalry between two city high schools, Franklin and Coronado. The equipment manager for Coronado, was a mentally handicapped senior named Mitchell Marcus. Mitchell had been a part of the high school basketball program for four years, but he had never played a game.

He had loved basketball all his life. His only wish for his birthday every year was a new basketball, and he needed one, because every year, his old basketball was worn out.

And now, it was his final year, and it was the final game of the year. The Coronado coach, Peter Morales, had made a decision to suit Mitchell up for this last game. Nobody thought that Mitchell would actually play. But nobody knew that Morales had decided for himself that he would play Mitchell in the last couple minutes of the game, regardless of the score. Morales was prepared to lose to the rival Franklin team in order to play Mitchell.

Mitchell goes into the game during the last 2 minutes. His team is 10 points ahead, and on nearly every possession, they feed Mitchell the ball. But it is not to be. Even though Mitchell had a hard time with dribbling, and couldn’t really track along with the speed of the game, he usually was a pretty good shot. But he just can’t seem to find the groove.  And in the last 10 seconds of the game, they pass it one more time to Mitchell, the last chance of the game for him. But the pass bounces off of his fingertips, and goes out of bounds.

And so, that looked like that was the game. It was unlikely that they would have possession again. Mitchell wasn’t able to score. It was a huge disappointment. But, the coach hoped that at least Mitchell was proud to have played in the final game of the year.

But the game wasn’t quite over yet. There were still a couple of seconds left. Instead of passing the ball in to one of his own players, Jonathon Montanez, the Franklin player responsible for the inbound pass, called out Mitchell’s name. It took a couple of seconds for Mitchell to realize that the opposing player from the other team was talking to him. But Montenez got his attention, threw the ball to him, and Mitchell scored the last basket of the game.

Now it wasn’t a game winner. The championship wasn’t on the line. But something even more incredible happened on that night. And never before has a losing team been cheered so loudly. Never before has an opposing player been so honored by his decision to let someone else have something very special, even at the risk of his own loss.

The crowd that night was cheering for something worth cheering about. They were cheering for self-giving, for decency. Jonathon Montanez didn’t know Mitchell from Adam, but he knew a fellow human being when he saw one, and he knew how much he was loved. And so he reacted in a way that we don’t see very often. And we can cheer for that. Because some things are worth cheering about. Some things, even the  rocks and stones will cheer about.

Every day, we are given the choice to cheer for the right things in life. We can applaud unselfish acts of generosity, or we can cheer me-first greed. We can cheer for the empowerment of those who have no voice, no support, no resources, or we can cheer the powerful, those who use their influence for their own benefit.

We can cheer for Jesus at the East Gate, or we can cheer for Ceasar in the West. We can cheer for humility, or pride; love or tyranny, The kingdom of God, or the kingdom of this earth.

During this coming week, I invite you to walk alongside Jesus during the last days of his life. On Thursday, we are offering a seder service, a ceremonial remembrance of the Jewish Exodus from Slavery in Egypt, which is perhaps the same meal that Jesus ate with his disciples before his betrayal and arrest. On Good Friday, we will be a witness to Jesus’ final hours, remembering the betrayal of Judas, and the sacrifice Jesus makes on our behalf on the hilltop at Calvary.

And then, on easter Sunday, I invite you to come cheer with me the greatest event of Human history, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. “Blessed is the King, who comes in the name of the Lord.” Hosanna to our Lord most High.

Thanks be to God. Amen