March 29, 2015, Palm Sunday

posted Jun 24, 2015, 11:29 AM by David Hawkins

“What Are You Doing?

Scripture Reading: Mark 11:1-11

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 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. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’”

They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street.

As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?”

They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it.

Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,


         Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

           Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!

         Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

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.

Sermon: "What Are You Doing?"             Rev. David Hawkins

Most of us Christians have a tendency to think that there are basically two covenants that God has made with his people. There’s the old covenant, for the Jews, which is in the Old Testament, and the New Covenant, for the Christians, which is in the New Testament.

But as we have seen during this season of Lent, there are many different covenants that God has made with his people, with all people. In fact, Bible scholars have identified five distinct covenants throughout the old testament, and these covenants apply, not just to Jews, not just to Christians but in many cases, to everyone.

We began this journey of Lent by looking at the promise that God made to Noah after the flood, that God would never again allow us to be destroyed. By making this promise to Noah, God makes this promise to all people.   

The second covenant that God made with his people is known as the Abrahamic covenant, the promise that God made to Abraham that he would be a blessing to all the nations, that Abraham would be the father of all people. Not just the Jews. Not just the Christians. Not just Muslims. All people.  

A couple of weeks ago, we talked about the specific covenant between Israel and God, a covenant that was sealed by the giving and the receiving of the ten commandments. Unlike the first two covenants, this is a relationship that is established especially with the Jews as a particular people.

Later on, this covenant is made even more specific with the promise that God makes to King David, that his house would rule over Israel forever.

Last week, we heard through the words of the Prophet Jeremiah a fifth covenant, God’s promise to once again, do whatever it takes to be in relationship with us. Even when we are in our darkest hour, at the lowest point in our lives, and we can’t see how God could possibly care for us, or love us, or forgive us, or even know who we are, God promises to never abandon us, that he will write his love on our very hearts. And we see that this promise is not limited to just Israel, but is opened up and extended to all people.

This week, we watch as all of these covenants enter the city of Jerusalem in the person of Jesus Christ. The law, the prophets, the assurances, the promises of God have come home, triumphantly riding into Jerusalem, surrounded by cheering and singing, and riding on a colt. The crowds sense the arrival of royalty, and they shout out to Jesus, “Hosanna, Hoshiah-na, God save us!”

It’s finally happening. Everything that God has promised is coming true. The Messiah has come into his temple. The Son of God is with us. Everything is going to turn out right. God has heard our cries, and he will deliver us from our oppressors.

At least, that’s what they thought. That’s what the crowds thought as they cheered Jesus coming into town. That their struggles were over, that the Romans were going to be kicked out, that Kingdom of David was going to be rebuilt, even more magnificent than before. When they saw Jesus coming into Jerusalem , they were sure that this was a conquering hero that would lead them all to victory in battle.

But if you were someone who was not really a part of what was going, watching from the sidelines, there are some unusual things about this whole parade that would make you stop and ask some questions. There are some parts of this triumphal entry that just don’t add up, if you were to take a closer look at it.

Some of these questions are really trivial, like, how did Jesus know that there would be a colt tied up for him to use just inside the city? Was it his colt? Did he make some kind of arrangement beforehand to buy this colt, or rent it? You can understand the people who saw these disciples just go up to some random colt and start taking it away. You can understand them saying, “Hey there! What are you doing?”

It’s a reasonable question. But the disciples don’t really have a reasonable answer. “The Lord needs it,” they say, and off they go.

But that doesn’t really answer the question, does it?. Why does Jesus need a colt? If he’s going to make some sort of big splashy entrance into the city, why doesn’t he go all out? Why not a war horse, or even a chariot? You know that any other king would pull out all the stops. They wouldn’t be riding some puny colt. And a king certainly wouldn’t have left it up to chance to find one randomly tied up colt somewhere in the city. He would have a whole stable of horses at his disposal, he’d have a whole fleet of chariots.  

In fact, when you start thinking of it like that, a lot of what Jesus does this week doesn’t make very much sense.

For instance, on Thursday of this week, we will have a worship service in which we remember how Jesus ate his last supper with his disciples before he was arrested and crucified. The strange thing is, he knows that things are getting ready to get really bad, but he doesn’t do anything about it.

He even knows who is going to betray him, but he invites Judas to share his food. He knows that his disciples are going to run like the wind when the things start to get ugly, yet he stoops and washes their feet. It’s so strange that even Peter has to ask, “Lord, what are you doing? I should be washing your feet.”

Why doesn’t Jesus do something, say something to stop all this from happening? If he knows what going on, why does he let it happen? Why does he honor the very people he knows are going to turn against him?

And after that, Jesus is brought up on charges before the Romans, and things don’t get any better. They have the same question as so many others before them: “What are you doing? Why are you stirring up so much trouble? Are you setting yourself up as some sort of “King of Jews?” They make it clear that if Jesus just says the right words, he can walk out of there. If he just tones it down, he’ll be fine. If not, well, things are going to get really, very bad for him.

But  instead of taking the easy way out, Jesus says nothing to clear his name, nothing to ease their worry. It would have been better for him to say what he needed to say and walk away. It would have been safer for him to toe the line, salute, and say, “yes, sir,” but he doesn’t.

And then he dies. Just like that. After three years of miracles, of teaching, of healing, of giving his life to anyone who was hurting, he is killed. Not because he had betrayed his people. But because he was betrayed by them. Not because he was a thief, but because he was a servant. Not because he had done anything wrong, but because he had done everything right.

And when we look at this week, this holiest of holy weeks, and we try to understanding what is really going on, we can understand the question so many have asked.

What are you doing, Lord? Why did you come into the city like this, with cheering crowds and palm branches and children singing, walking on the cloaks of adoring throngs, only to throw it all away? Why did you let your own disciples betray you? Why didn’t you call down an army of angels to strike the Roman empire? Why would you let yourself be nailed to a cross, the ultimate symbol of shame?

Honestly, I wish I had the answers to these questions. I wish that I knew why God would choose to embody his covenants in this way, that he would keep his promises by coming to us as an itinerant preacher, only to die with dishonor among criminals.

But maybe there aren’t any easy answers to these questions. Maybe the only answer is that this is what everlasting covenant looks like -- to never give up on us, to do whatever it takes to bring us back into relationship with him -- this is what that looks like, and we aren’t quite ready for that.

And maybe this is why every year, for two thousand years, we have taken a week, this week, to remember every step of the last few days of Jesus’ life. To walk with him as he goes down this road, trying to figure out what it was he was trying to show us, trying to understand the depth of love and compassion he must have had for us to be willing to give his life for us.

This week, I invite all of us to think about these questions together during our Holy Week services. On Thursday, we will observe communion, a remembrance of the last supper that Jesus ate, and, for those who wish, we will offer the opportunity to wash each other’s feet.

On Friday, we will remember the final hours of Jesus’ life, with a Tenebrae, a service of gathering darkness. We will walk with Jesus as far as we can, and then we can only watch, helpless, as he takes the final few steps by himself.

It would be easier, safer, less painful, to go from today’s joyful parade right straight to Easter Morning. But in order to go from the parades of Palm Sunday to the joy of Easter Morning we need to take a few steps along the via Dolorosa. In order for us to fully appreciate what God has done for us, we need to see, feel it, and remember that it cost something. The grace we are given is free for us, because Jesus paid the full price. This is the week that we experience for ourselves what that really means.

May God be with us during this Holy Week of his passion and the fulfillment of his promises for all people.

To the Lord who speaks to us,

and strengthens us,

and blesses us with peace,

be all glory and honor forever. Amen.