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Stirred Up with Hope

Matthew 21:1-11 (CEB)

When they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus gave two disciples a task. He said to them, “Go into the village over there. As soon as you enter, you will find a donkey tied up and a colt with it. Untie them and bring them to me. If anybody says anything to you, say that the Lord needs it.”

He sent them off right away. Now this happened to fulfill what the prophet said, Say to Daughter Zion, “Look, your king is coming to you, humble and riding on a donkey, and on a colt the donkey’s offspring.” The disciples went and did just as Jesus had ordered them. They brought the donkey and the colt and laid their clothes on them. Then he sat on them.

Now a large crowd spread their clothes on the road. Others cut palm branches off the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds in front of him and behind him shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

And when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up. “Who is this?” they asked. The crowds answered, “It’s the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

A word of God for the people of God…Thanks be to God.

April 8-9, 2017
Palm Sunday
Matthew 21:1-11
Philippians 2:5-11
“Stirred Up With Hope”

On this Palm Sunday, our Scripture story comes from the Gospel of Matthew.

The gospel stories of Jesus riding into Jerusalem at the beginning of what we call Holy Week takes me back to my trip several years ago to the Holy Land. One of the days on that trip was spent walking the route Jesus took from the Mount of Olives, into the city of Jerusalem. Once you have taken that path, it shines a different light on the images in the Gospel story.

This is another one of those stories where you can easily enter into the story. So, as you listen, I invite you to put yourself in the story…What do you see? What words or phrases stand out? What images strikes you? Move you? Challenge you? or Convict you?
(Matthew 21:1-11)

Palm Sunday can be a rather strange day…like the ‘calm before the storm’ in Lent. And it is a strange thing; this cheering and applauding, that we, the Palm Sunday audience are asked to do.

Perhaps it is not unlike being part of the audience from the classic game show, “Queen for a Day.” I was reading one of those magazines in the dentist office a while back that had stories of the past to help prompt reminiscing.

The popular daytime television game show called “Queen for a Day” ran from 1956 to 1964.

Jack Bailey was the game show host and he would bellow out the question, “Do you want to be Queen for a Day?” before each show, to which the audience would reply together, “YES!”

At the time, the show was television’s most popular tear-jerker. How it worked was, four women were chosen from the studio audience during each show. They then appeared on stage one at a time and each woman told about the great tragedies and misfortunes of her life.

At the end of each program, studio audience applause, measured by an “applause meter,” determined the day’s winner, who was then proclaimed “Queen for a Day” and showered with gifts…generally things like a washer and dry or sewing machine, along with a velvet cape, tiara and flowers.

Unfortunately, all this attention, gifts, and title of ‘Queen,’ was only for a day; the queen would soon have to return to that life she had earlier described to the audience.

One of the images we can see from our Gospel story is that of Jesus being applauded as King for the day as he rode into Jerusalem.

All four gospels include this story, which is labeled as “Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.” We imagine that it was quite a day and that there must have been large crowds of people jammed into Jerusalem, the largest and busiest of holy cities because it was the time of the Jewish Passover Festival and during Passover it was tradition to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
So besides activity of daily business and worship, the city would have been crowded with extra vendors and merchants and visitors.

Now, here comes Jesus approaching the city, humbly riding on a donkey, or as the Gospel of Matthew portrays, Jesus is riding on both a donkey and a colt at the same time; which is an interesting and almost comical image, but one that comes from an image as told by the Old Testament prophet, Zechariah (9:9).

The garments of Jesus’ disciples serve as a saddle and the garments of the crowd, along with palm branches, serve as a royal welcome mat along the road.

According to Matthew’s gospel, great crowds both preceded and followed Jesus shouting, “Hosanna” which literally meant ‘save now’ or ‘help us.’ The word ‘Hosanna’ would have been the term that people would use in calling for help from a conqueror.

And, in reality, this procession of Jesus into Jerusalem over 20 centuries ago was a daring cry for help from the people wanting a conqueror and a daring stand on the part of Jesus to show God’s peace and compassion through humble faithfulness and obedience.

This story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem comes to us on the threshold of a week we call Holy and also in the midst of continued and escalating unrest in countries near where our Gospel story takes place.

The region near Damascus, the capital city in Syria, is where horrifying chemical warfare attacks on the people by their own president have taken place in recent days. Damascus is less than 200 miles flying distance from Jerusalem.

I wonder what Palm Sunday and the reading of this Gospel story means for Christians in that part of the world today?

And when we set the Gospel story side by side with the words from the Apostle Paul in the Letter to the Philippians that we heard earlier, what do these images mean for us today in our own lives?

The Gospel story says, Jesus’ entry into the city “stirred up” an already bustling Jerusalem with the people asking, “Who is this?” and the crowds saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

The question, “Who is this?” is a question that still hangs in the air for us. It is one of the questions of our faith.

Who is Jesus, and who is he to you and me, and what does our answer to that question have to do with how we live our lives?

While Jesus riding into Jerusalem stirred up the whole city, we too can stir things up…stir things up with hope when as the Apostle Paul says, we carry “the attitude that was in Christ Jesus.”

From the words of Paul, Jesus is the very model for how we should lead our lives and live together in this world of many people. By pointing to Christ Jesus as the one willing to humble himself and go as far as obedience and faithfulness to God would take him—even to death on a cross, Paul is calling us to realize that as individuals and as a faith community, we can stir up hope by humbly bearing the likeness of Christ.

What does it mean for us today to have the attitude of Christ and the courage to live our faith in how we interact with our families, our church, our community, our co-workers, our friends and even with strangers?

Where are the places we are seeing tangible evidence of becoming more Christ-like?

Where are we giving our lives through humble and faithful service?

One pastor tells the story about an advertising executive named Robert, who came to the church every Tuesday night to volunteer at the foot clinic for the homeless. He always came right from work and was dressed in a suit or a crisp white shirt and tie.

He would sit on a stool in front of the chair on which one of the homeless people would sit and he would take their feet and apply ointment to their sores. The ritual would end with the gift of a clean pair of white socks.

Many of the homeless folks had not been touched with such tenderness or given a gift in a very long time. Once when Robert was asked why he came to the foot clinic every week, he simply said, “I figure I have a better chance of running into Jesus here than most places; that’s all.”

The pastor said, when you would see Robert interacting with others, you developed a sort of double vision as you began to see Christ in the strangers that he served and also Christ in the one who was finding deep meaning in his life through serving others.

Where are the places we go to serve or just be present because we feel we might have a better chance of running into Jesus there?

Maybe it’s the Sunshine Supper or Shelter from the Storm here in Sun Prairie. Or when we spend time with people at the hospitals or care centers; or any number of other places we go to serve and partner with God to stir up hope.

When we carry the attitude of Jesus, we stir up hope in others and give others a better chance of running into Jesus in the ordinary places of life.

On this Palm Sunday, Jesus is “King for a Day.” The audience applause meter has gone in his favor.

Yet, after arriving in Jerusalem, Jesus will overturn the tables of the moneychangers in the temple; he will cure the blind and lame; and he will continue to teach. This coming week, we will follow Jesus to the Upper Room and out to the Garden of Gethsemane. We will hear his painstaking prayers and feel his disappointment when his disciples bicker and pout and lash out at each other; and eventually desert him. We will bristle at the injustice of his arrest and trial and crucifixion.

This coming week will take a left turn midway between the palms and the cross.

The mood shifts, the welcome fads and the happy crowd of onlookers becomes a vile, angry mob. Someone shouts, “Crucify him!” Others take up the chant, and the one welcomed as king is executed as a criminal.

This is a week filled with mounting anxiety, conflict, uncertainty, suffering and death. I wish there was a shortcut to the celebration of Easter, but there is not. We need to hear the stories told again this week.

We need that solemn remembering of Maundy Thursday, the deep darkness of Good Friday and the silent vigil of Holy Saturday.

We know some, but not all the details of this unfolding week.

But the one detail we know for certain is that this story never ends. It did not end in a procession to Jerusalem. It did not end on a cross. It did not end in a tomb.

The story continues and it continues to stir up hope. It continues to stir up hope in the lives of people like you and me who are called to carry the attitude of Christ.

May it be so for each of us.
Thanks be to God.