PALM SUNDAY

April 14, 2019

Palm-Sunday-

James Tissot – Jesus Enters Jerusalem

LUKE 12 The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord— the King of Israel!” 14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written: 15 “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” 16 His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him. 17 So the crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to testify. 18 It was also because they heard that he had performed this sign that the crowd went to meet him. 19 The Pharisees then said to one another, “You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!”

If Jesus had left his entrance into Jerusalem to the public relations firm Peter preferred, the entrance in the Holy City would have been splashier and turned out differently.  I learned a long time ago that ability to function as I in midst general demand for We is the great challenge of human life in general and leadership in particular.

His disciples loved Jesus, of course, but in an egocentric way that promoted conflict over who “they” would be in the new administration.  “Let Jesus be the head, but we will be right there. I want to be Secretary of State in the coming Kingdom.”

Jesus took control of his destiny, entering his own way, no on a war horse or chariot of Roman triumphs.  Taking his cue from the prophet Zachariah, he mounted the sharp backbone of a donkey’s colt, entering in great humility, not the feigned modesty of the perceptive politician.

Why?  First let’s look at the Epistle for today.

 PHILIPPIANS 2:5-8   Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.

Note that glory was not something essential Jesus’ identity as God, nor did he consider his divine status necessary, he emptied himself of divine prerogative, but emptied, humbled himself.   Why?  I think Theodoret, a Fifth Century  Father, was clearly on the money when he wrote,

Being God, and God by nature, and having equality with God, he thought this no great thing, as is the way of those who have received some honor beyond their merits, but, hiding his merit, he elected the utmost humility and took the shape of a human being.  Epistle to the Philippians 2.6-7  

 – Theodoret, Bishop of  Cyrrhus 393 – 457 AD

Palm 2

Egyptian Coptic Icon of Palm Entry

Jesus didn’t need to prove anything to anybody, nor claimed more than he merited.  He took a lower place as a servant.  Being God he never felt he had anything to prove to anybody.  That sense of self defeated the evil tempter in the wilderness.  In addition this hymn reveals that servanthood, humility and emptying of self (I would say “contraction” from the theme of our reflection) are legitimate and full expressions of God’s being.

Beloved, my prayer is that I grow such that I am no longer effected by the change of circumstances.  My identity is in God so I need not protect my ego.  I can see there, but I am not yet there.  I long for that place and my longing is a gift from God.  Let us elect the utmost humility, giving up the rule of our ego.  I know it is a better place, but my ego is frightened. That of course doesn’t feel good but it is good.

Ego pain is birth pain.

In hope, in spite of the facts.

John

Trudging Through the Middle

Pie in the Sky - Mark Bryan

Pie in the Sky – Mark Bryan

The journey is easier at the beginning and the end than the middle when we are far from home and home. As I approach old age I find it hard to remember a time when ministry did not inhabit a large space in my inner life. I was baptized at eight scared into the Kingdom at a Baptist revival. But that was only the outer thing, the thing that hooked my fear and plunged me into the fishpond at the White place over fifty years ago. It was at the same farm that as a three year old I sat in great-aunt Myrtie’s lap on the bank of Anderson creek as my parents were baptized down in the pool formed by a gravel bank.

Thought some might doubt it, I remember it clearly. Like a scene from a movie people were standing and sitting by the water. The grass was green in the way it is in the South Titus-Baptized-021before being scorched by the August Sun. Folk went down into the water lost and came up found. I’ve learned since then that found takes a long time. The pilgrimage to God is rarely dramatic it is mostly as an old timer in AA spoke to the wisdom he had gained as he learned “the inevitability of gradualness.”

This was before the Baptist got “baptisteries” those walk-in bathtub artificial kind of “improvements” that keep us from nature and perhaps [they are un-natural which mates poorly with the] super-natural as well. However well intended these innovations, what is gained in convenience is lost in affect. There is something about inconvenience that is comforting in its discomfort. Coming to God is not convenient.

I read once in Anglicans on line that a group of clergy, God help us, were bringing a resolution before the Synod of the Church of England that Easter be fixed on the same Sunday every year. This is about as foolish a proposition as I’ve heard. We will convenience ourselves into nothing at all. C. S. Lewis once said that “the Gospel can be of no concern. The Gospel can be of ultimate concern. The Gospel can never be of moderate concern.” The convenience of moderation has the affect of warm water it is wet but not refreshing.

water We are at the midpoint of Lent.  It is time to prepare for the Paschal Feast as the Book of Common Prayer states in the second proper preface for Lent. Gradualness will give way to the acute phase we call Holy Week followed by the consequences of resurrection.  It happens every year and still I am ill prepared.  But then the middle is the most difficult part of the journey,  is it not, beloved.  JWS

The Unalienable Enemy

Colin Powerll

Colin Powell

Section of a Commencement Speech at Northeastern University – May 10, 2012

“I spent thirty years being a soldier in the Cold War. I stood watch on the Iron Curtain in Germany, as a corps commander and as a lieutenant. I fought in Vietnam for two years—an extension of that conflict. I served in Korea, on the demilitarized zone. It finally ended for me—finally!—on a day in 1988 in the Kremlin. I was National Security Advisor to President Reagan, and he was getting ready for his first trip ever to the “Evil Empire.” He was going to go to Moscow. And he sent me to Moscow first to talk to this interesting new leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, and to see what he was really planning to do.

Mikhail Gorbachev

Mikhail Gorbachev

It was a very difficult meeting. President Gorbachev kept beating up on me, and criticizing my role as a soldier for all of those years, and criticizing the right wing of the party that Reagan represented, thinking they didn’t understand the changes he was making. He was opening up his country. He was reforming his political and economic systems. And he didn’t think we understood.

And I just sat there watching him, impassiveness on my face. Finally he realized he wasn’t getting to me, and he stopped. He paused. He looked up. And then he had an idea and looked back down. Then he stared unsmiling across the table at me. His eyes were twinkling. And he gently says to me, “Ah, General, General. I’m so very, very sorry. You will have to find a new enemy.”

And I thought to myself, “I don’t want to.” I have a whole career invested in this enemy. Thirty years! Just because you’re having a bad year, why do I have to change?

But he was having a bad century. Within two years of that meeting in the Kremlin, the Iron Curtain was gone. That border I had guarded so many times. The Soviet Union was gone. Germany was unified. The Warsaw Pact disappeared. And Gorbachev had to step down, because he was a reformer, and they needed a revolution.

The general as a Christian saw the theological dimensions of the General Secretary’s remark.  It occurs to me that this is the “shift” at the core of the Gospel.  It is no mistake, I think,  that the central Christian symbol is a cross, one of the cruelest ways to die devised (so far).  That Cross is a sign of contradiction that if held long enough (and  we are willing) turns into paradox:  the way of death is become the way to life! To focus just on the horrible sufferings of Jesus (though worthwhile to contemplate) is to miss the deeper mystery.

Crucifixion with Darkened Sun - Egon Schiele

Crucifixion with Darkened Sun – Egon Schiele

This is the mystery at the very recesses of our feeble intuition of God.  It appears, since Jesus came to clearly reveal God what is important to know is that God is like Jesus! That being true then there is in the God-head a kind of power that transcends the transactional power of force.  We are comfortable with this especially when we have the power but we find in familiar even as we cringe.

What Jesus tells us, I think, is that the power of relationship is greater than the power of force.  Robert Farrar Capon helped me learn this when he wrote of the difference.  He pointed out that the most important things in life cannot be willed.

  • You can will people to eat but you cannot will hunger.
  • You can will people to drink but you cannot will thirst
  • We cannot will people to love us, though we can make them afraid.

This is also the reality, I believe, that makes Alcoholics Anonymous work.  No one has ever gotten into recovery by the will.  Oh, you can quit drinking by will power.  It is what AA folk call a “dry drunk”.  You will find them among the most angry people you will ever meet.  The profound irony pointing toward contradiction and beyond to paradox is that what cannot be willed into being can be surrendered into being.  Giving up willfulness releases the energy to accomplish the very thing that the will can never do.

No one can make another person their enemy if that person is unwilling.  As Gorbachev said to General Powell, “I’m taking your enemy away.”  In someways the West has been looking for a replacement ever since.

Think on these matters.  This way leads to life though it go through the valley of the shadow of death.  JWS